§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 1st May, 1950, entitled the Railways (Additional Charges) Regulations 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 701), a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd May, be annulled.I move the first of the five Motions which stand in my name and the names of my hon. Friends, with a sense of deep responsibility by reason of the effect that the decision which the House takes today will have not only on the future of British Railways but on British industry generally. I am anxious and even hopeful that I may get agreement as to the premises from which I start. I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends will keep open minds as to the conclusions they will draw from the premises.
No one will deny the adverse effects of the rise in railway charges. The British Transport Commission itself has admitted that this is a very dangerous moment for these increases to come into force, and that the increases will have widespread repercussions on the prices of a very wide range of products. The increases must, of course, be viewed against the background of our industries which are struggling to preserve the national position and restore us to prosperity. We must, therefore, contemplate these increases as another upward push in the inflationary spiral of rising costs, rising cost of living and, after attempts to delay them, increases in wages, with the risk of a continued run of increases of one kind followed by increases of another, until the position of this country in the world is seriously affected.
I need give only one example, the increase in the case of industrial coal of 1s. 6d. per ton and in the case of domestic coal 2s. 6d. per ton. Indeed, the Consultative Committee has said that the evidenceleaves us unable to do more than to offer you"—that is the right hon. Gentleman—our opinion that this increase must be reflected in some advance in the cost of living index.398 That is part of the report of the Consultative Committee. I suggest that the picture, given first by the Transport Commission in their submissions, and then by the Consultative Committee in considering the submissions, is a very different picture from that presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman a few days ago.
One has to consider it especially in the light of the benefits it is hoped to get from devaluation and the warning of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many other Ministers as to the great danger of offsetting these advantages of devaluation by a rise in costs and prices in this way. Therefore, my starting point, and I am not putting this purely from a debating point of view—I hope that I take the whole House with me on this point—is that unless the Government are driven to this course not only by weighty but unanswerable and irresistible reasons, it should not be taken. The course is a dangerous one, and the moment is inopportune.
I wish to consider one other point which the right hon. Gentleman put to us in his preliminary statement. He stressed that the rise up to now was only one of 55 per cent. The Transport Commission themselves pointed out that, having regard to the facilities that were given before the war as compared with the reduced facilities that are given today, the rise in respect of passenger rates was not 55 per cent. but 93 per cent. That was one of the arguments which the Transport Commission themselves advanced for not increasing the passenger rates but increasing the freight charges. If that is applied to the whole scale of the charges, then the increase, as compared with pre-war, instead of being 55 per cent. becomes 67 per cent., and instead of the proposed increase bringing that up to 81 per cent. it brings it up to 94 per cent., which is a very considerable increase.
The approach with which we quarrel, and I am anxious to put the points with, as much weight and supporting facts as time will allow, is, if I may use the words of the right hon. Gentleman:I am satisfied, therefore, that there is no means of meeting the financial problem now facing the railways by any rapid and substantial increases in efficiency. The economies to be achieved by integration of transport services must obviously be a gradual and long-term matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th April. 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1155.]399 It is that approach with which we join issue. We say that it is completely defeatist on the question of rapid and substantial improvements in economy and efficiency.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
May I interrupt the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I gather that it is understood, and that it is agreeable to the House, to debate the five Motions together?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Certainly. I am very grateful to you for your intervention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think it would meet the convenience of us all in all parts of the House if we had a general Debate on the question of whether this increase should take place or not. We can leave the consequences of that as expressed by way of a Division, until we come to the end of the Debate.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
There is a point with which I should like to deal at once, because I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has it in mind. I am trying to put the real strength of our objection to the Minister, and I do not want to miss any point which time will allow to be put. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind the provision of Section 3 of the Transport Act, that it is the duty of the Commission:to levy such… charges, as to secure that the revenue of the Commission is not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges "properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another.I submit that that is no answer to the attitude of the Opposition today. For one thing it hardly lies in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman or the Transport Commission to rely on Section 3, because their proposal is to do nothing about the £25 million of losses which have been accumulated in 1948 and 1949.
As I understand it, and I make no quarrel with this for this Debate, the view of the British Transport Commission is that the problem should be considered from the aspect of what is a manageable loss—if I may use that term—and what is not. That I understand is the approach; and when one compares the 400 phrase I have just quoted from the Transport Act with the phrases in the Coal Act and the others, which I will not trouble the House by repeating, I suggest one ought to look at this problem today in the business sense. One should ask, as a sensible businessman would ask, "Ought one to carry the 1950 deficit for a further period, or ought one not? Is it getting to a stage where we must do something about it, or can we leave it for a further period?"
That seems to me to be the problem and again I would assure the hon. Gentleman that I am making no party point in that approach. That is the approach which, as I understand it, the Act suggests, and which everyone considering the matter ought to follow. We say that no action should be taken and no increase introduced until we have had a rapid inquiry by a small body of one or two practical experts in railway running into the possibility of economies, of increased efficiency and increased traffics; and especially the proposals adumbrated before the Consultative Committee itself and also suggested in this House. That is our point, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whether they agree with that point of view or not, will have no doubt as to what is our attitude on the matter as to the period for which we are saying that no action should be taken.
The right hon. Gentleman might well make the reply that the objections to an ad hoc inquiry were put forward by the Transport Commission, and I wish to examine what were their objections. They said that a general inquiry into the re-organisation of the railways is bound up with the schemes of re-classification of rates and all the other matters which arise when a new system is brought into operation. I want to make it quite clear that I am not suggesting a general inquiry into re-organisation. What I am suggesting is that certain very clear and specific proposals for the reduction of expenses, of which I shall remind the House, ought to have been considered by this expert working committee.
The second reason advanced by the Transport Commission against such an inquiry as I have suggested is that the integration of road and rail must be the matter which determines very largely the future economies of Transport Commission business and this cannot be gone into 401 by an emergency committee. I say, with the greatest respect, that that is a completely hopeless attitude. The charges scheme is expected to take four or five years before it is completed. Integration must take a considerable period after that. I say that to assume that railway expenditure is sacrosanct for the intervening period is a completely hopeless and defeatist attitude of mind.
The third objection of the Transport Commission to the proposal which I am advancing today was that the body of inquiry which I am suggesting would take a year to report. That entirely sidesteps the idea I am putting forward, which is of a rapid and expert inquiry by a small body. It also postulates an entire absence of urgency, which is one of the most tragic aspects of the method in which this has been handled. The only other objection which I have been able to find that the Transport Commission is making is that they are not doing too badly if they break nearly even when their increases of charges amount only to about 80 per cent. of pre-war, and their costs are only 120 per cent. Apart from the doubt I would venture to express as to whether that is an accurate picture of the matter, it begs the question, which is whether it is necessary that the costs should be 120 per cent.
The Minister has rather foreshadowed, as have some of his colleagues, that he may answer by saying that he had an inquiry by the permanent members of the Transport Tribunal sitting as a Consultative Committee. But again we say that neither the findings of the Consultative Committee nor the limitations which they imposed upon themselves before they came to their findings really provide something behind which the Minister can hide. I wish to consider these matters as they are put forward by the Consultative Committee. They say:the estimated economies in 1950"—that is the economies estimated by the Transport Commission—appear disappointingly small.Well, no one will disagree with that; and I shall say what they are and what they are not in one moment when I come to deal with the figures. However the Committee go on:But, in the circumstances"—and I draw the attention of the House to these words— 402we can only assume that those responsible for the conduct of the Commission's activities are best able to forecast what economies they are likely to achieve, and we have no justification for rejecting the evidence of the Controller of the Commission.I say with deep gravity that the responsibilities of Membership of this House prohibits us from making the same easy assumption; and I say equally that we are driven to examine what are the circumstances of which the Commission talk. The first is that the Comptroller said:The most urgent and exhaustive examinations into the efficiency of all forms of transport are going on the whole time at the hands of the Commission.All one can say to that is that the results, reflected in losses out of all proportion to the rises in prices, show that this alleged examination by the Commission has been profoundly unsuccessful. Therefore, we cannot let that stand in the way of examination by the House. Secondly, it is said:In the main major economies can be secured by radical changes in working conditions or as a result of fundamental alterations in the technical organisation of transport, and these cannot be obtained until the system has been integrated as conceived by the Transport Act.Again, I say that such limitations are the quintessence of pessimism, and we do not accept them. We believe that improvement of working conditions should bring greater productivity with it, as it has done in so many other industries. We say that to wait four or five years for the implementation of a new charging system, and an unspecified period beyond that for a hypothetical integration, is to ignore the red light of our economy today, which is that Marshall Aid ends in 1952.
The third point they make is that, having made economies of 2 per cent. on £312 million in 1949, then one cannot expect more than 1 per cent. on £312 million in 1950. That to me is the non sequitur in excelsis. Why, because economies of 2 per cent. are made the year before, they cannot repeat that very modest target, I really fail to see.
These are the limitations which the committee imposed on itself. It came to its conclusions with that hobble attached to its feet. Again I say—and I must repeat it; I say it with such emphasis as I can—that we dare not allow these 403 limitations to be imposed on us and that the Minister must come out from behind that ersatz protection and face the facts themselves. The position is so serious, the situation not only for transport but for other industries is so critical, that I ask the right hon. Gentleman to examine the suggestions put before him and, even if at first sight he does not agree with them, still to consider whether they are not worthy of that short expert inquiry which I suggest before he takes the step of increasing the charges with the effect on industry which the Transport Commission and the committee have been the first to admit.
Let me take the question of potential economies. I said that the projected economy of the Commission amounted to under 1 per cent. of £312 million. It is an amount of between £2 and £3 million. The only excuse for the paucity of the amount is that it follows economies of £7 million the year before—2 per cent. of £312 million. That is as a beginning. If we had the figures, they would not be impressive. The committee have said that they are disappointing figures. One tries to find of what they consist and how they are split up. That, I suggest, is really more worrying.
The Transport Commission's explanation of these economies is:We are, as you know, getting control of the pilferage…That is the problem of stealing from the railway system—We are getting that cost down quite a lot. We are getting greater economy in the burning of coal, which will help.…I ask the House to note these words, because I am asking for an inquiry, for exact examination, and these are the words in which the threefold economy is put forward:… and there are also, of course, the questions of the general form of organisation which will always produce a certain degree of economy in staff.At a time when these burdens are to be imposed on industry, surely that is the most vague and unsatisfactory account of proposed economies that has ever been given in a serious document. Then, one would like to know the breakdown of the figure of between £2 million and £3 million among these suggested economies. This is how the breakdown is given by the Commission: 404Well, shall we say a few hundred thousand for the claims…That is the claims for pilferage—… and rather more on coal consumption, the balance to be raised on staff and generakl purposes.That is the position. The Commission say, "We can only suggest between £2 million and £3 million—or 1 per cent.—of economies. We cannot break down that figure between pilferage, coal consumption and a generality." The right hon. Gentleman has to ask for increased charges without any definite information about how the economies are to be made. That is the position and I ask hon. Gentlemen to consider it seriously. It is not a position which the House of Commons ought to accept.
Therefore, let me say what I suggest requires further inquiry. First, we must have further inquiry into the numbers of the staff. I have made it clear, and I want to make it clear again, that my view of the result of improved conditions, of the improved industrial psychology of shorter hours, holidays with pay and the like, is that it ought to produce greater productivity in the shorter time worked. That is the teaching of every book on industrial psychology that I have read. There ought also to be, for that invigorated force, a deployment which will use it to the best advantage.
I repeat the broad point which we must face and to which we must know the answer. In 1937, 298 million tons were moved by 650,000 men, and in 1948 276 million tons were moved by 550,000 men. That is the broad question which we must face. The next point is that the Commission said that they would make a reduction of 26,000 men in three months from November, 1948. In fact, it took 12 months. It has been strongly argued—I will not dogmatise on it because it is a matter on which more expert knowledge than mine would be required—that that decrease was nothing more than would come from normal wastage.
That is the first point, and, obviously, it requires inquiry, and from this point of view. The generally accepted figure of productivity, put forward by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement and on many other occasions, is either 4 or 5 per cent. increase per annum at present. I know there are great 405 arguments concerning the accuracy of the figure, and I am not going into that today. I am merely saying that here is a figure which has been put forward and repeated many times.
In addition, there are three further points which my hon. and learned Friends and I put forward during the Debate in March. The first was that, to put it quite bluntly, to increase average receipts per loaded passenger train mile means putting more people into fewer trains; in other words, it means reconsidering the holiday programme of last year. As I see it—and I would like to hear in due time whether the right hon. Gentleman disagrees with this—the growth of the deficit in 1949, compared with the deficit in 1948, was a growth of £15 million. From £4.7 million to £20.7 million is a little more than that, but we will take the figure as £15 million.
That was due to the substantial fall in the profitability of passenger train working, because, in 1948, the average receipts per loaded coaching train mile was 13s. 9d., and in 1949—I have not had the detailed figures—as far as one can judge, it will turn out at less than 12s. 4½d., a decrease of about 10 per cent. As the annual loaded coaching train mileage is well over 200 million, unless my arithmetic is falling down on me, that in itself gives £15 million, or 200 million times Is. 6d.
There is the fact, and I submit that the Minister cannot say that that is due to factors outside the control of the Commission. It was due to a deliberate policy pursued, I am sure in all good faith, and I am not making any suggestions of that kind, but, nevertheless, disastrous from a financial point of view, because the public did not respond to the extent anticipated. Therefore, we said in March, when I drew attention to these figures, and we say again today, that the policy should now be primarily directed towards the re-establishment of the profitability of the passenger side of the railway business, rather than imposing an additional burden on industry.
I will listen to any answer from the Minister on that point, but we put it forward in March, and I certainly have not heard any answer yet. If it means pruning, well, it means pruning. It is a choice. When one is hard up, one has to make a choice between what one wants and 406 what one can afford, and this is a choice between decreasing passenger trains or putting this burden on industry which not merely myself but the Commission and the Consultative Committee have both said is a serious matter.
The second point which we suggested is that the Minister ought to increase the commercial knowledge of the Commission by appointing someone with similar qualifications to take the place of the late Lord Ashfield. Nothing has been done, and no step has been taken to fill that place. I cannot think that the right hon. Gentleman has considered or has been advised that he is safe from the operations of mandamus, but I do consider that a failure to do that, when we are dealing with this critical situation, just shows again the policy which appears in every field—the policy that can be summarised as "For ever amble."
The third point we put forward was that the railways should be decentralised. The House will bear with me or will sigh with relief when I say that I am not going into that in detail, because hon. Members will remember that I have done it on at least two occasions and I do not want to repeat what they have heard before. I do want to say, however, and I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will not make any false point about it, that I am not failing to repeat it today because my belief is shaken in the matter, but only because I wish to spare the endurance of those who have listened to me so often on that same point.
The final point with regard to economies is this short one, and I am very anxious to hear what hon. Gentlemen opposite have to say about it. The general excuse is increased costs, but, if we compare the increases in losses with the increase in costs, we find that the figure of losses was £5 million for 1948, £21 million for 1949 and £31 million for 1950. There has not been any corresponding increases in prices from 1948 to 1950 to cause such an increase in losses.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes) indicated assent——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the tables in the Report—and the Minister agrees with me—he will find that the estimated loss for 1950 is £31 million. The tables show the estimated losses for each year, such as £20.7 million for 1949. The hon. Gentleman took part in the Debate when we discussed the loss of £4.7 million in 1948. I do not want to score off the hon. Gentleman, who applies great industry to this problem, but he will find, when he goes into the documents, that I am right, and that he has for once, and it is a very rare occasion in this House, fallen into error in the matter.
I now want to deal very shortly with the other side of the shield. I have dealt with economies, with what I suggest should be done to implement them and also with what we think are matters for inquiry. I now want to consider what are the suggested prospects with regard to receipts and why they are so gloomy, because hon. Gentlemen opposite are always driving home and making the most of three trends at the present time. One is production, which they say has increased by 34 per cent., the second is the number of people in work, and the third is productivity, which I have already mentioned and which they say is increasing at an annual figure of 4 or 5 per cent.
The puzzle in this matter is this. If all these trends are rising, why is it that less freight should be carried and fewer passengers should travel? That is the problem. If hon. Members at once say, "Of course, the answer is 'C' licences," I do not think that will do. In any case, right hon. and hon. Members opposite have taken fiscal steps, by a duty on petrol and a tax on lorries, to make it more difficult and more expensive to operate "C" licences, and these matters have not been taken into account.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman permit me to try to assist him in this matter, if I may be so 408 immodest? He has conceded that considerable economies were made which resulted in a saving of some £7 million and some 27,000 men, but is it not obvious in those circumstances that we cannot go on chopping off 27,000 men every year? Again, if the trend is, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, towards an expanding traffic, the Commission would want a staff at least as great to handle the traffic. If the passenger traffic is contracting, there is another trend, and, if goods are going on to the road, there is yet another trend.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am always anxious to deal with any point which the hon. Member raises. I accepted the 7 per cent. economy in 1949, but I expressly did not accept the point that because one makes a 2 per cent. economy in one year, one ought to be content with a 1 per cent. economy in the next. I know the hon. Member's interest in these matters, but he has still to explain the overall figures which I gave, namely, that now we have 550,000 people moving 276 million tons, whereas before the war we had 650,000 people moving 298 million tons. I will tell the hon. Gentleman at once that I do not accept that we can say that, because it happens to be 12½ per cent., it takes 12½ per cent. in order to provide for holidays with pay and shorter hours, because I say that those things ought to show themselves in increased efficiency and a better outlook among the men. With regard to the second point on trends, the hon. Gentleman must face the dilemma of why it is, if these trends are correct—and I am only quoting the trends which are always emphasised by the party of the hon. Gentleman himself—that the Transport Commission say we must have fewer passengers and less goods?
There is an increase in "C" licences, and the Government have taken steps against that. What is going to be the effect of those steps? Again, let us look at the proposals. The suggestion has been made that the decrease has been over-estimated, in passengers, by £2,500,000, in mineral traffic by £1 million, and in classes 7 to 21—general merchandise—by £1 million. These are not very much but, of course, they would change the whole picture, because, if we could get economies amounting to £5 million and an increase amounting to £4,500,000, the picture would change from 409 a £30 million deficit to a £20 million deficit, and the change of trend would begin, because these things ought to improve.
In addition to that, we had a Debate last week on road haulage, and it certainly did not appear as if the Road Haulage Executive were being backward in acquiring lorries and businesses. In fact, the figures, which I think appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT, show that the number of lorries owned by the Road Haulage Executive has gone up in the past few months from 19,000 to about 40,000, yet nothing is allowed for in increase of receipts from that part of the Commission's activities.
That is the position, and whatever else hon. Gentlemen may criticise in my speech—and I am sure and expect that they will criticise much—I have, at any rate, dealt with specific suggestions for increased economy and efficiency. I have also dealt with methods by which I believe it would be reasonable, if we had the attitude of looking towards increased traffic and increased receipts, to expect that these things could be obtained.
The other point about which I think the House requires to hear from the Minister is why it is a flat rate increase, that is to say, why no differential has been applied. We are told that, if we are extremely lucky, we shall get a charges scheme at the end of 1951, but there is very little hope of getting it before 1952. We shall then be are to consider it. That, again, is quite a hopeless approach. We ought to consider now what changes in classification and charging are going to attract traffic to the railways. What we want is a system of rates which will encourage profitable and discourage unprofitable traffics. I believe that things which have a low loading factor should be discouraged by higher rates, and that profitable traffic with a high loading factor should be allowed to remain at the present level.
The House knows that I sympathise with the road hauliers on the way in which they are being treated at the moment, but I do not want them to be mollycoddled by handicaps being placed on the railways with regard to their rating system. We should go into it at once and try to find a classification. Everyone knows that the 1921 classification is out of date. We have all admitted that. 410 Why not get on to it at once and give them a chance in a way which would bring about competition of a reasonable sort? What one worries about regarding the indefinite nature of the information placed before the Consultative Committee is whether the Commission are really certain which are their remunerative traffics and which are not. That point must be looked at.
I have spoken for longer than I intended and I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House, for the very patient and courteous hearing accorded to me. But there is one point I wish to urge again. We are all trying, in our different ways, to look objectively at the economic situation of our country and to decide what is the best method of dealing with it. Here we have to consider a most important aspect of it. What we cannot afford to do in this or any other field is to make a leisurely slither into unexampled difficulties. We ought to know exactly why a course has been taken and the facts on which a decision is made.
I ask the House not to allow these increases to operate until it has taken the reasonable step of instituting a small, rapid, practical inquiry by experts so that we may know that the full facts are before us and that every possibility of economy and increased efficiency has been explored. When we had the report, we would consider it, and what line it pointed out to us, completely free of preconception. But until we have that information, until that is done, I am not prepared to take the responsibility of doing the admitted harm which must result to the industries of our country.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
It is always a very great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who speaks on these transport topics always with a very good brief and a good deal of authority. My only regret is that we are never able to get him down to detail on these matters. We have had today again a lot of very general terms that I shall deal with in a moment; but we are always left guessing at the end of the Debate about specific proposals that he or his party would be prepared to put into operation.
411 Therefore, if I had to select a text for my remarks today, I should find it in "Love's Labour's Lost":Now step I forth to whip hypocrisy".I say that without any disrespect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If I did not see some of the faces of those sitting around him and behind him, perhaps I should have not made that my text. He has taken us into a remarkable position today. He said there will be widespread repercussions of this proposal which will have an effect upon a very wide range of products. Before I sit down I shall show the extent of that effect upon a small range of products. He spoke of another upward push in the inflationary spiral. He then said thatthere is a responsibility upon us as Members of this House which prevents us from accepting the findings of the Tribunal.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I said which prevents us from making the same easy assumption as the Tribunal had made before it came to its decision.
§ Mr. Poole
Not having had the benefit of the legal training of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I, as a layman, fail to see any distinction. If one does not accept the conclusions at which the Tribunal arrives, I should have thought that was dissenting from those conclusions. There may be some difference, but I confess I cannot see it.
I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should dissent from an impartial Tribunal presided over by a distinguished member of his own profession and having amongst its three members a gentleman who, as Secretary of the Road and Rail Conference and Rates Adviser to the railway companies for many years, has spent a lifetime on questions of road and rail haulage. It is a remarkable statement by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that we here, having read the evidence but not having heard it, and therefore not having been in a position to cross-examine witnesses and extract the information we require, are in a better position to arrive at a decision than those gentlemen were.
What do I mean when I say that he never came down to specific proposals? Apart from the old proposal on decentralisation, which we have never had in detail from the party opposite but 412 which is now in existence in the railway transport industry, the gist of his suggestions was an improvement of working conditions. He tried to establish some analogy with a man working on a lathe or in some industrial process where, by increasing his efficiency, he was able to give increased output. There is no analogy there. The limiting factor in earnings here is the availability of raw material. How could anyone increase production if there were a shortage of raw material?
§ Mr. Poole
The hon. Gentleman may think he is able to make bricks without straw, but the children of Israel found it very difficult under Pharaoh. I do not suppose the hon. Gentleman would be more successful.
When the traffic is not coming forward to the railway companies, what does the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby mean by improvement in working conditions? Do the party opposite mean an improvement for the men, or do they mean improved technological efficiency? We should like to know. Quite frankly, their suggestion does not mean anything to me. Their suggestion apparently is that now we should have a committee which will go into all the operations of British transport, carry out a survey and, in quick time, produce some magnificent remedy which will improve the present position. That is not borne out by the report of the Tribunal.
If I may refer the House to the bottom of page 16 in the findings of the Tribunal, they will find that the people who considered the problem said:We have therefore considered whether we should advise that the increase should be postponed for a time.That is the proposal, broadly speaking. They go on:We are satisfied it cannot be postponed until the Charges Schemes are brought into force, and, as we see no reasonable hope that conditions may be so changed within, say, a year, that the increase would not then have the effect on industry which is so greatly feared at the present time, and having regard to the detriment of such delay on the finances of the Commission, we do not advise postponement.The Tribunal said that this problem is so real and urgent that it brooks no delay 413 whatever. How long does anyone in this House think any committee would take to go into the operations of the British Transport Commission and to present a report which would only have the value of the report we have had as a result of these sittings of nine, 10 or 11 days by very responsible and experienced people?
I cannot see that we can attach very much importance to that suggestion by the Opposition or that it has really much value. I am sorry to inflict upon the House today a number of quotations, but I have tried to find something which fitted the situation. On reading Charles Kingsley, I could not but feel how apt were his words:The world goes up and the world goes downAnd the sunshine follows the rainAnd yesterday's sneer and yesterday's frownCan never come over again.Kingsley obviously did not know the Tory Party or their attitude to transport. What we have had in the very nice, suave speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the sneer at nationalised transport we have had on every road transport Debate up to now. It is an attempt to smear nationalised industry, a part of the campaign which has been pursued ever since undertakings were placed under public ownership.
What a change it is to have this Debate in the House today. When I first entered the House it was full of railway directors. They sat on these benches in the years from 1934 to 1938. What was the theme song of every Debate we had on transport? There were some 20, 30 and 40 of them then. There was talk of the disastrous position in which the railways found themselves; there were appeals for a square deal, appeals for justice for the railway operator, and for the Government, in the name of goodness, to do something about it. They did nothing about it except appoint commissions whose findings they never implemented.
I have here the Report of the Transport Advisory Commission which sat under Sir Arthur Griffith Boscawen and which reported on 4th April, 1939. I would ask the House to pay careful attention to the railways position in 1939. Paragraph 3 says:The financial position of the railways which has for some time past been very unsatisfactory, has recently deteriorated to such 414 an extent as to give rise to acute concern for the future stability of the companies. The loss of merchandise traffic by the railways has been going on for years and the cumulative effect is now serious.One would suppose from what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said today that this was something that had happened since nationalisation. Yet a report of a commission established by his own party in 1939, states that over a period of years there has been a steadily deteriorating position. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows as well as I do, and as well as any honest man in this House knows, that this position was rapidly coming to a climax, and even his Government would have had to do something if Hitler had not involved us in war in 1939.
In 1939 the railways were asking for—and here I quote from the same Report—… such freedom of action as will, in their opinion, enable them to compete for traffic with road and other transport services on a fair and equitable basis.They were asking for that in 1939, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that we should now have a committee to find out what is wrong with ILJ railways. The position would be ludicrous if it were not so serious. We must agree that this problem ought to have been tackled very long ago.
I cannot help feeling that my text was quite right when I referred to the hypocrisy of the present approach to the railways position. It seems to me that the words of Pope were very true:Manners with fortunes, humours turn with climes.Tenets with books, and principles with times.Principles change with time, and times have changed. The railways have gone into public ownership, and the principles which governed Debates in this House when the railways were in private ownership have also changed. What are the obligations laid upon the Transport Commission? The Transport Commission is compelled to make the undertaking pay, taking one year with another, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, to amortise the capital in the way which is provided in the Act, and also to build up a reserve. The Commission is compelled by Act of Parliament to do those three things. This 415 House, therefore, must give it the tools with Which to do that, or else it is making a mockery of the whole nationalisation proposal.
The evidence of the Tribunal in paragraph 9 on page 6 reports the position of the railway companies. It says:That the only practicable means of obtaining the additional revenue required is by an equal percentage addition to freight charges and that unless steps are now taken to obtain that revenue the accumulated deficit at the end of 1950 is likely to be between £50 and £60 million.It was with that figure in mind that I suggested that the deficit was an accumulated deficit, because it was estimated that there were £4½ million in the first year, £20 million in the second year and an anticipated £30 million in the third year, making an accumulated deficit of between £50 million and £60 million. That is the figure I had in mind which I challenged the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
They go on to say that if there is any delay in conceding this advance in freight charges—and I want to emphasise freight charges, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman devoted a lot of his speech to passenger traffic which does not enter into the scheme of things at all—unless that concession is made now, it will have a most disturbing effect upon the whole operation of the scheme. So we have a Transport Commission on whom is laid the responsibility by Act of Parliament to do these things. I ask the Opposition, how can these things be done otherwise than by increasing the charges?
It is no use indulging in a lot of verbiage in this House and telling us that it ought to be possible to decentralise and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, that there are economies to be made somewhere—I do not know where. Is he suggesting that the deficit for this year of £30 million can be found by any economies? If he is, he ought to be honest enough—and his hon. Friends ought to be honest enough—to tell us where these economies can be made. Is he suggesting, for instance, that by a lowering of wages in the industry some of this saving could be made?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to suggest that we could not afford to go on in a position in which we 416 are not balancing our accounts. He said that we ought to run fewer passenger trains in order to improve the passenger loading, although last week I heard from the opposite benches an urgent request to have a better passenger train service. That, of course, is nothing unusual; it is not unusual to hear dissimilar voices speaking from the opposite benches. Do the Opposition really want the railways to succeed? Do they want the nationalised undertakings to succeed or do they really desire failure so that they can condemn this party for the failure of one of its prime undertakings, the nationalisation of transport? I solemnly warn them that if they are playing about with the idea of the failure of the railways and hoping for some cheap political kudos they are playing about with the future security of this country. I think they ought to realise that.
The part which the railway system in this country played in the winning of the last war was not inconsiderable, and the heavy capital expenditure which the nationalised transport system must make if the railways are to play their part in any future national emergency, is very considerable. I am mindful of the position of the railway industry, a position of extreme danger, which arose following Dunkirk when we should have been in a completely impossible position to move our troops and arms into Sussex and Kent if there had been an invasion because of the severe limitations of our railway system. Some hon. Members may have heard me make this point before. I want to make it again in order to show how urgent it is that the Commission should have sufficient capital resources to do the things that are necessary.
The whole of our link between the north and the south of the Thames depends on a little stretch of line, the old West London Railway. One well directed bomb a night on that railway line, could have jeopardised the whole security of the south of England at any time during the war. We did wake up one morning and find that there was no railway system at all from the South Coast to London and that every junction had been put out of commission. That was serious, but if one considers that there was no means of crossing London by rail other than the old West 417 London line, which conveyed enormous quantities of men and materials during the war, and that that line could have been destroyed by one bomb a night, it will be seen that we could have been kept permanently without a rail link to the South other than the link which goes round Reading and Basingstoke. There are many capital works which should now be taken on by the Commission merely from the point of view of national security. Yet the Opposition wish to deny us a 16⅔ per cent. increase in freight charges so that the accounts can be balanced.
This is an extremely serious matter. How can the railways make a profit and pay the dividends which Parliament has laid down that they shall pay, when, compared with the pre-war position, the increase in their rates has been 55 per cent. while the increase in their costs for materials and labour has been in the region of 120 per cent. The average increase has been 120 per cent. Is there any business undertaking in the country which could show a profit on that basis? Is there any business which could make a profit when it was selling its commodities at 55 per cent. above the pre-war price and was involving itself in labour and raw material costs at a figure of 120 per cent. above the pre-war figure?
The figures for the increased cost of articles used by the railways have been given in this House before. They are: coal 180 per cent. over pre-war; iron and steel 105 per cent.; non-ferrous metals 136 per cent.; and timber, which is a commodity used more than any other by the railway companies in the maintenance of their permanent way, 291 per cent. I ask hon. Members opposite what remedy they suggest for this, if they are anxious that there should be a remedy.
In 1949 the railways handled 4 per cent. more traffic than in pre-war years. Dealing with this question of improved efficiency, I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to take this into account: in handling 4 per cent. more traffic than in pre-war days, and bearing in mind the reduction in hours and the increased holidays now granted, the railways last year handled more work with fewer man-hours. There was, therefore, a considerable improvement in the efficiency of the undertaking.
418 I want to pass now, as quickly as I can, through a brief statistical survey and I would ask the House to bear with me while I give a few figures. I am dealing with freight traffic all the time because that is the only traffic affected by the regulations. In 1948 the railways received 13s. 2d. for every ton of goods they carried—those were the average receipts. Under the suggested increase which we are debating today, that figure would go up to 15s. 4d. a ton—to be exact, 15s. 4⅓d. I wonder whether this House has any idea of what the taxpayers paid the railways for carrying military traffic during the war? I wonder whether the House has any conception of the figure involved?
Up to the beginning of the war, as I have shown by the report of the Transport Advisory Committee, the railways were in a serious state and, with the outbreak of war, the nation had to take some action to make them solvent in order that they might play their part in the war. It paid 36s. 2d. a ton for every ton of stores carried. In the case of some traffic. Ministry of Supply traffic, the figure was even higher. That figure is very much more than double the figure which the British Transport Commission will receive when the 16⅔ per cent. increase is granted, and I believe that the figures I have just given show the absolute necessity for this increase. They show, too, the Opposition case in all its hollow nakedness.
During the war I heard no complaint from hon. Members opposite that we were paying the railway companies too much in paying 36s. 2d. a ton. The taxpayer carried that burden. I never heard it said that that was giving a push up in the inflationery spiral; in fact, I heard no query about it at all. With lower costs of material, with unlimited traffic offered, with no competition to fight, and with less maintenance work to do, it was deemed that 36s. 2d. a ton was the figure necessary to make the railway companies solvent during the war, and that was deemed by a Tory-dominated coalition to be the right figure; yet today, with heavy arrears of maintenance, with obsolete engines and stock, with high costs of plant and materials and with intensified road competition, the Tory Party say that 15s. 4d. a ton is too much for the nationalised undertaking. I invite any 419 hon. Member opposite to controvert those figures and to show where is the sanity in their case.
I hesitate to inflict still another quotation on the House but at this point I am brought to it, and it is from Sir Charles Sedley's song to Celia:Not, Celia, that I juster amOr better than the rest,For I would change each hour like themWere not my heart at rest.Of course, the hearts of the Opposition are at rest. Spurned by their old love, the railways, the fierceness of their passion is now for their new love, the roads, and I believe the fierceness of their passion for road transport has destroyed their reason. The swain went on:Why then should I seek further store,And still make love anew,When change itself can give no more'Tis easy to be true.So, tonight, the Opposition are praying for the safe keeping of their new love, the road transport undertakings, and for the complete and utter destruction of their old paramour, the railways. They loved the railways in 1938 when they owned them and when their friends were directors, but now they are praying that the railways might speedily die, in order that their new love might be all the more glamorous.
I turn to a further analysis of railway receipts, this time on a ton-mile basis, and I think these figures are of extreme importance. Because of the need to save time I will confine myself to merchandise traffic—that is, traffic in classes 7 to 21. The average receipts per ton-mile in 1936 were 1.995 pence per ton-mile. In 1938 they had risen to 2.022 pence and in 1948 the figure was 2.94 pence. The increase in 1948, over 1938, was an increase of 49 per cent.
These figures mean that m 1948 a ton of merchandise, at 2.94 pence per ton-mile, was carried for 100 miles for 294 pence. The 16⅔ per cent. increase means an increase of 49d. a ton per 100 miles. I am taking 100 miles as an easy figure and as a fairly average distance for a haul. It means an increase of.022 pence per pound over every 100 miles the pound of commodities is carried. That is l/50th of a penny per pound on the costs. That is the extent of "the upward push in the inflationary spiral" about which 420 we heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is the extent of the sacrifice and of the burden we are asking the nation to bear in order to make the railways solvent.
In conclusion, if I may reduce it to bread and butter terms, I will talk of a few commodities which I wrote down at random and I will show the impact these increases will have on transit between, say, London and Birmingham. I choose London because a good deal of traffic originates here and, at the other end, I choose Birmingham because I represent part of Birmingham in this House. I will select potatoes, sugar, butter and bacon, which are things in every day use by ordinary people. At the current rates for conveyance of this traffic between London and Birmingham, or vice versa, the charge for potatoes is 28s. 7d. a ton, for sugar 40s. 8d. a ton, for butter 59s. 8d. a ton and for bacon 51s. l0d. a ton, including collection and delivery. If they do nothing else, these figures show up how ridiculous is the present classification of railway traffic, for nobody can tell me why it should cost 59s. 8d. to carry a ton of butter and only 51s. l0d. to carry a ton of bacon. Those are anomalies which we hope will be corrected in the new charges schemes, but at any rate, that is the present position.
The 16⅔ per cent. increase will mean that the transport costs for potatoes will be increased by 4s. 9d. a ton or by 1/40th of a penny a pound; for sugar the increase will be 6s. 9d. a ton or 1/28th of a penny a pound; for butter, 9s. lid. a ton or 1/18th of a penny a pound; and for bacon 8s. 8d. a ton or 1/21st of a penny a pound—all for conveyance between London and Birmingham. There, in all its naked horror, is the ghastliness of the proposals that are being resisted by the Opposition today. I ask the Opposition whether they now dare to divide the House on this issue.
§ Mr. Poole
I ask because the issue here is the issue between solvency and national security or a fiftieth of a penny, and I wonder whether, for the sake of that, they are prepared to place the security of the nation in jeopardy If they do not know where their duty lies, the country will be able to tell them at the election 421 I conclude with a quotation from Archbishop Laud of Canterbury who said:Some hypocrites and small-mortified men who have held down their heads, were like the little images they place in the very bowing of the vaults of a church, who look as though they hold up the church; but they are merely puppets.The Opposition seek to look as though they are upholders of the country. To me they are but puppets.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Notwithstanding the very moderate speech with which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) opened this Debate it seems to me that the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) has completely misunderstood the points which we are endeavouring to make. We are certainly not pursuing any vendetta against the nationalised industries; nor are we attempting to seek to prevent the railways from paying. Were we doing so I for one would have nothing to do with this Debate, because, as hon. Members know, I claim to be a railway man myself. I know also that some hon. Members do not like that claim, because I was never in an operating department, but it is a fact that I was a railway servant for 20 years, and that during the war I was classified, not as a solicitor, but as a railway executive.
If, therefore, we were pursuing any such course as the hon. Member suggests, I, in supporting it, should not only be doing something to the detriment of the country but I should be letting down my friends and former colleagues in the railway service. On the contrary, the reason why we are praying against these Regulations and Orders is that we believe that they are the wrong approach to the problem which faces the country in the matter of rail transport. We think that, far from improving the position, they may very well make it worse.
In considering the Motion or, indeed, any railway matter, I would urge hon. Members to make up their minds as to what they believe to be the future of rail traction. It seems to me that too many Members—on both sides of the House, but more particularly on the other side of the House—are taking much too despondent a view. Many of them take a point of view which can be described 422 only in the words which the law students' textbooks use in another connection, that of "settled hopeless expectation of impending death." They seem to regard the railways as obsolete. They seem to assume that in no circumstances could they ever be made to pay again, and that somebody has to be found to pay the charges. If they really believe that, it is a waste of time for them to support these Regulations and Orders or, indeed, any future railway legislation. They had better make up their minds to close the railways now and sack the staff now, if they really believe that to be true. I should like to make a most vigorous protest against any such point of view, which I think is quite unreasonable, and contrary to the facts.
There are two points about rail traction which we should consider in discussing whether these Regulations and Orders are necessary. The first is this: if we have a given weight of material and place it in a wheeled vehicle and wish to transport it from point A to point B we can do so with much less effort if we place it in a vehicle on rails than if we place it in one on the roads, and with vastly less effort than if we have to hoist it into the air and hurtle it through space. The second point to remember is that time is not always of the essence of the contract. Nowadays, we are all inclined to be speed-minded and to think in terms of jet propulsion, but, as a matter of fact, speed is of no value unless it is used for some purpose. I can best illustrate that point with a story—the story of an American who was showing an Englishman a new bridge in New York and explaining to him that that bridge would mean that the traffic would save 10 minutes; whereupon the Englishman asked, "And what will you do with the 10 minutes?"
§ Mr. Wilson
The point that should be remembered is that regularity of deliveries is much more important than speed to many people and businesses. That is particularly so in the case of many small businesses. What the small retailer wants is to be able to telephone his wholesaler, ask him for deliveries within 24 hours, and know that he will get those deliveries at a particular place 423 at a particular time, and that he need not bother any more about it. For that class of traffic the railways are still and always will be useful.
There are two principal disadvantages about the railways which have also to be considered—and overcome. The first is that traffic on a railway moves only between fixed points, and that the destination point is fixed by the structure of the lines; and the second is that in the past goods traffic has tended to be handled a number of times in the course of transit, which has been a disadvantage. These two disadvantages, it seems to me, have very much more to do with the falling off of traffic than the question of cost or the question of speed. I interrupted the hon. Member for Perry Barr when he was discussing the question of production and the railways. What I was thinking of was these two questions, which I have mentioned, and the attitude of the staff and the improvement of their conditions, which can make a very great difference in the amount of traffic which is put on the railways. If the conditions are bad, then there tend to be more breakages; and that tends to decrease the amount of traffic consigned to the railways. If conditions are good, and the men are keen, they tend to attract more traffic to the railways, that otherwise would go to road transport.
I refer now to the increased charges that are proposed in these Regulations and Orders. I do not know if it is fully appreciated to what an extent they will affect distant parts of this country. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has mentioned the charges in relation to Birmingham, but there are many places much farther from London than Birmingham. I represent a Cornish constituency. Although in Cornwall we are still very proud of saying that Cornwall is not England, and talking about "across the water," meaning, by that, across the Tamar and not the English Channel; though we speak of "up country" as meaning anywhere outside of Cornwall——
§ Mr. Wilson
—it remains the fact that Cornwall and the South-West are totally dependent on the rest of these islands, and are connected with them only by 424 long-distance transport. The Cornish farmer is much farther from his markets than, say, the farmer in Essex or Kent; and the same is true of the Cornish fishermen, who are much farther from the markets than are the fishermen in many other parts of the country. The same, of course, is also true of the china clay industry. It is entirely an export industry so far as Cornwall is concerned. A very great proportion of its output is shifted from Cornwall, and what is not sent abroad is sent by road or rail to distant parts of England—to London, to Stoke-on-Trent, and to the Midlands industrial area.
Increased rail charges will have a very serious effect upon all these industries, to say nothing of the tourist industry. After all, it is possible for holiday makers from neighbouring big towns to reach Brighton and Blackpool by bicycle, but nobody is going to attempt that in going to Cornwall. Before we agree to any increased rail charges we shall have very seriously to consider how much these charges will affect the general public, and particularly how hard they will hit those members of the public who live in distant parts of the country.
Before we agree to these charges we must also be satisfied that the British Transport Commission are acting with vigour and imagination, making the best use of the natural advantages of rail transport, and doing their best to minimise the disadvantages. Is everything being done to improve the position with regard to locomotion? I am glad to see that experiments with the Brown-Boveri gas turbine engine are going on, and that it is actually being put into use at the present time. But what has become of the light diesel cars that we used to see before the war, which seemed to be serving a very useful purpose for both passenger and parcel traffic?
§ Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
Would the hon. Gentleman kindly inform the House how many diesel cars there were on the railways in this country before the war?
§ Mr. Wilson
There were not a great number, but there were some in service on the Great Western Railway.
§ Mr. Wilson
There were more than two. To my knowledge there were at least three. I believe there were more than that, because there was one going from Birmingham to South Wales, there was another in the Newbury-Reading area, and there was also one which carried parcel traffic in that area.
§ Mr. Wilson
I think that there were more than that. The point is: Was that experiment in some other light form of transport as an alternative to the old cumbersome rail motor a success? If not, what were the objections to it? If it was a success, is anything being done to develop it and have any alternative means been tried for dealing with traffic over side lines? Are we satisfied that the very last word has been said on the question of steam? The "King," and the "Castle" classes of engine are still running on our railways after 20 years or more. They were very good engines, and obviously must have been because they are still running effectively. But are we satisfied that nothing more can be done in the direction of developing the steam engine?
Contrary to popular belief, the steam engine was developed and improved very largely in Cornwall. Its development was very largely the work of Cornish mining engineers, and the reason why they took such a interest in it was because they were faced with very serious problems owing to the high cost of fuel far from the coalfields. It seems to me that that same problem of the high cost of fuel must be now arising, and I should like to know whether it has been considered whether there are any future improvements comparable with those achieved in the past which will give the steam engine a future.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
While appreciating all these suggestions for improvements, might I ask the hon. Gentleman, as a railway expert, to tell us whether, in the period before these freight charge increases can be brought into force, they are, in his view, unavoidable?
§ Mr. Wilson
It has already been suggested from this side of the House that there could be an inquiry into whether economies have been made. I was really answering the hon. Member for Perry Bar, who seemed to me to take such a 426 despondent view and to assume that nothing could be done to make the railways pay except to increase the charges. I suggest that there are quite a lot of things that could be done apart from economies; that there are other developments which could take place and could make the railways pay.
§ Mr. Thomas Reid (Swindon)
The hon. Gentleman has given us a great many hints of an engineering and specialist character. He is no doubt aware that before the war there were proposals for the unification of transport. Is he or is he not in favour of the unification of transport?
§ Mr. Wilson
That does not seem to me to arise in this Debate.
I mentioned just now the regular delivery of goods. I was told by a railway official—I do not know with what proof—that the number of train-runners employed on the railway service has decreased. The train-runner is not a very spectacular or prominent official, but he does fulfil a very useful function, and if that is their idea of economy it seems to me rather an odd one. It is rather like a factory which is in difficulties dismissing the time-keeper in order to——
§ Mr. Monslow
Would the hon. Gentleman inform the House whether there has been a reduction or an increase in the railway staff sincs nationalisation, to justify his point?
§ Mr. Wilson
There has been a reduction in railway staff in certain grades, but the point I am making is that this seems rather an odd reduction to make. To obtain an increase in rail traffic one of the things to do, as an alternative to increasing the freight charges, should be to do everything to encourage those forms of traffic which are most likely to go by rail. One of those is traffic which is having a regular delivery, so that anything which can make for the smooth running of trains, for their punctuality, and for the smooth handling of traffic on platforms is an improvement which should be encouraged.
In an earlier Debate in the House mention was made of the rather bad conditions under which railwaymen sometimes have to work. We know that is quite true. Some improvements have token place, but conditions are still very bad in many 427 places. I should like to know what is being done to improve the goods stations. Some of them are, to my own knowledge, in a rather bad state. If hon. Members want to see a rather peculiar goods station I recommend them to go to Smithfield goods station, which is not so very far from this House. It is underground; a dark and dusty dungeon which reminds one rather of the film producer's idea of the sewers of Vienna in the film "The Third Man." We cannot expect the British Transport Commission to undertake the rebuilding of the underground portions of London, but at least they can do something to improve conditions in some of these old-fashioned stations which still exist.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am not shirking that point, although, of course, improvements have been made over the course of time. But two wrongs do not make a right, and if we want now to increase the traffic we must do something about those conditions.
Before we agree to these rail charges we must be satisfied that the whole matter has been tackled with dynamic energy and imagination, and that the railway losses are not being accepted with fatalistic resignation as inevitable acts of God about which nothing can be done except to stick up the charges. No doubt we shall be met with the challenge: "Why was not that done before? Why was there stagnation before the war?" That is no real answer. Even if there was stagnation before the war—and I am quite prepared to challenge that that was the case—it is no answer to the present problem merely to say so, because two wrongs do not make a right. We must assure ourselves that the matter is now being dealt with properly.
Hon. Members opposite will at least agree with me in this, that in the beginning our railways got on top in face of very great opposition because of the force of character and the perseverance of a number of railway pioneers—men like Robert Stephenson and I. K. Brunei. There are still men of great character and perseverance on the railways, but one suspects that they are being bound round with red tape, and that they have just about as much mobility as an Egyptian 428 mummy. Before we agree to these charges I think that greater freedom should be given to these men who, I feel sure, if they were given freedom, would make totally unnecessary such an imposition as we are asked to accept.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
Before commenting upon the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) who opened the Debate, may I ask the Minister, when he is replying, to advise the House whether the contentions made in the leading article of the "Manchester Guardian" today have any foundation? I read the suggestion that the British Transport Commission interfere in the day-to-day management of its various executives. That is quite contrary to my experience and information. The House well knows that on matters of general principle and broad policy, the Transport Commission have that responsibility, but so far as the various executives are concerned, they exercise to the full the responsibility of directing the affairs of the particular section over which they preside.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was room for decentralisation. Surely that exists. There are six regions over which there is a regional officer. Each officer has the right to exercise initiative, enterprise, and to develop his service as he thinks best within the general circumferance of the B.T.C. These officers meet the officers of the Railway Executive once a fortnight, when they discuss matters of mutual importance and interest to all concerned. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just come into the Chamber, perhaps I may be permitted to repeat the point which I have just made that there is a great measure of decentralisation. As I have said, there are six regions presided over by a regional officer, and once a fortnight these regional officers meet the members of the Railway Executive and discuss matters of mutual interest and importance.
The regional officers themselves have every authority to exercise initiative and 429 enterprise in developing their services. In fact these various regions are also divided into divisions, and there is a further measure or decentralisation there. From my own experience, there is more decentralisation today than ever before in the history of the railways. Let me give one example. The operating member of the Railway Executive Committee communicates direct with the operating superintendent in the region on purely operating matters and bas not to be involved with the chief regional officer, and in that way serious detriment to the working is avoided.
The suggestion with which we are confronted today is by no means a new one. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may recall that in the pre-war days dividends on ordinary L.M.S. stock were non-existent. Credit was so low that they could not raise fresh capital. In fact, at one point in 1940, shares having a nominal value of £100 were sold for £9. The position was equally bad on the L.N.E.R. and to a lesser degree on the other two groups. What happened? They came to the State in order to be rescued, and the Rail Finance Corporation Act, 1935, raised no less than £26,190,000 at 2½ per cent. and lent that sum at that rate of interest to the four main groups in proportionate amounts. The G.W.R. got over £5 million, the L.M.S.R. over £8 million, the G.N.R. over £5 million and the Southern Railway over £5 million.
I hope that it will not be regarded as disrespectful if I say that the railway companies in those years were the mendicants of the Treasury. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has, I think, under-estimated the difficulties and oversimplified the solution. He suggests that we should have a small committee of experts. Who is responsible for this work now? I mentioned in a previous Debate that the gentleman responsible for the charges scheme is none other than Sir William Valentine Wood, for many years regarded by the L.M.S.R. Company as the greatest railway statistician in the country. Whenever the railway unions had any contentious arguments, the reply was that Sir William's authority in the country on this matter could never be denied. He is the gentleman who is acting in the capacity of principal officer to the Commission now Is it suggested 430 that because he is working for the Ministry of Transport and the Government, he is less loyal and less efficient than formerly?
After the 1914–18 war, rates were raised approximately 100 per cent. within a very short time. The same thing would have happened after the last war if the railways had gone back to private ownership. In fact, there was an understanding between the railway companies and the Government that the railways would not revert to private ownership until a reasonable time had been allowed to elapse, so that they could consider the rates and charges which were in existence, the purpose being to offer the railway companies an opportunity to secure a proper measure of rates and charges so that their revenue could be maintained. Now that the railways have come into public ownership, there seems to be a hullabaloo because we are making a reasonable effort in order to get the revenue necessary to balance our accounts.
The difficulty that we are dealing with is not confined to the British Railways; in fact, it is something which is happening the world over. I think that it was the Deputy-Chairman of Canadian Railways who said, towards the end of last year, that the railway system all over the world had to be given a reasonable opportunity to set up a proper measure of charges in order to meet the increased costs they have to contend with and to get the proper revenue for their work.
Nationalisation is inevitable. There is no reversion of the process, as I think hon. Members opposite will agree, but the troubles we are trying to solve are of very long-standing. I have in my hand a quotation from a speech delivered by the late Lord Stamp in 1937. He said:We must now renew our efforts to secure the highly necessary co-ordination of road and rail functions in the public interest.Sir Alfred Read, presiding at the annual meeting of Coast Lines, Limited, made a similar observation. Perhaps it will be of greater interest to the House if I quote from the speech delivered by Mr. William Whitelaw, then Chairman of the L.N.E.R. Company, who said:My reasons for wishing to see State ownership are as simple as would be the actual transaction. Perhaps the chief advantage would be the elimination of wasteful 431 competition. Some of this has disappeared, but we still see the running of unnecessary trains, the maintenance of unnecessary works and shunting sheds and depots in the same towns, and the competition between road and rail systems, which is often detrimental to both interests.So 13 years ago, Mr. William Whitelaw was forecasting the problems we are trying to solve today. May I point out that substantial economies have been effected and are being effected? One was referred to in the reduction of the number of staff. Then there is the reduction of the number of types of locomotives from approximately 200 to 12. There has been a new type of rail chair to give smoother and more efficient running. These policies will take many years to mature before we can derive the fullest possible advantage. There are schemes of integration that are being developed and carried out. Within two or three years we shall have very substantial advantages from the measures that have been taken.
The leading article in the "Manchester Guardian" made one other suggestion, namely, that the Transport Commission had suggested that no substantial economies could be effected. I venture to say that no Member can quote a single member of the Transport Commission who has made such a statement. What they have said is that the type of economy which will bring permanent advantage to the country and to the industry will take a considerable period to mature. It is because of that that they are asking, in the meantime, that they should be given this helping hand as far as rates are concerned.
But there is another aspect to which I should refer. Many people hold the view that the Government paid far too much for the railways when they bought them, and the railwaymen resent the fact that they have to work hard to raise the revenue of £24 million per annum for the railway stockholders alone. In the prewar years, the ordinary shareholders had nothing at all. The guaranteed preference and debenture shareholders made no sacrifices, and the only people who made the sacrifices were the ordinary shareholders and the employees who submitted to a 5 per cent. reduction in their salaries. But now, in the postwar years, we are having to find this £24 million per annum for the shareholders.
432 What we think would be a fair solution—and no one is suggesting depriving stockholders of the reasonable compensation to which thy are entitled and to which we have been parties to all along—is that the Government should make a fresh estimate of what the railways were actually worth when they took them over and charge the railway industry with that amount of revenue to earn. If that happened, the picture would be a very different one. As has been pointed out, 56 commodities that the Railway Executive use cost more than two and a half times the pre-war amount. If those from whom we buy were content with the same increases in their goods as we charge for transport, the situation would be a very much healthier one as far as the Railway Executive is concerned.
I ask the House to oppose this Motion and to recognise that no other form of transport can perform the primary functions of the railway industry, which is essential in times of peace as in times of war. I ask Members to adopt a realistic approach to the industry, recognising that the work being done and the contribution being made by the experts concerned, in many cases selected by Members opposite, is proving worth while. Given a chance, we shall balance our accounts and transport will be unified and co-ordinated. It will become one of the greatest assets of the country and one of the leading industries in the world.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Davies (Epping)
I must first refer to the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), who suggested that the Government made a bad bargain when they nationalised the railways by undertaking to pay the present amount of compensation. Surely the Government were not obliged to do so. It was they who chose the moment to take over the industry. Is he really suggesting that when any industry has been nationalised, some approximation at least of the market value of the shares should not be paid? If that were not the case, it would be pure confiscation.
I also understood him to suggest that the Government and the Minister should go back on their bargain and reduce the amount paid to the railway stockholders. If that sort of thing is going to happen, I can think of nothing more damaging to 433 British credit in the world. Nothing could be more damaging than for the Government to make a bargain and then not to keep it and not to pay the interest promised. I should like to know who will lend the Government money in the future if that sort of suggestion is accepted.
We have heard a lot from Members opposite about the past history of the railways, going back even as far as the 1914–18 war. Surely the main thing is that we must review this problem in the light of our economic position today, particularly in the light of what has been referred to, and can only be referred to, as the inflationary spiral, which still continues in this country at a time when it has ceased in practically all the rest of the world. Surely these rail freight increases will give more of a spurt to that inflationary spiral than any other increase in prices. Increased freight charges affect practically every commodity our industries produce. They not only give a direct but an indirect twist to the inflationary spiral, because it means an increase in the price of the coal the railways have to buy, and therefore the cost of maintaining the railways will become even higher.
I would also mention one other factor, namely, the effect these increased charges will have on agriculture in general and horticulture in particular. The horticultural industry depends very much on coal and at the moment it is suffering from the bad quality and high price of coal. Now it is to pay an even higher price for its coal. The question which I would put to the Minister and which so far has not been answered, is why freight is to bear the whole cost of these increased charges. Is it because the industrialists can pay? Is it because industry can afford to take the load, or is it that a case can be made out, on the showing of today's costs, that the present proportion of charges as between freight and passenger traffic is illogical?
Surely that is the gist of the problem, and the case which should be made out if freights are to bear the whole of this cost. It may be, particularly at a time when General Elections take place so frequently, that an increase in passenger fares would be much more unpopular. It is true that it would have a far quicker impact upon the general public. But surely, putting the whole of the increase 434 on freight, will have a far more direct and quicker impact on industry in general and on our exports, in particular.
What is to be the policy over the next year or two in regard to the railways? Much has been said about measures of integration and economy over a longer period, but it seems inevitable that in the present state of our economy the costs of the railways, like everything else, will continue to rise. These new charges are designed only to go some way towards meeting the present gap, but that gap, unless we make far larger economies, is likely to become bigger, bearing in mind the demand for increased wages which was made long ago at a time when the general price levels in this country were lower than those of today.
Where will all this end? Is it not likely that there will be further increases in costs, and, therefore, further demands? Is it not likely that the Minister, if he is still in office, will come to us in a matter of months and ask for further money to defray the costs of the railways? Are we then to put it on to passenger fares, or again on to freights and thereby give still more impetus to the inflationary situation? Can further economies be promised that really will ensure that rail costs will be reduced and not increased?
In my experience with ordinary types of consumer goods, road transport costs are actually lower than those of the railways, even at present and in spite of the new and penal taxation on road transport. The new rail charges will increase that disparity considerably and will cause a reduction in the amount of freight carried on the railways. It will encourage people to send their goods by road and not by rail. If we are to pursue a policy of allowing rail charges to rise freely and then, by taxation or other means, force road charges to follow them, we shall place on the whole of industry, and particularly on the export industry, a ruinous burden such as other countries simply do not have to bear. This will be occurring at the very worst time of all.
This is the time when importers in other countries are demanding that prices should be lower on the goods they receive from Great Britain and not higher, especially when they are getting lower quotations from exporters in other countries. I would mention in that 435 respect, particularly Germany. We cannot afford at this moment to do anything which will increase the all-round costs and prices in our economy if our level of exports is to be maintained and increased, particularly to dollar areas.
Hon. Members might say, as they have said, "What can we do about it? We have to meet expenses, and that's that." In the situation in which we find ourselves we have to appeal to more drastic measures. We shall have to cut down. The general manager of a firm could not go to the board of directors and say, "I might be able to do something in five or ten years' time." He would have to do something at once, or the business would be put into the hands of the receivers.
§ Mr. N. Davies
No, he would not. Transport charges are not at a level where industry can bear them, and they will have a throttling effect upon industry. Suppose the railways were allowed to compete freely with every form of transport. Suppose there were no form of Government control, and that road and rail transport could—I do not suggest that they should—do what they liked and compete freely one with another. The railways would not fade away, but they would go back, and they would have to be put into the hands of the receivers. They would be reconstituted upon a reduced, more efficient and more Streamlined basis. That is what would happen. I, therefore, suggest that we have reached a stage at which the railways are virtually bankrupt and when rail costs are too high for our industries to stand them. We have to look at the problem in the light of that fact and take radical action.
§ Mr. Crossman
In view of the important statement which the hon. Member has just made, does he not think that £24 million was a somewhat excessive compensation for what he now declares to be a bankrupt industry?
§ Mr. Davies
I did not declare that it was bankrupt two years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We heard a lot of praise from the hon. Member for Perry Bar (Mr. Poole) of the performance of 436 the railways during the war, before they were nationalised. The present situation has been brought about during the past two years.
It is said that the railways cannot cut down their costs, but it has been admitted, and everybody knows, that the railways are employing more men than before the war to do the same jobs. How does that fact tally with the figures of increased productivity that we have heard, and with the statistics that are dished out from day to day to show how productivity has increased in this country? The situation has to be faced that the railways need more men, and not fewer, than they did before the war, and the plain fact is that we are not in a position to afford them. Surely it is now necessary for the railways to study whatever measures may be necessary to follow private industry in seeking increased efficiency. I have said that drastic measures will be necessary. If nothing else can meet the case, we shall have to face the possibility of cutting out some of the minor, non-paying subsidiary lines on which the trains never pay their way, even if that may cause some inconvenience.
I believe that if road transport were allowed to compete in this respect, it would soon meet the need and fill the gap in those cases. We should get away from the idea that we can go on indefinitely, in transport or in anything else, propping up the weak at the expense of the strong and making the efficient pay for the inefficient. Our economy is permeated with that idea. In this and in other matters we really are too protection-minded. Industry as a whole, and not only road and rail transport, is—I do not mind saying—permeated by a network of trade associations and of restrictive practices in labour which serve exactly the same purpose of fixing prices and thereby of assuring the existence of the inefficient and giving a much easier existence to the efficient. In the case of transport we should start on the opposite tack. We should make a practice of encouraging the strong and vigorous—and not of helping the weak to survive at the expense of the strong, as is happening in the case of road and railways—in their efforts to adapt themselves to the changing circumstances with which they are faced.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. N. Davies), and I should like to comment upon one or two of the observations he made. He talked about our economic position. I would indicate to him my firm conviction that had it not been for Governmental action in the last Parliament in taking over the mines and the railways, it would have been a sorry day for our national economy, and that we should have seen more tragic happenings than those which we are discussing at present.
The hon. Member dealt with the problem of freightage between road and rail. This is clearly a situation which we should remedy by a more expeditious integration of all forms of transport—road, rail and canal. We do not agree that there should be disparity in respect of freight rates. The importance of railways in our country cannot be overestimated, and it cannot be denied that if the railways had reverted to private enterprise at the end of the war we should have been in a more sorry plight. Today we would not have been asking for 16⅔ per cent. increase, but for 33⅓ per cent. to meet the situation.
The Opposition prate about being kindly disposed and very compassionate towards the lower-paid workers in this industry, but we have to realise that if the industry were denied the right to these increased charges there could be no improvements in the wages standards of those workers. So the attitude of the Opposition is just sheer cant, humbug and hypocrisy.
In my view the basis of compensation paid to the stockholders of the companies formerly owning the railways was far too high. The Opposition, I understand, feel that we ought to have given higher compensation. That has been made plain, and I would inform the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie), who nods his head, that in a quarter of a century we shall have paid back the total capital assets of the railways and also the interest and dividends, all at the expense of the railway workers.
§ Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that compensation means, in fact, not just hand-out remuneration, but money to compensate 438 exactly? If the hon. Member regards compensation as a pay off, he loses all sense of argument on the question of compensation. It should not be a political issue at all.
§ Mr. Monslow
I regard this compensation as a burden on the industry. Since the nationalisation Measure passed through this House, for the first time the deferred stockholders have been paid interest on their capital, which they never had under private enterprise. We live in an age of change, and the railway workers are no longer going to put up with charity. They are demanding justice. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know little or nothing of railway working conditions, whereas many of us on this side of the House have experience of them. I myself worked on the footplate and was called out at all hours of the night. Though I had a nervous wife and a sick child, I had to go away not knowing when I would be returning, or to what. For that we received a miserable pittance, and those were the conditions under private enterprise.
Today, under nationalisation, there have been improved conditions for the British railway workers, which is a complete change from what we experienced in the days when the Tories dominated the Government and supported private enterprise. It is said that these increased charges will increase the cost of living. If I have one complaint to make against the Government, it is that they do not take some positive action to restrain certain industries which are at the moment making fabulous profits, but which at the first opportunity are disposed to pass additional charges on to consumers, even though the economic position does not warrant the transfer of those charges. Due regard should be paid to that aspect of the problem.
The Transport Commission in my view are taking the only step possible in the present circumstances. They are doing what is fair, right and just, and it must not be thought by the Opposition that the nationalised industries should not be permitted to increase charges whereas private enterprise can increase theirs. These charges must come into force, because there must be some improvement in the economic status of those engaged in the industry. I make this prediction—if these new charges are not 439 conceded, it means a scaling down of those things which are vitally necessary to allow of improvements and expansion after two periods of devastating war.
I understand that the Opposition are going to divide the House on this matter. We shall know by their action that they are interested not so much in the economic rehabilitation of this country as in a political manoeuvre in the hope of gaining public support. If these charges are not accepted, we shall see train services and facilities worse instead of better. These charges are right, just and equitable, and if the Opposition expect the railway workers to accept what they have accepted in the past, that will not be the case, and the full power of the railway trade unions will be used in support of the workers in British Railways.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
We have just listened to a good electioneering speech. A great deal was said about the railway workers and their conditions of work. I should like to tell the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) that I am informed by railway workers in my constituency that they were far better off under private enterprise control than they are today. I should like to cite an example. It is a custom in one railway town in my constituency to order two or three wagons now and again to clear away ashes and clinkers. In the old days the foreman rang up Stirling and after two or three days the wagons were sent and the stufl was cleared. What happens today? The foreman rings up Stirling, Stirling rings up Edinburgh, Edinburgh rings up London and London rings up Derby. Fourteen days later the trucks come through. That is State control of the railways.
I have no complaints to make about he railway personnel. For the 10 years that I have been in this House I have been carried twice a week between the north of Scotland and London, with regularity, speed and every courtesy. I remember leaving this House during the blitz years and going to Euston Station where bombs were falling and yet the engine drivers and other railway workers did not dream of leaving the footplate. They showed tremendous courage. No one in the House has any fault to find 440 with the railway workers, and I really think that the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness was going outside the subject of the Debate in what he said. As regards the Transport Commission, nobody could receive more courteous treatment in their correspondence than I have received from Sir Cyril Hurcomb and his staff. On every occasion a full explanation is given courteously and expeditiously.
The increased charges will fall heavily upon those people on the lower levels of income in the north, north-west and the north-east of Scotland—particularly in the north-west. Not only will they have to pay the increased charge for what is sent by rail, whether it be feedingstuffs for their animals, foodstuffs or building materials, but these things arrive at the ports on the west coast of Scotland and from next Monday increased charges on the steamer freights will have to be paid. Those areas of the country will, therefore, be doubly hit by the rise.
The Minister might have found a better way to help the railways than by raising the charges. Would it not have been better, particularly for the far-away areas, to lower the charges in order to encourage an increased amount of traffic? It is always the custom of hon. Gentlemen opposite to look upon the remote agricultural dwellers as not worth considering. It is true that they may not all have used their votes as hon. Gentlemen opposite desired and perhaps for that reason hon. Gentlemen opposite feel that they are not worth considering, but the Opposition certainly think they are worth considering. In fact, they are the most important community in the country.
§ Major McCallum
They are also those to whom we always turn in time of trouble. Would it not be possible to give favourable rates to people living in the remoter areas in order to encourage them to increase their freights? I had an opportunity of putting to the Chairman of the Transport Commission the proposal that he should grant favourable treatment in order to encourage the development of industry in the Highlands in cases where a certain regularity of freights could be promised. That is a method by which the Railway Executive could obtain increased revenue.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give way to me? I feel very kindly disposed towards him because I happen to be one of the drivers he was so pleasantly describing just now. An important point in his argument relates to the remote areas which, from the point of view of administration and running, are the most expensive areas in the whole system. We depend very considerably on the suburban traffics to subsidise the scanty traffics of the very remote parts of Scotland and some parts of England. I wish he would address himself to that problem for a moment.
§ Major McCallum
The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. The complaint today is of a scanty traffic from the remoter areas, and what I am suggesting is that if the Railway Executive will lower their charges they will have better traffic so that those areas will be less of a burden on the more populous areas. That has proved to be the case in trade, and I do not see why it should not be the case on the railways.
Another industry which will be very severely hit by the increased charges, as well as by other things which have taken place within the last few weeks, is the fishing industry. Particularly in Scotland it will be severely hit. There is a certain regularity of fish trains from Aberdeen and fish wagons from Mallaig and Oban. With the certainty of that regular traffic, is it not possible to grant a favourable freight charge which would tend to increase the traffic?
One of my hon. Friends has suggested that one of the ways to help the railways would be to close the uneconomic branch lines and thereby save expense on them. That would be a retrograde movement. There is no doubt that the most regular and satisfactory form of transport over a period is railway transport and to cut down the traffic by heavy freight charges and by the cutting out of branch lines which would take some of that traffic is a retrograde step. It may be suggested that that sort of traffic can be carried by road transport in the future, but it should be remembered that since the infliction of the 9d. a gallon increase, the price of petrol in the islands of Scotland is 3s. 6½d. and not 3s. as it is in London. That makes a tremendous difference to the likelihood of this traffic being carried by 442 road. I trust that the Minister will consider giving favourable rates to certain freights in the remoter areas, for I am sure that that will lead to an amelioration of the difficulties which are experienced by the railways.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Crossman (Coventry, East)
I would say to the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that, even if the railways into his constituency were crammed every day with tourists and those out of it were crammed with fish, I doubt whether the problems of the Transport Commission would be completely solved. I cannot feel that we can solve them by the local constituency interest of getting reduced freight charges for one's own people. That is not what we are really talking about here.
I agreed with one thing that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. He may be surprised. A great many railway workers tend to feel that they were better off in the '30's. The reason is a very important one. They were in a sheltered industry. They watched large-scale unemployment around them. They had low wages, but at least they had a job. Today, with full employment, other workers have caught them up and gained the security and the shelter, because the shelter is over everybody, and now their low wages seem very meagre compared with those who have passed them by. The sense of frustration on the part of the railway worker is a tribute to full employment, which has taken away the privilege of security with low wages which he enjoyed in the '30's.
I now come to the central issue. I cannot help feeling that the Conservative attack today has so far been something of a sham. No one on the other side of the House, not even the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), has seriously made a case as to how we could avoid these increases of charges without a subsidy, and no one opposite has mentioned a subsidy at all. We heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman a long and interesting speech which I can sum up in a single sentence; the increase of the charges is unnecessary because the losses could all be avoided by economies—economies which can be carried out so quickly that all we have to do is to get the businessmen, report quickly, carry out economies, and the railways will be solvent and 443 everything will be in order. That was the case which was presented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman much more persuasively than I have been able to recapitulate it. I found it a somewhat evasive case, but I must relate it to the Tory Party. Nationalised transport is one of the few industries on which the party opposite has dared to commit itself and has stated what it would do or would not have done.
What is one of the main burdens of the railways today? It has been mentioned by speakers on this side of the House. Up to the time when we nationalised the railways they were receiving large sums of money from the Government—I think the figure was £43 million. After nationalisation, they have to pay out as a first charge £24 million in compensation. The policy of the party opposite was to increase the compensation, and if you increase compensation you increase the need for higher freight charges. Therefore, the first thing we notice is that the party opposite, if it had had its way, would have nationalised the railways and paid even more compensation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is sometimes frank—and embarrassing to the other side—remarked the other day that we nationalised at the wrong time; by which he meant that, if we had waited two years, at least two of the main railways would have been in the hands of the receiver and we would have got them cheaper. So now we observe the Leader of the Opposition saying, "If I had been a Socialist, I would have waited until they were bankrupt, I would have ruined the widows, I would have seen to it that I got the railways for nothing," while the rest of the party says, "You should have paid millions more in compensation to the railways than £24 million." So the first part of their programme is to pay even more for the railways than the considerable over-payment we made.
Their second proposal to help the railways is that we should de-nationalise road transport, that we should take the one profitable part of transport, hand it back to private enterprise, and so increase still further the difficulties of the railways. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the problem of "C" licences and said that we should not put too much 444 stress on the competition of road transport. I agree. I say that on analysing the "C" licences, one finds that a large number of them are fight carriers which have no appreciable effect on rail transport.
Yet I must add, speaking for a constituency more concerned with road than with rail transport, that I am well aware that large fleets of heavy lorries have been built up or acquired from private enterprise by motor car firms in Coventry for carrying goods in order to reduce the traffic available to nationalised transport. I do not say they were wrong to do it. All I am saying is that it was a great mistake of the Government to give way over the "C" licences and that those licences were part of the Tory policy.
Therefore, here we have the three factors: first, more compensation to be paid; secondly, the de-nationalisation of road transport as soon as possible in order to take away the one profitable thing by which, to some extent, we can compensate for railway losses; and thirdly, to do everything possible to enable road transport to compete on unequal terms with the railways.
I want to be perfectly frank as the representative of a motor car town. It is of no interest to the motor car worker to see the railways bankrupt and ruined. We are concerned with a sensible integration. If I may say so to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the weakness of his extremely skilful speech was that it dealt so exclusively with the problem of railways and carefully left out of account the main problem of integration. He simply said we could not wait for all that because we had to get economies immediately. I will come to the economies later. Still we have to agree that, in the long run, some of the speeches of his back benchers when he was out, particularly that from an hon. Gentleman who said we ought to allow the strong to defeat the weak and allow the road to smash rail, do not represent the view of any responsible person.
What is to be done with road and rail? I will be perfectly open. Since the war we have done more to the disadvantage of the railways than was done even in the '30's. We have permitted a vast number of new vehicles to come on the roads, and to do that is certainly not helping the railways. Our petrol costs, though 445 they have been raised 9d. this time, are still very low compared with those of any other European country when we see the comparative costs of road and rail. After all, petrol is an artificially priced article and the tax comprises most of the price. In fact, the price of petrol is always what the Government decide that road transport shall pay for the great advantage it receives over and against rail, for not having a permanent way to keep up which it bought at a vastly inflated cost. Any reasonable person knows that the cost of petrol has to be fixed in relation to the railway problem.
§ Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Gentleman will look up the speech of the Leader of the Opposition when, as Chancellor, he introduced the Petrol Duty, he will find it explicitly stated by the right hon. Gentleman that one of the considerations in the price of petrol has to be a fair balance between road and rail. Since the petrol price is a fictitious price anyway, unless you are prepared to do that, there will be no tax at all on petrol, and then you can really allow the road to cream off everything it likes from the rail. Nobody says we should do that.
All I would say to the party opposite, therefore, is that it is not much good coming to the House and complaining of increases in freight charges when the whole of their policy was designed to ensure that the only profitable part of transport should be taken away from the Transport Commission, handed back to private enterprise, and the railways put into the most extreme difficulty. I must admit that I think this was inevitable. Once we took over the railways, directors were no longer over on that side of the House. Only the directors of the bus companies are there now, and they are the people who are fighting for the road, and, of course, the interest in rail disappears directly the directorates cease to be on the other side of the House. It is simple. Every industry we nationalise loses its loyal political lawyers on the 446 other side of the House from that moment. It is a somewhat one-sided relationship, after all.
Now I want to turn to constructive suggestions.
§ Mr. Crossman
If hon. Gentlemen would be fair and would listen to the Debate, I would say that a certain amount of criticism of the policy of the party opposite is allowed to both sides, and it is relevant to observe what is the Tory policy about transport, in order to evaluate the hypocrisy or sincerity of this Prayer.
Now let me turn to the possible alternatives to these increased freight charges. There seem to me to be three alternative possibilities. The first is that we could achieve in the immediate future such overwhelming economies that we need not increase the charges. That was the belief of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—that this business committee could achieve such great economies that we should not have to increase the freight charges; and his one main proposal was that the railways should make sacrifices on the passenger side.
If that is not defeatism, what is? No serious person would suggest that we should give up the whole of our passenger side and say, "On that side we will make the most drastice increase to the inconvenience of the public as a way of earning a living for the railways." Surely hon. Members-opposite cannot agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the solution is drastically to cut railway services and to drive people once and for all from the railway on to the bus? [An HON. MEMBER:" Why not?"] Because that if that is done, no railway can conceivably make money. If half the revenue is taken——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Will the hon. Member allow me to intervene for I am sure that he is trying to answer the point? The point which I made was that there was an additional loss, which one could evaluate exactly, of £15 million through putting on the extra trains, and that there was no response. I suggested, therefore, that these trains should be cut. Does the hon. Member agree with me on that?
§ Mr. Crossman
Yes, and for the reason that I do not think this problem can be solved in terms of 12 months. The right hon. and learned Member suggests that if there is no immediate response, one's response is to make a cut. No business man has ever developed his business by saying, "I have put out my line of goods. There is a few months' failure of the public to receive it, therefore I will give up trying."
Passenger transport must be won back to some extent from the buses. One of our troubles, and one of the Minister's weaknesses, is that he has allowed his Transport Commission to be extremely dilatory in taking over the buses, which has made it impossible for him, therefore, to integrate road and rail transport on the passenger side. I was hoping to hear that suggestion put forward from the other side of the House. I hope to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman encouraging the Minister to hurry up with the nationalisation of passenger transport, to make sure that he does not over-compensate, to make quite sure that not too much money is paid, and to see that it is done really quickly so that integration can take place. But not a word have we heard from the opposite side of any desire for an integrated transport system.
§ Mr. Crossman
One of our difficulties on this side is that we have to educate the backward Members little by little. Whether it is America, where private railways have millions of losses, or Switzerland, which happens to be a capitalist country with a nationalised railway system, I challenge the hon. Member to name many countries where railways can be run at a very great profit in the modern world. Yet every country needs railways. It is a simple fact that if the railways cannot be run in the normal way as a profitable business, then the relationship between road and rail cannot be fixed on simple, free enterprise competition, and a Government has to step in and to have a policy to relate the two sides. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were to be in the position of a Government, they would have to reach a formula for working the two together. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who I know accepts that point, that on the whole he has not made out a case, 448 and that short-term drastic economies, which might possibly balance a budget over months, would utterly ruin the long-term scheme of integration.
Now I come to the second possibility. It would, of course, be possible so to penalise road transport that traffic is driven back to the railways. Petrol could be raised to 6s. or 7s. a gallon; or other steps of that kind could be taken. I do not think, however, that anybody in the House suggests that that would be a good thing. Although I believe that on the whole the increase in the Petrol Duty was justifiable to keep the balance fair as between road and rail, we shall certainly not settle the problem by raising the price continually to the stage where nobody can afford to travel by road. We are not going to do that.
What, then, are we left with? The problem cannot be settled by economies, or by destroying road transport. The only way in which rail freight and passenger charges can be kept down and a fair wage provided for the railwaymen is by a subsidy. I shall be told, I know, that it is terrible to say such a thing, but I reply to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in this way. Some £300 million a year is, very properly, going to encourage British farmers to be enterprising. They were not told, "Put your house in order first, effect your economies, then we will help you afterwards." They were told, "We want you to work, so we are giving you a basis on which you will not go bankrupt and on which you will have the chance to pull your industry together." We did not say to civil aviation, "You must make a profit first." Nor did we say that to the steel industry; we gave them a subsidy for a short time. Then we gave a subsidy to the clockmakers—we are trying to stimulate a British clock industry, if hon. Members opposite want to know.
§ Mr. Crossman
Clocks. I think that the sum which has been put into the industry is £10 million.
All I ask myself is this. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really are concerned with transport and want cheap transport and fair wages for the men, all this will not be achieved without active Government assistance to the industry. 449 To nationalise an industry, to remove from it the presents which it was previously receiving from the Government, to burden it with compensation far more than the railways were worth and then to say, "Pay your way," but to be surprised that the charges go up, is the outlook of a very simple person indeed.
I suggest to the Minister a constructive alternative to a constant increase of charges. Why do the Government not take responsibility for the permanent way? I am really concerned to find a basis on which road and rail can fairly compete. If something is done to remove from the railways the incubus of history, which, of course, the roads never had, then at least they can be said to be roughly on a par; and until the two are put roughly on a par, it is no good the Minister saying that because a Bill has been passed, he can sit back and do nothing about it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman very properly said that this House is responsible. That is why I did not like the suggestion of a committee—we are the committee who should be considering transport, and we consider it through the Minister. Surely, hon. Members opposite should address their suggestions to the Minister.
What policy should we have to see that in transport we have decent wages and cheap facilities, just as we have cheap food and decent wages and profits in the agricultural industry? That is the problem. Until the Minister faces it, he will not be able to undertake economies. He could go to the industry with an offer of assistance on condition that it carried out a drastic economy in staff, a drastic cutting of subsidiary lines and a sensible use of bus transport—for buses often operate where railways are running. All those economies could be pressed upon the industry by a Minister who said, "I will help you if you hurry up and put your house in order." That would be a sensible and constructive way of dealing with transport, and until we have the courage to do that, I warn the House that we shall have increasing charges and substandard wages for the workers in the industry.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man), in looking at the subject from a 450 general rather than from a local point of view. I should, however, like to tell him that I have no personal preference for, or interest in, either road or rail. My only concern is to ensure for the country the most efficient and economical forms of transport.
Before I pass to any general considerations I should like to say a few words on a more limited matter. A number of speakers this afternoon, particularly on this side of the House, have spoken of the effect of the increased charges on particular areas and industries. I ought perhaps to say something about the effect of the increased charges upon steel. It is within the knowledge of the House that the prices of steel have not been increased, but it would be wrong to regard the increase in charges as having no effect upon costs. Rising output and rising productivity were such that an opportunity was developing for a reduction in the prices of steel. The result of the increase in freight charges has been the closing and denying of this opportunity. That, I think, is the correct appreciation of the position.
I should like to pass now to more general considerations. The case for an increase in railway freight charges rests upon one central argument—namely, that charges have increased by only 55 per cent. since 1939 whereas the costs of supplies and services used by the railways have increased by 120 per cent. I will not deny that there is a certain force in that argument. I suggest, however, that the force is exaggerted and the argument is, in fact, being made to carry more than it ought to carry, that this disparity is not enough to explain the losses the railways are incurring and that, in resorting to that argument—in restorting to it so freely and unblushingly—the Minister is setting a very dangerous precedent.
If we look at the history of railway rates we find that they always remain relatively much more stable than the prices of other goods. For instance, in the depression of 1929–1931, when the Board of Trade wholesale prices index fell by 30 per cent., railway charges remain unchanged. That was not an accident; it arose out of the nature of things, because fixed capital charges and fixed operating costs play a relatively much more important part in railway 451 finance than in the finances of any other industry. If, then, the railways do not suffer from the disadvantages of a depression to the same extent as other industries suffer, it seems to me that they ought now at least to be temperate in asserting an equal claim to the advantages of a boom.
That is the statistical argument; but more important is the argument of principle. Last autumn we in this country underwent a reduction in the value of our currency, and I am glad to say that devaluation has had a very beneficial effect on the country's economy. But, as we all know, it has caused, and will continue to cause, increases in the costs of imported raw materials. If every industry and every firm were to turn round and say, "My costs have gone up by x per cent.; therefore, I must raise my prices by x per cent.," the whole beneficial effect of devaluation would be cancelled and our competitive position would become precisely that of last summer. In other words, if we are to make devaluation a permanent and not just a temporary good it is the duty of every industry to try to offset increased costs by economies. If voluntary dividend limitation and voluntary wage limitation are important—which I think they are—voluntary price limitation is equally important.
The question is: Can economies be effected? That is the crux of the whole matter. I wish to elaborate a point which has so far been made by only one speaker in the Debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Nigel Davies). I suggest that the real cause of the losses being incurred by the railways is a redundancy or an excess of capacity, that the extent and gravity of that excess are not appreciated and that the result of the increases we are debating today will be to aggravate, rather than to ameliorate, the trouble.
I am a layman in these matters, and railway affairs are a statistician's paradise. I do not want to disport myself on such an arid playground, but I cannot help being struck by certain very salient figures. In 1913 the mileage of track in this country amounted to 50,604. In 1948 the mileage of track was 52,235. The track remained practically stationary—there was a slight but almost negligible 452 increase. Passenger journeys, however, declined. In 1913 they were 1,332 million, and in 1948 they were 996 million.
§ Mr. Jones
I confess that I cannot give that information. I have taken the figures from the railway statistics and, if I am putting a wrong interpretation on them, I am open to correction. I am a layman in this matter, but what I am suggesting is that the track mileage has remained stationary, the number of passengers has decreased and the freight has decreased. In 1913, 364 million tons were carried, and in 1948 there was a total of 276 million tons. A railway statistician may say, "You are a crude layman, using these gross tonnage figures; what you ought to consider is the length of haul, the distance over which this tonnage is carried." Of course, the length of haul has increased. It was 52½ miles in 1922 and, in 1948, it had gone up to 70 miles.
I suggest that these figures lend themselves to the following interpretation, and I do not think the interpretation is far fetched. By 1913 we had built up a railway network of main line and branch lines appropriate to that time but. since then, that network has been in excess of our needs. The network has remained intact, but the use made of it has declined. The decline has affected different sectors in different ways. The explanation of the increase in length of haul, I suggest, is that through traffic is relatively greater, but branch lines are being used far less. That is the real burden of costs on the railways. The branch lines are still there and have to be maintained. They are a very heavy contribution to the total burden of costs.
We have heard this afternoon a great deal about economies in manpower. I suggest that part of the difficulty in making an economy in manpower is the continued existence of this excess capacity. Further, I wish to make this point, that if we now increase charges traffic will again decrease, possibly to an extent greater than the £10 million for which the Commission have budgeted. If that effect takes place, the margin of 453 excess capacity, or of redundancy, is enlarged. In other words, the evil is aggravated and not solved, or eradicated.
Ours is not the only country suffering from this problem. It does not only hold in England and Wales and Scotland. On 6th January there appeared in the City columns of "The Times" a summary of the report for, I believe, 1948, of the Ulster Transport Authority. That report diagnosed the losses being incurred by that authority as I have diagnosed the losses of the British Transport Commission; they were due to precisely this cause, to an excess of capacity. So the authority applied to the Ulster Ministry of Commerce for permission to close uneconomic lines. The authority complained that the Ministry's permission for closing those lines was a long time coming and the continuing delay was aggravating the losses which were being incurred.
I have no wish to be partisan on this subject, and I recognise that if an industry is faced with the problem of redundant or excess capacity it is facing a difficult dilemma. But painful as it is, and many other industries with experiences of the 'thirties will confirm me in this, such an industry will never prosper again until the elimination of the redundancy is effected. I grant that some of these uneconomic lines may be necessary for military reasons. It is possible, I do not know, that the greater part of them may be necessary for those reasons. The point is that that question has not been examined. It was never mentioned in the report of the Transport Commission or before the Consultative Committee. It has not recived adequate attention on the Floor of the House today. I suggest that it is wrong to concede an increase of this kind without going into a question of such importance and magnitude. Not only has there been no discussion of this matter, but it seems to me that the gravity of the whole matter has not been appreciated.
The position to which we have come is that a leak has appeared in the financial dam of the railway companies. The Minister has hurried to plug this leak, but in doing so in this way, by raising charges, he seems to disregard the fact that the cause of the leak continues and that the flood threatens to accumulate.
§ Mr. Jones
Of course it has. I am not trying to criticise the railways because they are nationalised. I am looking at the problem of the railways irrespective of whether their ownership is in public or private hands.
I will summarise the two reason why I feel that I should oppose this increase in charges. The first is that the increase has been accorded as a result of an examination carried out on much too narrow a basis. We have heard a great deal from the other side of the House this afternoon about integration, but the word is meaningless. All that it means is common ownership, but in the framework of that common ownership a proper balance has still to be determined between road and rail. It is not determined. We do not know what it is. That is one objection. My second objection has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). It is that in giving this financial aid by way of an increase of charges to the railways—the hon. Member referred to financial aid by way of subsidy—we are not asking, in exchange, that the railways should address themselves to the difficult but supremely important problem of adapting themselves to radically changed times and conditions. That is the trouble.
I regretted that the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) referred to "sneers" about nationalisation. I am not in the least sneering about it; it is an accomplished fact so far as the railways are concerned, and one which I am not, nor so far as I am aware is anyone else on this side of the House, proposing to reverse. What matters today is the policy which is being carried out or prosecuted under nationalisation. That policy, as it is exemplified in this increase, threatens to burden the country in the long run with a costlier and less efficient form of transport than it need or could have-That is the real cause for concern.
I would say to hon. Members opposite, who have the cause of nationalisation so much at heart, that if nationalisation is to vindicate itself then it has to show itself an instrument and agent of progress—I would go even so far as to say a trenchant 455 instrument of progress. But they themselves are threatening to bring their own achievement into considerable disrepute if they use nationalisation merely to protect an old and established industry from, shall I say, the buffets and the blows of what we all know to be, most unhappily, a very rude existence.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I am sure that the House listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones), if only for the tolerant spirit in which he approached the problem; but I thought that he rather underrated our appreciation of the word "integration" or the process of integration, if he accepts its meaning as being defined in the words he used. The problem of road, rail and water transport is that there are grave anomalies because of the historical developments affecting these several units of industry. Apart from "skimming off the cream" and all those other aspects of the matter we feel that there is a proper function for each of these several units to perform, and that under a proper charges scheme and the scientific development of the industry, about which a great deal is already known by men who have spent their lifetime in the industry, integration does mean something really tangible.
The hon. Member referred to redundancy and excess. I would not quarrel with him on that matter. As I have said previously, there is, in my view, speaking as a railwayman of some experience, some dead wood which has to be cut out of the railway system today. But I do not think that even that is the answer to the immediate problem before us. If there were any kind of cutting out in the hon. Member's own area, he would soon hear clamant demands from people who were to be affected. It would not be an easy matter and it would need careful examination. We should, however, be less than fair to the Commission if we thought for one moment that this process of examination was not going on week by week and month by month, and that something of that sort was not part of their policy.
The hon. Member also referred to the fact that steel prices were not to advance. He said that it might seem strange in the circumstances, especially after what was said in evidence before the Consultative 456 Committee to the effect that it would mean an increase, and that we might be surprised at the industry's decision. We were indeed surprised because the steel industry has surely not only just discovered that production is going up, stepped up by modern methods, and that there was some prospect of reducing prices. The impression which some of us gained from reading the evidence of the steel industry before the Consultative Committee was that this increase would have to be passed on to the consumer and that it would be just too bad for the economy of the country, because steel enters so much into many of the commodities we use.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
In so far as there is no reduction in price which would otherwise have occurred, this charge is being passed on, and there is thus a real cost to the country.
§ Mr. Davies
It is a very rapid change, and it would have been better to have referred to the prospects when evidence was given before the Consultative Committee. All the industrialists who appeared before the Consultative Committee made out that this increase would have a very adverse effect on trade and industry. We heard from the farmers, the National Coal Board, chambers of trade throughout the country and from the steel people, who were most critical of the proposed increase. It would be amazing if private industry was subjected to this close scrutiny to which the affairs of the Transport Commission are being subjected today. Some of us would be glad to have that opportunity.
Judging from the remarks which have been made today including those of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) one would imagine that this matter of putting the railways on a proper basis was a new problem. In order to get the matter into proper perspective, I was reading some of the history of the railways. They were discussed in this House when we had the 457 Railways Bill of 1921 introduced by Sir Eric Geddes, who at that time was the Minister of Transport. He said on that occasion that before the 1914 war the value of railway shares was declining and the difficulty of raising capital was increasing. The position of the railways from the point of view of their organisation and their finance was the subject of grave consideration right down to the year before the war. He went on to say that we must have a healthy railway system in the country, and he asked who was to put it in a healthy position. He continued by saying that it had been said by many committees before that time that there was a point of view which would not be satisfied and that there were problems in the 1920 Railway Bill.
We know that a compromise was ultimately reached. Mr. David Lloyd George headed the Coalition Government formed in 1919. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and was reported in that Debate by Mr. Clynes to have said that an undertaking had been given that the Government coming in, would nationalise the railways. The Leader of the Opposition was said to have subscribed to that view, but, as we have been reminded since, he has changed his position; and he did so upon evidence adduced by several committees.
For example, there was Mr. Wilson Fox who in 1913 showed that right from the very beginning of railways, through the course of the last century, this process of integration had gone on. It was in the nature of things that some branch lines and some of the over-lapping lines should have to be scrapped. Indeed, that was the process which went on until before the First World War. Reporting as chairman of a committee, Mr. Wilson Fox said that some took the view that only a single entity—in other words nationalisation—or one big system, was the real answer to the problem; and from that it would be difficult to dissent. As I have said, that was the view taken later by very distinguished statesmen in this country. But a compromise was reached under the 1920 Act where the 120 large railway companies were grouped under four main heads, with one or two subsidiaries.
458 We have had complaints today about the charges increases, but as the Minister has previously pointed out, if we compare the experience of the railways in this country after the First World War, and the charges increases which had to be imposed, we shall see that we are far below what they had to do in those days. I believe it was Sir Eric Geddes who said in that Debate that railway charges at that time were 112 per cent. over the prewar figure; and we know that they were faced with this problem of putting the railways on a better basis. What they decided to do, so far as I understand the position, was to take one of the best prewar years—in fact, the year 1913—and use it as a basis of standard revenue, and then make some kind of concession for capital improvement and so on. They hoped that by this reorganisation the railways would be put on a sound economic basis.
In fact, they promised a period of prosperity and, if the revenue was exceeded, that 80 per cent. should go to the traders and 20 per cent. should be retained by the railway companies. They never reached that happy condition of things, and right through the inter-war years we know of the chequered career of the railways. Surely it is not a party matter. It is very simple to understand that, as a result of the condition in which they were, where, in the interests of the trade of this country and the community generally, very excessive restrictions had to be imposed, their position should be completely different under the impact of new competitors such as we have known in the century.
We do not want something for the railways in order to bolster them up. We do not want any position of privilege in that sense, and I am opposed to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) for a subsidy. I do not think a subsidy for an industry is a good thing at any time, whether it be for agriculture or fishing or whatever industry it may be, including the railway industry. It is a very dangerous thing to hand out State money to prop up an industry, so to speak. It does not encourage enterprise or organisation or economy.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
In justice to my hon. Friend, I think he did suggest. not the actual handing over 459 of money, but the taking over of some commitments of the railways—for instance, the permanent way.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, he did make that qualification. But I also remember he said that unless something of this kind was done, we should have continuing commitments for increases, and he thought that was the way out. I rather suspect the proposal of a subsidy. I think that the railways, if they are given a chance to earn revenue on a proper competitive basis, will very soon find their level and do a good job of work. I think they are efficient. We have heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge the considerable staff economies which have been made. Very great efforts have been made to improve conditions. Great savings have been made. In terms of the loading of wagons, in ton-miles and engine-miles, the record is very good. We cannot overlook the fact that railwaymen have been given a 44-hour week; they have had improved wages and all the rest of it. These things cannot be done without an increase in staff.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about increased productivity, for example, surely he is overlooking the fact that a railway is a very different concern from some firms, such as engineering firms or pottery firms, where goods are produced by the dozen or the hundred. A railway signalman may have only five or a dozen trains passing over his section of the line every hour. He cannot do any more work in that time. The fact is that certain things on a railway have to be done whether the traffic is light or heavy. No matter how hard a man may work, it does not make any difference.
I wish to ask the Opposition whether they agree that the railways should have a fair deal in the sense that they should be able to pay their way, provided they are satisfied that there is reasonable efficiency? Supposing a commission sat and reported that there was efficient and good management, would they still argue that the freights should not be raised? Because if that is their argument, and the case having been made, we should expect them to say that the increased charge should be passed on to the community. Otherwise, we must subsidise the railways. We cannot expect them to pay their way, and 460 to pay their staff if they are doing the job efficiently, and also to subsidise the rest of the country. If we did not give them a subsidy or a loan, they would have to pass on the burden and the trade of the country would have to bear it.
I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Bar (Mr. C. Poole). There is a great deal of exaggeration about the effect upon the prices of commodities of this increase of 16⅔ per cent. All things considered, this is a reasonable proposition, and I hope that the Minister will not entertain the idea of giving a subsidy to the railways, with a completely new conception that it does not matter what the railways cost to run, because they are so vital to the economy of the country that their charges must be kept low, and that we do not mind what losses they make. That seems to be the road to Bedlam, the road to nowhere.
I would rather encourage them to work for their money. I want to give them a reasonable chance. I want anomalies of road transport to be removed. I hope that the Minister presses on with the business of what we call "integration." That is a hackneyed word. I hope that he presses on with the acquisition of these other undertakings, both on the road passenger side and on the goods side. I know that the process in the latter department is almost completed. When he has done that and he knows the size of the unit, can we not have some results in the way of a scheme of charges? Surely, we must not wait four or five years, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman hinted, before we get the scheme of charges. Surely, from the lead given in the "brown book," some interim scheme of charges, which would meet present-day needs, could be introduced. It could be adjusted in the course of time. We ought not to have to wait for five years. I hope that there will be no Division tonight, because the proposal of an increase of l6⅔ per cent. is very modest. I think that the Opposition would be unwise to divide.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I find myself tonight, not for the first time, in a position of a little difficulty. For 30 years I have tried to serve the railways, and I lost my position when they were nationalised. But if one is in the railway business, no matter in what capacity, it 461 gets hold of one. A person attaches himself to it and its interests to the exclusion of almost everything else. I am the only hon. Member present of all those who were on the Standing Committee on the 1921 Act. I was concerned throughout the negotiations at that time. Later, we asked for what we called a "square deal." We had the support of the railway unions, and everybody else who was interested, in our efforts to try to get some sense out of the traffic problems of this country.
We realised then that we had to do something if we were to maintain the railways on a paying basis. That something was to come to an understanding with the road services as soon as the petrol engine came in direct competition with the steam engine. Having tried to urge that, year in and year out, how can I find myself tonight in opposition to the railways? Therefore, I feel that I cannot vote in support of these Prayers tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It will not make any difference. I shall be the only one on my side.
I want to say with all the sincerity that I can, that it is absolutely essential for this House to face the issue involved in the problem of British transport. It will not be solved by this 16⅔ per cent. This 16⅔ per cent. is merely a stop-gap which is necessary if we are to stop the rot and to build a new rates structure. The Conservative Party in the days before the war supported us when I was with the late Lord Ashfield and the late Mr. Pick and we asked that London Transport should have the support of this House so that we could remove the congestion in the streets and drive more tubes. It was obvious that the tubes could not do without the buses. The buses paid for the tubes. If we did not have the money from the buses we could not have underground transport and we could not move in London. There would be such congestion in the streets that it would be impossible for people to get to their work.
The Conservative Party of those days faced that issue and backed up London Transport. I ask the Conservative Party today to spread their minds, to look a little wider than the London problem, and to apply themselves to the problem which faces the whole of England. It is the same problem. I wish to apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) for not having been 462 in my place when he spoke. I was in the chair at an Estimates Committee meeting. Nothing else would have kept me away.
One of the most extraordinary things to those who have been in railway administration for a good many years is the complex system which has grown up on the question of exceptional rates. I heard somebody pleading just now for a special rate for something—I forget what it was. There are any number of exceptional rates. Each one must be considered on its merits, and it is this House which has always stopped the railways from making progress in this direction. That is what I always used to think when we came here and pleaded for more power to get things done. With this exceptional rates structure, how many hon. Members realise that, in one ordinary week, no less than 65 per cent. in value of all the traffic on the railways came from exceptional rates and only 35 per cent. from standard rates? That is an extremely upside-down situation.
What is the use of talking about a standard rate if it is in the minority all the time? We must appreciate that this flat rate is not very scientific, but is built up on all these exceptional rates. If one makes a graph, the line shoots up and down. Eighty per cent. of the heavy tonnage is carried at exceptional rates. I hope that the Minister will impress on the Transport Commission and the Railway Executives—not that I think that they need much pressure—that if we are to have a clean bill for British transport, which is vital to industry and without which we could not go on for one week, we must build up a new rates structure on a new basis.
I do not know how many hon. Members realise that the whole of our rates basis is on tonnage and not bulk. When I was interested in the Wagon Lit Company, which was under British control, I found that what we lost most on were Paris hats and frocks. They took up an enormous amount of room, but weighed about as much as a few feathers. We had to carry them and they took up all the room which could have been used for heavier goods. That sort of nonsense must be stopped.
This is a stop-gap arrangement, and I am sure that the Minister will carry on with the reorganisation. That will not be a short process. It can only be done 463 when this House realises that unless we work together with road transport in some way similar to what we have been asking for in the last 15 years the railways will never pay. We should not waste any time in talking about scrapping the railways. We shall never make our railways pay unless they are worked in with some form of road transport.
What is the picture we have before us today? On the one hand, we have 55 per cent. and on the other 120 per cent., and we are trying to fill that gap with this increase of 16⅔ per cent. Of course, we cannot do it. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that we should do what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. There should be a real attempt by all sections, and I hope all parties, to face this problem in a permanent way, because it is really a very serious problem.
I was on the Board of the L.M.S. Railway, and, before that, I was on the board of the Caledonian Railway, and I therefore know something of traffic conditions in the North of Scotland. There are three lines there which are entirely uneconomic, but which are vitally important from the strategic point of view. In the 1914–18 war, we had to double the Highland Line and add another section to the West Highland line, and the amount of tonnage which the Admiralty passed over those two lines, to the Grand Fleet far away to the North was a great contribution to the Scottish engineers who built that line, never expecting it to have to stand that traffic. I suggest that somebody should go into the question of how far it is fair to describe these lines as part of an economic railway system when their real importance is that they are essential for defence. That point should be taken into consideration in connection with the strategic position of the country.
Another hon. Member rightly suggested that we should shut down the branch lines, and I quite agree, although some of them must be kept open for a certain amount of mineral traffic under the "one engine under steam" system. I hope we shall be able to reduce costs in that way. On some of these branch lines, under the old regulations, trains had to stop at these stations, though nobody ever used them, and why that was allowed to continue under those old rules and regulations I could never understand. I remember that 464 in the old days we tried to put on a number of diesels—and I hope that more will be introduced now—but we must understand that we cannot get a decent engine to run on steel rails when it has been built to run on rubber tyres on a road. That is really quite impossible.
A matter of importance that the House ought to consider is the question: How are we going to help our trade and industry and, at the same time, recognise that our railways are one of our greatest industries, which are capable of being of great help and assistance to all other industries?
The last point I would like to make is one to which I attach some importance. What has this House said about the position of the railways now that they are nationalised? As I understand it, when we passed the Act, the problem was how to help the railways to make up the discrepancy between the present level of charges and the general price level. Who wants the difference to be made up by increasing the contribution to the pool from higher rates for road haulage of goods and road passenger fares? There has been some talk of offering a subsidy to the railways. That would be absolutely fatal, because it would reduce efficiency and remove, from top to bottom of the railway system, that essential urge and drive to make the business stand on its own feet. Let us therefore not think of the subsidy. Nor should we also forget the hidden subsidy—and it amounts to a hidden subsidy if we do not carry out the terms of the Act, which I think are quite clear, for it says:The Commission must in any case so organise its undertaking as to form a self contained commercial corporation, responsible for paying its own way, and delegating the day to day administration of its various services to efficient and experienced managers.I hope the House will forgive me saying that, happily, most of the experienced managers who are now on the Railway Executive were appointed by the old railway boards, and some of us can take some pleasure because it appears that our good works are, to that extent, living after us. At that time, railway directors were supposed to be a very low type of humanity, from the way they were treated and talked about. Indeed, I rather feel today that I ought not to be here, and that all railway directors ought now to be dead. I think I am the last 465 survivor still here of the British railway boards.
It is a fact that the present figure of the increase in charges is small, being only 16⅔ per cent., but that I believe that Sir Cyril Hurcomb and the members of the Commission are asking Parliament for only a temporary measure. I believe it will take six or seven years to get a new rate structure out, because when we passed the earlier Act it took from 1923 until 1928 before the rate structure was altered. We may do it much quicker if we sweep away all the exceptional rates and build up a new rate structure, based on bulk and tonnage and the contribution which can be made in the bulking of traffic to central points and distributing direct to customers' own doors by means of the roads.
There is so much to do that it is a mistake to waste time over a small thing when the great objective of this House ought to be to see that our transport system under modern conditions is brought thoroughly up to date. We should remember that in Canada, where some hon. Members may have been over the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National systems, they have exactly the same problem, although their average haul is about 20 times greater than it is in this country. Our average haul is between 35 and 50 miles, whereas in Canada it is infinitely more than that, although they have the same problem of competition between road and rail.
§ Mr. Boothby
On this question of the rate structure, is the hon. Baronet prepared to make concessions on long hauls in this country?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I think the problem has to be considered in relation to two things—the nature of the traffic and the length of the haul, as well as, perhaps, the competitive power of the coastal services. A great deal of the fish traffic on the L.M.S. from Aberdeen to the South was affected by considerations of coast-wise shipping. There is also this business of not giving any undue preference, which is quite right, because we could not give it to one trader and deny it to others.
In regard to fish and perishables, a great deal more can be done with refrigerated wagons, but infinitely more can be done by the complete revision of the marketing system, both in London and 466 elsewhere. It is so often the case that the railways deliver goods fresh to the towns, where they go stale in antiquated markets. I beg the Minister to consider these things and also to read the reports on the markets at Covent Garden, Billingsgate and Smithfield. There is an enormous amount to be done there, and I feel that this is perhaps one of the last occasions when one can make a contribution from one's own experience on the railways.
§ Mr. Harrison
It would be interesting to some of us, at any rate, if the hon. Gentleman could say a few words about the amalgamations that took place on the railways between the two wars and the time that it took before any economies ensued.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I have already taken far more time than I intended to do so I will only say this: during those years there was a similar problem, but, small as it was, it was due to the traditions, customs and feelings of different sections, which still continue.
But the point is that we cannot build up with rapidity a rate structure unless we can underpin and build on a solid foundation. We were able to do that in 1921 because the competition on the road was not what it is today. What is absolutely essential is to stop the rot and to get on with the new wage structure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rate structure."] I meant, of course, to say rate structure. However, as far as the wage structure is concerned, I hope that will always remain in the hands of the very competent conciliation boards. We shall not get out of our difficulties by refusing to face facts. We must face the fact that the railways of this country will never pay by themselves no matter what Government is in office. An efficient railway system is not only vital in war, but highly essential in peace.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)
If I may say so with respect, there was a breadth of outlook and a balance of judgment about the last speech which were strangely absent from other speeches which we have heard today from hon. Members above the Gangway. May I also say, without presumption, that my hon. Friends and I have arrived, broadly, at the same conclusion as the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). 467 We should not under-estimate the seriousness of these increased freight charges on industry, on commerce, or on agriculture, particularly as they affect the rural life of the more remote parts of this country, such as Wales and Scotland. There is no doubt that these increases will be an additional burden on industry, though I wish all sections of industry would take the advice offered by an hon. Member above the Gangway who said that industry should not always automatically pass on to the consumer any increased costs, but that its first duty should rather be to find out whether it can economise in its own organisation before passing on higher costs. I am mindful of the fact that these increased charges will affect, in particular, the agricultural community because the last price review did not take into account the increased freight charges.
This is not a new problem. The great period of success of the railways in this country was based on three things—the almost total absence of competition, cheap labour, and cheap coal. Those conditions can never return. On purely balance-sheet or mathematical considerations, the railways have made out a case for increased charges; it is based on the increasing cost of labour and materials, the fact that timber is up by 225 per cent., and coal by 125 per cent., and so forth, whereas freight charges are up only by 55 per cent. They point to the substantial increase of staff made necessary by the 44-hour week and by the arrears of maintenance. I think they are also entitled to point to the substantial claim for increased wages which is facing the railways. In my opinion, the wages of the lower grades of railway workers ought to be increased fairly soon. Those wages are far too low.
The railways are in a bad way. They are cluttered up with masses of redundant and obsolete rolling stock, and their stations are often mere relics of a former age, sited close together because that was the range of a horse in the days when the railways were built. It has been a problem of successive Governments since 1921, and I have never heard it suggested that it is a problem of national ownership. Indeed, I think we might be in less difficulty today if the main line companies 468 had shown real foresight and imagination since 1921. One of the greatest problems today is to re-equip the railways, and, of course, the restriction on capital investment has a direct bearing on that problem.
I often wonder how we could have used our surplus resources of manpower—the two million or more unemployed in the inter-war years—on a national plan of development, with the railways taking a prominent place. Had we used those resources properly, we might now be enjoying a wholly electrified railway system. The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) called for an inquiry into railway efficiency with a view, no doubt, to achieving immediate, overwhelming economies which would make this increase in charges unnecessary. But, in the years between the wars, we had all manner of inquiries—Royal Commissions, departmental committees, and road and rail conferences—most of them at the request of the railway companies, and in no instance was it ever suggested that the railways themselves should suffer an inquiry into their own efficiency. The emphasis was all the time on the greater restriction of road traffic.
The real question to be faced is whether the railways have been and are being operated in a manner which produces the greatest degree of efficiency and, therefore, of economy, and whether there is a readily recognisable test for that measure of efficiency and economy. A great number of statistics have been quoted in this Debate. The most satisfactory test that I know is that of the annual number of net ton-miles moved for each engine hour expended. In 1938, that figure was 461 net ton-miles per engine hour. Mr. Frederick Smith, in a memorandum which he prepared before the war, calculated that an efficient railway system should be able to build up a figure of 15,000 net ton-miles per engine hour as a modest average for efficiency.
The figure of net ton-miles per engine hour in the United States was far higher than ours. Mr. Smith's suggestion was that the railways should be used only for movements of full loads at high speeds, between centres fed and kept by road transport; that the feeder services of slow, half-loaded trains should be cut out, thereby eliminating much of the shunting 469 and doing away with many of the existing junctions and marshalling yards. He estimated that by this plan we should build up fairly quickly an average of 15,000 net ton-miles per engine hour. That plan would reduce the risk of loss and damage and simplify the whole of the complicated railway administration.
It has been estimated that developments of that character would save annually about six million tons of coal and a very great amount of manpower. It has to be borne in mind that if manpower on the railways could be reduced by 10 per cent., one would effect an annual saving of about £20 million and make increased wages possible for the lower grades. The old main line companies failed to carry out a plan of that character. Mr. David Blee, who was chief goods manager of the Great Western Railway and who is now a member of the Railway Executive, stated that in January, 1947, the Great Western was just beginning to adopt such a plan, but apparently no other railway company was doing it.
The British Transport Commission are beginning to improve the figures. In 1947, the net ton-miles per engine hour had been raised from 461 in 1938 to 516. In 1948, the figure had been increased yet further to 542, which I believe is the best figure yet attained in railway history. That figure is still very much below what can be achieved, but the first report of the British Transport Commission clearly states that a plan of that description is now being followed, though not much prominence is given to the statement. It is clear that the British Transport Commission, though cautiously, are taking first steps. The results are not spectacular but they are not negligible. It is clear they are reducing their staff. They have reduced it by 27,000 already. It must be remembered that, though it is essential to do this, it is a very delicate and human problem.
On balance, therefore, I think this increase must be allowed to the railways, but only as a makeshift or an interim measure to avoid their deficit mounting up to unmanageable proportions. A charges scheme is on the way and I hope that charges scheme will not be merely the pricing of a system of operations which is already obsolete. I hope the Minister will tell the House that there is being prepared a really radical scheme 470 for the reform of railway operations as a whole. I hope he will say that though that cannot be implemented now, the plan of operations is being prepared. That is the only way to thorough economy. It will be possible to cost that plan, price each part of it and then offer a comprehensive system of rates and charges.
If the Minister can assure us that that approach has been adopted by the Transport Commission, we are ready to support this increase. As the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon has said, we must cut away the rot and enable the British Transport Commission to build up on proper foundations. I do not think they can build on those firm foundations unless they are enabled to prevent the current deficit from mounting to unmanageable proportions.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
The problem before us today is one of the most important that confronts the British people. It is right and proper that we should be discussing it in the House of Commons.
One of the best things the Labour Government had done has been to pass the Act nationalising transport. That has given us this opportunity of discussing this very matter this evening. I was going to preface my remarks by deploring the fact that the late Lord Ashfield could not have been here to advise the Tory Party on how to deal with this problem. Instead of that, I can say how very pleased I was to listen to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). I hope all Members of the Opposition who heard it will take especial heed of what he said, and will note not only the contents of the speech but the spirit in which it was delivered. I see the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) in his place; I hope that the speech of the hon. Baronet will have some material effect upon the speech he will deliver later in the evening.
My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Grossman) referred to what he described as the sheltered position of railway workers in pre-war days. I should like it to be clearly understood by the House that railwaymen were not in a sheltered position between the two wars. They endured vast redundancy and dismissals. Men were removed from 471 their homes and down-graded, and they suffered very considerable privations as a result of what happened between the two wars. The idea of "last in, first out" was introduced in the railway world at that time after a struggle. I remember that goods guards who had been in the service for 20 or 30 years received a week's notice to leave that industry without the opportunity of having another job in it. It was only the power of the N.U.R. and other trade unions that rectified that position and gave us the advantage we subsequently enjoyed of dismissals in accordance with seniority.
We have given the British Transport Commission a very great task, and a very important one from the point of view of the British people. We should turn towards them not with opposition but with support. We should view very carefully what they have done, assess it and consider whether it is not due for praise and not for criticism. We have given them the job of unifying the great transport system of this country. It covers road, rail, canal and, to a certain extent, seaborne traffic where that has been handed over to it as a result of ownership by the old railway companies. They have taken over a couple of thousand businesses in this country, and have absorbed 40,000 vehicles. Both on the rail and road sides there is a considerable achievement, of which the Transport Commission, this House and the British people can be very proud indeed.
There has been a considerable economy in staff on the railways. I think it amounts to practically 27,000 in the last two years. Allowing for the increase in traffic, that is a considerable economy indeed. I am not one of those who wish to see a savage redundancy brought about in the railway system and men dismissed in order to find a solution of our difficulties. We should approach this problem from the human point of view. We should recognise that in proposing to dismiss men from their jobs we would not be doing something to the ultimate advantage of the community. We should find a way of keeping people in their jobs at the present time.
The problem facing the Transport Commission is one of very great difficulty mainly as a result of what happened in the years before the Commission took over. When one considers the immense 472 contribution British railwaymen and the British railways made towards the effort of this country during the war years, that the Exchequer benefited to the extent of £190 million from the war efforts of British railwaymen, I say that this problem should be dealt with in a way that is not rough and harsh. We should recognise that the nation owes to the railways and the railwaymen a duty to see they have fair play in these difficult times.
I am not suggesting that we should gleefully accept this increase of 16⅔ per cent. No one in the House is anxious to increase charges, but I say that in comparison with the increases that have taken place in respect of other commodities, the increase in the railway charges is fairly modest. I suggest to all who are concerned with this increase that it may be possible to absorb a large amount of the increase by using profits and not pass it on to the general public in the form of extra charges. It was with pleasure that I noticed in the "Manchester Guardian" of 6th May a report to the effect that steel prices would not be raised for the present. That is a happy state of affairs from the point of view of increased rates in that industry.
It is right and proper that we should be discussing increased charges here tonight. There would, however, be a galaxy of Prayers in the House if every increase in charges in private industry were made the subject of a Prayer. In those iron and steel commodities which British Railways themselves buy, excluding steel rails, there is an increase of 100 per cent. There is an increase of over 115 per cent. in steel rails. Rope, which the railways use quite a lot, has increased by 376 per cent.; timber, 225 per cent.; timber for sleepers, 344 per cent.; rubber, 123 per cent.; and canvas over 240 per cent. If we had the opportunity to subject to the careful scrutiny of the House all the extra charges that private industry has already put into operation, it would be a very good thing for the nation.
The Tory Party have already suggested one or two ways out of the present situation. Their first suggestion was an increase in charges on difficult traffic. That was cancelled out by a suggestion from another Member who said that the charges on the difficult traffic should be decreased. The next suggestion was that there should be a small, expert inquiry. 473 which would reach a decision quickly. But we have not been told what is to happen in the meantime. Is the present situation to continue? If the present situation continues without any increased charges and the Transport Commission say that they cannot meet the charges that are imposed upon them in respect of the railway shareholders, what then? Must the Exchequer meet the charge, and will that be equivalent to a subsidy? The Opposition have not thought this matter out.
I am always looking for unity in this matter of nationalised industries, and I should like to see these industries placed above party politics. I should certainly like to see the Tory Party take a more patriotic view of these great industries which we now have in our possession. I suggest that the Minister might consider an inquiry by a number of experts if he could get the Opposition to agree to abide by the decision of the experts. It would be interesting to see the hon Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) sitting as one of the experts on the committee. I should like such an expert committee to consider the problem of the "C" licences, and give their candid opinion as to what will be the effect on the nation of large masses of traffic being creamed off and worked by "C" licence holders and taken outside the purview of the transport industry, which I regard as its proper purview.
Another thing I should like the expert committee to consider is the procedure that is to be adopted under the Transport Act in connection with the integration of road passenger transport. Perhaps they would suggest a more speedy and efficient procedure. If the Opposition would indicate that they would be prepared to accept the verdict of a small expert committee appointed by the Government, I would appeal to the Minister to appoint such a committee to get on with the job. As a nation we cannot continue in a position in which our railway men, especially the lower paid, are left to suffer because of the difficulties that have arisen as the result of past neglect. Many people say that we paid too much for the railways and that the compensation was too great.
The present position of the railways was directly brought about by the action of past Governments in refusing to allow 474 the railways to develop as transport concerns and preventing them from integrating road and rail transport when there was an opportunity to do so. The Great Western Railway was one of the pioneers of road passenger transport. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Monmouth, as far back as 1902 the Great Western Railway was pioneering a bus service between Abergavenny and Brecon. But they were not allowed by law to carry traffic on the roads unless it went, first of all, to the railhead, then did a journey by rail and was then delivered by road. Had that prohibition not been applied to the railway companies in prewar days, an integrated system of transport would have grown up under private enterprise. What we have to do now is to get an integrated system of transport working as rapidly and as efficiently as possible.
Judging the achievement of the Commission on every basis, such as ton-miles, the efficiency of engine working and everything else, one must admit that it is a remarkable achievement, but it is most important for an industrial nation to have a cheap and efficient system of transport and I would not reject the idea of a subsidy in order to bring that about. It is so valuable to have the free movement of traffic and people in an industrial community like ours that I would take every measure to make that possible. I am certain that the Labour Government have built on firm foundations, and I hope that we shall continue on these lines. I appeal to the Opposition to take a patriotic and a national view of this problem and to give the necessary support to the Government in order to make sure that the integration which is absolutely necessary shall be put into effect at an early date.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I found myself in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) when he said it was essential that there should be an efficient transport service in this country. He coupled that remark, however, with an appeal to my hon. Friends on these benches to approach the whole subject with a national outlook and in a patriotic manner. I submit to him and to the House that it is just because we wish to secure the most efficient transport service 475 possible that we are discussing tonight whether or not we should support the increase of 16⅔ per cent. in these charges.
Do let us, first of all, consider the procedure under which we are discussing this question tonight. We are discussing it on a Prayer. We have to vote either for or against—there is no question of a reasoned Amendment; and we have not been satisfied by anything we have heard in this Debate, or by anything we have read in the Report of the Transport Tribunal, that the Government have considered every possible measure of proper economy, nor all constructive measures towards making a more efficient transport service, before asking for an increase in the freight rates of 16⅔ per cent.
There are many other hon. Members who would like to speak in this Debate, so I will not go into detail all over again about the various recommendations which have been advanced from this side of the House. They have, however, fallen roughly into two categories. First of all—and this is, perhaps, a negative recommendation—we consider that the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive have not shown proper regard for the further economies which they could make. Secondly, on the positive side, we do not think they have revealed sufficient constructive proposals as to how they are to try to attract traffic back to the railways, particularly as far as that applies to passenger traffic.
The hon. Member for Eccles said that he wished all private industry could be subjected to the same inquiry as that which takes place in the case of the nationalised industries. But I would point out to him that in private industry it is the shareholders who have to take the risk, whereas our responsibility in this House is for the taxpayers' money, and there are very few occasions upon which we can discuss the nationalised industries. That is why it is so important that we should consider tonight whether the Government are using the taxpayers' money to the best effect.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Eccles that it is a great thing that the steel industry has been able to say that it will absorb the increased rates. It has said, however, that these rates will be absorbed because of increased output and because of increased demand. It is the 476 smaller industries, which are not in such a favourable position, which will find it very difficult indeed not to pass the prices on to the consumer, if they are not to run completely at a loss or to go bankrupt altogether.
One has to consider not only the point of view of industry itself, however, but also the important subject of how we are to keep a balance between the productive efforts of this country, on the one hand, and making our railways pay, on the other hand. The Steel Federation said it was trying to keep these prices down because it realised that this was a grave and critical moment in the industrial life of this country, when we were literally fighting for our lives in the markets of the world. It is for that reason, the Federation said, that any extra, severe burden would cancel out any advantage which would go to the Railway Executive in this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) said in his sincere speech, this is a stopgap measure and it is because of that that we ask the Government to consider this matter again. After all, on top of the considerations I have mentioned, I think we must consider not only the producer but also the consumer.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
The Steel Federation have said that they have been able to absorb this extra charge of £6 million for freightage. Would the noble Lady agree that that is because of the fact that there was £6 million available which could have been claimed by the steel workers for increased wages and which, in fact, they did not claim?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think it is generally agreed that the steel industry is at the moment one of the most efficient in the country, and it is said that the reason the industry has been able to absorb the extra freight charges is because there is an increased demand for steel and because also, under very efficient conditions, there is an increase in output. I submit, and I hope to give the House particulars in a few moments, that there are certain industries which, because of disadvantages which are not their own fault in any way, cannot possibly continue to bear this increase without passing it on to the consumer.
I was about to say, before I was interrupted, that we have also to consider the 477 point of view of the consumer in this country. In August, 1949, the cost-of-living index stood at 111. It has now been estimated by the London and Cambridge Economic Services that by the spring of 1950—and I suppose it is now the spring, although we do not think much of it as a result of this weather—that the cost-of-living index will have risen to 118. This is, therefore, just one more example of the inflationary trend which is the greatest challenge to the survival of this Government today. The cost of living is, in fact, the haunting anxiety of every home today.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, who has unfortunately left the Chamber, for the very valuable support he gave to those areas which are far from the main markets, and I shall not surprise the House, therefore, when I mention Scotland. I want to give a few examples of our problems and also a few suggestions on what could be done about them. We are, of course, very hard hit, because in nearly every case our main markets are in the South and we depend on long-distance hauls. The differential rates between South and North become worse the further we get away from the centre, and in this connection I think I speak for all of my hon. Friends who come from outlying districts of the United Kingdom.
I will give just a few examples of our main industries. Take, for instance, the fishing industry. It has been calculated that the increase in freight charges—and this affects Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland—will cost them £200,000 more a year. This is at a time when there is a falling consumer demand and when it is well known that industry as a whole is falling on very difficult economic times.
We have the granite industry. It has been estimated that the 16⅔ per cent. will mean an increase of 15s. a ton on granite—again at a time when that industry is suffering from many economic difficulties, as was well shown the other day when the industry submitted a tender for the Manchester Ship Canal. Of course, their tender was much higher than, for instance, that from Scandinavia, to which the bulk of the contract was given. If we are to try to keep our industries in a competitive market at all, we have to keep a balance between 478 increased freight charges and what it is possible for the industries of this country to bear.
I give one example from food distribution. If we take the transport of flour from Leith to Aberdeen, at 17s. 3d. a ton, the increased freight charge will amount to £2,000 a year. That will not be passed to the consumer but will be met by the Minister of Food. Here, then, is an example of a concealed subsidy because, although the Minister will be meeting the increase through the food subsidies, he will not pass it on in an open way to the consumer.
Take, too, the question of coal. I find this a very remarkable affair. The railways have recently been pressing Aberdeen coal merchants to send far more of their coal by rail. Most of our coal is sea-borne, but recently the Government allocation has meant that coal received by consumers in Aberdeen included a larger quantity of Scotch coal, by comparison with English coal. It might be supposed that we should be very pleased to receive more coal from our own country, but I regret to say that this particular coal is inferior compared with that from the north of England. What we object to very much indeed is the fact that we are forced to take this coal by rail instead of by sea. When it was seaborne we had every facility for handling it. When it comes by rail it has to be manhandled. This means that inferior Scottish coal is going to cost the consumer more, because of the increased charges, than the better quality English coal.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think that those are enough examples of the kind of effect that these increased rates will have on some of our major industries in the North. Scotland, as has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, has a very special problem. It has always been recognised that the railways of the North were uneconomical to run; and it has also been recognised that that expenditure and those losses in the North could be offset by the advantages in the economic areas—the advantages gained by the popular runs in the South. Of course, that was following the normal commercial practice of offsetting unremunerative parts of trade by the remunerative.
479 However, the question now is one of very high policy indeed. What exactly is the Government's position and attitude of mind regarding the farflung areas of these Islands? I suggest that they really have got to approach this matter from the angle of strategic necessity. I would suggest to the Minister that perhaps he could do a bit of lobbying in the Cabinet. Perhaps he could get on his side the Minister of Defence——
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
He could feel that he had, at any rate, got a Cabinet colleague behind him in this matter. If he concedes that we must keep those distant parts of the country open for strategic reasons, surely he must also concede that that is necessary to give reasonable rates that industry can bear.
It has been said that we are to expect a new charges scheme for all the merchandise in this country. Under Section 76 of the Transport Act it was expected to take place within two years. Now we shall be very lucky, it seems, if we get it within 10 years of the Commission's life. However, I understand that there is also under consideration at this particular moment the question of the rate structure, and I would therefore urge the Minister to consider whether he could not on long hauls have a gradual percentage increase tapering with the mileage. This would, of course, mean exceptional rates, which must be based on loading capability, and have general regard, of course, to costs.
In the north of Scotland we have a very urgent situation indeed. I say this with very great seriousness, because industry there, owing to geographical disadvantages, cannot possibly carry this enormous burden, coupled as it is with other difficulties, including, in particular, the general economic policy of the Government, which has ended in the devaluation of the £ sterling. Therefore, if the Minister is not to have every man's hand over the Border against him, he should really give urgent consideration to an 480 interim measure which would put industry in Scotland on equal terms with its competitors nearer the markets in the south.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), started by telling us that she would support the Prayer because the Transport Commission were not making any economies and not doing enough to build up their ability to balance their books; and then the whole trend of her speech was a special plea for dear old Scotland. The acceptance of that plea would not help the Commission to balance their books.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
As I have been directly challenged may I say that there was an economic reason for pleading for Scotland. If we have reasonable rates on the railways, we shall obviously attract more traffic to the railways, whereas if we put the rates up, we shall drive it away.
§ Mr. Ross
I am not condemning the noble Lady for putting forward a special plea for Scotland, but I am trying to show how that would make the Commission's position worse. Surely it is not good enough to leave it like that. The noble Lady should have suggested to us how she or her party would have set about the matter. I regret that she did not do so.
I wonder what would have happened, and what kind of speeches we should have had from the Opposition, today and in the Debate recently—indeed, at any time since we first heard of this suggested increase—if the Minister of Transport had come along and told us we were going to set up an independent committee to see just exactly what kind of economies could be made. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) would have come down to that Box and pounded it with all his gravity and profundity and talked in exactly the same terms as he did today—but with more justice if that had been the action of the Government.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about "leisurely slithering into difficulties." That is exactly what the Opposition want us to do. They are so completely tied up by their past that they 481 can offer us nothing but the suggestion of the appointment of a committee of one or two supermen. We have one Member in the House who probably knows more about transport than the rest of us, who told us that he was satisfied with the present managers in British transport. He may have been a Conservative, but he was taking a natural and objective outlook. If he has confidence in those men who have been working in transport for 20 years, surely we can have confidence in them too. They know how to effect economies.
I do not think it is good enough for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or anyone of his status, to come along and, without suggesting any background for it, or any target it should aim at, set up a committee and say to it: "You are the Committee. Do not even worry about the fact that you are hoping some day to integrate road and rail as the best policy. Let us forget that; let us have some slashing and dramatic economies." Our railway system would indeed be in a tragic position if that happened. The magnitude of the economies which would be needed to meet this increase in charges amounting to £27 million, would be so great that it would be a tragedy to our railway system. To suggest that as an alternative policy to the inevitable one of rising charges, is a failure to face the facts as we know them. It cannot be offered as a reasonable alternative.
The Opposition surely realise that this is no new problem, nor it is a British problem. We had all that in this country before the war. I will not go into that now, but it is the case today all over the world. Let us look at Canada. Only two days after we debated this subject in this House "The Times" carried a report of the year's results and working of the Canadian railways, in which it was said that there was a loss of 42 million dollars in 1949 compared with a loss of 33 million dollars in 1938. It is all very well saying they are nationalised. That would not be a bad argument if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were prepared to say, on behalf of the Opposition, "We are going to denationalise." After all, they have not the doubtful benefits of a Labour Government in Canada or all these vague and nebulous schemes of centralisation and functionalism. Yet there is that loss.
482 On the same day, and on the same page, "The Times" printed a report of the workings of the South African railways. They lost £8.7 million in 1949 and they raised the rates for freight and passenger traffic, with the exception of important foods, by 10 per cent. The reasons given for the position in Canada and in South Africa were exactly the same as those put forward by the British Transport Commission to the Consultative Committee the other day.
Let us go to a non-nationalised company. On 26th April this year there appeared in "The Times" an interesting report of the United Railways of the Havana and Regla Warehouses, Ltd., and from it we discover that this private enterprise company, which runs the railways of Cuba, lost £800,000 last year. I am not interested in that, because I know the special difficulties and with many of them I sympathise, but I want to draw attention to a statement made by Mr. R. G. Mills, the president, which, I think, deserves the attention of this House and the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). It shows how the people there look on this question of the railways. The president was talking about the difficulties of the company and hoping they would be fixed up, and went on to say:These laws and methods were conceived many years ago before the development of gasoline and of the present system of modern roads and more rapid means of transport, both land and air. These new happenings have represented for the railway, not only in Cuba but in all other countries, a competition which has required a reconsideration of the economic possibilities of operation of the railways, and in many cases, because of the impossibility of that operation being borne by a small proportion of the community represented by the shareholders, the State has taken charge of such operation on the assumption that it constitutes a public service, the maintenance Of which must be borne by all the community, that is to say, the taxpayers.This company wants the railways to be nationalised and they are arguing the logic of railway nationalisation. In talking about the losses of that company, the manager cites exactly the same thing as is cited here—the cost of materials and labour—and there is not one hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House who can deny the fact that railway freights have gone up by 55 per cent. and that the cost of all other materials for the running and maintenance of the 483 railways have gone up by 120 per cent. There is no commercial firm in this country that would have stood for that without taking action by raising the prices of their commodities. It is only because our railways are tied hand and foot by regulations of this House that they have to go to the Consultative Committee and again to this House before they have the right to raise their freight charges.
What happens? Just a week ago, hon. Gentlemen opposite were standing in their places and screaming about the inevitability of the rise in the cost of road traffic. There was no suggestion then of setting up committees to see if operators could absorb the increased cost. Immediately, a statement came from the road transport people suggesting that they should increase their charges by 10 per cent. I have not heard a complaint from the Opposition about that immediate reaction or a suggestion that a committee should be set up to see if the industry could absorb the cost. Surely if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby suggests that by economies British railways can absorb an increase of 120 per cent., he should be the first to advise the people on behalf of whom his party has been speaking with such a unanimous voice recently—the Road Haulage Association—that they should have re-examined their position before seeking a 10 per cent. increase based upon a 33⅓ per cent. increase of only one of the materials that form part of their cost.
I am disappointed with the efforts made by the Opposition in this matter. After hearing the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) the Opposition should have decided not to continue to press the Prayer. It was the only objective speech on this subject that we have heard from the Opposition today. The whole motive of the Conservative Party today has been one of party expediency rather than of logic.
I wonder what the railwaymen feel about this question? They are asking why they should be made to carry the burden of all the other private enterprise industries. The prices of those industries go up while the freight charges on which the wages of the railwaymen 484 depend—they hope for an increase as well—remain unaltered because a change would affect the cost of living. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about a concession for the fishing industry?"] I am not going to oppose that idea.
There is one real alternative, and it is not right that it should be scoffed at on the ground that it will lead to inefficiency. The alternative is a subsidy. I base it, first, on the fact that this method was resorted to between 1919 and 1922 when subsidies to the tune of nearly £91 million were given to the railways. I base it, secondly, on the fact that £190 million was earned by the railways during the war and used by the Government. I claim that part of that money should have been retained to meet the post-war problems of the railways. Economies are being made today. The figure was £7 million last year. It is not right to say that it is only £2 million this year. The £7 million will not be spent again and it really represents £9 million this year. That is still going on.
If the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South represented Kilmarnock, she would know how many men have been declared redundant in the railway workshops in Scotland. It is all very well to talk in vague terms about "slashing economies," but if we translate them into terms of men being thrown out of work, and reduced maintenance and development by the railways, we see that we are not only destroying the livelihood of these men but are also destroying the prospects of maintaining and modernising railway equipment. I would like the Government to examine once again the possibility of a transitional subsidy until we work on to the integration of the transport system.
I heard an hon. Member talking about the closing of redundant lines and tracks. It is not so easy to do that when, in a year or two, we may require them for national defence purposes. If those tracks about which he talked as being redundant from 1913 to 1938 had been closed, what would have happened to this country during the war? There is a national defence element in railway maintenance, and for that additional reason I suggest that the Minister should pay some attention to the question of subsidies.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I was not surprised that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) found it more congenial during most of his speech to discuss His Majesty's Opposition rather than the subject matter of these Regulations. That choice showed proper discrimination but as I understood his argument, it was this, that whereas in his view His Majesty's Opposition proposed to do nothing he supported these Regulations because they involved doing something. As I understood the hon. Gentleman's reasoning, it was that something must be done—this is something; therefore, let us do it. If I may so describe it, this was the logical basis of his speech, that something must be done about the railways and that, as he could not think of anything else, the best thing to do was to raise the price to the consumer.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The disagreement of the hon. Gentleman with what the Government are doing will be perhaps more conclusively demonstrated when he decides into which Division Lobby he goes, and in view of that interjection the House and the hon. Member's constituency will follow the way in which the hon. Member decides to vote with a perhaps rather unusual interest.
Another wholly fallacious argument in his speech was that freights have gone up only 55 per cent., the average rise in prices since the war is greater than that, and therefore freights should rise. That is a most dangerous argument, because the hon. Member will at once appreciate that if every price below the average is raised to the average level, the average itself will rise and then there will be a further series of demands for further increases. Of all the arguments which have been adduced in favour of this rise in prices, the argument that other prices in totally different circumstances have risen to a greater degree is, with respect to the hon. Member, the most fallacious of the lot.
Another curious observation was his reference to what he calls the £190 million which he said had been given by the Government to the railways during the 486 war—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—during a period in which, to use his own felicitous phrase, we did not enjoy the doubtful benefits of Labour rule. That reference, as I understand it, was to the sum of money paid by the Government to the railways under the war-time agreement for the operation of the whole railway system——
§ Mr. Ross rose——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon Gentleman will allow me to finish a sentence, I will happily give way to him. It is conceivable that, if that agreement had not been entered into, the vast volume of traffic which took place during the war would have enabled the railway companies to earn considerably larger sums of money. I think that view is generally conceded.
§ Mr. Ross rose——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member must not be too excited. Therefore, it is a little ungenerous of him to refer to the £190 million given to the railways during the war.
§ Mr. Ross
I see that the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood what I said. I did not refer to the guaranteed rent of £43 million and if the hon. Gentleman had been listening—probably he did not follow me due to my inability properly to put the point—he would know that when the Government had control of the railways over and above that guaranteed £43 million, the profit which they retained for themselves and for the use of the Treasury was £190 million.
§ Mr. Ross indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
—a fact which, for the first time, raises doubts of the Tightness of my own convictions. The truth of the matter, now that it appears that both the hon. Member and I are in agreement, is that no present was made to the railways during the war, that on the contrary financial sacrifices were imposed on them, and that therefore they were denied the opportunity which they would otherwise have had to earn considerably larger sums. I do not think that is seriously disputed by anyone who has seriously studied the problem. Therefore, 487 the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and I are in agreement that no charity was done to the railways during the war; that, on the contrary, they were denied opportunities of earning what they could have earned. To suggest that the money was paid as a matter of charity——
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe) rose——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am in the middle of a sentence. The fact remains that there was no question of the railways having been so generously treated that money was given to them which could not have been used for certain other purposes. That, I understand, was the argument of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, and it was completely unsound.
§ Mr. Hynd
The hon. Member has just said that the railway companies made financial sacrifices during the war and that they could have earned very much more but for Government restraint. The hon. Member knows very well, surely, that the amounts paid to the railways during the war for their operations were greater than the railways had earned at any time in many years before the war, and that the only means by which they could have earned more would have been to put up their rates and to hold the country to ransom in the midst of a war.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is true that the sums paid under the agreement were in excess of a good many pre-war years; so, of course, was the traffic. Had the traffic which was carried during the war been paid for at the rate which was paid before the war, the earnings would have been considerably in excess of £43 million. The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) knows that perfectly well. He has failed also to appreciate another matter. The increased traffic on which the railways were not allowed to earn as much as that traffic would have earned under normal conditions involved, of course, increased wear and tear and increased depreciation. Therefore, the railways did, as a matter of historical fact, lose something which they could have obtained during the war.
§ Mr. Poole rose——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member has intervened, I think, in almost every speech from this side of the House 488 and I cannot give way to him. We can now get to the point that the railways did not make a good thing out of the war, which was the innuendo behind the speech from below the Gangway.
There is one other matter to which I would refer, and I am sorry that the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) is not now in his place. I listened, as did all hon. Members, very carefully to what he said and I was struck by what seemed to me to be the wrong interpretation which he put upon the attitude of those of his friends who disagree with him on this matter. He said, "I cannot find myself in opposition to the railways." Nobody finds himself in opposition to the railways. Certain hon. Members find themselves in opposition to the decision of the Minister. Some of them take the view that the national interest at this time of all times, is not served by the Minister's acceptance of the proposal put forward by the railways to the Transport Tribunal; but to suggest that because one differs from the hon. Baronet on that point one is therefore opposed to the railways is, it seems to me, very unfair to those hon. Members who have to decide—and it is, after all, for this House to decide—whether or not this increase should go through.
On that point, I was struck by what was said by the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) to the effect that the experts, the accountants and the Tribunal had recommended this increase and that, therefore, it was wrong for hon. Members to oppose it.
§ Mr. Harrison
Would the hon. Member agree that what the hon. Baronet meant, when he said that he was not opposed to the railways, was that he was not opposed to the proposed increase in fares? I listened very carefully to every word of the hon. Baronet, and the interpretation which the hon. Member has applied to his speech is quite unfair.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Baronet will no doubt be able to decide when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT whether the most chivalrous effort of the hon. Member to assist him has resulted in an accurate reproduction of his argument. To my mind, the statement of the hon. Baronet was, as his statements always are, perfectly clear, whereas, since the hon. Member for Nottingham, East 489 (Mr. Harrison) has applied his own gloss it lacks the clarity of the original.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member is good enough to say that I shall see tomorrow. I shall read with very great interest the gallant efforts of the Official Reporters to report the hon. Member's intervention.
I was saying, when the hon. Member intervened, that this House cannot hide itself behind the experts and behind the Tribunal. The experts are concerned with the limited issue of the amounts which were necessary in their view to make easier the position of the railways. But this House is concerned not merely with the railways—although, of course, it is concerned with them. It is concerned with the impact of the whole of this affair on the national economy as a whole. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to do something to allay the disquiet as to that aspect of the matter. I have reason to believe that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what the impact of these increases is upon the national economy. When he spoke on the British Transport Commission Bill on 30th March, the right hon. Gentleman said: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.If the Government have been studying that, it seems right that they should give to this House, before it comes to its decision, the result of those inquiries. It would seem essential that those inquiries should include a perfectly clear statement of what should be the increase in the cost of the major British exports as a result of this change and, equally, that they should include the result of the Government's researches into what will be the effect on the cost of living. I hope that the investigation into the impact on the cost of living will be a little more profound than that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before his historic broadcast on 18th September last.
The principle which the Minister has so far put forward is one which I challenge. The principle, apparently, is that if a nationalised monopoly as at present organised and run cannot make 490 itself pay at its present level of charges, that is an argument in favour of its using its monopoly powers to raise those charges to the consumer. The right hon. Gentleman stated that quite frankly, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate to which I have made reference. He said:In the whole of my business experience"—and the House knows he is associated with a very large trading organisation—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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 685–6.]That seems a clear statement that where an organisation finds prices raised against it, that is a conclusive argument for raising its own prices.
Be that a good or a toad doctrine, it is not the doctrine which the Government have put forward. It is the exact converse of the appeals made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to private industry and the exact converse of the policy applied by the price control mechanisms of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture. Are we to understand that that is now reversed and that where, as a result of these changes the costs of industry rise, in every case where prices are controlled by the Government proportionate increases will be allowed by the (President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Supply, the Minister of Agriculture and the rest? If that is so, it is a change in Government policy of such profound significance that we should be told it, not by implication, but expressly. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether or not he still adheres to that doctrine of which he was apparently an exponent when the British Transport Commission Bill was before the House. If that doctrine is applied, it is the end of the Government's policy of price restraint and equally of the Government's policy of the wage freeze, and we are straight on the road to uncontrolled inflation.
The only other matter to which I wish to refer is the fact that we have so far had from the Government absolutely no indication of whether they are prepared to do anything in the immediate future, or are prepared to secure that the Trans- 491 port Commission do something in the immediate future, to prevent this House this time next year being presented with a precisely similar request. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has already pointed out that this proposed increase will not even meet the anticipated deficit for the current year, and when allowance is made, as it must be, for the loss of traffic to the roads caused by the increase of prices on the railways, it is Obvious that if we proceed as we are now invited to proceed, Debates of this sort—and it is for you, Mr. Speaker, a gloomy thought—will be an annual occurrence. That will be so because unless something far more fundamental is done, and done quickly, the deficit will mount, and if the Government's only expedient is increased charges further increases will have to be sought again next year.
Before coming to a decision the House is surely entitled to be told whether the Government intend to do something, not in the six or seven years to which reference has been made as being necessary to produce an integrated rates system, but in the next year or two. We should surely be told that. I hope, and here I may not carry all my hon. Friends with me, that it will not be regarded as impossible to consider the closing down of unprofitable railway lines. We all know that there are lines in this country which do not pay their way. Although people in the localities through which they run might regret their closing, I am inclined to think they would regret even more having to pay increased fares both on the railways to keep them going, and on the buses, imposed with a view to keeping them off the buses, which is apparently the aim of the right hon. Gentleman.
I hope that we shall have some information on this problem of strategic lines to which easy reference has been made by some hon. Members. The War Office is always accused of out-of-date strategic ideas, but it has no monopoly in that respect. When we hear Members saying that we have to keep railway lines in certain parts of the country going to supply the Grand Fleet at Scapa, it is necessary to recall that there is not now any Grand Fleet. When that strategic doctrine was in force, in the 1914–18 war, there were 30 battleships, four or five squadrons of cruisers and a hundred destroyers at Scapa 492 Flow. No one believes that we are likely to have a Fleet of that size in any period we can contemplate. If financial sacrifice is to be imposed on the community in deference to strategic ideas it is necessary that we should have an assurance that those ideas have recently been put to the Chiefs of Staff and have received their assent. Otherwise there is a danger that we shall go on imposing burdens of the community in deference to strategic ideas which were valid in their day but which have now lost their validity
It one reads the statement published in the OFFICIAL REPORT as an annexe to the right hon. Gentleman's statement on 27th April, it will be seen that there is placed first of all in it, as one of the reasons for the problem which has arisen, the 44-hour week. I fully appreciate the fact that that 44-hour week is regarded, and rightly so, as an achievement by those who have succeeded in negotiating it. But it does fall seriously to be contemplated whether railwaymen or anyone else are, in the circumstances of the country, entitled to take pride in a reduction of hours. It is a fact that this very proposal which we are discussing will raise the cost of living to everybody in the country, railwaymen included.
I wonder whether, it the railwaymen had it put squarely to them that that was one of the factors upon which apparently, hon. Members opposite, the Transport Commission and the right hon. Gentleman found the necessity for increased railway charges, they would regard the 44-hour week itself as sacred? I have a great deal of sympathy with what has been said from the benches opposite about the rate of pay of the more poorly-paid railway workers. I am speaking for myself only when I say I think those rates of pay should have a claim to far greater attention than the 44-hour week. I think a reduction in hours definitely comes behind the raising of wages to a reasonable level. When we have the fact, which is now clearly stated, that it is these reductions in the working week which have contributed to the situation. I think it is up to the right hon. Gentleman and the Railway Executive to consider whether that reduced working week should be sustained.
What is important to recall is that the Government, whether they like it or not. are, by these Regulations, doing precisely what in their Economic Survey they say 493 should not be done. If hon. Members will look at the conclusions of the Government in this year's Economic Survey, they will see very clearly set out, and reiterated, the fact that if costs in this country rise, the temporary benefits to be obtained from devaluation will be lost. We know now that the cost of coal, the basic raw material of all, and other raw materials of British industry, are to be raised by these regulations. In the face of that warning given in the Economic Survey as to the consequences, no hon. Member can face that rise with any light heart. The responsibility lies upon this House as to whether a development which the Government have stated would be disastrous to this nation shall be put into effect by the Government Whips driving their Members into the Division Lobby.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Champion (Derbyshire South-East)
Usually, I like to listen to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). He always comes out of his corner fighting. I think he should enter the ring with the kind of announcement on his back that we see on the backs of prize fighters—that he is "Bouncing Boyd, the Kingston Kid." I must concede it to him that he is a fighter, but I think he really ought to address himself to the transport problems facing the nation at this time. Rather than using a few glib phrases, he should give due consideration to the splendid speech made by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn).
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames cannot dismiss what was said by the hon. Member for Abingdon by lifting out of its context the simple phrase which his hon. Friend used, that he "could not find himself in opposition to the railways." The making of a pure debating point on that seems to me to be unworthy of the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Abingdon has a deep knowledge of the whole of the transport problems of the country. For a long time he sat upon the directors' side of the table in the railway industry. I used to sit in opposition to him on the other side of the table as a signalman, and a member of a great trade union. Perhaps I might add that if all the directors in the old days had reached the standard of the hon. Member for Abingdon in his knowledge of the undertaking and his sympathetic 494 approach to railway and transport matters, I doubt whether nationalisation would have been such a necessity as it became.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames did not advance a single constructive point about this situation in which we now find ourselves. To prepare myself for this Debate, I looked up some of the past speeches made in the House on transport. I paid particular attention to the speeches of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. In one of them he made what I should imagine he regarded as three constructive points. First, he said that we should cut staff, which always seems to be a nice, easy sort of point to make in Debates of this kind. But he did not go on to show where reductions in staff can be made without either affecting efficiency or doing what he suggests today—increasing the hours of labour of the men employed in the industry. In that connection, I ask him whether it is fair that the railwaymen should bear the brunt of the increase in hours, while the rest of industry goes free.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to refer to me, I will give him my view. In the present state of British industry, any reduction of hours which does not at least maintain output is not justifiable in any section of industry.
§ Mr. Champion
If the hon. Gentleman spreads his argument over the whole of industry, I have no fault to find, provided that the change is generally accepted and recognised by the trade unions as being the right thing to do in the circumstances. I strongly object to the inference in many speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the full weight of this burden must fall upon transport workers. That has run through their speeches during the whole of this Debate.
In his criticisms, it seemed to me that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames failed completely to realise that there had been a severe cut in staff. It has been reduced by 27,000 in a year, and economies are continuing. It is the object of the Transport Commission to ensure that we do not waste labour in any way, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that there has also been an increase in holidays. There also falls upon the staff the duty of making up many of the arrears 495 of maintenance caused by the war. Those are the facts which we must consider. Indeed, they are important items from the transport and the national point of view
The next serious point that he seemed to make in his last speech was that we ought to engender old loyalties and enthusiasms. He said that he had a friend who looked at the railway system of today and compared it with very many years ago and said that those loyalties and enthusiasms had completely disappeared All I can suggest is that his friend must have looked at the old railway situation through the rose-coloured spectacles with which old age looks back upon comparative youth.
I have spent most of my life in the railway industry. I can remember some evidences of loyalty, and so on. I can remember, too, very much hatred and bitterness arising from the conditions under which railway men worked. It is quite wrong to say that there always existed the loyalty and enthusiasm of which he talked. Present conditions will make for the creation of greater loyalty and real enthusiasm; but I do not expect that joint consultation, which is gradually coming into operation, will remove immediately all the old difficulties. It is not a sort of abracadabra with which we can immediately solve the problems of staff relationship.
The other point the hon. Member made in his last speech was that we must look out for new sources of revenue and hold old sources Those were the three constructive suggestions that he made in our last Debate. I ask anyone who knows anything at all about transport whether it is likely that these three suggestions will solve the problems which face the railways today. Of course they will not. Will they wipe out the £30 million which is the deficit which must be taken into consideration? Of course they will not
Having said that, I think that I ought to say that I agree with much that has been said on both sides of the House to the effect that this rise in the cost of transport, reflecting as it must a rise in the cost of production, is a serious matter I do not close my eyes to that. I should very much like to have a situation created in which a rise of this sort would not be necessary. But, again, I must make it clear that the burden of rises in costs of production, or of the prevention of rises 496 in costs of production, must not fall wholly upon the transport workers. It would be quite wrong if we attempted to do anything of that sort. Most of the speeches from hon. Members opposite seem to me rather to expect transport to subsidise production, and to suggest that we ought to keep down the cost of transport so that production can go on without costs rising. I say that if we are to subsidise anything, we should subsidise directly the industry that is in need of a subsidy, rather than by doing it through the indirect method of subsidy via transport.
A question which we have to decide is whether the railways are essential to our national life at this time. If they are, it is quite clear that they must have sufficient income to enable them to pay their way, to be efficient and to provide a reasonable standard of living for the people engaged in the industry. That is not the case at present. The railwaymen today are not in receipt of a reasonable standard of living, and. in this connection, we have to compare their pay with the amounts that are being paid in outside industry.
It is right that we should pay tribute to the railwaymen for the restraint which they have displayed both during and since the war. They have imposed on themselves a remarkable restraint which they have displayed both would have been quite possible for the railwaymen, using their tremendous power, to have forced more out of our economy than they are, in fact, receiving. Even under present conditions, the restraint which they are exercising is, perhaps, greater than it ought to be in the circumstances, but it arises from the fact that they do not want to push up transport costs unnecessarily or to too high a point. There must, eventually, be an end to that, and the railwaymen will have to force their claims upon the transport industry and expect to find them being met.
If, as some hon. Members opposite seem to suggest, our railways are obsolete, we really ought to set about the job of ensuring that they are being replaced by some other and efficient form of transport. Personally, I do not believe that that is the case; indeed, I am positive that it is not. That is my reply to those who have suggested it, and I am 497 looking particularly at the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) who suggested it, or hinted at it, throughout the whole of his speech in our last Debate. If we are to do this, we must at least recognise the expenditure which will be involved in the task—the amount of money to be spent on new roads, money paid in policing, signalling and the maintenance of roads, the cost of fuel in dollars and the exhaustion of our own oil supplies. If we did drive all our traffic on to the roads, we should be pushing 1,000 million passengers on to the roads each year, about two-thirds of the national transport and almost all the heavy goods traffic associated with our primary industries. All this would be forced on to the roads, and it is stupid for any hon. Member to suggest that it would be a possibility in today's conditions.
We have to recognise the very simple fact that our industrial regime and much of Britain's prosperity was based on a transport system rate structure which carried valuable commodities at high rates, and low-grade commodities at very low rates. The low-grade commodities are, in the main, those essential to our basic industries—a simple fact and an important one, because the very fact that it is the valuable commodities that are highly rated enabled road transport to make the profits which it did in the past, and, indeed, to expand. Were it not for that rating system, it would have been impossible for road transport to have expanded as it did during the inter-war years, and since 1945.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that this problem was not only a British problem, and, of course, he was right. Just about 12 months ago today I found myself standing on a railway station in the U.S.A.—the station of Providence—and I read there something which took me back to the "Square Deal" days of the British railways. It read thus:Uncle Sam's Railways. To keep them up to the nation's needs, the railways should be permitted to earn not less than 6 per cent. (Signed) Association of American Rail Roads.We see from that, that the same kind of problem is showing itself in America as showed itself in this country, and that the American railways are trying to get 498 over it in the same way as did the British railways in the "Square Deal" and "Fair Play for the Railways" days. Apparently, they are having the same sort of success as those in this country had under private enterprise before the war. I notice that no one in America seems to be talking about setting up a committee to examine the efficiency of the railways, apparently because it is thought that as they are still being run by the capitalists they must be quite efficient, and that therefore there is no necessity for setting up such a committee.
I wish to close by touching on a few points made by Opposition speakers during the Transport Debate on 15th March last, and I will refer straight away to the suggestion made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). On that occasion he ended his speech with these words: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1202.]In that, he was supported by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorney-croft). It seems to me that that is one of the easiest suggestions to make. If something is centralised, then suggest as the remedy decentralising it; if it is decentralised, suggest that the remedy is to centralise it. It is a sort of "Heads I win; tails you lose" argument. That is an easy suggestion for the Opposition to make.
What are the facts? They are that when the railways were decentralised, we had 121 separate systems in the country. That situation was found to be uneconomic, so what did the party opposite do? They set about the job of reducing those 121 railways to four separate groups. I think that the hon. Member for Abingdon would be forced to admit that arising from that merging of the 121 systems into four groups, tremendous economies were made. Therefore, we see quite clearly that this call for decentralisation—I do not quite know what they do suggest—for the increasing of the number of regions from six to eight, or something of that sort, will not solve the problem which is a problem common to transport the world over.
The last points I want to make refer to the speech of the noble Lord 499 the Member for Dorset, South in the Debate on 30th March. He gave us a few constructive criticisms. The first was that we should cut out the third man on the engine. My only reply to that is that before he makes that sort of statement, the noble Lord ought to ascertain the facts and go to some pains to get them. There really is no third man on the engine.
He went on to say that the railways ought to improve their services. If he will look at his speech he will see that in the previous paragraph he said:It is very pleasant to travel by rail today. There is a considerable amount of service, some of it extremely redundant.Having said that he went on to say that we ought to improve the services. The final suggestion he made was that we ought to cut out the inspectors whowalk up and down the corridors to look at the tickets.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 677.]I should imagine that is based upon the observation of someone who has merely looked at this from inside a first-class carriage.
§ Mr. Champion
I hope that in the laughter HANSARD has not missed that one. What my hon. Friend said was that the noble Lord had looked at this from the point of view of someone who had not a ticket. The noble Lord ought to realise what would happen if the essential ticket checks were taken off.
The criticisms made by the Opposition do not take away the fact that there is a great railway problem. I believe that, in the circumstances, the Minister was right in presenting to the House these Regulations and Orders and that the railways should have a chance of earning a greater revenue. But the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive must really face the fact that theirs must be a continuing job of seeking greater efficiency.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
It may be for the convenience of the House if, at this stage in our proceedings, I rise to summarise the arguments and, I think, the very formidable case which 500 can be made against these proposals to increase the railway rates by 16⅔ per cent. I should like to begin on as non-controversial a note as possible, namely, by saying that I feel the Leader of the House was wise in agreeing to give virtually a full day to the discussion of this subject. At one moment, when the right hon. Gentleman first announced it in the House, it looked as though the whole discussion was going to be packed into a couple of hours' discussion of a Prayer late at night. If I do not agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), has just said, I agree that the subject that we are discussing is too important to be dealt with in that way. It deserves the full discussion it has received in the House of Commons this afternoon.
May I, since I am winding up for the Opposition, reply to one or two of the points that have been made in the Debate? Incidentally, I would rather refer to the Debate we have had today than to the Debate that we had last week. 'Hit hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) asked us whether we want the nationalised railways to succeed. I do not believe there is an hon. Member in any quarter of the House who does not want the nationalised railways to succeed. So far as I know, nobody has proposed to de-nationalise them. Certainly, as far as this country is concerned, we cannot go on as a great trading and industrial nation unless we have a prosperous railway industry.
The hon. Member went on to say that the passenger side did not enter into this question at all. I thought that was a most astonishing suggestion. It seems to me that the passenger side of this industry, which after all contributes one-third of the gross revenue, cannot be just dismissed in a sentence of that kind, and I certainly intend to refer to it in the course of my remarks. He then proceeded to produce some extraordinary figures, and suggested that during the war the railways were specially favoured because freights were carried at 36s. 2d. a ton and that now the rate is 15s. 4d. Those figures are entirely misleading. Whatever the rate was during the war, it was increased by 24 per cent. in October, 1947, and in any event the payment during the war was based upon a revenue basis of £43 million a year, on which the 501 Government and the Treasury made a profit—I am not complaining of it—of approximately £100 million.
The hon. Members for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) and Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) returned to an argument which is often adduced by hon. Members opposite, namely, that they paid too much for the railways. Well, they chose the figure. It is really a little late in the day to come here and say, "If we had only thought of it earlier we would have paid much less." How much less? It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen to say, "We would have cut down on this compensation." They would have out a lot of people in the process. Not all the railway shareholders are wealthy. The disestablished Church of Wales had its income cut by £22,000 as a result of that compensation. How much further would hon. Members opposite have cut the poor parsons? I think they ought to tell us before they come along and make these complaints?
That sort of thing may be all right on a platform in the country, but it is a little too much to say that the railways are not succeeding because of the enormous sums which are being paid to the ex-railway shareholders. These sums are not being paid to the ex-railway shareholders. They are being paid to people who hold British Railway Stock and who probably never held a railway share under the private companies in their lives. Is it suggested that the Government should stop paying interest on that stock or should scale it down? Some of the suggestions which hon. Members opposite make about the way we should deal with Government securities are a little frightening. I am a little tired of this argument that the only way to make a nationalised industry pay is on the basis that all the assets are given to you to start with. That is not the way private business is carried on. Hon. Members who advocate nationalisation ought to have a little more faith in the system which they support.
We then heard the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). May I say how much we enjoyed seeing him intervene in a transport Debate? I do not think we have heard him in one before. He was referred to the other day as a "flying saucer." It may be that this stirred his interest in matters of trans- 502 portation. Be that as it may, he made a quite interesting contribution. I am afraid he has taken some of his information upon transport from the Socialist "Hints to Speakers" during the last election. May I make a few corrections to his speech? I wish he would get away from the idea that the railways were subsidised during the war. It is a very bad point to make and there is such an easy answer to it, as I have already shown. So far from paying a subsidy, they contributed to the Exchequer to the tune of £100 million. The argument was unworthy even of the hon. Member for Coventry, East.
The hon. Gentleman then went on to make the point which was raised during the election by the Lord President of the Council: he twitted us with wanting to take away the road side of the industry, the one profitable thing they had. That is a most extraordinary admission—this idea that they will have to hold on to some profitable industry in order to pay the losses on the railways. That is not the case which was put forward for the Transport Act in 1947. Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not warn the country then that the real reason they wanted this road haulage was that without its profits they could not possibly sustain the losses which would be incurred.
The hon. Member also complained about the number of "C" licences which, he said, were taken out in order to reduce the traffic available to the nationalised transport. That is a most peculiar argument. The idea that people take out "C" licences in order to deny traffic, is really a most astonishing view of the practice in industry. The fact is that they take out "C" licences because it happens to be a good deal cheaper to do so, even with an empty back load, than to try to run traffic about in the right hon. Gentleman's monopoly.
His next point—and this, I must say, must have been a little embarrassing—was that any reasonable person would see that the reason the Chancellor put up the Petrol Duty was to get what he called a balance between road and rail. That may be a very good argument, but it is hardly one which would appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury, who have denied that the increase in the Purchase Tax on commercial vehicles and 503 the increase in the Petrol Duty have anything whatever to do with road and rail policy.
The final point which the hon. Gentleman made was that he wanted a subsidy. In his argument, I thought he was dangerously near to going over into an attack upon the farming industry, which would hardly appeal to the Government Front Bench, and I saw some rather worried faces on the Government Front Bench He treated all consumer subsidies as direct subsidies to agriculture and fell into many other mistakes of that character. At any rate, he did one thing—he wholeheartedly opposed the proposal being put forward by the Government. Some of my hon. Friends said they doubted whether the hon. Gentleman's sincerity was such that he would vote against the proposal he had so dramatically attacked, but I hope to disillusion them and I feel confident we shall find him in the Lobby with us tonight.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) said he thought a great deal of exaggeration had taken place about the effect of increasing the rates by 16⅔ per cent. I do not think the effect has been exaggerated. After all, another half crown a ton on domestic coal is not exactly a minor fact, especially for many poor people who already find it pretty hard to buy the coal. There is another £2 million on gas. Will the gas industry pass it direct to the consumer? I am sure the right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to answer that. There are another £1¾ million on electricity. How will that be carried? I am sure these are things we ought to be told. We know the farming industry has to carry £2 million and, so far as that deals with commodities coming into the farms, the farmers will have to carry it themselves. We know that the steel industry have suffered an increased cost of 10s. a ton and that, vastly to their credit, they are carrying it themselves. But I hope it will not be only private enterprise, like the farmers and the steel makers, who will carry the increases in rail charges and that it will be only the nationalised industries who hand them on to the consumer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to name one nationalised in- 504 dustry which is going to absorb these increased charges.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) made a frank attack in a fairly good-natured spirit, on those of us who are opposing this increase. Let me repeat one thing that has been said by one of my hon. Friends already, because I think the hon. Baronet was not in the Chamber at the time. The hon. Baronet said in his speech that he could not bring himself to be against the railways. But nobody is against the railways. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The hon. Member for Abingdon was not speaking with his usual fairness when he assumed that those of us who take the view that the 16⅔ per cent. increase is extremely damaging to the railway industry itself, quite apart from the industry of the country generally, are against the railways for that reason.
He raised one other point. There may be arguments for or against it, but I beg him not to adopt the argument that because we integrated transport in London, and put up the bus fares in order to drive the people into the tubes and to get them off the streets, because, as he said, they were too crowded, we should necessarily extend that system—I use his own words—to the rest of the country. That is stretching imagination too far.
I shall not deal—I cannot, I am afraid, in the time—with all the points that have been made in the Debate, but I hope I have made some attempt to deal with some of the more important arguments used in the Debate, and I may deal with one or two of them in more detail in a moment. Let me take, first, the problem which the right hon. Gentleman is up against. It is a big problem—bigger than the hon. Member for Perry Barr really imagined—and it is that there will be an accumulated deficit by the end of 1950, unless something is done, of between £50 million and £60 million.
Now, I want to start with just a few questions about the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. The first question that I want to ask about is this. As I understand the proposal, it is to put up the freight rates by 16⅔ per cent., which will bring in £36.2 million in this year, but it allows for diversion of traffic a sum of £9.9 million. These calculations are set out in the Report of the Transport Tribunal in Appendix D.B.1, and they are 505 calculated on the basis of road costs as they were on 6th February. Something very drastic has happened to road costs since 6th February. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to raise £36.2 million on the railways, but a tax of £83 million has been imposed on the roads. He cannot very well ignore that. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Coventry, East, thought he could ignore that. Nobody could ignore it. So I ask the right hon. Gentleman to have a look at that analysis of the result and tell us whether, in view of that very changed situation, he really thinks that the same amount of traffic will be diverted as before.
The second thing I want to ask is this. Suppose that these rates are put up, am I right in thinking that they will wipe out none of the arrears, and that, indeed, in the current year they will not even cover the full cost? Am I also right in thinking—and it is right that this question should be asked—that the basic assumption in the calculation and in the Report of the Tribunal is that there is no further increase in wages? No allowance whatever is made for that, and I think it would be wrong if anybody were to think from anything said in this House that in some way the railway men were to benefit from the proposals put forward at the present time.
The third and last question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about these proposals is this. Has he consulted the Consultative Committee? After all, that is what the Committee was set up for. It seems to me that if ever there was a case when a consumers' body, established by this House of Commons for the purpose of dealing with such matters, ought to be consulted, this is it. I have their report here. I am afraid it is rather a slender document, but here it is, for what it is worth. I see that in paragraph 20 it says:The Federation of British Industries have referred the above application"—that is the application for an increase of railway freights—to the Committee with a request that they should give consideration to the Commission's proposals. They further suggest that before the Minister authorises any increases in charges, he should seek the Committee's views.Did he do that? I am sure he will give an answer and will tell the House what 506 the Committee's views were and what reasons they advanced.
If I might leave that, I should like to turn to what I think are three main issues in this Debate. First, is the right hon. Gentleman right in the reasons which he gives for the situation which has now arisen? Has he got the basic causes in his mind? Secondly, is it possible to help this situation by some economies or by some lessening of expenditure on the railways rather than by putting up prices? Thirdly, is the 16¾ flat rate increase in all freight charges a sensible way of trying to tackle the problem? About those three points I want to say a little.
May I take, first, the right hon. Gentleman's own case? I want to put the matter fairly and, I hope, broadly. What he says is that whereas general costs throughout the rest of the country have gone up very considerably as compared with before the war, railway costs have not gone up anything like as much. The general level increase is 120 per cent., and only 55 per cent. for the railways. The Transport Commission put forward the same case before the Tribunal. They said the railway charges are now generally increased 55 per cent., whereas the costs of labour and materials are up about 120 per cent., and that that was the primary reason for the present unbalanced state of their revenue.
We are not asking whether it is more expensive to run a railway today than it was before the war. Everybody knows that it is. What I am concerned with is not the change in prices between 1938 and 1948, but the change in prices between 1947 and 1950. In October, 1947—I do not want to quote HANSARD but I have it here if it is required and I think I can quite fairly state the matter—an increase in passenger fares of 16¼ per cent. and in railway rates of 24 per cent. were granted specifically to deal with this particular problem. They took into account the increase in the wages granted by the Inquiry. They also took into account the 44-hour week, about which we have heard so much today. They were specifically stated to be allowed in order to deal with the increase in prices which had taken place during the war years.
It seems to me, therefore—and I hope I carry the House with me m this matter 507 —that the real thing to look at is to see what has happened between 1947 and 1950 to explain why the right hon. Gentleman's budgeting went wrong—not just a bit wrong, but very wrong. What happened in those three years to make a difference of £4.5 million in the first, £21 million in the second and £30 million in the third year? I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's case is, but does he really say that the Government have so mismanaged our affairs that prices have risen at such a pace during those three short years that outside conditions imposed upon the railways have forced up costs and losses in that sort of ever-increasing spiral? That is the sort of case he has to make in order to justify what he is doing at this stage.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what has really happened in these three years? Let us take wages first of all. I do not want to quote a lot of figures to the House, but if we divide railway expenditure up, it is, roughly, wages 60 per cent.; stores, fuel and power 35 per cent.; and depreciation 5 per cent. The bulk of the problem is wages. What has happened to wages during those three years? The right hon. Gentleman budgeted for an expenditure of £233 million and that is the increase he paid in 1948. in 1949 he had to pay £2 million more, making £235 million, but there have been certain reductions in the staff amounting to 27,000, and the best estimate I can get—the right hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong—is that in 1950 he certainly will not have to pay any more than in 1948 and probably a little less, so we will put it at £230 million. It is true that there have been increases in the cost of materials. The National Coal Board's costs are going up with everything else, and the coal is not very good. That averages about 12 per cent., and it is only on 35 per cent. of the expenditure.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman has made out no case whatsoever for a 16⅔ per cent. increase. On the vast majority of his expenditure he is no worse off than he was in 1947 and on a small section of it the difference is nothing like 16⅔ per cent. Even supposing there has been an increase in costs—it has not been 16⅔ per cent.; I can convince the House of that—is he entitled to pass it all on to the consumer? Why should he 508 do that? Is that the criterion we ought to apply to other industries? I have here a little quotation which I found the other day. It is interesting and apposite. It is:Surely the function of management in industry is not just passing on increased costs to purchasers. There is something more in the skill and the art of management than that. If not, then 14-year-old schoolboys armed with ready-reckoners could be managers.That was not from a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton). It was from a speech by Lord Lucas of Chilworth, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Lord Lucas was making a characteristically savage attack on the system of private enterprise in which he himself has managed to earn a modest fortune. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if that is really the way that private industry is to be lectured by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the Opposition are entitled to use the same argument in suggesting that the modest increases in prices since 1947 should be absorbed in increased efficiency in the transport industry.
I do not pretend that transport economics are a simple thing or that I understand them completely. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope hon. Members who are cheering know about them. There is one basic principle about all transport economics, and it is that the health, efficiency and prosperity of the transport industry depend upon what is going on in other industries outside. Transport is a servant and not a master. If there is a slump, transport cannot prosper; if there is a boom, transport equally will have a share in it.
What has been happening during the past few years? I do not ask the House of Commons to accept as true everything that the President of the Board of Trade says about the increased tempo of our production. I do not wish to strain the credulity of hon. Members too far, but let us accept it as half-true. One would be led to the conclusion that there has been some increase in productivity during that period. The "Economic Survey" says how well we did in 1949. It puts the increase in production at 6½ per cent. and says we shall do better in 1950. Why is it that transport has not shared in all this? Manufacturers do not make goods 509 and sit down and look at them in the factories; they get them out of the factories, send them to the ports and export them. All that should bring great benefit to the transport industry. I am bound to say that if this is the best the transport industry can do in a boom with rising productivity, God help us in a slump.
I hope I have said enough—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have not quite finished yet. I had hoped at any rate to convince hon. Members that this talk of comparisons between 1938 and 1948 figures of costs is quite irrelevant to the case which the right hon. Gentleman has been putting forward and the demand for an increase of 16⅔ per cent. It is designed to darken counsel rather than to illuminate the truth. The case which the right hon. Gentleman has to make, having received from this House and from the Transport Commission everything he asked for in October, 1947, is how has the position outside the industry worsened in that period so as to have necessitated this increasing spiral of losses?
I turn now to the second part of my case, the question of the economies. We on this side of the House do not accept for one moment that it is necessary for the British Transport Commission to go on losing public money at the rate they are losing it at the present time. We do not accept the view that every time their expenditure goes up we have to match it by an increase in charges. Nor have we been backward in putting forward in Debate after Debate arguments in support of our contention. I remember in the last Debate my right hon. and learned Friend and myself put forward a detailed argument about what had been going on in the passenger side of the industry. I will not read what I said because it is rather a bore when hon. Members read what they have said, but I will repeat the gist of it.
The gist of it was that the amount of train mileage had gone up while the amount of gross revenue had gone down, that the average receipts had fallen over 10 per cent. in the period, and I suggested that the main case which the right hon. Gentleman had to face was the passenger side of the industry. He did not even trouble to reply to the point. He did not refer to it at all. He launched out into some disquisition on railway history between 1918 and 1921. It was 510 very interesting; a fascinating study; I am interested in all these matters. But he might have given us the courtesy of a reply; and even if he did not reply, he ought not to have the effrontery to say that we do not make suggestions at all from this side of the House.
So, as I did not get a reply from the right hon. Gentleman I wrote to Sir Cyril Hurcomb and I did get a reply. I always hesitate to write to Sir Cyril Hurcomb because he quotes the number of letters he gets as an instance of the interest the public are taking in the transport industry. I asked Sir Cyril Hurcomb whether he could give me some information on the amount of money which they had lost on the passenger side. It was obvious that they had lost a good bit. I asked him if he could help me, and he replied:The answer to your third question, if I understand it correctly, is that railway experts have never found it possible to apportion, with any useful degree of accuracy, the expenditure involved on the passenger, as distinct from the freight, side of railway working, and it has always been held that the margins of error in the numerous statistical assumptions that have to be made are so great as to invalidate any attempt at apportionment.This letter is from a man who is responsible for working out a scientific costing system.
§ Mr. Harrison rose——
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If Sir Cyril Hurcomb and his advisers cannot work out the difference in cost between carrying passengers and freight, how on earth can they distinguish between oranges and coal?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No. I want to repeat this, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us the courtesy of a reply. The number of trains is being increased again this year and the fares are still at the same high level. We have a growing population which cannot get on to the buses because they are overcrowded and cannot afford to go on the trains. What is happening now is that people are hitch-hiking.
What is the policy of the right hon. Gentleman? I cannot understand the trading practices of this great monopoly. Let me take a simple illustration and, because it is topical, refer to cauliflowers 511 Supposing a greengrocer is trying to sell his cauliflowers at 2s. a time and housewives boycott his shop because they say that the price is too high; what is the advice that the Government give? It is, not to increase the number of cauliflowers and to hold prices at the same level, but to bring the price down. There seems to be some sense in that advice. Why do not the Government apply the same principle to transport, and recognise that there are vast numbers of people who cannot afford to travel up and down the country? There may be a case for increasing the number of trains or for cutting them down, but there is no case for increasing them and keeping the price at the level which the public have plainly shown they cannot afford.
I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend and I were right in the case which we put forward in the Debate the other night, and I am fortified by what the right hon. Gentleman said when he was announcing the increased freight charges. What has happened is that the income from the passenger side has fallen from £133 million in 1947 to £107 million in 1949, a decrease of no less than £26 million. That is getting much nearer the heart of the matter and the real problem. The problem which faces the right hon. Gentleman is not so much the increase in outside costs, which in his case are very largely merely imaginary. The real problem is the decline in traffic which the railways are now carrying.
I should like to pass to the two main defects, as I see them, and to the policy which the right hon. Gentleman and the Transport Commission are pursuing. I shall not enlarge upon them, because they have been referred to before, but the first thing which the right hon. Gentleman ought to do is certainly to de-centralise the railways far more than is done at present. The second thing that he ought to do is to bring more commercial knowledge in at the top and to inculcate a more commercial attitude from top to bottom of the system.
Today it is necessary to sell transport. It is necessary to persuade people to let the railways carry their goods or to travel themselves as passengers. What instructions, for instance, are given these days to a Stationmaster? Is he encouraged to leave his station and to go out and look 512 for traffic? Of course, the alternative is to sit down and to strangle the roads, but that is a miserable course. If the right hon. Gentleman would get on and appoint someone with real commercial knowledge to the Commission, which he is in duty bound to do by the Act which was passed by this House, we might get a much more commercial attitude in the whole affair.
I am not at all satisfied that the men employed in the industry are happy in the existing circumstances. I ask any railway worker what hope have the railway workers of increased wages under the system which now appertains, with an accumulated deficit which will amount to some £50 or £60 million at the end of 1950, and with increasing freight rates which will only discourage a lot of traffic instead of encouraging traffic on to the railways? No provision is made for any increases, even for the lowest-paid workers, in the proposals which are put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that the men employed in the industry are dissatisfied. Quite a lot of them write and say so. I have a letter from one of them in Leeds Central, who says:I have taken particulars these late years since nationalisation how things have just drifted from bad to worse and you dare not do a decent job of work or you are dubbed an enemy of your class. What a state! Most of them in our depot malinger during the week and then clamour to work on Sundays double-time, of course, and they are allowed and the traffic is only thrown about as it cannot be delivered. It just mucks the place up and they laugh at the foolishness of it all. It is true there are so many supervisors, inspectors, canvassers, collectors, etc., it is a real sickness to see it, even market inspectors and so forth.… Do what you can to have this state of affairs made known.That is a letter—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who wrote it?"]—Yes, the hon. Member would like to know, would he not? I will tell the hon. Member this, since he asks: the man who wrote that letter did not want his name disclosed because he thought he would be injured in his job. I will now quote the name of the man who does not mind his name being given. Driver Marsden is his name and he drives a train from Bradford to Wakefield. He has been on the railways for 44 years and is a member of the Ardsley Trades Council. I have no idea what his politics are. He is about to retire and does not speak in very Parliamentary language, but 513 I hope the House will forgive me if I read what he says:Why am I glad of it? It is because of this bloody Government"——
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayrshire, South)
On a point of Order. In view of the reference to the word "venom" at Question Time, I wish to ask for guidance. is the word "bloody" in order?
§ Mr. Speaker
The word "bloody," used in regard to another hon. Member, is certainly out of Order, but this is a quotation, I think.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The letter goes on:They've ruined everything they've touched and now they're ruining the railways. There's more bosses on the railways than there are employees and railwaymen can't call their lives their own. Write it down"—this will please the right hon. Gentleman—put it in the paper. Say that I said it. They can't do me any harm. Soon there'll be no passengers at all and soon there won't be any trains. They can't get people to ride on the railways because the fares are too high. And the reason the fares are too high is because we have to pay all these bosses who are drawing thousands a year and doing nowt. The money isn't going out in wages, it's going in officialdom. It isn't the railways that are wrong, it's the freight and the fares. We can't do without the railways. I tell you if there were motor wagons on every main road and every by-road in Britain they couldn't keep this country victualled.… We have engines that can pull a thousand tons and get away with it. How many motor vehicles would it take to pull 60 or 100 trucks? Only the railways can keep this country running. The railways are essential. They will never be done away with, but by heck we'll have to run 'em different from the way they're doing now.Driver Marsden expresses much more succinctly than I could the reason why we shall be voting against these Regulations tonight. What I say to the right hon. Gentleman is this. I believe Driver Marsden expressed two things which are absolutely true. One is that there is too much of a top-heavy organisation sitting on top of the railways at present and the second thing is his faith in the railway system as a whole. I support him; I believe the railway system has a great future in this country but it will only have it if the right hon. Gentleman and the Transport Commission will stop trying to strangle road haulage and instead concentrate upon attracting to the railways the traffics profitable to them. If 514 they do not know what is profitable, if Sir Cyril Hurcomb says that the economists find it difficult to assimilate the statistics, and so on, let them go and ask Driver Marsden—he might help. Of one thing I am quite sure; the one way not to do it is by putting a flat rate increase of 16⅔ per cent. upon all the rates of this country.
Look at what the Transport Commission themselves have said. Anyone who has studied railway freights agrees that what we need is a more scientific rating structure. They produced a booklet on it. Sir William Wood has been head of a Committee which has been sitting for two years looking at this matter, and at the end they have come forward and said that the rates must be related to the cost of stowage potential, etc. How does all this enter into a flat rate increase of 16⅔ per cent.? It does not enter into the matter at all, it cuts right across it.
Then the right hon. Gentleman comes along and says "We have to do it because the Transport Tribunal have looked at all this and they have come to that conclusion." But they did not come to any such conclusion really. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would study the report of the Tribunal. What was said in it was that the evidence was wholly inadequate for them to decide between the two sides of the argument put before them. It was beyond the power of the Tribunal in a 10 days' hearing of that kind, and no doubt it may not have fallen within their terms of reference, to find out why these economies could not be made. They said they felt more or less bound to accept the view put forward by the Transport Commission.
But we in this House cannot accept that. We cannot be asked to agree to a flat rate increase of 16⅔ per cent. upon evidence which the Tribunal themselves say is wholly inadequate for a proper determination of the matter. I have never heard a more surprising suggestion put before the House of Commons. We say that this crisis need never have arisen, and that now it has arisen the wrong remedies are being applied. We challenge the right hon. Gentleman, although I do not think he dare do it, to submit the costs of administration of the British Transport Commission to the searchlight of a public inquiry.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) always endeavours to add to our entertainment at the end of a Debate of this kind. I have seldom listened to a closing speech in this Chamber that has had so little relation to the subject we have been discussing. I wonder what the opinion of the House would have been if Members could have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) as the closing speech for the Opposition in this Debate? He made the most knowledgeable contribution which has been made in our discussion tonight.
Unfortunately, the closing Opposition speech was not that speech, which embodied a lifetime of experience of the railway industry in this country, a speech which did not represent the point of view which those of us on this side of the House represent but represented an experience gained from the directors' table and from political experience in this House in the party which now sits on the other side of the Chamber. I suggest, that while we may be entertained by a speech of the character delivered by the hon. Member for Monmouth, it does not reflect the attitude of responsibility which this House ought to adopt in dealing with a problem of this kind. This is an industry vital to this country both in peace and in war. It is an industry which absorbs over £1,000 million of capital and involves the livelihood of 600,000 persons.
With the exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth the Debate this evening is the best of the Debates we have had on transport matters. Three proposals have come before the House for consideration. There are the proposals of the Government that we should accept the recommendations of the permanent members of the Tribunal acting as a Consultative Committee, in which provision was made by Parliament to deal with a situation of this kind. That decision was arrived at after 28 representative bodies of the traders of this country had argued their case for 13 days in a much more effective and practical manner than was revealed by the type of speech to which we have just listened. The tribunal was composed of people with a life-long experience of judging the 516 kind of claims and the cases put forward. After listening to the case and the criticisms of business men representing major industries the tribunal came to the conclusion that this was the best way to deal with the present situation.
They were not discussing the problem of how permanently to determine our railway policy. A good deal of the criticism in this Debate has entirely overlooked the situation which this House has to determine. The fact remains that for seven years a war-time Parliament assumed executive control, through their Minister, over the railways. Parliament must accept full responsibility for the executive control of the railways during that period. It was not the directors who controlled the railways during the war. The four general managers were a management executive, acting under the direct authority of the Minister of the time. The circumstances during that period were justifiably and understandably a problem of the House, and I accept my share of that responsibility.
Nevertheless no attempt was made during that period to adjust the charges or the affairs of the railway industry with the rise in prices which always occurs during war. Parliament and the Government neglected to do the job which is the normal task of management and of executive authority. The actual traffic which sustained the economy of the railways during and immediately after the war was not a normal traffic. It was a war-time traffic—artificial and abnormal.
I shall show by figures, a little later, that it is the final stage of that process which has produced the present situation. The hon. Member for Monmouth said that the increases made in 1947 should have covered all contingencies. As a matter of fact, the 44-hour week and the increased wages were in process of negotiation at that time. Later, I hope to submit information and material, facts and figures, not of my own creation but the real facts of the situation which, I think, will justify——
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I should not like to have made a false point. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman specifically said that his application for increased rates at that time took account of the 517 very considerations he has just mentioned. He said:I also stated that the estimated costs of implementing the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry into wages and hours of railwaymen, which have since been accepted, will be £22 million in 1947 and £37 million in 1948."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th August, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 1297.]Therefore, the fact is that not only did he know, but he knew the specific figures.
§ Mr. Barnes
I had the estimate at that time, but all the consequential increases as a result of that decision could not then be accurately estimated. I do not wish in any way to evade that issue. I think I can prove conclusively that certain consequences flowed from that, which will explain the situation.
Let me deal with the three issues which have emerged tonight. There is the proposal which we are submitting in these Orders and Regulations; there is the subsidy advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and supported by one or two other hon. Members on this side of the House; and there is the inquiry by an ad hoc committee as suggested by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). The right hon. and learned Gentleman's case was that before we imposed these additional charges we should appoint an ad hoc committee of business men.
§ Mr. Barnes
Practical men experienced in running railways. But where are we to get such people? Have we not got them now on the Railway Executive? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that we have not, I refer him to the statement by the hon. Member for Abingdon. He admitted, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot deny it, that each of the members of the Railway Executive has had wide and general experience of the main line railway companies which operated in the past. They held high executive positions. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose that we should appoint another body of experts to examine the activities of an existing body of experts?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to me. I ask for two people who have had railway experience. I do not want to bandy names across the Floor of the House, for reasons which he will appreciate; but I could easily give him two names. He must have a dozen names.
§ Mr. Barnes
In what way could these two people, whoever they may be, alter the facts of the situation? That is the point we must consider. All that represents is a policy of delay. That is what hon. Members opposite desire—a policy of delay to place the railways in an increasing difficulty, so that they can use that and point to it as the failure of nationalisation. Is that a good position to adopt, in a business issue of this kind, where receipts cannot possibly cover expenses, because the expenses are on a price level of 125 per cent. over pre-war and one's own price level is based on receipts of 55 per cent. over pre-war? I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that all he proposes is to bring in people from industries whose price levels are above those of the railways to examine the problem of the railways. That is what this question comes down to.
I take it that these people are not out of work, but are in business. They cannot be engaged in the railway business unless they are already officers of the railway system, and I therefore assume that they must be engaged in private business and with some experience of railway administration in the past. If they are engaged in private business now, let the right hon. and learned Gentleman quote me any industry whose prices are not higher than those of our railway industry. What case can be made out for bringing persons from industries whose charges are higher than those on the railways to show them how to get their costs below the economic level?
In this instance, of course, what we are now doing is due to the fact that, for seven years, Parliament or the Government, which controlled the railways, did not adjust their price levels to the existing levels. This is the final stage in that process, and it was provided for in the Transport Act. It was recognised in the Act, when it was passed through Parliament, that before the new charges scheme could come into operation circumstances 519 might arise which would necessitate the adjustment of the existing charges and Parliament, in the Act, made the provision necessary for this situation.
Hon. Members have stated repeatedly this evening that the increase of 16⅔ per cent., and the revenue of £26 million which it is estimated to yield, will not wipe out the deficiency and the cumulative deficiency on British Transport account. It has never been suggested that it would. It had always been made plain, from the time when I first announced the request of the British Transport Commission for the use of this machinery for that purpose, that all it is designed to do is to prevent the loss accumulating, because, if losses accumulated to too high a figure, they would destroy the efficiency of the charges scheme.
It is not for the purpose of liquidating the whole of the existing loss of the Commission; it is for the purpose of safeguarding the situation, which was apparent in the speeches delivered both by the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts). Their major concern was that when the charges scheme did come along it would, in fact, remove very substantially, if not completely, the anomalies that existed in our railway rates schemes in the past. We have always made it plain that the 16⅔ per cent. is designed to secure sufficient revenue to prevent the cumulative loss destroying the whole efficiency of that scheme. I want to emphasise that this only applies to the freight side of the industry, and does not represent any increase in passenger fares.
Now I come to the question of a subsidy. The problem of the permanent way and a subsidy was thoroughly considered before the final decision was made to propose, by these Regulations, an increase of 16⅔ per cent., and I have never hesitated, in all the discussions which I have had on this subject when it has been before Parliament, to express my own opposition to a subsidy for the railways. After all, a subsidy does not remove the charge from the industry; it merely removes it from the users of the service to the taxpayers. I took the view that the hardness of the Budgetary position is just as much a difficulty in our economic situation as is a charge of this description, imposed direct on freights. I suggest—and I have noticed in HANSARD— 520 that not one Member opposite, however much he has criticised this proposal, has advocated a subsidy in place of increased charges. The whole of the Opposition's case has been one of hopeless delay by an inquiry. None of them is prepared to face the issue of either a subsidy or increased charges.
There is a further reason why I am opposed to a subsidy for the purpose of meeting this difficulty. The charges scheme is designed, eventually, to put both road and rail transport in this country on an entirely different footing—and a permanent footing—from what it has been on in the past. I am satisfied that once a subsidy is given to a service of this kind, all sorts of difficulties that ought to be met by economies and by efficient management would probably be sacrificed to the idea of a subsidy. Not only that: this Debate, and the consideration of the incidence of an increased charge, bring to bear on the problem of economies and efficiency public opinion, Parliamentary opinion, and Press opinion.
With regard to nationalised services, I think we get a better result by facing up to a problem of this kind in the way we have tonight. Despite our differences of opinion, I am confident that, in that way, we ultimately get a sounder economic system in the country. By the fierceness of our Debates and by bringing the searchlight of public criticism to bear on the administration of any public service we get, as I say, a sounder economic system than by attempting to bury the problem in the form of a subsidy. In this case, the subsidy would take the form of the Treasury meeting the interest charges on the compensation given to old railway shareholders. I am satisfied that every time railway workers attempted to improve their conditions in order to keep them in line with the general movement of improved conditions in the country, they would find that the effect of a subsidy, its cost on the Budget, and the fact that it represented the payment of interest on the capital item of compensation, would have a very injurious effect on our railways.
I now come to the problem of efficiency. Apart from the fact that an inquiry would represent delay, no evidence has been submitted to the Consultative Committee, certainly not in this 521 Debate today, to prove the inefficiency of the Transport Commission or of the Railway Executive. Members opposite have no right, in my view, to demand an inquiry into the administration of a public body of men unless they can produce some evidence to show that such an inquiry is desirable. I took the precaution to circulate in HANSARD a series of figures representing the normal test that any person could apply to any administration so that members of the public, or anyone else, could decide for themselves whether there was efficiency or inefficiency.
Today, not a single Member opposite has attempted to bulid up a case on any of those figures, or has made any reference to a single figure or fact contained in that information in an endeavour to prove any of them incorrect. Why have they not done that? The figures were all set out in detail. If hon. Members opposite could have upset those figures, they would then have begun to build up a case for an inquiry They have entirely ignored all the facts which the tribunal and I and my advisers have considered, and the tests we have applied as to whether an alternative is necessary.
Let me give the House a few of these figures. Like the hon. Member for Monmouth I do not enjoy, or appreciate, quoting many figures to the House, nor do I like talking at undue length. Nevertheless, I feel it is essential tonight that I should mention certain figures. I have referred to the fact that costs have been steadily rising against the railway administration. No one denies that.
What is the best test we can apply to any business or any management if they are facing rising costs? It is: Are they exercising within their general administration the utmost economy against an adverse factor of that kind? The test of the overall position is the overall expenses. Despite improvements, the total expenses of British Railways have remained relatively steady—£311 million in 1948, £312 million in 1949 and the estimated figure for this year of £314 million. In three years the total expenses of railway administration have gone up only 1 per cent. as against the general rise in prices of all goods bought outside. That is the position which hon. Members opposite have to upset if they wish to level an accusation of inefficiency 522 against a public concern and ask for another inquiry. They have been unable to do so.
Let me take another aspect to prove, as I contend, that we are liquidating the final responsibility of Parliament towards the railway industry. The total passenger and freight receipts in 1947, when the Transport Commission took over, was £349 million on the basis of present charges. These have progressively declined until, in 1950, they are estimated at £319 million—a loss of £30 million. That is the crux of the whole situation. It has been the decline in the revenue of the railway undertaking that has produced these losses. If hon. Members have come in late, and have not had the advantage of hearing the whole argument, they cannot complain now if I attempt to answer some of the criticism that has been levelled. From 1947 to 1950 Government traffic declined by £21 million from £54 million to £33 million. That £21 million represents the final stages of the abnormal war traffic channelled through the railways and obscuring their position. This decline in Government traffic represents £14 million of passenger traffic and £7 million of freight. In the case of freight receipts in that period, they have kept remarkably steady.
That shows it has not been a decline in commercial traffic, or freight traffic, which has caused the difficulties on the railways. As a matter of fact, it has only declined from £183, million to £180 million, a net loss of £3 million, whereas the Government freight traffic declined by £7 million. Passenger receipts in that period fell altogether by £26 million. Of that, £14 million represented a decline in the Government-sponsored passenger traffic, and £12 million of it was represented by a decline in civilian traffic.
I suggest that when one faces a situation of that kind no one can prove that, so far, there has been any considerable loss of volume of traffic to the railways either through inefficiency or through any other process which they may have adopted. But I want to emphasise this other point to show the difficulties which the railway management have had to face. In this period during which, owing to investment control and restriction, the railways have not been able to modernise their service, have not been able to build 523 the coaches they require, so as to be able to go out and compete for traffic. Then, in 1947, we had the fuel crisis, as a result of which, by direction, we had to cut services by 10 per cent. While all these difficulties were facing railway managements, and other sides of my Department, the records show that road transport services, i.e., scheduled public services, in that period expanded by 7,300,000 miles a week. I want to emphasise these points.
Hon. Members often accuse us of trying to build up a monopoly. They talk about our "throttling "and handicapping the roads. The figures I am giving show that in this period, when the railways were suffering from severe handicaps which largely sprang from national requirements and from political circumstances and Parliamentary control, the road passenger services expanded by 7,300,000 miles a week. I have excluded the London Transport services from these figures.
Now I want to turn to the impact of this 16⅔ per cent. increase on industrial costs and on the cost of living. I want to say——
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point, will he give an answer tonight to the questions about the increased passenger services which have meant a loss, as I calculate it, of £15 million, and why these increased passenger services are continued? Surely that is evidence of, at any rate, extremely unsuccessful running.
§ Mr. Barnes
I am always surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman even raises that point. He ought to know that, even today, the railways have been unable, because of the general circumstances to which I have referred, to restore services equal to those of pre-war days. That being the case, what is the use of criticising the railways and complaining that there is no enterprise? One hon. Gentleman says that station masters ought to "sell" the railways, and then his right hon. and learned Friend gets up and says, "Why cannot you explain why they are endeavouring to cater for more trade by putting on more services?" I have already pointed out that when we had the fuel crisis in 1947, due to the weather—[Interruption.] Right hon. and 524 hon. Members opposite cannot even have the decency to recognise that on that occasion it was the railways which practically saved the industry of the country because it was necessary to keep private industry going—[Interruption.] I know that this is a diversion, but I am not prepared to evade the type of jeer which there was when I made that comment.
I was the Minister at the time when we met these quite exceptional circumstances, and I can tell the House that industries throughout the country were living from day to day, wondering whether we could keep the snow-stopped roads and railways of this country in use. Only by mobilising all the railways and drawing to the full on the patriotism of railwaymen were we able to keep industry going in this country. So low does political prejudice bring some hon. Members that they cannot even acknowledge the decency of a decision of that character.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I was asking about what was done in the summer of 1949 and why the same loss-making system was carried on in 1950; but the right hon. Gentleman goes back to the winter and early spring of 1947. That has nothing to do with what I asked.
§ Mr. Barnes
I repeat that these additional services are a restoration of services, but right hon. and hon. Members opposite are apparently moving to the position where they want the railways to be kept to a static mileage and in no circumstances to extending. We are not prepared to accept that position. Whatever the motive may be—and I can imagine quite a number of motives—I welcome the decision of the steel industry to carry this charge of £6 million on their industry. It is very interesting, when one observes the kind of criticism that was raised during the holding of the inquiry, to hear that they will now carry this charge without passing it on.
§ Mr. Barnes
Well, perhaps it is big-heartedness that has influenced their decision. Whatever the motive, or whatever one calls it, I welcome that decision because I have often emphasised that for two years, and even for more, the railways have had to carry increased steel 525 prices, with coal costing more and timber at higher prices, and when the time comes for the railways to move into something like equity, it is only right that an industry should carry some of these charges.
§ Mr. Barnes
I cannot say which industries can or cannot do this, but I am entitled to say that this £6 million represents practically a quarter of the total charge; and I appeal to industry generally to endeavour to follow that example, because I think it is about time that the railways, which have always served industry well, had an equally fair crack of the whip from industry itself.
I want to deal now with the total income that the Commission expect to get from this 16⅔ increase in freights and the increase in their dock charges, from 25 to 50 per cent. on coastwise shipping and the increase from 75 to 100 per cent. in the other dues and charges. The total income expected from these increases is £27,300,000 of which the railways are expected to yield £26,300,000. The hon. Member emphasised that since these figures were estimated, an additional charge or expense had been put on to road transport.
I frankly admit that I cannot deal with a situation of that kind. Certainly that was not calculated when these figures were submitted to the Tribunal, and the hon. Member knows that. The hon. Member is perfectly aware that when this was discussed before the Tribunal it was before the Budget, and no one could have forseen an additional charge of this description. How far that will affect the £10 million representing the allowance for diversion of traffic, I cannot estimate. I doubt whether anyone could give an exact figure of that description. If I might express a personal view, I sincerely hope there will not be a diversion of traffic to the extent of £10 million, and that it represents an over-estimate.
Taking the gross figure of £36.2 million, let us now relate it to the gross output of the value of manufactured goods as stated in the Economic Survey for 1950. From this estimate the gross output of manufactured goods in this country would represent a figure of £6,210 million. On that 526 basis, spread over that figure, these additional charges represent rather under 0.6 per cent. If that is taken in relation to the gross output of manufactured goods in this country, it does not represent a serious additional charge on the gross charge to British industry, although I should be the first to admit that whilst general charges of that kind can be dealt with, it does not answer specific instances.
When we come to other factors that situation can change. If it is applied to the total output of the agricultural industry of this country, the £2 million additional cost which agriculture is expected to pay is 0.4 per cent. of their total output. Again, I suggest that on that total overall figure it should not represent any substantial addition to the cost of agricultural commodities in this country.
I turn now to the points that have been raised dealing with the economical use of manpower due to the advantages of the unification of the four main line railway companies and the future development of British transport policy. Figures have been quoted here tonight, which I wish to confirm, corroborating that in the last two years the British Transport Commission have reduced their staffs by over 30,000 individuals. The figure in the pre-war year of 1938 was 550,000 employed by the railways. Whether it was allowed for in the increased charges or not, does not affect this point. Since then, there has been the 44-hour week. There have been longer holidays granted and the British Transport Commission estimate that that and the other factors would represent a 12½ per cent. increase in the labour force that was employed in 1938. If these figures of 12½ per cent. are accepted—and this, in my view, is another efficiency test—then the figure of 620,000, which now represents the staff of British Railways, is beginning to get very near the figure of 550,000 in 1938.
While I mention that, I do not accept it as conclusive evidence, and I can assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that the British Transport Commission, in conjunction with the unions, will press on steadily and continuously with a view to securing the utmost efficiency in the use of manpower in the industry. Before I leave the labour point, I think it is desirable to emphasise also that, in 1948, 527 a sum of £20 million was expended on overtaking the arrears in maintenance which had accumulated and been neglected during the war, and, in 1949, a further £15 million was expended on this policy of overtaking arrears.
Whatever hon. Members may feel in looking at adverse factors, it is desirable to bear this in mind on the other side of the account. One cannot spend £20 million in overtaking arrears in a year and £15 million in another year without that being reflected in labour costs. The deferred maintenance fund which the British Transport Commission took over in 1947—the accumulated maintenance fund during the war—which then represented £150 million, is now reduced to £115 million. That again, as I say, is an explanatory factor with regard to the labour force.
The best efficiency test probably in connection with the railways has been mentioned already by some hon. Members, but I want to refer to it again tonight. In 1938, the figure was 461 ton miles per engine-hour; in 1947, the year before the British Transport Commission took over, it worked out at 516 ton miles per engine-hour; and in 1948 it was 542 ton miles per engine-hour. The hon. Member for Merioneth—[Interruption.]. I want to remind hon. Members that the right hon. and learned Gentleman who opened this Debate took nearly an hour; the hon. Member for Monmouth, who wound up this Debate for the Opposition, also took nearly an hour, and he had very little information to give the House whilst he was talking. If hon. Members do not like my speech, they should leave the Chamber.
The hon. Member for Merioneth quoted certain information apparently from an article by Mr. Smith. I have not read that article, but I have obtained certain information in connection with it, and I am informed that Mr. Smith apparently was, first of all, comparing the American short ton of 2,000 lb. against the United Kingdom ton of 2,240 lb. That would make a big difference. He ignores that fact—and I want hon. Members to keep this in mind, because I was staggered when he used the figure of 15,000 ton miles—that the average length of haul in the United States 528 is 424 miles compared with 72 miles in the United Kingdom. That emphasises the difficulty of comparing fares and railway operation and figures in a country like the United States, with its immense distances, with railway operations in this country, where the distances are relatively short.
I think that the figures I am now going to give represent further striking evidence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—the more facts submitted, apparently, the less hon. Members opposite like it. What I am proving beyond any dispute is that the policy of the Opposition, of just pushing aside all these difficulties by inquiries and delays, is not justified, because I have the information here which enables the House to come to a decision.
The average train load in 1938—under private management, I want to emphasise—was 125 tons. In 1948, it was 156 tons. The average wagon load under private enterprise was 5.55 tons. Under the Transport Commission it was improved to 6.48 tons. The waste of wagons under private enterprise can be judged from the fact that in 1933 there was 33 per cent. empty running. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Under the Transport Commission we have got that down to 27 per cent. Might I give a few final figures, because I want them recorded in HANSARD even if I cannot record them in the minds of hon. Members opposite? I want them recorded so that other people can appreciate them. Further economies have resulted in the closing of 40 marshalling yards, which represents a saving of 250,000 engine-hours a year.
I suggest that it would be quite useless and unnecessary to bring in any of the railway experts in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for West Derby is interested, or to promote an inquiry in this direction. Parliament is tonight faced with three alternatives. It can approve these charges, which will hold the position until the charges scheme comes into operation so that, for the first time in the first half of this century, we shall be able to get a scheme which will solve the problem of road and rail transport.
The second alternative is whether Parliament would prefer a subsidy, with all the difficulties that that represents. The 529 final point we have to decide is whether we are to run away from the difficulty, as the Opposition advocate, and push it off by some useless, indefinite inquiry. I have absolute confidence in recommending to the House that they approve the Government's proposals as the best, soundest and most efficient and most businesslike way of tackling this problem.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 1st May, 1950, entitled the Railways (Additional Charges) Regulations, 1950 (S.I., 1950, No. 701), a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd May, be annulled.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 283; Noes, 306.533
|Division No 12.]||AYES||[[...] 5 p.m|
|Aitken, W. T.||Drewe, C.||Lancaster, Col. C. G|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Amery, J. (Preston, N.)||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Duthie, W. S.||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Arbuthnot, J. S.||Eccles, D. M.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Lennox-Boyd, A. T|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Erroll, F. J.||Lindsay, Martin|
|Baker, P.||Fisher, N. T. L.||Linstead, H. N.|
|Baldock, J M.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Llewellyn, D.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Fort, R.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Foster, J. G.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.|
|Bell, R. M. (S. Buckinghamshire)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Longden, G J. M. (Herts, S. W.)|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Gage, C. H.||Low, A. R. W.|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Lucas, Major Sir J. (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Bennett, W. G. (Woodside)||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Liverpool, Toxteth)||Gammans, L. D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H|
|Birch, Nigel||Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O|
|Bishop, F. P.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||McAdden, S. J.|
|Black, C. W.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||McCallum, Maj. D|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Gridley, Sir A.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon M. S|
|Boothby, R.||Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||McKibbin, A.|
|Bower, N.||Harden, J. R. E.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Maclean, F. H. R.|
|Braine, B.||Harris, R. R. (Heston)||MacLeod, I. (Enfield, W.)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G||Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||MacLeod, J. (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Harvey, I. (Harrow, E.)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)|
|Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Hay, John||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.|
|Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Head, Brig. A. H.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Marlowe, A. A H.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Heald, L. F.||Marples, A. E.|
|Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E.||Heath, Colonel E. G. R||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)|
|Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Maude, A. E. U. (Ealing, S)|
|Carr, L. R. (Mitcham)||Higgs, J. M. C.||Maude, J. C. (Exeter)|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Maudling, R.|
|Channon, H.||Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)||Medlicott, Brigadier F|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Hirst, G. A. N.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Port-mouth, W.)||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.|
|Clyde, J. L.||Hollis, M. C.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Colegate, A.||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W S. (Cirencester)|
|Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Hope, Lord J||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hopkinson, H.||Nabarro, G.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss p||Nicholls, H.|
|Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Nicholson, G.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)||Nield, B. (Chester)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F C.||Howard, S. G. (Cambridgeshire)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P|
|Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R.||Hudson, Sir A. U. M. (Lewisham, N.)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Crouch, R. F.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N J.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Crowder, F. P. (Ruislip, N'thwood)||Hurd, A. R.||Odey, G. W.|
|Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (F'chley)||Hutchinson, G (Ilford, N.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H|
|Cundiff, F. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Com, Clark (E'b'rgh, W)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Hyde, H. M.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S|
|Darling, Sir W. Y. (Edinburgh, S.)||Jeffreys, General Sir G||Orr-Ewing, Charles I. (Hendon, N.)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Jennings, R.||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Johnson, H. S. (Kemptown)||Osborne, C.|
|de Chair, S.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|De la Bére, R,|
|Deedes, W. F.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon L. W||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Kaberry, D.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Keeling, E. H||Pickthorn, K.|
|Donner, P. W.||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W H||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lambert, Hon. G||Prescott, Stanley|
|Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Turton, R H.|
|Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Snadden, W. McN||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Profumo, J. D.||Soames, Capt. C.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Raikes, H. V.||Spearman, A. C. M.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K|
|Rayner, Brig. R||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Vosper, D. F.|
|Redmayne, M.||Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)||Wakefield, E B (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Remnant, Hon. P.||Stanley, Capt. Hon R (N. Fylde)||Wakefield, Sir W. W (St Marylebone)|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Stevens, G. P.||Walker-Smith, D O|
|Roberts, H. (Handsworth)||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Ward, Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E)||Ward, Miss I (Tynemouth)|
|Robertson, Sir D (Caithness)||Storey, S||Waterhouse, Capt. C|
|Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Watkinson, H.|
|Robson-Brown, W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon J. (Moray)||Watt, Sir G. S Harvie|
|Rodgers, J. (Sevenoaks)||Studholme, H. G||Webbe, Sir H (London)|
|Roper, Sir H.||Summers, G. S.||White, J. Baker (Canterbury,|
|Ropner, Col. L.||Sutclifle, H||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Russell, R. S.||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E.)|
|Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.||Teeling, William||Wills, G.|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Thomas, J. P L (Hereford)||Wilson, G. (Truro)|
|Savory, Prof. D. L.||Thompson, K. P (Walton)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Scott, Donald||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)||Thorneyoroft, G. E P. (Monmouth)||York, C.|
|Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Smith, E. M. (Grantham,)||Thorp, Brigadier R A F|
|Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Tilney, J D.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)||Touche, G. C||Major Conant and Major Wheatley.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)|
|Adams, Richard||Crosland, C. A. R||Griffiths, W D (Exchange)|
|Albu, A. H.||Crossman, R. H. S||Gunter, R. J.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Daines, P.||Hale, J (Rochdale)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Darling, G. (Hillsboro')||Hall, J. (Gateshead, W)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Davies, Edward (Stoke, N.)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hamilton, W. W|
|Bacon, Mist A||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hannan, W|
|Baird, J.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Hardman, D R|
|Balfour, A.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hardy, E. A|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hargreaves, A|
|Bartley, P.||Deer, G.||Harrison, J|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Delargy, H. J||Hastings, Dr. Somerville|
|Benson, G.||Diamond, J.||Hayman, F. H.|
|Beswick, F.||Dodds, N. N.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A (Tipton)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon A. (Ebbw Vale)||Donnelly, D||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Bing, G H. C||Donovan, T. N||Hewitson, Capt. M|
|Blackburn, A. R||Driberg, T. E. N||Hobson, C. R.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J (W Bromwich)||Holman, P.|
|Blyton, W R||Dye, S.||Holmes, H E (Hem[...]worth)|
|Boardman, H||Ede, Rt. Hon. J C||Houghton, Douglas|
|Booth, A.||Edelman, M.||Hoy, J.|
|Bottomley, A. G||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Hubbard, T.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Edwards, L. J. (Brighouse)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Hughes, Emrys (S Ayr)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Hughes, R. M. (Islington, N.)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Ewart, R||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D||Fernyhough, E.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Field, Capt. W J||Irving, W J (Wood Green)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Finch, H. J.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G A|
|Burke, W. A.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Janner, B.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Follick, M||Jay, D. P. T.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney. S)||Foot, M. M.||Jeger, G. (Goole)|
|Callaghan, James||Forman, J. C||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Carmichael, James||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Jenkins, R. H.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Johnson, J. (Rugby)|
|Champion, A. J.||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H T N||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)|
|Clunie, J.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Cocks, F. S.||George, Lady M. Lloyd||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)|
|Coldrick, W.||Gibson, C W||Keenan, W.|
|Collick, P.||Gilzean, A||Kenyon, C.|
|Collindridge, F||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Cook, T. F.||Gooch, E. G.||King, H. M.|
|Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Granville, E. (Eye)||Kinghorn, Sqn -Ldr E|
|Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Greenwood, A W. J. (Rossendale)||Kinley, J.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Lang, Rev. G.|
|Cove, W. G.||Grenfell, D. R||Lee, F. (Newton)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Grey, C. F.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Crawley, A.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Lever, N. H. (Cheetham)||Paling, Rt. Hn. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)||Pannell, T. C.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Pargiter, G. A.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Parker, J.||Thomas, T. George (Cardiff)|
|Logan, D. G.||Paton, J.||Thomas, I. O, (Wrekin)|
|Longden, F. (Small Heath)||Pearson, A||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)|
|McAllister, G.||Peart, T. F.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|MacColl, J. E.||Poole, Cecil||Thurtle, Ernest|
|McGhee, H. G.||Popplewell, E||Timmons, J.|
|McGovern, J.||Porter, G.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|McInnes, J.||Price, M Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Tomney, F.|
|Mack, J. D.||Proctor, W. T.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Pryde, D. J.||Usborne, Henry|
|Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Vernon, Maj. W. F.|
|McLeavy, F.||Rankin, J.||Viant, S. P.|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Rees, Mrs. D.||Wade, D. W.|
|McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Reeves, J.||Wallace, H. W|
|MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Watkins, T. E|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Reid, W. (Camlachie)||Weitzman, D.|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Rhodes, H.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Richards, R.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Robens, A.||West, D. G.|
|Manuel, A. C.||Roberte, Emrys (Merioneth)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)|
|Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N E)|
|Mellish, R J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N)||Wigg, George|
|Messer, F.||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C A. B|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Wilkes, L.|
|Mikardo, Ian||Royle, C.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Moeran, E. W.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Monslow, W.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Moody, A. S.||Shurmer, P. L E.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Morley, R.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Simmons, C. J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)|
|Mort, D. L.||Slater, J.||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)|
|Moyle, A||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)|
|Mulley, F. W.||Snow, J. W.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Murray, J. D||Sorensen, R. W.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Nally, W.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F.||Woods, Rev. G. S.|
|Neal, H.||Sparks, J. A.||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Steele, T.||Yates, V. F.|
|O'Brien, T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Orbach, M.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)||Mr. Whiteley and|
|Padley, W. E.||Stross, Dr. B.||Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Paget, R. T.|
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
On a point of Order. While your Deputy was in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, it was agreed that there would be a general discussion on all the points raised by the five Prayers. We have had that general discussion and voted on one of the Prayers, and I do not desire to detain the House by pressing the other Prayers to a Division.
§ Mr. Speaker
I take it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not intend to move any of the remaining Motions?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe indicated assent.