§ 3.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Second Annual Report, Statement of Accounts and Statistics of the British Transport Commission for 1949.Looking at the Order Paper, I observe that the Opposition have put down an Amendment to the Motion and it causes me to express the view that I am indeed sorry that once again our Debate and review of this vital basic service is to be marred by the political dishonesty of those who speak for the—
§ Mr. Barnes
I do not think that expression is too strong when I compare what the Conservative Party did and left undone when they had responsibility for government and had to deal with similar problems.
I think it is very desirable that at the commencement of our Debate I should remind the House of one or two facts. When the Ministry of Transport was formed in 1919 the problem of nationalisation of the railways was being seriously considered, but the Conservative Party had a majority in the 1921 Parliament and, instead, forced the amalgamation of something like 123 railway companies into the four main line groups. In 1933 they introduced the Road and Rail Traffic Act which established the licensing authorities and restricted the issuing of A and B Licences to the traffic need of the locality or area. From then onwards, every time a new applicant applied for the issue of an A or a B licence the then railway companies and the existing road hauliers often used their utmost endeavours to see that any fresh licence was not issued.
2054 Again in 1933 we had a most chaotic state of affairs in regard to London Transport. There was ruinous competition between the road transport services, the tubes and the suburban railway lines of the main line companies. And in 1933 the Conservative Party, as the Government of the day, had to deal with this matter. They did not hesitate to deal with the problem but, as I have pointed out on previous occasions, they applied the same principles of co-ordination and compulsory acquisition of all the existing traffic undertakings, whether they were road, municipal or railway-owned or tube undertakings, and brought into being the London Passenger Transport Board.
Before the commencement of the last war the four main line railways, who discovered that the 1921 Act had produced no solution of their financial difficulties and that the rapid growth of road transport was aggravating their difficulties, came out with a nation-wide campaign for what was described as "the square deal." I am not always quite sure of the politics of my predecessor, Lord Leathers, but I believe I am not doing him an injustice in saying that he was more of a Conservative than a Socialist. Lord Leathers in another place stated that "the square deal" proposals were not sufficient to deal with this problem.
I have been a Member of this House throughout the history of this legislation and the discussions on these problems. Perhaps, therefore, I am entitled at the opening of this Debate to bring out clearly to the House and to the public that when-the Conservative Party had the responsibility of government and had to deal with this problem, they hesitatingly and not at all thoroughly—as is characteristic of them when private interests are concerned—followed in the main the same tentative method of dealing with it. Therefore, when this matter is before the country in this Report in the circumstances that prevail today, I consider it is a form of political dishonesty for the party opposite to have put down the the Amendment to the Motion.
If we calculate the accounts of the British Transport Commission on the same basis as private enterprise would present accounts for the year, the Commission could claim that their net receipts amounted to some £31 million. Indeed. 2055 a private company presenting this Report would state that it had made a profit on the year of £31 million. [Laughter.] It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) to grin, but no one is more aware than he is that if a company made £31 million, whether they paid in interest 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. or 3 per cent., they would say that they had not operated at a loss. That is the point I am making. I am also emphasising that it is the guaranteed charges on the British Transport stock, together with other statutory charges which Parliament has laid down that the British Transport Commission must meet, amounting to over £50 million, which transformed that profit of £31 million in the balance sheet of this public corporation into a book loss of £20 million.
I doubt whether any informed student of the transport problems of this country or any other country would expect the British Transport Commission to solve in two years this problem, which has been developing throughout the whole of the first half of this century. It is well within the knowledge of anyone who has been associated with this matter that the rapid and enormous growth of road transport in this country has produced a financial situation of gravity for our railway system. It is also not denied that this is not confined to this country but is going on throughout the world. Later, if I have time, I hope to present figures of considerable significance to support that argument.
In two previous Debates on this subject I have emphasised certain aspects of this problem. I shall not develop the first point at great length this afternoon because I have supported it with a great deal of evidence in our previous Debates, but it is essential to repeat the point. It was because no action was taken during the war to adjust railway charges to the rising level of prices which always takes place during a war that this problem was aggravated. This problem would have been aggravated whoever was in charge and whatever form of organisation was responsible, and anyone can see that it has had the most grievous consequences. War traffic obscured at that time this developing problem but, when it ceased, it left the railway administration with 2056 charges 16⅔ above its 1939 charges, whereas throughout the war the general price level of its own goods and services had been steadily increasing against it.
What effect has this had upon the field of public opinion? Every subsequent increase which was necessary to adjust railway prices or charges to the prevailing post-war level of prices, has naturally been met by an increasing resistance on the part of the users and the travelling public. It is not an easy matter for any business administration to have to meet the universal resistance of those whom it serves. This House, the public and the Press ought to note that owing to the historical relationship of Parliament to our transport undertakings, transport authorities have not the same facilities and opportunities as has every other form of industry or commercial organisation for adjusting its prices, day by day or week by week, to whatever movement is taking place.
If we divert our attention to the present relationship of charges in the services of the British Transport Commission to the price level in the community generally, we reach the stage when passenger fares have been increased by 55 per cent. above the 1939 rate, and freight charges are 80 per cent. above, which means that over all the traffic of the Commission, the average increase today is 65 per cent., when the average level of the goods and services which they have had to purchase from the community generally has approximately, if not more than, doubled in price. I submit, particularly to hon. Members opposite, who claim always to have a knowledge of business administration, that no such organisation would escape serious difficulties in making ends meet if faced daily with a situation of that kind.
A further aspect which I have made manifest and have supported with evidence on previous occasions—I do not level any charge of neglect against those responsible at the time—is that Parliament, which represents a continuing responsibility, must take into account what has happened under previous administrations and must make the necessary allowance to those whom they call in to undertake any task on their behalf. The nation and the Government of the day called upon our railway administration and system to carry exceptional burdens of traffic during the late war, which exhausted to a very substantial degree the physical assets of the 2057 railway companies during those five years.
I do not think it is appreciated—I certainly did not appreciate it as an average citizen carrying no direct responsibility, but it has now become increasingly borne upon me—that while the railways were called upon to undertake a first-class military task, they had none of the facilities or advantages of the military services, or even of the munitions factories. There was, I will not say a deliberate policy, but a policy in which there was acquiescence, of exhausting those physical assets, particularly rolling stock, for the prosecution of the war.
Although depreciation and renewal funds were established and were accumulating during that period, no account was taken of the fact that when the time came for these funds to be spent for the purpose for which they were accumulated, the whole price situation would have become transformed. Those funds were related to price levels which became completely changed after the war, and which have proved, and will prove, insufficient for the railway administration to rehabilitate itself on present-day price levels and to carry through necessary essential reorganisations.
Whilst Parliament and previous Governments have acquiesced in this situation, what has been happening in the field of road competition, which over the first half of this century has caused increasing financial gravity for our railway system? Whatever reasons may be given, the commercial and road passenger transport fleets have been steadily expanding, despite all the difficulties of meeting export needs, in this post-war period. Furthermore, because the railways representa very large consuming unit under one administration, because of the shortages of supply of steel, timber and other commodities, the system of control on railway consumption has affected renewals while rehabilitation for the road fleets has been comparatively easy.
As far as capital expenditure is concerned, the House will be aware that the railways have not had the facilities of capital investment for the purpose of, for instance, reorganising their traction system from steam to electricity.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that road passenger 2058 services have expanded in post-war years. Whilst it may be agreed that the number of buses have increased, have the number of road passenger vehicles on trunk services increased in comparison with before the war?
§ Mr. Barnes
If the hon. Member will listen to the figures I am about to give, whilst I may not be able to give detailed information of any particular route, I think he will appreciate that I am making a fair case in comparing figures which represent the two forms of transport which react most severely upon each other. In 1945, the commercial fleet numbered 446,879 vehicles of all kinds in the service of trade. In 1949, the privately owned commercial fleet—that is A, B and C licences—had increased to 801,761. If to that is added the Transport Commission's fleet of 48,300 vehicles, the commercial road fleet has expanded in those five years from 446,879 to 850,061. This is a very significant factor, which the House, in a review of this kind, ought to take into consideration.
Public road services—buses and coaches—in 1945 numbered, in round figures, 50,000; and in 1949, 70,000. I think that that answers the point raised by the hon. Member. In giving the numbers of passenger journeys I cannot say what proportion relates to trunk roads, but I should say from my experience that they represent a general expansion throughout the country. The number of passenger journeys in vehicles of operators owning six or more vehicles, excluding London Transport, more than doubled between 1937–38 and 1948–49 from 4,500,000,000 journeys to 9,400,000,000 journeys. I say that anyone contemplating figures of that description should recognise that they must be related to the story disclosed in this balance sheet.
There is a human aspect of this question, of those who are engaged in this service. I have no hesitation in stating that railwaymen's wages, working conditions and welfare facilities have suffered and are suffering today from the lack of foresight which has been applied to the transport policy of this country in the past. I feel bound in reviews of this description to remind the House of these general considerations at the beginning of our Debates because, unless we keep this clearly in our minds, we can be grossly unfair to those whom we have 2059 called in to administer these services, particularly to their staffs and especially railwaymen.
The B.T.C. have the responsibility of administering the largest industrial organisation in the world, and, whatever views there may be in regard to the quality of nationalisation, I do not think any hon. Member can criticise the form or manner of the Report. I think it an admirable public document presenting all the information, statistics and requirements to enable Parliament and the public to form a proper judgment. To bring out all the essential elements of this problem in the form of statistical material is essential before we can find a remedy to this problem.
I emphasise that so far no country in the world has found the solution to this problem, but I believe, and am certain with my knowledge today, that we are on the right road and that the pattern laid down in the Transport Act will in course of time enable this country to find a solution to the rail and road problem. I have no doubt that others will then profit by our experience. One thing I consider cannot be disputed. If it had not been for the bringing into operation of the Transport Act and if the railway companies had been handed back to their former administration with no compensation provisions, as I have indicated, there is little doubt that the plight of British Railways would have been more serious than this Report discloses.
I now turn to the actual balance sheet figures. The deficit for 1949, as everyone is aware, is £20.8 million. Last year there was a deficiency of £4.7 million, which means that the cumulative deficiency has now reached £25.5 million. The main causes of this deficiency can be found in two large items, the decline in railway passenger receipts of £8 million and a decline in general merchandise receipts of more than £4 million, making £12 million in all. If my previous arguments have been followed, we can see the connection between the two considerations. It has been the expansion of road transport services on the public service vehicle side that has reacted on the passenger receipts and it has been the enormous growth, particularly of the C licence fleet, which has reacted on general merchandise.
§ Mr. Barnes
I will tell my hon. Friend, if he will be a little patient. For the moment I consider my duty to be to disclose the matter and material for consideration of the House, and I do not consider we could solve this problem by an act or decision of my own. It will flow from a general appreciation in Parliament and by the public generally as to what ultimately the solution is to be.
There is no doubt at all that when I am dealing with this point of general merchandise the figures I am going to give have some significance. This only covers a period of 18 months. In 1948 the C licence fleet of this country was 590,516. In June of this year it had increased to 699,350, an increase of more than 100,000 vehicles in 18 months. So we face the problem of a process in the field of transport generally that is eating into passenger receipts and into profitable merchandise receipts, while the railways, on the other hand, are meeting higher expenses on all their services, goods and wages and the fact that transport charges cannot be adjusted day by day to meet these varying circumstances because of the policy that Parliament has decided upon for the future.
It would be unwise for me to indicate that this problem can be solved in the immediate future because the curve of expenses is still mounting and the trade unions have substantial wage claims before the British Transport Commission at present. It is not to be wondered at that in view of circumstances of this kind we have a variety of proposals for remedying this situation, because obviously it cannot go on. In the course of discussion here and elsewhere there appear to be three main proposals which have so far emerged.
On the part of some railway opinion it is considered that the interest charged on B.T.C. stock should be either reduced or repudiated, their view being that the interest charged under the circumstances is unfair and should be liquidated. In our previous Debates the suggestion has been advanced that in view of the special circumstances that prevail, some form of Government subsidy should be given to the B.T.C, either for a long or short period. Recently the Federation of British Industries submitted to me a proposal that the defence aspect, or value, of the railways should be assessed and should become a 2061 form of defence charge or a defence contribution to railway revenue. Of course I welcome any proposal that is advanced for the purpose of adding to our knowledge of this matter.
I want to remind the House that just over two years ago Parliament laid it down that the British Transport Commission should carry the responsibility of paying their way and, whatever our views may be in regard to nationalisation, I was not aware of any difference of opinion on this point. Certainly no body of opinion in this House or in another place put forward any alternative policy. That being so, I think that, as we have so recently laid down that principle, we should at least wait, before we consider seriously any of these proposals, until the British Transport Commission have evolved their complete charges schemes and the Tribunal has functioned in regard to them, and we can see what emerges as a result of the application of the new charges schemes to present conditions.
Therefore, if I make comments, as I propose to do, on those three proposals, I wish it to be clearly understood that I am making them as an individual Minister who has been closely associated with this matter during the last five difficult years. I do not favour the proposals that interest charges on British Transport stock should either be repudiated or seriously interfered with. Parliament made this arrangement consciously, and I wish to give the reasons why I do not think any matter has arisen which should cause Parliament to repudiate its part of the bargain.
The interest charged is not a heavy one; it is at the moderate rate of 3 per cent. I have for many years been associated with the administration of the Cooperative movement, a great people's movement, the vast majority of whose shareholders are drawn from the working class, the wage earning class—railway men particularly, and others. The general rate of interest which in that movement is paid to shareholders works out on the average at about 3 per cent., the same rate which is paid on British Transport stock, and that interest is always paid as a first charge on the accounts, even before anything in the form of a dividend on purchases is distributed.
Judging from my general experience, the trade unions, in investing their funds, 2062 usually look to a type of investment of a safe steady character that in general yields an interest figure of that order. Private industry generally works on a higher margin than 3 per cent. as the rate of dividend or interest on its stock. That being the case, I cannot see any case for going back on the bargain made in respect of those persons who have invested their money in these transport undertakings, which were compulsorily acquired by Parliament.
I agree that the case for a subsidy can be argued on stronger grounds, whether the subsidy represents a direct grant for a period of years to tide the British Transport Commission over their initial difficulties, or whether it is more subtly described as a defence grant in the form submitted to me recently by the Federation of British Industries. Whichever way one considers the proposal, it means that the cost of these difficulties would be transferred from the users of the railway services to the taxpayer. Whatever merits or demerits or justification proposals of this character may have, this is, in my view, the wrong moment and the wrong period for them to be given serious consideration.
My view is that at the present time the attention of the British Transport Commission and of all its Executives, and of the trade unions who speak for the transport operatives should be concentrated on the need for securing the utmost economy and efficiency in the administration of this service, and to cut out waste wherever possible. The transport industry, in the form of its evolution and development in the first half of this century, has developed a considerable amount of waste. The British Transport Commission are not responsible for that; it is a situation they inherited. There is not the slightest doubt that if one takes the transport industry in this country as a whole, private and public, there is too much capital, too much manpower and too many resources invested in it to perform the services which we are getting at present. Parliament would be wise to concentrate the attention of these organisations on streamlining British transport at present.
I wish to make it clear that so far as their section of the industry is concerned, I do not hold the British Transport Commission or the present staffs responsible. 2063 The Transport Act was not brought into being to solve this problem. I have never said that the Transport Act could by itself solve the problem, but I claim that it provides the opportunity in the field of public transport to eliminate waste and to obtain better results from existing facilities.
I wish to say a few words about the Transport Tribunal. I referred earlier to the fact that the British Transport Commission is not able, as is any other business concern, to adjust its charges from day to day. That is an historical matter arising from the attitude of Parliament towards these services. I cannot imagine a fairer way of settling this vexed problem of the adjustment of charges as against costs than by the functioning of the Transport Tribunal.
At any time any of the services of the British Transport Commission wishes to adjust its charges the procedure which is followed represents a public inquiry, and it brings into play facilities for all the users of the services, both trade and industry and the travelling public, through the organisations that represent them, to bring to their service qualified and technical experts and people who understand the facts to interpret all the facts. The public inquiry becomes a technical and fair examination, first as to the wisdom of the proposal, the justification of the details of the proposal, the effect of the proposal on the public economy, and eventually whether it is essential to the British Transport Commission to have what they have applied for so as to enable them to meet the obligation which Parliament imposes upon them.
To turn to that aspect, I wish the House to consider with me for a moment the trend of the administration of the British Transport Commission, and to ascertain not whether they have solved the problem—I do not think that is very relevant at the moment—but whether their administration is tending in the direction which public policy requires. This Report discloses that over the year there has been a staff reduction of 23,151. There has been an improvement in coal consumption per engine mile. It is a small one, but nevertheless such consumption has been reduced from 63.69 lb. per engine mile to 62.58 lb. That small economy in fuel represents a saving of £600,000 per year. 2064 Twenty-three branch lines have been closed, 15 of them for passengers; and 92 stations.
I wish to make an observation on the closing of branch lines. In the first instance, public opinion demands that the British Transport Commission should be efficient. It demands road passenger facilities, and in the past the railways have maintained many railway services which have become increasingly uneconomic, because it has served public convenience to take to the road services for particular journeys. Wherever the British Transport Commission consider that a branch railway line has become thoroughly uneconomic that the capital cost of renewing and maintaining its permanent way or rolling stock to bringing it up to modern requirements will form an additional capital charge which must ultimately find expression in fares and charges, and they come to the conclusion that they can give the service which the public wants by road, then I feel that the closing of branch lines is a matter which represents legitimate economy. It is no use the public considering that they can have both economy in charges and expensive and unnecessary services which no one uses.
In addition, the keeping of train times shows improvement. The number of passengers carried is greater this year than last year. While the fares are 55 per cent. above the pre-war figure, it is clear that, by the policy of cheap travel, excursion travel and special facilities, the railways have carried more passengers. But that represents a type of travel which does not yield a comparable amount of revenue. The commercial and civil engineering districts have been reduced, the police force has been re-organised and claims for goods damaged, lost or stolen decreased by £1,226,492 in 1949 over 1948; or a saving of 30 per cent. I think that is a very valuable advance. It shows that we are beginning to move away from the looseness and carelessness and the increased pilfering which developed during the war. That figure is not only a sign of increased efficiency of administration, but it represents an improvement in the morale of the railway and transport industry generally.
I am informed that almost every test which can be applied to engine and wagon efficiency shows an improvement, and passenger train punctuality has improved. 2065 A point which emphasises the value of pooling resources is that before nationalisation I had each winter to come before Parliament and excuse the restrictions which were placed on industrial goods because of the shortage of locomotives. Within two years of the pooling of the locomotive stock of the four mainline railways that has disappeared, and now there is a sufficiency of locomotive stock for the traffic which is offered.
There have been 1,582 new passenger carriages produced, which seems a good figure, but I believe that it is totally inadequate to replace the lost passenger stock and the out-of-date stock accumulated over the past 10 years. I do not wish to weary the House unduly with figures. I know that they are never so interesting as general remarks. But I feel that in a Debate of this kind it is valuable to have in our records certain figures to which we can refer, because they come in handy on different occasions. The policy of replacing the old eight and 10-ton wooden wagons with 16-ton steel wagons is beginning to show its effect in wagon efficiency. It means not only that every wagon scrapped is a reduction in the repair bill, but the carrying capacity of the wagons is added to. Last year over 32,000 wagons of this description were produced.
There is another aspect which I consider an asset to British Railways which is not given any attention, either in this House or the Press, and which is certainly taken for granted by the travelling public. But in view of what we have in mind which has happened elsewhere recently, I consider it well worth while for hon. Members to spend a moment on pondering a figure of this description. In 1949 British Railways carried nearly one thousand million citizens on their travels and not a single passenger lost his life as a result of a train accident. It is difficult to assess the value of that in relation to the economy and the happiness of the country. As Minister of Transport, responsible for other problems in this country, I often ask myself what would happen if a great proportion of those thousand million citizens were driven to use other forms of transport. It occurs to me from whatever angle we look at the matter, that we cannot afford to experience a decline in the standard of safety and efficiency which has always characterised British Railway administration; 2066 in particular, because it is a most vital element in the transport life of this country both in peace and in war.
I wish to say a word about the Road Haulage Executive before I deal with a matter which I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has always emphasised in our Debates. So far as the Road Haulage Executive is concerned 1949, the year under review, has been a year of acquisition, a year of formation. They have been taking over something like 2,000 or 3,000 separate concerns and welding them into a national organisation. Today, on the roads, we can see that organisation taking rapid shape. It is too early yet to be able to assess how far centralisation may be building up an organisation too big or too expensive for the job which it has to perform. But it reflects the capacity of the people we have at our disposal in the community. It represents a remarkable piece of reorganisation and in the whole of my business and public experience I have never see anything approaching it.
I want to take this opportunity again to emphasise that the Road Haulage Executive does not represent the kind of monopoly which hon. Members in this House and sometimes elsewhere have suggested in our public discussions. At the end of 1949, the fleet numbered something like 35,000, but it is most important that the public should appreciate that there are still 129,460 A and B licensed vehicles operated by independent hauliers in this country, and that we are only dealing here with that type of road haulier who enters into long-distance conflict with rail traffic which produced the ruinous and wasteful competition which, in the long run, benefits no element in the community. I have already given figures of the C licence fleet, amounting to 672,000, which means that the total fleet of commercial vehicles in Britain today is over 800,000, against 35,000 owned by the Commission.
From time to time, the problem of the permit has arisen in our Debates and Questions, and I should like to give the figures for the year for the consideration of the House. Altogether, something like 17,247 original permits were applied for, 11,000 were granted, 2,605 refused and 3,642 proved to be invalid. At the time 2067 these original permits were under consideration, many representations were made to me by hon. Members of this House that, in the period, circumstances had changed, owing to people owning a business having died and a son or daughter having inherited the business, to find that, under the terms and conditions laid down in the Act, the British Transport Commission could not transfer the permit to another individual. To meet the opinion expressed in the House, the Commission introduced what was termed a hardship permit—not an original permit, but one which carried all the same conditions as the original permit. The House may like to know that, during the year, 1,051 of these hardship permits were issued by the Transport Commission. I do not think that that shows an arbitrary attitude or a lack of understanding on their part.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
Would the right hon. Gentleman say for how long these permits were issued?
§ Mr. Barnes
With regard to the original permit, if ever the Commission terminated it, the operator had the right to claim that his business should be taken over and purchased under the same compensation terms as were laid down in the original Clause of the Act dealing with the taking over of the long-distance fleet.
§ Mr. Barnes
No. No permit issued has a permanent character, but it carries a protection for the right of compensation; that is, in relation to the original permit, because, of course, ordinary or job permits do not carry a right to a claim for compensation.
Just as the railways, when they took over the private wagons, found that they had to scrap tens of thousands of them, because they were obsolete and out of date, so the Road Haulage Executive are finding that, when they take over these private vehicles, many of them are not up to the standard which they have tried to establish, and they are now being scrapped or will have to be scrapped. This is an inevitable phase of any process of business amalgamation. Whenever we bring any number of businesses together and create a new organisation, establishing 2068 a standard for that organisation, it is found that part of the plant, equipment or rolling stock of some of the amalgamated units is not up to standard, and, in the early days or the transitional period in the formation of a new industrial unit, there has to be this element of the scrapping of obsolete plant. In this respect, the Road Haulage Executive is no different from anyone else in its problem of building a standardised fleet.
In the course of the year, empty running by the vehicles of the Road Haulage Executive has been reduced to something like 19 per cent., which represents a considerable improvement. If we take the experience of the Ministry of Transport during the war, when it was responsible for running the whole of the road haulage fleet in this country for war purposes and also had the facility of return loads, empty running was cut down to approximately 20 per cent. This figure has not only been attained by the Road Haulage Executive but even slightly surpassed, which I think is a very good indication of improvement in that direction.
If I may turn, finally, to the problem of the charges schemes, one of the most responsible tasks which the British Transport Commission had to undertake—as everyone associated with this problem will recognise—was to prepare these charges schemes and go through the lengthy process of public controversy before the Transport Tribunal, and, eventually, out of these discussions, produce a system of charges that would represent a form of public consent and would enable the process of co-ordination, integration and economy eventually to find its expression in the fullest sense. The charges schemes are essential, because there are a vast number of anomalies in every direction. With regard to fares and charges, there are thousands—and, I believe, if we take into consideration local arrangements, the figure may even run into millions—of anomalies; in any case, it is a vast number of anomalies.
In December, 1949, the British Transport Commission published an outline of the principles upon which these charges schemes would be based, and submitted it to representatives of industrial organisations and bodies for discussion. I think we have to face this fact. It is very useful to disseminate information of that character, but, of course, these organisations 2069 and bodies are bound in the long run to recognise that these matters will go before the Transport Tribunal, and they naturally want to reserve their views, and the arguments in support of their case, until that occasion.
Therefore, in this matter, I do not think that we can look forward to the same rate of progress by consultation, which, however, still represents a valuable means of enabling representative bodies to think over the matter and prepare their arguments for the time when the case goes before the Transport Tribunal. I do not think we can look to these prior consultations to yield the same results as have been reached in other directions by private negotiations, but the Transport Commission is following on with these matters, and, so far as they can inform me at present, they believe that they will be ready with a transport charges scheme of a general and more universal character before the end of the extended period which I have given them, namely, August of next year. When these charges schemes have come into operation, it will be possible in the subsequent Debates which we may have on this subject, to get to grips more effectively with a view to a final solution of this problem.
The more I see of the functioning of the Tribunal, the more I feel that we are on the right road, because, from the very nature of things, there is bound to be this wide and sometimes bitter conflict of interests always developing between industry, wanting to serve its individual or industrial purposes, at the expense of the transport operator, whether he be public or private. Therefore, whether it is a private bus company that goes to the licensing authority, or a local authority which goes to the Minister of Transport in order to raise its charges, or the railway companies which go to the Tribunal in connection with theirs, it always, whatever form it takes, evokes opposition and resistance.
That being the case, it appears to me that we cannot allow a transport body itself to determine what its charges will be because of this public interest. The Tribunal machinery appears to function fairly. It is impartial, it is judicial, and it makes arrangements for all the facts to be submitted. The operator who wishes to increase his charges has to disclose to the Tribunal information which no other 2070 business concern in the country has to disclose. This enables the Tribunal to look into the whole of the administration and financial affairs of the concern. Then, again, the Tribunal has the advantage of having the expert views of the specialist bodies of users and consumers who concentrate on their own specific aspect of the case, and, therefore, the examination becomes the most thorough and exhaustive that one can imagine. That being the case, I think we can rest content in the knowledge that eventually the Tribunal should settle these charges in a way which will enable the Commission to pay its way.
With regard to the Consultative Committees, I think I ought to inform the House of the process in which I am now engaged. The original intention of the area Consultative Committees was to be complementary to the area road passenger schemes, but I must express regret that the area road passenger schemes are not proceeding as rapidly as I believe most of us hoped they would when the Transport Act was in operation. I would recall the fact that the area transport schemes were based squarely on agreement with local opinion, but, as so often has been the case in our history, it has been proved that the wider this matter is diffused the more the competing bodies are unable to find common ground of agreement.
Therefore, I have had to review the position. I have examined the six railways regions to see whether they would represent an alternative interim arrangement; I have also examined the road haulage areas of eight regions to see whether they offered a better alternative. Eventually, however, I came to the conclusion that in this interim period the better alternative arrangement would be to take the 11 areas representing the licensing authorities of public and commercial vehicles. They represent offices composed of people experienced in these matters and who are used to issuing traffic licences. They still continue to do so. They deal with schedules of fares and matters of that description, and, in a sense, they have become a traffic area. As we are not able to apply it to any limited road passenger transport area at the present moment, it appears to me that the appointment of the Area Consultative Committees in the licensing authority area will be a better plan at the present 2071 moment, and I am in the process of bringing about the formation and the appointment of those Consultative Committees.
No one recognises more than I that I have been unable to cover the whole of the ground in this Report in the way, that hon. Members would wish. I have, however, endeavoured to open up some aspects of this problem which I think may be of some use to the House, and I conclude with the hope that, despite what I had to say in the opening part of my speech about the Amendment of hon. Members, at least there will come a time in these Debates when we shall be able to review the problems of transport un-marred by political considerations. When we arrive at that stage, then, I believe, it will not be long before British Transport becomes a model for the whole world.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
The Minister has had the unenviable task of presenting the Accounts and the Report of a company whose affairs are rapidly deteriorating. He has our sympathy, because, after all, it is our organisation and it is the public's money that is in process of being lost. I am bound to, say, however, that I was disappointed with his speech because at no point in it did he suggest that either he or the British Transport Commission were contemplating changing in any way the policy which has accompanied this decline in the organisation's affairs. He said that we were on the right road; I rather liked that; but his road seemed to lead rather rapidly downhill.
I have, of course, studied the Report with as much attention as I could. I noticed the long wail that went on throughout it about the difficulties which confronted the Commission. Prices, it was said, tended to rise almost without pause and often with little warning. That is a strange reflection upon the financial administration of the Socialist Party. I particularly noticed the paragraph which dealt with the effects of devaluation—a whole series of savage increases in many of the vital commodities which the Commission are using. Anything further removed from the Government's predictions at the time devaluation took place it would be hard to imagine.
2072 It is really not much good the British Transport Commission blaming the coat industry because the price of coal is too high, or the coal miners of South Wales threatening to come out on strike because transport charges are too high. We are tired of watching one nationalised industry spitting at another. They must learn, like private enterprise, to get on in spite of Socialist administration. I must say that, as I read the Report, I found much too much of an air of complacency in its pages. Let me take one example—the attitude of the Transport Commission to this honourable House. The Report says:There has been no diminution of the interest shown by Members of Parliament and the public in the work of the Commission during the year. A large number of letters and inquiries have been received from Members of Parliament, not only in connection with Parliamentary Questions which have been referred by the Minister to the Commission, but also on many other matters…on 1st December, 1949, after one day's Debate, the House of Commons passed a motion noting the Annual Report and Accounts of the Commission for the year 1948.Really, the people who wrote this Report know the situation as well as hon. Members. One cannot put down a Question on anything except a triviality in the whole range of transport policy. One has only to search the Order Paper to see the kind of Questions allowed. Incidentally, I imagine that the staff of the Ministry of Transport has been very drastically curtailed, because with a very small Department the Minister could answer the kind of Questions we are allowed to put. As for a one day's Debate, it is the only day's Debate we have on this vast complex of industries during the whole course of the year. Let me give one illustration. This is no reflection on the Chair, but for two years we on this side of the House, have been trying to get someone into the Debate to make a speech on the road passenger side. We have not succeeded yet, and, if I speak for as long as it looks as if I shall, I do not know whether we shall succeed today.
The same attitude is illustrated by what is said in the Annual Report about the Consultative Committees. The Report says:… the fact that the number of matters referred to these Committees has not been large is an indication that the Executives are maintaining direct and satisfactory contact with customers and traders throughout the country.2073 The fact is that there are Committees set up, apart from the central one. for Wales, for Scotland and for London. England has no Committee at all and the fact that no complaint has been made to non-existent Committees is now cited as an argument about how well the Commission are doing.
The more I read this Report, the more I study our discussions on transport, the more impressed I am as to how far nationalisation is removed from public ownership in any real sense of the term. After all, ownership implies some exercise of the rights of property. What control has the public over this vast monopoly? A one-day Debate, that is all. In the days of private ownership, when the railway industry and the road haulage industry were substantially in private hands, more Questions could be asked and were answered about transport problems than are asked and answered at the present time.
May I pass straight on to something which I think became concealed a little in the long speech—and I do not complain about it—that the Minister made to the House? I want to come back to the real situation about this organisation's finances. In October, 1947, approval was given for passenger fare increases and rate increases amounting to no less than £65 million. That burden was placed upon the public.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
That was to take account of the rise in prices during the war and of the shorter working week and increased wages granted at that time. In 1948, despite that increase, a loss of £4.7 million was incurred. In 1949—that is, the year we are considering on exactly the same basis, so we can really see accurately the rate of decline—the loss went up from £4.7 million to £20.8 million. As a result of that, the British Transport Commission asked for and were granted a freight rate increase of 16⅔ per cent. to bring in another £28 million from the public; and the best estimate that the Commission can make of results next year is that there will be a substantial deficit still.
That is the problem we are up against. It is a national and not just a party problem. We have all o try to look round 2074 to see how this thing can be tackled. The first thing to do is to admit that the problem is there. I have little sympathy with those who pretend that there is some easy short-cut to the solution of the transport problem.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Let me, therefore, start with the short-cut which is often suggested to me when I speak in the country. It is put forward, not by the Minister today, but by the heckler to the platform. The heckler says that the cause of the trouble is the compensation that is paid to the old owner.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The Socialist heckler says "Let us cut down on the rate of interest," and indeed it is not the Socialist heckler alone who says it. I have been studying what went on at Margate, and the resolutions that came from a number of Labour Party constituency organisations. There were Willesden, East; Salford, East; and Tottenham. I must say that I thought the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Messer), for whom we all have a great respect, would have had more control over his constituents. There was also a resolution from Nottingham, Central. They were all in the same term. I did the courtesy of writing to the hon. Members concerned a letter saying that I would refer to the resolutions put forward by their constituency organisations, and I asked them whether they would rise and defend them in the House of Commons. Are they going to do that? Do they want to cut down on the guaranteed interest on Government stock?
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham)
I am very happy to respond by saying that my constituency is democratic and is not controlled by one man.
§ Mr. Manuel
Will not the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) agree that it is perfectly true to say that there is an added burden on transport costs in this country because all stock is getting an interest charge of 3 per cent. and more, whereas previously the same stock was getting no payment?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I cannot give way. I did give way to the hon. Member for 2075 Tottenham, to whom I wrote, and I think he has answered quite honestly. It is apparent that he does not support his constituency organisation. I hope that hon. Members in similar constituencies will go to the country and say that this ridiculous nonsense has to stop. The money is not paid, as Nottingham, Central, think, to ex-shareholders. The stock is a marketable Government-guaranteed security and we cannot get out of our difficulties that way. The Minister was perfectly fair and honourable in the statement he made about it. I understand that the Lord President of the Council turned down the suggestion, but he said there were many other ways of doing it. He said that all sorts of "tempting" things opened themselves to Socialist eyes.There may be ways whereby, as we go along, the financial burdens of the nationalised industries, which I agree are considerable, may conceivably be eased.I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench. If he has up his sleeve, a solution of his own which will help the Minister of Transport out of his difficulties, I do not think he ought to keep it to himself. If he gave it to us, he would be performing a national as well as a party service.
§ Mr. Orbach (Willesden, East)
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was kind enough to send me one of his billets doux to say that he would be referring to the resolution in the name of Willesden, East. My party, like all the Labour Party, is a democratic organisation, and I do not reckon to be a Fuerher of that party. I do not think that, because I am an amateur bricklayer, I will build 300,000 houses in five minutes. May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the resolution? I agree with the paragraph which says:If the payment of compensation to the ex-owners be found to be a burden on the community, these payments should be suspended.Does he object to that resolution on those terms?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The resolution says:… to set a maximum limit to the amount of compensation to be paid to any former shareholder of enterprises, which have been, or will be, nationalised …
§ Mr. Orbach
There is a difference between a draft resolution and a resolution. If the hon. Member wants to see the resolution, I can supply him with it.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It may have been amended afterwards. For a party which is talking about a world plan for mutual aid, it is a curious start to suggest that one should confiscate capital and run out on guaranteed interest rates. I have mentioned those matters because I thought it was right to emphasise that we cannot get out of our transport problem by some short-cut solution of that kind.
I turn now to one or two, as I think, more serious matters with which we have been concerned. May I say this about the Report itself? Will the right hon. Gentleman endeavour to persuade the Transport Commission to produce next year's Report a good deal earlier? I think I speak for all sides of the House when I say that it is all very well for them to spend 10 months producing a Report and to give us one month in which to read it and in which to consult the experts about it; but that it is not an easy matter for us. Will the right hon. Gentleman emphasise that they must get on with the job?
I want to ask a question about something to which the right hon. Gentleman did not appear to refer at all and which I think is a matter of some gravity—the position of the Commission's liquid assets. They took over from private enterprise a considerable amount of liquid capital, and the short point is that that is running out. The net current assets went down by a further £90 million in 1949. The sum is running out for many reasons, but among them, it is stated, is the need to finance the continuing deficit and the cash payments for the road haulage industry. Some may feel that the Commission would be better employed using their capital to improve their own concern rather than in using it to buy up more bits from outside.
What is the Government's view about this question? The Commission have produced a very grave statement. They point out that when they come to the end of this capital, it is unlikely that they will be able to borrow again upon such favourable terms. They say that the only hope is that they may be able to build up some reserves. Does the right hon. Gentleman hold out any hope whatever of their building up a reserve? "The Economist," in an extremely able article 2077 upon this subject, pointed out that if there were a 2 per cent. increase in receipts and a 3 per cent. cut in expenses, the Commission might wipe out the accumulated deficit of £40 million in the space of six years, but even that would not leave any reserves for the purpose of which I have spoken. What is the position? The hon. Gentleman who is to wind up for the Government is, if I may say so, rather well qualified to deal with this aspect, and I think it would be to the satisfaction of all sides of the House if he dealt with it fully in his winding-up speech.
I turn, next, to integration. The right hon. Gentleman has always placed great emphasis upon the benefits which would flow from integration. When the Act was passed we were told that integration was the method whereby the economies would be made. Since then the Commission and the right hon. Gentleman have become much more shy of this question of integration, and I do not wonder. I think it was Mr. Wilson, the Controller, who, before the Tribunal, said that integration was, of course, a good thing but that it would take 10 years before we began to see any economies through integration. Ten years is a long time to wait, particularly when one is losing money at the rate at which this organisation is losing it at the moment. There are only about two pages on integration in the whole of the Report and I could find not one measure of co-ordination which could not have been sensibly arranged by the railway companies among themselves in the years before the war—not one.
The right hon. Gentleman said, "We are pressing on with the charges scheme." But we have been pressing on with it for a long time. People were working on the charges scheme before the war. I wonder when it will arrive. The right hon. Gentleman says he hopes we shall have it in a year or two. But is it wise to leave everything as it is until then? Are there no manifest changes in fares for passengers or in freights for traffic, particularly on general merchandise, which could be made now and the need for which is known already? Must we hold up everything and continue to lose money until some one has worked out a charges scheme? After all, when it is worked out will it not be out of date?
2078 In the Report I saw that recently an analytical investigation was made for a fortnight on a particular route which involved an analysis, an examination, of no less than 3½ million consignments for the purpose of working out the charges scheme. What is the good of that for a charges scheme which is to be brought into effect in two years' time? I beg the right hon. Gentleman to compromise here. The problem of those who advocate an overall charges scheme is that they are trying to legislate for something static. Transport is not something static and the transport situation is not something static, either. By the time the right hon. Gentleman gets his charges scheme the evidence upon which it was built up will be entirely changed and altogether out of date.
That brings me to what I think is one of the most interesting and fundamental sentences in the whole of the Report:The vulnerability of the net revenue position to relatively small changes in traffic conditions is enhanced when alterations in the level of charges cannot be speedily or flexibly made.That is the basic truth about the difficulties of charges. The greater the degree of the monopoly, the greater the inflexibility of charges, because one has to have every alteration approved by some central tribunal or something of that kind. Equally, the greater the degree of competition, the greater the flexibility of charges, because over a wide field the public have another alternative to which they can direct their trade. I do not want to dogmatise, but these are the two broad categories between which hon. Members have to choose. My criticism is that by going all out for a fixed charges scheme and a Government monopoly hon. Members are making that inflexibility of which the Transport Commission complains a permanent burden upon it.
So much for the charges scheme. I should like now to say a few words upon another matter connected with the Commission. It is a smaller matter, but one which I raise now because this is the only time at which I can raise it. It ought to have been dealt with in a Question, but that would have been outside the Rules of Order. I do not think it is realised that the Transport Commission are spending money on propaganda. They 2079 have been publishing propaganda with public money. They made a film on the Transport Act which was straight, clear-cut propaganda. There was no question about it, and I do not intend to argue the rival merits of whether everything should be integrated or whether there should be some degree of competition; the merits have been argued often enough between the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). The film was pretty well the Minister's speech, only on celluloid; it looked better on celluloid and it lasted only 20 minutes. It was a straight, clear-cut piece of political propaganda. That ought not to take place. The Commission should not use vast sums of public money for things which are in issue between us in the House of Commons and on the election platform. I do not know what the sum was—perhaps £4,000 or £5,000.
I will leave the Commission and turn now to the Executives. First, the Railway Executive. I see that the Railway Executive have been pursuing their policy of centralisation. They have set up a new, special department to deal with paper. The bulk purchase of paper is to be undertaken by the Railway Executive, and this vast octopus, this printers' ink fish, is now to spew out forms all over the railway. The newspapers need paper-but not the Railway Executive. It all costs a lot of money, but it does not cost anything like as much as that paid to the people who are to read it.
Is it really necessary to go on centralising everything in the administration of the railways? They have got a centralised architect and a materials inspector; they have centralised the police, the research and medical officers, and even the horse superintendent. What a job for somebody! To get a decision one has to go up past the regional officer, past the Railway Executive, and even sometimes it is necessary to go to the Transport Commission itself.
We have made this point often enough. We say that the railways are over-centralised and we are not alone in saying that. Take the National Union of Railwaymen. They had their annual conference at Newton Abbot, and a resolution passed unanimously by the conference 2080 called attention to the centralisation of railway management with its absurd curtailment of local authority and initiative which, they said, could only result in a further decrease of revenue and, ultimately, in State subsidy. Some members of the National Union of Railway-men are here, and I hope some of them attended the conference. I do not know which way they voted on a resolution of that kind, but I wonder whether they will support that resolution in the House today.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
That was probably not the annual meeting of the National Union of Railwaymen.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
It was the annual meeting of the supervisors; I am obliged to the hon. Member. Nevertheless, the resolution was excellent. The hon. Member must not sneer at the supervisors' conference. I hope they will get some support from members of the National Union of Railwaymen in the Debate.
The right hon. Gentleman said, quite truly, that the technical side of the railways was being very well done. I agree with him. I think they have got some fine technicians in our railway system. They are absolutely first-class men. I do not think it is the technical side that is wrong. It is the commercial and administrative side that is wrong. Let me take the two points to which the right hon. Gentleman himself referred; I will take the railway passenger side to start with. I can remember my right hon. and learned Friend and myself making speeches over a year ago when we said that the key to the problem was on the railway passenger side, and prophesied that the railways would go on losing money as long as they were carried on with those charges. We did not get an answer. The matter was not even referred to in the Minister's speech. But we were right.
This is what happened. They had a further decline of £8½ million. Their receipts per loaded train mile, have fallen by 12.2 per cent. I said that they had priced themselves out of the market, and I still think they have done so. The Commission say that it is due to a decline in the number of persons willing to spend their holidays away from home. I would beg the Commission to "Come off it," if I may use that expression. The answer is that everybody likes to spend his holiday 2081 away from home, but everybody cannot always afford the railway fares to do so.
Then I come to the question of the uneconomic line. We want to know what the Government are going to do about that. I know the difficulties about the uneconomic line. But is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that there are only 36 miles of uneconomic line? That is all he closed. I agree there has to be full local inquiry. Great efforts have got to be made to supply the alternative means of transport, but the worst thing to do is to do what the right hon. Gentleman and the Commission are doing—continuing to spend money on the uneconomic line and sitting and dithering instead of making up their minds. That is how they are losing their liquid capital. The right hon. Gentleman has only got to read the Report to realise that it is no good just leaving the matter as it is.
There is a whole page in the Report which says what measures are being taken to attract passenger traffic. What are they? A Press conference is held to initiate the winter campaign. Of what interest is that to the passengers? What the passengers want are lower fares. I do not think there will be an improvement until there are lower fares. I think the passengers are right about that. They cannot afford the fares.
My next point relates to freight, in which there has been another decline of £4 million. I know the difficulties which the railways face, but I have talked to many industrialists—as many as I can—on the question of how their goods are carried. I find an increasing disposition on the part of industrialists to say that they cannot risk their goods on the railways. I argue the other side. [Laughter.] Of course I argue the other side. Who will be able to handle the transport problem until the railway problem is solved? An industrialist was talking to me the other night; his goods had been delivered in Grimsby instead of Southampton and he lost an important export order in America. He said, "I do not mind if I have to pay £5 or £500, but the goods have got to be delivered in time."
I have a letter from a customer in Ireland. He says:Generally speaking, we are getting a very bad service as compared with what we had pre-war, and it appears to us that since your railway system over there has been nationalised it has not gained in efficiency. The 2082 average time any consignment takes to arrive here is four weeks and it sometimes takes up to two months. We can sometimes get goods much faster from the United States and Canada.That is what we are up against. If the railways are to get the traffic they need they have got to go out and fight for it. They cannot rely on merely squeezing out the road haulage or rigging the road rates. There is only one means by which the railway industry can get the necessary amount of general merchandise traffic, and that is by providing a service which is as efficient and more efficient than any other transport system in this country.
I now turn to the Road Haulage Executive, which has acquired, in the course of this year, no fewer than 1,416 firms and now holds a very substantial monopoly in the field of long-distance transport. I could not understand the right hon. Gentleman's speech on this part of the matter. He said that it is not really a monopoly. He said that there are 129,000 other people who have got A and B licences. But they are short-distance operators. They are only allowed to operate by permission of the Road Haulage Executive. The right hon. Gentleman says that that is not a monopoly, but nobody can compete with it.
§ Mr. Barnes
I also referred to the 672,000 C licence holders on whom there is no restriction of distance.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman is right. He did refer to the C licences, but I do not think he said enough about them. It is useless quoting the number of C licences and hoping that the general flow of events will solve the problem. Will the hon. Gentleman say what he is going to do about it when he comes to wind up?
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Callaghan)
If the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his remark about it being a monopoly.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
But it is a monopoly of long-distance transport except for the C licences. I hope the right hon. Gentleman's statement on that matter means that he is going to keep the C licences and not interfere with them in any way.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman knows that there are 40,000 British Transport vehicles and between 600,000 and 700,000 C licences.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am aware of that. As long as the right hon. Gentleman means to give the pledge which, I understand, was the substance of his intervention—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]. The interjection was entirely unwarranted unless he meant that. If he does not mean that I can only say I have never heard a more irrelevant interjection. It has been quoted against me that I forgot the C licences. I did. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was about to abolish them. But if he assures us they are to go on—that there will be full freedom for a man to carry his own goods on the King's highway in his own vehicle—then, of course, I withdraw that part of my remarks.
The other thing which is often said about the Road Haulage Executive is this. It is said that the wicked Conservatives are always plotting to take away the profitable part of the transport industry—that is, road haulage—and leave the nationalised concern with only the unprofitable part. That is the most extraordinary conception of the reasons for nationalisation—to take the road hauliers in, in order to carry the loss on the railways. It is a lunatic conception. It would be like David carrying Goliath. Nobody who knows anything about transport problems would think it at all possible.
But I want to know if it is the profitable part—whether road haulage under the Road Haulage Executive is profitable. I see the net receipts were £1,431,721, but that is insufficient to earn even the interest upon the capital. Their capital is estimated in the notes to the accounts at some £49 million, and the 3 per cent. on that is £1,467,450. If they cannot even earn the interest on their capital, let alone any share of the central administrative charges, let alone anything for reserve or capital redemption of any kind, it seems to me that the roads, too, are getting "into the red." It will be a case of the blind leading the blind, if I am not mixing my analogies too much. I wish that these reports were produced in a form from which we could see what was profitable and what was not. I hope the hon. Gentleman will deal with that in his reply.
2084 But if they are profitable why is it that the Transport Commission are perpetually pushing up the charges? Wherever the Road Haulage Executive have got a monopoly—and in parts they have: in Scotland, and in many parts—they put them up rather savagely. I have a letter from a farmer in Scotland who says that the carrying rate for carrying full loads of hay from Stirling to North Argyll has gone up from 32s. to 55s.—a modest 75 per cent. increase. If all this is profitable I must say they are screwing everything they can out of the public.
What we propose to do is this. We propose to give free enterprise a chance in this road haulage industry. That is the right way to tackle this question of charges for road transport. We wish to have a wide and growing number of free road hauliers. Further, I see no reason why the railways should not own a certain amount of road haulage. They always used to; there is no reason why they should not in the future. I see it is suggested that road haulage should be removed from the railways, and that even the right of the railways to clear the goods from rail heads should be taken away and handed over to the Road Haulage Executive. That seems to be a policy of disintegration rather than of integration. The right way of dealing with such questions as that is to do it in the regions, and not in Lord Hurcomb's office in Whitehall. I see no reason why the railways should not have a certain amount of road transport, with free enterprise, and the traffic carried on in the cleaner atmosphere of competition.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman is being very good today. I have often asked him what his policy is, and now he is developing it. I ask him to go a bit further. In the free enterprise world of which he speaks would there be a licensing system under which those who were to operate under the free enterprise system would have to apply for licences, and other interests have to approve, and agree there was need for them, before the applicants got them?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Yes, of course there would have to be a licensing system—though not the shameful arrangement under which the right hon. Gentleman has been operating, whereby free enterprise has to apply for licences while the Government owned part of the transport 2085 industry can go ahead without applying to anybody. I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of saying that.
I pass to an Executive which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to. It is quite a big one—the Hotels Executive. I must say that I am sympathetic to the Hotels Executive, for they have a certain charm. They have just carried out a full and detailed survey of their properties—a kind of national "pub crawl"—and the effect upon their moral fibre has been considerable, because they have adopted a royal blue flag for their Executive, with a gold steering wheel in the centre. One cannot help liking them. But that has been a very expensive tour because it has reduced the net receipts last year from £103,000 to a net deficit of £47,000.
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, for heaven's sake wind up the Hotels Executive. What good does it do? Why put this added burden on the industry? Either sell the hotels out to private enterprise or give them back to the railways to run. There is no need to have a separate Executive to make a loss on the restaurant cars. The railways will do that for us. I leave the Hotels Executive with that plea that they should be wound up—or some reason for their existence advanced before the conclusion of the Debate—and turn to the London Transport Executive.
All I want to say about them is that I have never known anything more complacent than their report. They start by saying,The year 1949 was one of steady progress. …But if one reads on—and by that time, they seem to expect one to have become rather weary—one finds everything was worse. They went much further; they carried fewer passengers; their passenger traffic receipts were down; their receipts per car mile were down; and the whole dismal process resulted in a whacking increase on the travelling public in London. If that is a year's steady progress, let us have a reactionary Executive.
I apologise for mentioning all these Executives but I feel somebody must deal with them, however briefly, and I also feel that somebody must deal with the Docks Executive. I turn to that next. Their report is a very unsatisfactory piece of work. Their job is not just to carry 2086 out executive functions on the old railway docks. Their job, which, I think, they have forgotten, is to keep under review the trade harbours of this country. What I want to know is—what any reasonable man would want to know—whether we are turning the ships round as quickly as we can in the trade harbours. That is the one vital question the answer to which everybody wants to know who is interested in trade prosperity.
I have received some figures on this matter from the National Chamber of Shipping. I have got figures which are for bulk cargoes of wheat, barley, and maize, and comparative tonnages, and the times given are for the times from the commencement to the completion of discharge. The English figures are for Hull, Avonmouth, Manchester, and Liverpool. The German figures are for Hamburg, Bremen, and Emden. The times are three and a half days, five days, seven and a half days, four and a half days, seven and a half days and four and a half days. The German times are one day, two days, and one and a half days.
These figures mean that a certain investigation is worth while. This is only a narrow cross-section. I do not put it forward as any more than that, but I have been given the assurance that the greatest trouble was taken to compare like with like and to get comparative cargoes. In next year's Report, if the Docks Executive are still there—and they may be—let us have the official figures on this matter. Let us see if we are competitive in fact with those ports on the German coast, because if we are not effectively competitive in docks efficiency we are not going to be competitive in much else.
The last Executive is the Road Passenger Executive. It is rather like the Holy Roman Empire which was neither holy, Roman nor an empire. It does not deal with roads, it does not carry passengers, and it has no executive functions whatsoever. The position of Chairman is the most astonishing sinecure that we have ever had, as far as I can see. There is a rather inadequate report from the Scottish Omnibus Group and Tillings are carrying on, and the schemes for nationalised transport in the North of England and East Anglia have, quite rightly, been largely dropped. I suggest that that Executive has got no job to do. Why pay 2087 it? We cannot afford to pay much; we cannot be lavish with the money, there is not enough profit for that. Let us wind up that Executive, too.
I have finished with the Executives, and I want to say this, in conclusion. This great State monoply is at present drifting down hill in its financial affairs. I believe it has come to the point where it has been proved, to the point of demonstration, that the policy so far pursued with regard to transport just will not do. There is no way out by having a few minor economies and slight alterations. They will not do. There must now be some real change of policy. I do not think it is up to the Commission. It is up to the Minister; he has wide powers of direction, and it is time he stepped in and gave some direction upon this subject.
We believe that we must cut out the dead wood of useless Executives; we must strip off the Transport Commission this layer upon layer of industrial bureaucracy which has been built up, and which has made it well nigh impossible to get a quick decision upon organisation and trading matters. I think that the National Union of Railwaymen are largely in agreement with us there.
We want to put transport upon a regional rather than a national basis. We want to give the railways an opportunity to make their own decisions in their own regions on the local conditions which they know and understand. We want to give them a chance to own some road transport, if that is one of the coming forms of transport, as they have before. We believe that there must be a flexible charges scheme, and that private people must be encouraged to expand within the industry. We also think that the whole thing must be subjected to the clean wind of competition. If that is done, we think that we shall have a harder, fitter and more profitable industry, and one better suited to the temper of the British people.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I think the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) will know how great is the temptation I have to resist tonight to deal with some of the points he has raised. I know there are many hon. Members who want to speak and I must resist that temptation, although it would afford 2088 me very great pleasure to reply. I will refer to perhaps two points that he made. We appreciate the very good humour which characterises all his remarks. I do not know whether perhaps it was good humour, or whether it was satanic delight—and the delight was not only on his face but on the faces of all his colleagues—in the fact that this nationalised industry was not being as successful as we would have wished.
I should like to put him right on the question of the flexibility of a charges scheme. He ought to know that we cannot have flexibility with a charges scheme unless we are prepared to amend the Act of Parliament which governs the method of rating for the carriage of freight on the railways. We cannot say to John Smith, as the hon. Member's road haulage friends do, "We will carry your load from Glasgow to London for 27s. 6d.," and to Bill Brown, his next door neighbour, offer 27s. 6d., and when he says that somebody round the corner has offered to do it for 25s. then say "All right, we will do it for 23s. 6d." That is the very thing the railway companies have had to fight from the inception of road transport in this country. That is the flexibility which has not only placed the railway companies in their serious position today, but which will of its own volition destroy the road haulage undertakings themselves, because it will be a question of dog eating dog.
The main suggestions which have come from the hon. Gentleman have been very few. He said that we should wind up the Hotels and Road Passenger Executives; that we should have free enterprise in road haulage, which, in fact, was never free at all, because, in response to a question from my hon. Friend he said that it would, of course, be subject to a licensing system. There will therefore be no freedom for Tom, Dick and Harry, as they have led the people of this country to believe, to have licences to run their vehicles freely about the roads of this country, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier in his speech. There will again be the business of the vested interests of those who are already on the job with their vehicles opposing every application of the small man, as they opposed all the small ex-Service men after the 1914–18 War, and as they opposed them after the last war, seeing that a closed shop—
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
There was no licensing till 1933. There was no question of opposing new entrants from 1918 to 1933.
§ Mr. Poole
Those hon. Gentlemen opposite who are most vocal and who shout "Rubbish" are really giving vent to what is obviously the extent of their knowledge on this subject. I admit that I made a mistake in referring to the 1914–18 War, and I withdraw that reference.
It is, however, still an established fact that from the date the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given the vested interests in the industry, including the privately owned railway companies, opposed every application for a licence for a young man to enter the road haulage business. Neither the right hon. and learned Gentleman nor any of his hon. Friends can tell me anything about this, because I had the job of representing the railway companies on some of these cases, so I do know at any rate something about it. I was then functioning in the capacity of an employee; I was paid to do my job and I did it irrespective of the politics of my employer—a thing which perhaps some hon. Members opposite would be well advised to copy.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
There seems to be a lot of rubbish on the Opposition benches tonight.
§ Mr. Poole
If it were not so tragic it would be humorous, but the tragedy of the situation which is descending upon our transport industry ought to make anyone who has any desire for the success of transport in this country to be rather sad. Quite frankly, I find nothing in the Minister's speech this afternoon to gladden my heart. In the words of the song, he tiptoed lightly through the tulips of this Report, touching here upon a little saving, touching there upon something else, upon improved engine mileage, and so on. All very nice and all very delectable; all things we could read in the Report.
When I asked the Minister a concrete question about something in which the hon. Member for Monmouth is also very 2090 interested, the C licence position, and what he was going to do about it, he said, "I will tell you if you will wait a little while." I am still waiting, and the Minister has not yet told me. I am going to ask questions tonight, and I want answers. I hope this Debate will not follow the pattern of so many previous Debates, when the Minister has come to this House to reply to a Debate with a speech which has been prepared in his Department before he heard the Debate, and has not given a single answer to any of the questions which back bench Members have asked.
I shall have to say some hard things to the Minister today, and I only say them because I feel that I have a duty to do so, although I have a great personal affection for the Minister. The Minister said, "The more I see of the functioning of these Executives the more I feel we are on the right road." The more often I hear the Minister speak in this House the more convinced I am that he has not the remotest conception of what is required in a nationalised transport undertaking to make it successful. I believe that to be fundamentally true.
I could not understand the Minister when, in his opening remarks, he said that this Report is not as bad as it really looks, because they made a profit, and, of course, they had had to pay interest, which caused a loss to be apparent. I thought that he was developing an argument that something ought to be done about the question of compensation, but I did not understand why the Minister was grumbling about this, because this is not an Act of Parliament imposed upon him, which he was asked to operate, but an Act of Parliament which is his own child. He was responsible for the compensation proposals in the Bill. Therefore, it is rather late in the day now for him to complain because something which he put into the Bill has given rise to an unfortunate situation. At the end of his speech, he made it clear that he stands for a continuation of the compensation proposals.
Let me say, so that there may be no misunderstanding about my position, that I shall not for one moment consider repudiating responsibility entered into by this House. I think that the national transport undertaking could be a success, and pay all that it ought to pay, if it 2091 were only handled in the right way, but I do not feel that the doctrine of Parliamentary accountability is best maintained by a day's Debate such as this. I think that we, in our processes in this House, must find a better way of making known our feelings on nationalised industries than by a Debate on a Report which is nearly 12 months out of date at the time of the Debate.
I want to speak with a due sense of what I regard as my duty in this matter. I want to get down to what I believe is the kernel of this problem, and to ask the Minister one or two plain questions to which I hope that I shall get an answer. If the Minister does not give me an answer to these questions, it can only be either because he is unaware of the facts of the problem or because he knows the facts and has not the courage to tell us the remedy which I think is necessary.
What are the facts of which I am speaking? Despite improved efficiency in carrying operations on road and rail, and despite the savings achieved by reductions in staff and by other means, the deficit for 1949 runs at £20 million, and the undertaking, in addition, fails to give decent rates of employment to large bodies of the men in the railway service. The main cause of this deficit lies in the field of operation of the railways. Let us get down to the brutal facts of this situation. Do what we will in the future, if we leave the present position as it is, we must, I believe, face continuing deficits in the operation of British transport.
What do I mean by the present position? I mean the position in which we had 801,000 vehicles on the road at the end of 1949, of which only 35,000 were in the hands of the Commission and 766,000 remained outside the Commission. I mean a position in which the vehicles which are outside the Commission's field of operation have increased in one year by 55,000, which is more than the whole strength of the Transport Commission. In fact, all the vehicles which the Transport Commission own were trebled in 18 months by the increase in C licences. I say frankly, and out of some experience in the operation of integrated transport during the war, that there is not in this country traffic for more than 650,000 vehicles, yet there were 801,000 operating and the number is being 2092 increased at the rate of something like 75,000 a year. This makes nonsense.
The position to which I am referring is a position which I do not believe can be called nationalisation of transport, public ownership of transport, integration of transport, or anything else of transport, except a fooling about. If I had known that we were going to have in transport a position in which we were taking over the moribund railways and 35,000 vehicles and leaving 766,000 free to operate against the nationalised section of the industry, my vote would never have gone for the nationalisation of British Transport.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) during the Committee stage of the Bill, when the Minister announced that he was withdrawing C licence vehicles from the Bill, said this:I hope I may be allowed to say that the announcement by the right hon. Gentleman will be greeted by one of the loudest and most heartfelt signs of relief that has ever come from British industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 13th March, 1947; c. 1939.]Of course the right hon. and learned Gentleman was happy about it. He knew, as the Minister ought to know by now, that when he took the C licence vehicles out of the Bill he destroyed any hope of success of nationalised British transport. The Minister and the Cabinet, apparently at that time, failed to realise, what the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby was quick to realise on the Committee stage of the Bill, that they could nationalise all the rest but leave the C licence vehicles free to operate outside, and they would be able successfully to destroy nationalised transport.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman has been telling us about the alarming increase in the number of C licences. Will he tell the House why he thinks that these licences are increasing in this way?
§ Mr. Poole
I propose to deal with that specific point later, and perhaps not to the satisfaction but to the dismay of the hon. Gentleman.
On the Third Reading of the Bill the Minister told us that outside the provisions of the Bill there would remain 100,000 A and B licences and 380,000 C licence vehicles. When we nationalised 2093 transport, there were 380,000 C licence vehicles in this country. Is it not for the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House what need there is today to have 672,000 C licence vehicles? There is no more traffic offering in this country today than there was in the peak period of the war but there are something like 200,000 more vehicles in this country, competing for the traffic operating today, than there were competing for the traffic which was necessary during the mounting of the invasion of the Continent in 1944.
At the time the Minister announced the dropping of the restrictions on C licences, the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), said:I would warn the Minister that, having decided to drop the restrictions on C licences, he must watch the situation with extreme care, and, if it is found necessary, be ready to bring in amending legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1947; Vol. 437, c. 69.]I do not know whether the Minister is watching the position with extreme care, but if he is, that is about all that he has done. What is he going to do with a position, which is not only going to destroy nationalised transport in this country, but is going to destroy even free enterprise private transport by the unlimited building up of large fleets of vehicles in this country for which there is no traffic? As I have said, there are 672,000 vehicles roaming the roads of this country free and unrestricted.
We have heard today something about the activities of the Commission in buying up these 35,000 vehicles. The hon. Member for Monmouth must have spoken with his tongue in his cheek, because he ought to know, from his associations with the road industry, that when the Commission bought up these vehicles the traffic they carried was immediately switched to C licence vehicles. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am making a statement on my own responsibility, and I am prepared to adduce enough proof to substantiate its truth to Members opposite, if they so wish. The proof is here in the Report.
These 35,000 vehicles the Commission took over were the vehicles of businesses primarily engaged in long-distance road haulage. Therefore, if the traffic came over with the vehicles, they ought automatically to have continued on long-distance haulage. But what does the Report say? We are told that the average haul 2094 throughout the year is a distance of 50 miles. Where has the long-distance traffic gone that these vehicles were carrying? That is one major proof of what I have said. Here is a nationalised industry taking over vehicles engaged in essential long-distance haulage, and we are in the unfortunate position of being told in the Report that the longest haul is 50 miles.
What is happening is that the C licence vehicles are creaming the traffic, and the Commission is left with vehicles, acquired at heavy capital cost, for which there is no remunerative traffic. In other words, we are face to face with the greatest organised attempt to denigrate and destroy a nationalised undertaking, and the Minister, in the face of this situation, sits calm and complacent as if everything in the garden is lovely. I ask the Minister whether he does not realise the deep significance of this position. If not, I can only say that it would be far better for him to get out and make way for someone who does. Or is it that the Minister realises the significance of the matter but lacks the courage to tackle the C licence position? If he does, I would tender the same advice, that it would be much better for him to get out before the industry is destroyed. These are hard words, but I believe the situation is desperate. I would rather be a party to destroying a Minister I think guilty of dereliction of duty than sit complacently in this Chamber and allow something to happen which will destroy the faith of millions in the Movement to which I belong.
As I have said, there are over 600,000 C licence vehicles, the terms of the licences being that they shall carry their own goods and no other goods. It means it is safe to say that 95 per cent. of these vehicles must always travel homeward empty, if they are working within the law, because it is common sense that a man does not convey his finished goods, except in exceptional cases, to the source of his raw materials. There is, therefore, no back-loading for C licence vehicles. We are countenancing a situation where we have the great bulk of our road transport coming back empty, which is something we cannot afford—that is if they are working within the law. What is actually happening, however, which anyone with a grain of knowledge knows, is that the C licence vehicles are being back-loaded to a very large extent, in contravention of the law.
2095 I would honestly advise Members not to say too much about this situation, because I have already given some evidence of sabotage to the Transport Commission, which was found to be quite authentic and on which action was taken, and I still have plenty more evidence I am collecting which will find its way to them in due course. C licence vehicles are being back-loaded in contravention of the law, and, if they are not, I do not see how it can be called an economic transport service with this large number of vehicles returning empty on their backward journey. The Minister said on 13th March, during the Committee stage of the Bill, that, if by any chance it was found that the facility was being in any way abused, he would not hesitate to take the necessary steps to put it right. I ask the Minister whether he knows that the position has now reached a stage where it is being abused—that the figure of 380,000 C licence vehicles has risen to 672,000. In these circumstances, does he not think that this is an abuse of the concession he then made?
I should like him to tell us what figure has to be reached before he feels that the situation is being abused. I should very much like to know the answer to that question, and if we do not have the answer I am afraid the Minister will stand condemned in my eyes for his failures to give it. I believe in the nationalisation of transport. I believe that a fully integrated transport service can be accomplished, and that that was the only reason for nationalising transport; but there is no hope for the industry while the Minister is complacent and opponents of the scheme, like the hon. Member for Monmouth and his co-conspirators, are accomplishing its destruction. I quite understand the joy in the hearts of hon. Members opposite, because they have seen through the folly of the Government. They are seeing the destruction of a nationalised undertaking.
I wish to refer to one other matter, without in any way wishing to cast any personal reflection. I see, according to paragraph 1 of the Report, that General Sir Daril Watson has been appointed a member of the Railway Executive. I am delighted: it inspires me; but I do not know this gentleman, who may have some amazing railway experience about which I ought to know but do not. Why 2096 is there this over-weaning affection for retired generals at the head of our nationalised undertakings? Was there no one in the service who could have done very much better than someone who has apparently spent the whole of his life in His Majesty's Forces? I should like to know why we must have generals. Is it to make it look respectable, or for what reason is it? I wish the Minister would tell us, because if he does not come up against it I do. People in my constituency are asking me about it, and I confess I do not know the answer.
My final word is that many employees in the nationalised transport undertaking have done their part. I believe that the Commission, within the limits imposed upon them, have also done their part. I ask the Minister whether he will do his and if he will give the Commission a real chance to provide an integrated service. If he does not he bids fair to go down in history as the man who did more than any other person to discredit the Labour Movement and its nationalised industries.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
We find ourselves in some difficulty this afternoon because of the enormous scope of this Debate. On one day we have to debate the British Transport Commission, which has six Executives, any of which could be debated for one day. For that reason I ought to be brief. I believe there are something like 20 Members who wish to speak on this side of the House alone. I want to concentrate on the London Transport Executive, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) will excuse me of any discourtesy in not following him. If I did I fear that I might make an extremely long speech.
In opening the Debate, the Minister seemed to regret that we on this side of the House had put down an Amendment to his Motion. If I may say so, the Amendment is a very necessary one, and only deplores the accumulated losses already occurred. It is exactly what the Minister himself did in the whole of his speech. He said that if we had been in power, there would have been exactly the same position because of the condition in which the railways found themselves as a result of the war. 2097 Even before the war, particularly in the years 1935 and 1939, we were considering the position, but the Government of that day were trying—and I do not think unsuccessfully—to co-ordinate road and rail, leaving them in their existing hands and not desiring to make a vast, unwieldy monopoly, which is what we are complaining about today.
One other point I should like to make arises from today's Debate, and it is the question, which is continually being raised, of whether, now that transport has become nationalised, it is not easier for Members to deal in the House with questions from their constituents. This matter was raised by an hon. Member opposite, who said that such questions were answered. In the past the Minister of Transport or his Parliamentary Secretary answered practically any Question concerning the railways of the London Passenger Transport Board, as it was at that time, because the railways had their powers from this House. In fact, in every Session a railway Bill was brought forward and had to be passed by the House. In exactly the same way, the London Passenger Transport Board sought the same facilities. Questions were answered in the House, and the railways did their best to meet the wishes of Members. The reason for that was a very simple one—they wanted their Bills to go through the House with as little trouble as possible.
To come to the London Passenger Transport Executive, the first thing which strikes everybody is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) about the extraordinary opening sentence in the Report on the Transport Executive. It states that the year 1949 was one of steady progress in the work of the London Transport Executive. That is followed, less than a page later on, by Table I, which shows that in every respect London Transport has got steadily worse. The passenger journeys are down .8 per cent.; the passenger miles are down .9 per cent.; traffic receipts are down 1.5 per cent.; and only miles run are up, .7 per cent. Actually, what has happened is that there has been a fall of about £1 million in London Transport receipts, and the net traffic receipts of the London Transport Executive road services were 2.9 per cent. compared with 4.3 in 1948. That loss was due to a drop 2098 in total gross receipts and a rise in working costs. I cannot see how that can be called a year of steady progress.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that the ordinary man in the street is not now getting the money to spend. That is mentioned in the Report itself, and is covered up by saying that he spends his holidays at home instead of going away. The truth of the matter is—and this appears in this section of the Report—that the profitable journeys which used to be made on London Transport by the ordinary Londoner are not now made. The unfortunate thing is that London Transport are not preparing, as far as one can see from the Report, to do the only obvious thing, which is to try to economise. Instead, they have made the fares still more expensive.
Since we last debated the Transport Commission's Report, the Transport Tribunal has given its judgment. The London Transport Executive asked for an increase of £3,691,000, and have been granted an increase of £2,680,000 or 3.53 per cent. This increase will be a very serious one for the people of London. It is spread over a variety of services, which is called "ironing out the anomalies." But the anomalies are still there. The increase which is going to hit the people of London more than anything else is the rise of the 2½d. fare to 3d. That, according to the Report, is ironing out the anomaly, and they will be better able to spread out a uniform rate in London of 1¼d. a mile. But this 2½d. fare was 1¼d- a mile, and the 3d. is creating another anomaly and an additional burden on the person who has to travel. The Londoner is glad that the Tribunal let him off £1 million of the £3 million which had been asked.
Travelling in London is one of the most serious burdens that the Londoner has to bear. London is now so vast, and so many people have to live miles outside it or upon its fringes, that any increase in London transport fares is bound to act as an additional tax upon the ordinary man or woman who has to work in the centre of London whilst living outside. I cannot develop this point now, but that is one of the items which will have to be considered sooner or later, if not by the Minister of Transport then perhaps by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in relation to the expenses claim of people who are 2099 placed in that extremely awkward position.
There are one or two other things I wanted to mention, but time is getting on and many other hon. Members wish to speak. I will therefore conclude my remarks by saying that I doubt whether the Londoner, reading this Annual Report, can point to any advantage he has gained by having the London Transport Executive rather than the London Passenger Transport Board and the old private Underground and bus companies. I do not believe that if he considers the matter he will find that he has any advantage. His fares are up and the service is no better. There is no competition. Perhaps there was too much competition at certain times between the wars. There is little pride now in the workman in serving the London Transport Executive, which is a sort of vast, soulless monopoly. In the old days he had pride in working for the Underground and a bus company, or even for the London Passenger Transport Board. Also, we appear to be losing money through the London Transport Executive, which is the sort of thing that did not happen before.
We have put down the Amendment because we deplore the fact that this great transport undertaking and all its six Executives seem to show failure. We are forced to call the attention of the House and of the country to this further failure of nationalisation, which none of us on this side of the House wished to see brought into operation in any circumstances whatsoever.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
We listen with great respect to the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), on matters concerning transport because we know that he has had great experience in that sphere, but did I hear aright when I understood him to justify the London Passenger Transport Board and say that even the old Underground and bus services gave better service to London than the present arrangement? Did I understand him to say that fares are getting relatively dearer than they were in those times which we consider to have been the anarchy of London's transport system?
§ Sir A. Hudson
The only time I mentioned the Underground was when I said 2100 that workmen had pride in working for that undertaking, even when it became part of the London Passenger Transport Board. I agree with the hon. Member that the position became chaotic. In my view, the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board was inevitable. As regards fares, I said that they are going up now and that I did not think the Londoner is particularly pleased at the change to the London Transport Executive.
§ Mr. Harrison
I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman obviously on the first point, but I have understood him aright in regard to fares?
§ Mr. Harrison
I suggest to the hon. Member that the fares in London have risen much less than service or commodity prices generally. It can be claimed that fares have not risen half as much as could have been expected, considering the prices of other commodities. That is very important, and ought to be remembered when we are considering the activities of the London Transport Executive. We ought to be very thankful about it and give the Executive great credit for it.
The hon. Member spoke of "an innocent Amendment." We have not said enough about the Amendment. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) did not say more about the innocent Amendment.
§ Mr. Harrison
I thought the Debate hinged upon the Amendment. Really we should address our attention occasionally to the Motion and to the Amendment. The concern shown by the Opposition about the losses of the British Transport Commission during the last few years is reasonable, and I am sure that hon. Members on this side, and the Government themselves, share that concern; but what is the Opposition's remedy for this unfortunate state of affairs? I will tell them, since they seem to have forgotten. Their remedy is to de-nationalise all those sections of the British Transport Commission's undertakings that are paying. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which are they?"] There are quite a number, despite the scanty, and I might almost call it scurvy, treatment that 2101 the hon. Member for Monmouth gave to the Commission's Annual Report. The Opposition's remedy is to give back to private enterprise those parts of the undertaking that are paying. Therefore, we cannot accept that remedy as a positive contribution to the solution of the problems facing the British Transport Commission. We cannot expect any help whatever from the Opposition.
§ Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)
Did the hon. Gentleman hear my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorney-croft) refer to the losses of the Hotels Executive and say that by all means the hotels should be sold to private enterprise, although they are making a loss now?
§ Mr. Harrison
The losses on the hotels are not likely to be a permanent feature of the Commission's operations. The Executive have just taken over a large number of hotels some of which are in very urgent need of renovation and it must spend a lot of money in the first two years of operation. We know that the Executive has a chance in the very near future of making substantial profits from the former railway hotel and restaurant car services.
Everyone knows that the central problem of British transport today is the cost of railway operations, for those are the cause of the Commission's substantial losses. The Railway Executive is the one which must be tackled. The opposition suggest that the trouble would be cured if we separated its operations from all other operations and run it separately. If anything like that happened, the present losses of the railways would be multiplied three or four times. It is only by the coordination of the different forms of transport that we can solve the problems of railway operation. The financial position of the American railways is similar to that of our own, though America did not suffer the disorganisation which we did during the last war. The privately-owned railways in America are in a very parlous financial position.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how parlous it is and what the aggregate losses of the American railways were last year?
§ Mr. Harrison
The net income on class 1 railroads in the United States in 1949 was estimated at 353 million dollars compared with 654 million dollars in 1948.
§ Mr. Harrison
When the railways were doing business worth 654 million dollars, they were running at a loss and required a Government subsidy. In one year the business dropped from £654 million to £353 million. We can therefore appreciate that the financial position of those railways is one that will have to be dealt with by the American Government.
§ Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)
Did the hon. Gentleman say £654 million or 654 million dollars?
§ Mr. Harrison
I meant to say 654 million dollars. I am sorry if I made a mistake. In every country where railways are operating, we find that the financial position is most unsatisfactory. The Minister said that he thought that in this country we had started on the right road. The hon. Member for Monmouth suggested that the road went downhill very swiftly. I want to quote some words of Sir Eustace Missenden about the first two years' work by the Railway Executive. If this is not a business which has been properly conducted, then I do not know what a properly conducted business is.
§ Mr. Harrison
I could make a retort to the hon. Gentleman, but I have not much time. The quotation describes the position with authority and accuracy, which the hon. Member for Monmouth failed to do. Sir Eustace said:An analysis of our internal statistics "—railway undertakings outside the London Passenger Board—shows a material improvement in efficiency, though we have not yet fully recovered pre-war standards. Compared with 1947 we are doing more work and doing it faster with less locomotives, less rolling stock, burning less coal, employing less staff: our staff has been reduced by 24,000 within one year.
§ Mr. Harrison
The quotation is finished as far as I am concerned. It proves that these are the circumstances relating to 2103 railway operations today, and it is no good trying to laugh that away. There has been a considerable improvement in railway operating methods and results.
On the financial side, everyone who understood anything about railway operations anticipated a deficit of £20 million to £30 million during 1949 and 1950. That state of affairs is common to railway operators throughout the world. Those words of Sir Eustace Missenden show that we are on the right road to solving the problem. When we come to the question of financial stability for the Transport Commission, there is only one way to put it on a really substantial basis—
§ Mr. Harrison
—and that is as quickly as possible to integrate the various forms of transport, road passenger, road goods, water and rail. We shall also have to unify the finances of road and rail, and some of the profits which are so easily made on the road will have to subsidise the rail services. The Opposition must not suggest that it is not right and proper for a more profitable form of transport to subsidise a less profitable one. In Scotland we are running railway services which cannot hope to pay. I have heard the Opposition argue that we must run them for the convenience of commercial and ordinary people. We agree. Therefore, it could be argued that certain paying sections of railway operation should subsidise non-paying sections. There is nothing wrong in that, and there is no need for this sharing out of profit to affect fares and rates.
§ Mr. Harrison
If they both made losses, we would share the losses. If both road and rail ceased operation, we would all walk. But that is not likely to happen. We are anticipating that this sharing of the various financial obligations inside the undertaking will in a short time give an overall balance, but it is only by extending, not contracting, the business of the Commission in the more profitable channels that that happy position will soon be reached.
§ Mr. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Will my hon. Friend allow me to ask a question? 2104 Is he aware of the fact that last year the Canadian railway, which is privately owned, lost £13 million, and will he ask the Opposition what they would do about that?
§ Mr. Harrison
I do not want to embarrass the Opposition too much. I have a note here that the hon. Member for Monmouth suggested we should cut out dead wood and put live wood in its place. I was reminded of the old directors. I do not know whether the hon. Member would describe those chaps as live wood, because we never did in the service, although, of course, present company is excepted.
I do not think the finances of the Commission can be put on a solid foundation by contraction of its business. I believe that criticism could be levelled at the Commission for not instituting an extension of some of their road passenger services. Such extension and integration of their services would take about 10 years, because it took that between the two wars when we had the amalgamation of the railways. Over the years, however, I am convinced that the nationalised British transport system, compared with other national systems, will prove to be one of the best in the world. It is only for political purposes that the Opposition put down an Amendment such as we have on the Order Paper, and the Minister was quite right when he described it as political dishonesty.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) always makes an agreeable speech, and while I would not agree with much of what he said, I will acknowledge that he has a sincere desire to see our transport system prosper. That desire is shared by hon. Members on this side of the House, and the Government side ought not to think that this anxiety to see our transport efficient is merely the prerogative of the other side of the House.
In this country we have a long and honourable record as a nation which produced until a short time ago the best transport system the world had ever seen. I look with considerable regret and concern on the fact that we are losing not only money at the present time but something more than money; we are losing the high prestige and purpose we 2105 once had in our transport system. The men in its employ are becoming discouraged, and there is no longer the pride of the man in his job which at one time was the backbone of the transport system. I spent the greater part of my early life in the railway town of Crewe, and from my acquaintances there I know the real interest and application to their job of the old railway hands. Today we are seeing a state of deterioration in the morale of the whole railway system and unless something is done to arrest the rot, we shall see a sorry state of affairs.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I will give one example. I was standing not long ago on Stockport station waiting to come back to London. It happened that the mails to Crewe had missed the connection. Two trains pulled up at Stockport station and the guards of both refused to take those mails on to Crewe although they were both going there. The possible result was that those mails would be late in delivery. I cannot conceive that before the war, or with the old type of railwaymen whom I knew in my youth, that could have happened. They would have been desperately anxious to see that those mails were delivered even if there was a slight inconvenience to themselves. I am not decrying all the railwaymen by any means, because I know that the older men in the service are keeping it going. However, there is a process of deterioration which we must arrest if we are to do something for the railway system.
What we have received today from the Minister of Transport is not good enough. It is as stale as some of the buns in the restaurants.
§ Mr. Shepherd
It will not do to have this old stuff repeated time after time by the right hon. Gentleman, and probably by the Parliamentary Secretary, in an effort to cover up all the defects of the present situation. We have only one day in which to examine the state of affairs of the vital transport industry of this country. Over the rest of the period the iron curtain of Westminster descends, and when it descends we have to put up with the morsels handed out by the public relations officers.
2106 It is fascinating to look at the Report and see that there are 22 public relations officers on the staff of the British Transport Commission. Why do they need 22? Is it the principle that the bigger your loss the more people you must have to explain it away? There must be some basis on which this enormous number is accumulating at the office of the Commission. If we are seeking to make some economies, I suggest that it would be useful for the British Transport Commission to look at that number.
At the present time we are witnessing the failure of an experiment. Both hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from the other side in addition to the Minister have proved to us how true it is that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. When the Minister of Transport commended the Act to us in flowing words, he told us how within a short time all the manifold difficulties of private enterprise would disappear and a great new era of progress would be ushered in. We all know now that that is utter nonsense and that we are seeing the failure of an experiment.
One hon. Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), who attacked the Minister—said that we should have a greater degree of Parliamentary accountability. That is true, and I suggest to the Minister that at some time or other the Government should give us a day to debate, not merely individual industries one by one, but the whole principle of the control of these industries in general, so that we can get down to principles and see what can be done.
§ Mr. Harrison
It will be within the memory of the hon. Member that since the beginning of the present Parliament in February, we have had 18 days' discussion on nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Perhaps the hon. Member does not see my point. I am trying to say that when we discuss an individual industry we are probably about to concern ourselves with the issues relating to that particular industry. There are, however problems which are common to all the nationalised industries, including the problem of accountability and the fact that they are socially unsatisfying as far as the workers are concerned. All these things need to be discussed, not merely in relation to a specific industry, but in 2107 a general sense, and I hope that time will be given for this to be done at a later date.
The existing system of control under the British Transport Commission is socially unsatisfying to the worker. I should be prepared to accept a system of control which might in certain circumstances give us a lower efficiency if we got the gain of giving the man who is doing the job a higher satisfaction in his work. Can any hon. Member truly say that the average worker today feels more satisfaction in doing his job than he did in the bad old days of the separate companies?
What we are doing is substituting a method of control which drives out from the average man and woman working on the railways the sense of satisfaction which they once had. If we do not restore that, there is no hope at all of getting the railways back on their feet or of getting real morale. Hon. Members opposite may say what they will about private enterprise or the old railway companies, but in those days each employee believed in two things; that his company was the best of the lot—he believed that truly—and that all the others were back numbers. It was that sort of spirit which put our railways at the top of the world tree, but now we have lost our place.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Obviously, if we are to pull the transport system up a little, we must get an improvement in railway passenger receipts. This is the kernel of the whole question, and the Parliamentary Secretary will remember that we have had two Debates already, one of them very boisterous, upon this issue. The plain, bitter truth, is that railway travel is today too dear for the mass of the people. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary repeating what his right hon. Friend said, that traffic is being lost because of increases in the number of coaches. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will correct his right hon. Friend. If he wants to present a clear picture, he will tell the House that there are no more vehicles operating under express passenger licences today than in 1938. That is what he should say, rather than endeavour, as did his right hon. 2108 Friend, to mislead the House into believing that there is some enormous expansion of competition as far as rail passenger traffic is concerned.
It is not because of the increasing facilities of road traffic that the railways are suffering. Rail travel simply is too dear. I am surprised that the Minister repeated the oft-quoted statement that the cost of rail traffic has risen by only 55 per cent. Why do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite repeat to the country in such a senseless way a statement which they know is not correct? Why do they continuously repeat to the House, as if we were a collection of children, that the cost of rail travel is only 55 per cent. above what it was in 1938?
If any hon. Member opposite really believes the statement made today by the Minister, let me refer him to a little authority on this matter. A short time ago the railways applied for an increase in freight charges. Naturally, those opposing the application quite properly said to the railways before the Tribunal, "If you say you have an increase of only 55 per cent. on your passenger charges, why not take it out of the passengers instead of us?" A gentleman from the Railway Executive then came forward and said," This is not at all true. The cost per passenger mile per passenger today compared with 1938 shows an increase of over 90 per cent." That is the truth as it is told when occasion demands. The right hon. Gentleman, however, comes to the House and repeats what he knows must be an absolute fallacy.
When hon. Gentlemen opposite further pursue the point that the cost of rail travel today is less than the total increase in average charges, they are again guilty of very slipshod thinking. It is quite improper to compare the cost of rail travel with the general increase in prices. A railway company operates, first, upon stock which was largely bought in the era before inflation took place. I think it was Sir Eustace Missenden who said that the railway track if relaid today would cost as much as the amount paid for the whole undertaking. Another important factor is that a railway operates almost entirely upon indigenous products. We all know—we want to be frank about this—that the cost of imported raw materials has been very much higher than that of those produced at home.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Coal is the one exception. If the hon. Member wants a comparison, I will give him a proper one. Perhaps he has heard of the steel industry, which is using a considerable amount of coal in its production. It produces its products largely from home-produced material. The increased cost of steel to the consumer since 1938 is over 80 per cent. That is a reasonable comparison between one form of product and one form of service. It is quite wrong for hon. Members opposite to compare the general price level, which includes a large content of imported materials, with the cost of production of a service which is generated from home production.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The railways tell me that the cost to them of iron and steel has gone up, not by 80 per cent., but by 108 per cent. above pre-war. What the hon. Member was, perhaps, neglecting was the increase that took place between December, 1948, and June, 1950.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am giving the figure for 1950, which I obtained from the Iron and Steel Federation. It may conceivably be that for one specialised type of steel the railways are paying more, but the overall figure of the increase for 1950 over 1938, supplied to me last week by the Iron and Steel Federation, is 88 per cent.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with specific problems. What is happening on the railways today is that hundreds of millions fewer passengers are being carried than in 1938. When the House realises that we have had over a long part of this year petrol rationing, holidays with pay and full employment, it is incredible that the railways should carry fewer passengers, hundreds of millions fewer than in 1938. I raised this issue two years ago with the hon. Gentleman and he supplied the answer. He said that he knew and admitted that the reason there was not increased traffic on the railways was because the fares were too high. He said that he agreed that they ought to provide more cheap facilities but that the Railway Executive or the Transport Commission would not do this unless they could be 2110 satisfied that they would not lose revenue. That is what he said to me in answer to a Debate a couple of years ago. That is the spirit which will cripple British railways.
When in the 1930's the old railway companies were faced with exactly the same situation, what did they do? They went in for an adventurous policy of attracting customers so that in those days we had 50 per cent. of the travellers on British railways travelling on cheap fares. What is the figure of cheap fares today? It is something like 20 per cent. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will correct me, but I believe that in 1948 the figure was about 12 per cent. and that this year it will be 20 per cent.; but that is a very small ratio compared with 1938. We have to get back to more cheap fares in order to get the passengers back, for the simple reason that a man seeing a really cheap fare will take a train journey that otherwise he would not take.
When we come to the question of cheap fares, let us see how really cheap they are. Although the right hon. Gentleman talks about 55 per cent. over 1938, every hon. Member knows that cheap fares are anything from between 90 per cent. to 150 per cent. over 1938. Cheap fares are not cheap enough. I was talking to a porter on Crewe station during the last football season and I asked him, "How is business at the moment?" He replied "Not too good. We have an excursion train to "—I forget where it was—" which is only half full." I asked how that was, and he said, "They charge too much. Passengers can still go by coach for half the price." I agree there is a problem here, but surely it is better to run our trains full and lose money than to run them empty and lose money, which is precisely what the policy of the British Transport Commission is now.
I believe the railways of this country would still be capable of re-establishing their position if they had vital leadership, obviously now we have a seriously deteriorating situation in which some impetus has to be given, otherwise the whole thing will sink down and there will be a complete and dismal failure. A very large responsibility rests on the right hon. Gentleman. He must take some action if this situation continues. We have pointed out things which can be done. What is most important is that 2111 the railway companies should be imbued with a spirit of revival, but at the moment I see no such spirit and this complacent yet despairing Report published by the Transport Commission does not add to my comfort of mind on this question. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the criticisms levelled from behind him as well as from this side of the House and realise that he has a considerable obligation to the British railway system, which has a long and honourable history.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
We have listened with close attention to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) because we recall his interest in the question of cheap fares on the railways. I must say at once I have some sympathy with his point of view. As a practical railwayman, I think that in some parts of the country the fares which are offered, particularly in the provinces, are really out of line with the times and certainly quite out of line with the competition they encounter from local bus companies.
While it is not a simple matter, I should have thought that here was a field for greater flexibility and greater power to be given to commercial managers and district managers, in the light of their local knowledge, to step up the revenue by enterprising business methods. I am quite sure that is so. There is a point beyond which it ceases to be economic, but there is an optimum point which will give more passengers and load the trains and cost no more in overheads than running a train with six or 10 passengers when it could be run with 100 or 200 passengers at perhaps half the fare and thus increase returns. I hope the Minister does not think this is a hardy annual which we are labouring ad nauseam; it is a very real problem.
Another point is that the railway companies are still clinging to the old idea that they must issue a return ticket and that if a single ticket is issued it must be something like the return fare. In fact, the services in some areas have been reduced and there is no service if one wishes to patronise the railway for a return journey. My view is that there ought to be a single fare at something 2112 like half the return fare. For example, if the return fare is 1s. it is no use charging the man who can only make one journey 11d. for a single journey. While my right hon. Friend does not want to interfere in their day to day business, I implore him to direct the attention of the Commission to this problem. We are getting concessions in the provinces for football matches, and so on, but when a man goes to a railway station he does not want to have to remember that he can have 3d. knocked off his ticket on a certain train but if he goes by the next train that comes in and perhaps has six passengers, he has to pay 3d. or 4d. more. These things should be made simple so that a man can get a fare which is reasonably comparative with the omnibus fare.
I do not think there is much point in the remarks of the hon. Member for Cheadle about men being discouraged today because, if he is talking about their employment under the four great railway companies, there was some discouragement even in those days and if he goes back previous to 1921, when there were over 120 railway companies, he is going back into ancient history when conditions were not quite the same on the railways, or in any other kind of transport.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I was not making so remote a comparison; I was saying that the more we centralise and concentrate this matter the less chance is there of the man taking a keen interest in his work.
§ Mr. Davies
I appreciate that, but the tendency in the past was to centralise and, therefore, there was little of the personal interest which was present in the very old days. I think that a perfectly legitimate deduction from my own experience and from what I have seen but, nevertheless, it is a problem, I agree, in any kind of big organisation. In this connection I was interested in something my right hon. Friend said about the Consultative Committees. They do not seem to have got very far beyond the national level in this matter. I would like to see consultations in the regions, as he suggested, and beyond that, in the areas and districts. In North Staffordshire we are part of the West Midlands traffic region, but Birmingham will be the dominant town in the region and Birmingham's problems have nothing in common with our problem. I want something more intimate so that people in North Staffordshire and 2113 other parts of the country with similar difficulties can have access to the authorities and make their opinions heard.
Over and above the consultative bodies, which, I take it, are representative of local authorities, chambers of commerce and other bodies, the workers themselves ought to have a greater chance of consultation. There is some consultation with the trade unions at national level. I want it to extend down to the ground level. I believe that practical railwaymen have many useful contributions to make out of their own experience. Men who have spent a lifetime in the industry see what is happening day by day, and they have something useful to say. It might be something different from what is believed to be the case in Whitehall.
I want to see done what was done when there was the fuel crisis and there was the danger of a wagon shortage. The danger of not having sufficient coal wagons was quite a hardy annual in winter. I want to see the men on the job in the districts consulted as in that instance they were consulted as to how they could turn round the wagons quickly. I seem to remember that great success attended our efforts then. The men rose to the occasion, and we have heard very little since then of the collieries being held up for lack of wagons. Out of their day to day knowledge the men made their useful contribution and were able to help in a very important way. I am sure that in the matter of fares, in the matter of devolution of power, day to day matters and the future of the industry—on whether branch lines should be continued or closed, on commercial matters generally, on integration with road and water—the men have a most useful contribution to make, and we are not at present tapping that source sufficiently. However finely the Report is phrased and compiled, and I am satisfied that a very good job has been done, something important is lacking if that aspect is overlooked.
I am a little apprehensive about some facets of the development of this industry, particularly in relation to the road passenger side of it. As the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) reminded us, we are told in paragraph 6 that a Road Passenger Executive has been set up. The hon. Gentleman wondered what it was doing and why it should continue. I confess that I am very disappointed that 2114 greater progress has not been made with the acquisition of the road passenger side of the industry. So far as I can see, there is no argument for any great transport nationalisation scheme without complete integration, and while good work has been done on the goods side of the industry, I do not share the views expressed by an hon. Member that it is a great monopoly.
Nor do I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), who seemed to over-simplify the matter. He said "Close the door on C licences and the problem is largely resolved." I do not agree. The Government have erred and have been over generous in that regard, but the matter is not so simple as that. We should push on with integration where there is duplication of road and rail services. Today, three years after the passing of the Act, we have not, so far as I know, one area passenger scheme completed, and there are thousands of private operators in this country, just as there were previously. We shall not achieve integration at that rate. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he hopes he will have a charges scheme available before the required date, which is August, 1951. It will be on an experimental basis. This is a most difficult and complex matter.
When the hon. Member for Cheadle spoke about flexibility, he was surely not overlooking the fact that there is some flexibility in the railway industry. There are, as he knows, millions of exceptional rates today. The great multiple firms of this country do not pay the ordinary standard charges by which the companies are bound. The commercial managers can make deals in certain instances. While they are not supposed to give undue preference to anyone there is great scope for the commercial men in the railways and in road transport to take action in this respect.
The hon. Member spoke about fixed charges and about the permanent way of the railways being laid at a time when costs were relatively low. He thought it was not fair to compare the expenses of the railway industry with what was happening in other industries. I cannot accept his argument. If the prices of commodities such as coal, timber and rubber have increased by anything from 145 per cent. to 200 per cent. compared with prewar, it is obviously of little satisfaction 2115 to know that in the year of Noah or at some such remote period we acquired land cheaply, and that litigation charges were small and our fixed charges were relatively low. There are these day to day expenses in respect of labour, of materials, and all the other things required for the day to day running of the railway.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Perhaps I did not make myself clear to the hon. Gentleman. I made two points. The first was that the cost ought not to be so high because most of the capital structure was achieved at a time when costs were low. I pointed out that to re-lay the railway tracks would now cost as much as the British Transport Commission paid for the whole of the railway undertaking. My second point was that it is an unfair comparison to talk about the general price level, and that we ought to compare the railway price level with that of a similar service or industry which depends upon indigenous products for its operation. I referred to steel as an example.
§ Mr. Davies
I referred to coal which, although we have a certain responsibility in respect of it, is an indigenous commodity and one which to an important degree is necessary in the running of railways. There are other commodities. Above all, there is the question of labour costs, which have risen, although not nearly so much as they ought to have done. Whatever was the cost of the tracks and the amount of the basic fixed capital is by the way. It is the day to day expenses which have to be faced and met that have to be considered.
We have heard several proposals about what should be done about the railways. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) suggested some time ago that there should be a subsidy. Some of us looked rather askance at that if it meant a subsidy as compared with, for example, a raising of the freight charges or even of the passenger fares, with the qualification which I have already made about passenger fares. I do not see how we can operate a concern at these pre-war prices—cut prices—and at the same time give the men in industry a fair deal and make profits. That does not add up; it is completely "phoney."
When anyone suggests raising charges the whole country, particularly the Opposition, 2116 rises in alarm. When the rates proposal was made in the House by the Minister, and was referred to the Rates Tribunal the country rose as one man and said it was bad for our export trade and for every branch of our economic life. There was some truth in that argument, but why should the transport industry subsidise the rest of the economic life of the nation? It is surely not the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the railwaymen should be depressed because they want cheap freight rates.
§ Mr. Davies
That is the logical conclusion. If industry is not to be allowed to earn its living how can it pay decent wages?
§ Mr. Davies
I have been in the railway world for about a quarter of a century and I know as much about commercial efficiency as does the hon. Gentleman. I have worked around the country and at headquarters. We do no service to the industry or the country by attacking the gentlemen who are running the industry. My colleagues in the industry are doing a good job in very difficult circumstances, and what the hon. Gentleman could teach them is not worth knowing.
What I was about to say was that certain proposals have been made. The hon. Member for Enfield, East, suggested a subsidy, but I take the view that the railways ought to earn their keep. I am suspicious of subsidies and I think there is great danger in them. But, having said that, we must give them the chance to do so. That, surely, is a fair and a reasonable argument. When an omnibus company or a transport company seeks to raise its fares to pay its way, even our own people say, and I disagree with them, "No, this is raising the cost of living." But what about the chaps in the industry? We are not going to ride on their backs for ever. The F.B.I, says that we should consider a subsidy of some sort, we will not call it a subsidy, but the transferring of some part of the capital expenditure on to our Defence budget, because, quite obviously we have to keep the railways in being as an arm of the Defence Services.
2117 There is much in the point but it is a difficult matter to assess the boundaries, where defence needs begin and end and where civilian needs commence. But I do not think there is any point in it if it merely means depressing the rates and not giving a fair do to the railways; or if it means putting more profits into the pockets of the F.B.I. and its associates. I think our first duty is to the men, some of whom are not getting £5 a week. The railway men had a very poor do under private enterprise—
§ Mr. Davies
When hon. Members opposite say they are worse off now they surely forget the time when men were paid 17s. and 18s. a week.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dunbartonshire, East)
Yes, and what about theNavvy on the railway picking up stones, Here comes the engine and breaks Paddy's bones—for 14s. a week?
§ Mr. Davies
Although great improvements have been made the situation has changed, because now we are in a position of full employment. It used to be considered worth something to have a job on the railway, because it was a regular job. Although it was a job with a low money income it was considered to be superior to the scarcity of most other jobs.
§ Mr. Davies
But now the whole situation has changed. At a time of full employment men do not want to stay at a job with this miserable wage. We are told that last year 23,000 of them left the industry. No wonder young men are not anxious to stay in the industry—
§ Mr. Osborne
Is not the hon. Member aware that a great many men are leaving the mining industry, which is the highest paid industry in the country, and that there are other things than wages that matter?
§ Mr. Davies
I am aware that there is a manpower difficulty in the mines but I will say this, that the miners are getting more consideration today than they have ever had, and that there are other considerations which have to be taken into account with regard to them.
2118 But we are now talking about roads and railways and I suggest that before the F.B.I. has any consideration, of the chambers of commerce or the trades of the country we must see that the men who do the job are being fairly paid. It is not Whitehall, or Marylebone Road, it is not even the Minister who runs the railways. It is the men on the job, on the footplate and in the sheds and offices.
These men have been very patient indeed. They have placed their modest demands over a period of years now and we have seemingly been powerless to help them. When we see, as we are all glad to see, an increase up to £5 a week for the agricultural industry we cannot expect men to continue in the railway industry and take the interest in their work that they wish to do. They wish to see their industry flourish. They take a pride in their job, as they did during the war when they carried on with components almost literally tied up with string. I hope we shall see the men in the industry given first consideration.
I am sorry to have taken so much time, but I hope the Minister will recognise the urgent need to bring in all the road passenger vehicles so that we can make greater progress in this matter of integration. Secondly, I believe there is a case for some sort of underwriting of the industry in terms of its losses at the moment but that a first consideration should be to the men in the industry. This is no argument for syndicalism. It is fair do's for the men in the industry. If the Minister presses on with his scheme of charges which will give us the revenue we ought to have, I believe that his problems will diminish in the course of time.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I listen to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), not necessarily with agreement, but always with interest, because he brings to the study of the subject the knowledge of long experience. I hope that the Minister will seriously consider some of the suggestions the hon. Member made today, which seem to me to be practical considerations worthy of perusal by the Minister.
One thing about our Debate today which stands out is that, in trying to discuss the transport system of the country in an afternoon, we have bitten off far 2119 more than we can chew. It is ridiculous to try to deal with this enormous industry and its many branches in the short time at our disposal. I wish that the Minister was not so coy about coming to the House and having Debates on Transport. I am sure that we could have many more such Debates and that there would be no lack of speakers, because there are many people who wish to speak on a subject of such immense importance. I believe that in a Parliamentary Government Ministers can derive some advantage from hearing the opinions of Members of Parliament who are in touch with the particular local problems affecting their constituencies and constituents.
I am particularly interested in this matter, because Northern Ireland has been hard hit since the nationalisation of the railways. If the passage of the Atlantic is the lifeline for Britain in war, certainly the passage to Great Britain from Northern Ireland is our lifeline in war and in peace, because we get our raw materials largely from Great Britain and we send our finished products and our agricultural produce to consumers in this country. Deterioration in transport recently has been very serious indeed. It is a deterioration which affects a number of our trades but the two most seriously affected are the fishing industry and the quarrying of granite.
There is a certain amount of fishing in my constituency, but I am speaking more particularly on behalf of my hon. and gallant Friends the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and the Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles), who have a number of boats in their area which have been left recently in a desperate position. The cost of transport to their markets amounts to two-thirds of the price they get for their fish. If they have a box of fish which is sold for 30s., 20s. of it goes in transport costs. The value of fish to the nation has increased tremendously and we all know that the bulk of the fish comes from the East Coast. The North Sea is often overfished, and we cannot increase the amount of fishing. To do that in order to increase the supplies of fish to the great centres of population in Great Britain would be an extremely unwise and imprudent thing to do. Fishermen in County Down have actually refrained from taking out their boats. It was not a strike; it was simply 2120 due to the fact that it was not worth their while to take them out, when they knew that they had to pay for transport charges two-thirds of the price they would receive.
The local council of Kilkeel, which is not a political council, has passed a resolution pointing out that the present situation has destroyed the local fishing trade, as well as the granite quarrying. Both of these are laborious occupations for the men engaged in them, and while they could carry on before, owing to the recent deterioration of the situation they are now faced with unemployment. That is the opinion of the local council of Kilkeel, who are in very close touch with the position. This is a matter of very serious concern to everybody in that part of the country, and particularly the hon. Member for Down, North and the hon. Member for Down, South, both of whom would no doubt have wished to take part in this Debate had it been possible.
Recently the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport paid a visit to Northern Ireland, and we were delighted to see him, because the greater the number of Ministers who come to Northern Ireland to see the truth of the situation and things as they really are the better we are pleased. We have nothing to conceal and much to show Ministers from various Departments, who themselves can help us much better when they know what our problems are. The noble Lord, when he was in Northern Ireland as the representative of the Ministry, was told about our problems and was most sympathetic. I do not say that he specifically promised us anything; it is almost as much as an Under-Secretary's life is worth to promise anything, and we all know that, but at all events, he was most sympathetic.
Yet we heard not one word about it in the Minister's speech today. The Minister of Transport is a master of restraint. I have myself addressed three speeches to him, asking him specific questions, and I have never yet got as much as a murmur out of him in reply. In regard to the Parliamentary Secretary's visit, when he was told of the desperate condition of these industries and asked us what he could do about it, I rather hoped, in spite of the fact that I have more than once been rebuffed when entertaining hopes of a reply from the Minister, that 2121 he would this time break his record of never making a response.
I now want to turn to the question of transport by sea, which is most unsatisfactory. The motto of the Ministry is that anything is good enough for Northern Ireland. I have never had an answer to my question why sailing tickets were required for people travelling to Northern Ireland when they are not required for people travelling to the Continent. I agree that the system has not been imposed as strictly as in the past, and that is an improvement, but it still hits the tourist trade very hard. The fact that sailing tickets are not required for journeys to the Continent, encourages people to go to foreign countries and spend their money there, which is not a good thing.
There is a complacent passage in the Report in which the Minister preens himself upon the fact that sea travel to Continental countries has increased particularly. Of course it has increased particularly, for the reason that the Minister takes some trouble about the ships that carry people to foreign ports. There are enough of them, the passengers do not require sailing tickets, and they are provided with an entirely different scale of luxury from that which is available in those travelling to ports in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, ships are being taken off the Northern Ireland run. Ships which the railway companies used to have in service on the Northern Ireland routes are taken away. One was taken out of service and sent to Harwich to work on the service to Holland. That action entirely abolished the Sunday night service. Now, if one is in Northern Ireland on Saturday and wishes to reach London by Monday, it is necessary to start the journey on Saturday night, because there is no Sunday night service. Further, by starting on Saturday night, the traveller generally has to travel through most of Sunday, whereas if he were able to start at 9.40 p.m. on Sunday the portion of Sunday devoted to travelling would be comparatively slight, and many of us have rooted objections to travelling on Sundays, or, at any rate, making long journeys on Sundays.
Then, there was the ship "Duke of York," which was taken from Heysham and sent to Harwich, where, so far as I know, the Ministry have never had to 2122 impose sailing tickets or other restrictions. I suggest that that also involved great hardship on the crew, and on the subject of crews, I should like to assure the Minister that, if I am criticising the sea services to Northern Ireland, I am not criticising the crews of the ships. They are grand people, right from the captains down to the humblest members of the crews; they work with skill and loyalty; and we could not hope to get better crews; but they are not being treated fairly.
On page 95 of the Report, there is an account of the new ships that have been built or are about to be built. There are new ships on the Continental services, new ships in operation to the Irish Republic more ships to be supplied for the Rosslare service, but there are no new ships for the services to Northern Ireland. Instead, these services have to be content with older ships, and I think the vessels, employed are older than the ships used in services to any other ports.
The only comparatively new ship, the "Princess Victoria," which was built as a motor-carrier, is now used exclusively to carry the milk which we supply from Northern Ireland. This is important to the United Kingdom, which is very fortunate in being able to receive it. This ship makes four trips a day, which means very hard work for the crew, and this seems to be the only operation in which the Ministry take the slightest interest in regard to Northern Ireland. Let us take the two ships that were built for the route. One was the "Princess Maud" and the other the "Princess Margaret." The ship which has been retained on the route is the old one, the "Princess Margaret," and passengers for England who hope to sleep on board her are never able to do so because of the shattering descent of hundreds of tons of coal, because the vessel is coal-fired.
The new ship, the "Princess Maud," has been lying doing nothing in the harbour of Holyhead, just in case anyone wanted to go to the Irish Republic. She has occasionally been used, and she is now temporarily back on the Larne-Stranraer service. I ask the Minister to use this vessel on the service for which she was designed and on which she should now be engaged, because it is a shameful thing that the only new ship which was designed for that particular service should be taken out of it and left lying in a harbour 2123 doing nothing, against the chance that she may be required to go to the Irish Republic. This traffic is not unprofitable traffic, and it provides one of the brighter lines in the domain of the Ministry of Transport. The net profit for the year, which is recorded on page 267 of the Report, was over £3,100,000, which goes down into the abyss of losses made by other Departments. But at all events it shows that the services are paying. It is impossible to break down these figures to see how they go for the various groups, but I would hazard the guess that the routes to Northern Ireland show a higher percentage of profit than any other routes run by the railway services.
Why is it that an entirely different standard is set for the services run to Larne or Belfast by the railway companies? It is obvious to anybody who crosses by a railway boat to the Continent that the standard of accommodation is much higher on such boats than on those run to Larne or Belfast. That accounts for the popularity of the private enterprise boats which run to Belfast—the Liverpool boats. They are much more popular because they are so much better fitted up. The difference in the first-class cabin accommodation between the ships run by private enterprise from Liverpool to Belfast and the ships run by the Ministry of Transport from Heysham to Belfast is very marked, and it is not the fault of the stewards on the Heysham ships. They do their best. On the Ministry's boats there is no room to put one's clothes; there is generally one broken rack on which to hang one's coat, and that is about all. The contrast between the two lines is amazing.
The ships now being used at Heysham, Larne and Stranraer have not had a proper refit since the war. They took part in many operations carrying troops to disputed landings, and so on, and they have had a patch-up, but not a proper refit as they should have had for that kind of service. It is not only irksome for us who travel back to our native province, but it also vitally affects the tourist trade. The condition of the ships, the shortage of ships and the sailing tickets are matters which do the tourist trade a great deal of harm. The crowning insult is the fact that the ship which was stolen from Heysham to be put on the Harwich service was not good enough for the people going to Holland. It had to be refitted and 2124 transformed inside, but nothing was done about the other ships. The ships going to Belfast have been left without a proper refit since before the war. That is a scandalous situation. I ask the Minister either to change this system of thinking that anything is good enough for Northern Ireland or—if I am fortunate enough to get a few remarks in reply—to explain why his Ministry always gives priority to travel to foreign countries.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Miss Burton (Coventry, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him in what he said, but I want to deal with one specific point—the question of consumer representation in so far as the Transport Commission is concerned. This is an entirely non-party question and one which has been concerning all of us in all quarters of the House. I think that any of us, whether it be because it is the commonsense viewpoint or because of the work we may have done before we came to this House, would agree that the efficiency of any industry is controlled by the good will which it engenders in the public making use of that industry or business.
I wish to turn to page 8 of the Report. I am going to be critical, but I hope it will be constructive criticism. I am referring, of course, to that section entitled "Consultative Committees." I note that the Central Transport Committee met three times during 1949 and considered a series of representations made to it by the public. I appreciate that it may not have been possible to meet more than three times, but if those meetings were called to deal with representations made by the public they were completely inadequate from the point of good will.
If we look at the bottom of page 8, we find that the last four lines say:The fact that the number of matters referred to these Committees has not been large is an indication that the Executives are maintaining direct and satisfactory contact with customers and traders throughout the country.I wish to say, first of all, that on the railway line which I have to use, not only now that I am a Member of Parliament, but even before the people working on that line knew that I hoped to be a Member, I met with the utmost consideration and courtesy. I cannot agree with that statement at the bottom of page 8; 2125 I firmly believe, from talking with the people who travel on that line and with members of the Consultative Committees, that the reason why very few matters have been brought to their notice is because the people just do not know where to send their complaints or suggestions. If there is to be good will and consumer representation on any nationalised industry, consumers must know where to send their suggestions or complaints; otherwise, a sense of frustration will be produced.
I have always believed that the British public are willing to put up with things or to accept certain rulings so long as they know why they are necessary. It is when they do not know the reasons that they feel an intense sense of frustration. I agree that it is not easy to set up such committees quickly. I know that at present there are four of them—the Central Committee, and the London, Scottish, and Welsh Committees. We also know that it is the Minister's intention to set up various area users' consultative committees. I believe that the whole question of good will must fall to the ground unless, say, Mrs. X knows where to send her complaint or suggestion. If she does not know, then it is not the slightest use having any system because it will not be used.
I wish to give two concrete examples of the type of question I have in mind, and I would like to make it clear to my right hon. Friend that I am not expecting him to answer them; I am putting them to him not in any attempt to shoot at him, but merely as examples. I have, as no doubt have many other hon. Members, received letters from constituents on this matter of the railways. I do not know if they have had the same problem to deal with, but many women have written to me about the condition of lavatory accommodation on trains. I know, of course, that the Railway Executive are fully aware of this matter, and have tried to deal with it. But the point I wish to make is that I do not think it is our job as Members of Parliament to deal with matters of that kind; I think it is the responsibility of the Transport Commission or of the Railway Executive. The difficulty is that our constituents do not know where to send these complaints, and so they send them to us. Hon. Members of this House have the 2126 privilege and responsibility of being able to go privately to the Minister for the purpose of raising such matters. We all know that we cannot raise them by means of Questions in the House because the Table will not accept Questions which refer to nationalised industries. I do not believe that is our job. I believe that the good will of the consumer end of the railways or of the Transport Commission will fall down so long as the public do not know where to send these representations. That is my first example.
The second example is a local one. I intended to ask the Minister about this privately, later, but perhaps I may make some reference to it now. The railway line I use a good deal is the Midland Region line from Euston to Coventry. I went along on Friday last to catch the usual 4.35 train. I should like to say, in answer to hon. Members opposite, although I am being very non-party tonight, that the staff who travel on that train have the greatest pride in it, because it is their train. They were very disturbed, and so was I when, last Friday, I went along in good time expecting to find the train packed. The train gets to Coventry in 10 minutes under two hours. Last Friday there was a lot of room in that train. I thought it strange: then we stopped at Watford, Northampton and Rugby getting to Coventry at 6.50, which I think was 28 minutes later than was the case before the train was altered.
I asked the staff on that train what had happened. Their first reaction—which I think was a very nice one—was, "Whatever have they done to our train?" That train, for whatever reason, was not at all full that day. It picked up few passengers at Watford, Northampton or Rugby. The point I want to make is that businessmen used that train habitually, because it went through to Birmingham and was a fast service. Ever since it was altered, they have removed themselves from that train and have gone Great Western. I do not want to enter into that controversy, but I believe the passengers who travel on that train ought to know where they can write in and say, "What have you done with that train, and why have you done it?" Those are my two examples.
If I may, I will pass from there to the question of the area committees. I want to know, quite simply, how the Minister proposes that the general public should 2127 know where they can send their queries. I should like to see over booking offices in all railway stations a notice stating, "Complaints and/or suggestions for your Area Users' Committee should be sent to—"and I should like to see underneath the address of the area committee or, alternatively, a notice that these complaints and suggestions can be handed in at the ticket office. It would be the responsibility, then, of the ticket office to forward them to the area committee.
I believe that if members of the British public are prepared to sign their names and addresses to suggestions or complaints they usually have a reasonable case to put. I suggest that those not signed should not be considered. In other words, I want Mr. or Mrs. X, who want to write in about the state of lavatories on trains, or want to know why a train has been altered, to be able to say at the booking office, "Here is a letter. Will you send it to the Area Users' Committee?" Every communication should be acknowledged.
I come now to the actual meetings of the Area Users' Consultative Committee—I do not care what it is called. Here we should have an innovation, because nothing is lost by dealing with reasonable complaints and suggestions, and showing up the others. I suggest that those users' committees whenever they meet—let us hope it would be at least quarterly—should have the Press at meetings which deal with complaints or suggestions from the consumer end. I suggest that at that meeting a paper should be available on which is printed the suggestions which have come in. It would not matter how numerous these were because, eventually, they would be whittled down.
I should like to see those suggestions divided up into three sections. The first should have the heading, "Already dealt with." The next section would be headed, "In process of being dealt with," and the third section, "Not possible to deal with." I want those meetings to be public, because I think the co-operation of the Press is essential.
There is a reason why I suggest the Press should be present. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may remember that, a little time ago, I think in June, a small paragraph appeared in "The Times." It may have appeared in other papers, but I do not remember reading it anywhere else. It was to the effect that 2128 the Railway Executive were going to do some of the things to which I have referred, as soon as possible. They were providing better lavatory accommodation and there were to be liquid soap and towels where it was possible. Last week there was a meeting of a well-known women's organisation in this country which asked that these things should be done. Evidently they knew nothing about it. I am concerned only with the fact that they knew nothing about it. I am not concerned whether the Press did not give it the publicity it should have received, or whether the news had not got through to the Press.
I want the Minister to agree that we cannot go on very much longer, in spite of the difficulties, if nobody knows where to send in complaints. I want to press for a quicker implementation of the committees, that they be made known to the public and that their method of dealing with complaints should be effective.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
We, on this side of the House, all remember the charming speech made by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), about the conduct of smokers in non-smoking compartments. I think we have all enjoyed her contribution to the Debate today, couched, as it was, in a highly personal vein. If I may, I should like to point out that rather than try to get increased Press publicity in newspapers, starved of newsprint, it would be far better that the Railway Executive should put in the liquid soap and towels and get on with the job.
§ Mr. Erroll
Certainly not between London and Manchester. That was always a bad service. It might be worth the Minister's while to consider the appointment of the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, to such a committee as she suggested. I am sure her ideas would stimulate the committee to do something really useful.
I should like to address the House on the subject of buses. For many months now, I have been trying to have an opportunity of speaking on the Road Passenger Executive and the schemes which they are preparing. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) has already queried the value of the Road Passenger Executive. I thoroughly 2129 endorse all he has to say, from my own observation. They are doing very little except to take over one or two existing bus companies and undertakings and let them run on as usual.
There is one important exception, which is that they are preparing area schemes. I should like to remind the House of Part IV of the Transport Act, which authorises the preparation of these area schemes, because many people seeem to think that it is a duty upon the Transport Commission to prepare such area schemes for road passenger transport. It is not an obligation upon them; it is not compulsory; it is only permissive. There is no requirement that the Commission shall prepare such area schemes and, plainly, if there is no need for such schemes, as I hope to show, then I suggest that the Minister should direct the Commission to desist from carrying out an activity which is only permissive and is not mandatory upon it. For those hon. Members who would like to follow the matter more fully, I would point out that the appropriate Section of the Act is Section 63 (1), which starts:The Commission may at any time prepare and submit to the Minister a scheme as to the passenger road transport services serving an area.On pages 13, 14 and 15 the Report outlines a scheme which has already been prepared for what is called the Northern area, or what might more easily be referred to as the North-Eastern area, including, as it does, most of Durham, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Tyneside and Tees-side. The Report gives the impression that the scheme has been prepared virtually with the co-operation of the local authorities and the other bodies which the Commission, or the Road Passenger Executive, are bound to consult under the Act. It refers, at the bottom of page 15, to the fact that observations and representations were received in regard to the scheme and that the Commission had taken careful account of these observations. I suggest that that is a very emasculated account of the strenuous opposition to this scheme which has been obvious throughout the area ever since it was made public on the North-East coast of England. Nearly all the councils concerned have opposed the area scheme. The Council of Newcastle twice voted against it, while the councils of South Shields and Hartlepools have voted 2130 against the area scheme in no uncertain terms.
If time permitted I should like to show to the House the minutes of some of these proceedings, so as to indicate the very sound factual arguments upon which the opposition is based. This has been no mere Conservative local council opposition, because several of the councils had Socialist majorities. Here, the councillors have not acted just as if they were linked by some heavy chain to Transport House, but for once have performed their proper functions—even the Socialist councillors—in recognising, first, the needs and requirements of their own districts. No account is included in the Report of the strenuous and vigorous opposition to the North-Eastern area scheme, the scheme which has been prepared by the Road Passenger Executive, and I am glad to have this opportunity to draw the attention of the Minister to this omission. I hope that now the scheme is with him he will consider the opposition very carefully indeed and will appreciate the very strong feeling on the subject which exists in the North-East coast of England.
It is very significant that the chairman of the British Transport Commission should have expressed himself so forcibly on the subject at the Press conference which was the occasion for the publication of this second report of his undertaking. He was questioned by a reporter about the North-Eastern passenger scheme and he is quoted in a reputable journal as having said:I propose' to continue with the scheme, despite opposition.Why should he continue with a scheme "despite opposition"? Why should he not consider the opposition? [An HON. MEMBER: "He has."] It is quite obvious that he cannot have considered the opposition, because it was so substantial and of such real merit. I should have preferred not to have introduced any personalities, but I cannot avoid it, for it is plain that here is a man who sits in London and who is determined to play with passenger transport as though it were with model coaches and toys, without any real regard for the fundamental requirements of the district involved.
It is quite plain, from the way in which the scheme was originally launched in the North-East coast, that he has no intention of making anything more than a 2131 farce of consultation, because when the scheme was introduced it was only in the form of a precis; the full scheme has never been made public at all and we have been allowed to see only a precis. When it was introduced it was made quite plain to the local authorities concerned that that was the scheme, that it was going to go through, and that they were being invited to give their opinions only with regard to minor alterations of boundaries and alterations in details of the scheme, but that there was to be no discussion at all about the scheme itself.
I want to turn, quite briefly, to some of the main points of the scheme in order that the Minister may realise the weight and substance behind the opposition to the scheme. First, the scheme proposes to establish an area board and, under that, initially, three districts. Obviously, however, as the Report indicates, there will be further sub-divisions. Throughout the precis of the scheme lip service is paid to decentralisation, but, when we see how the scheme is to work, it is obvious that, in fact, it will need more centralisation than is desirable in road passenger transport. It is the clever technique which we have seen in many other reports in the last five years; the Report speaks of co-ordination, decentralisation, staff welfare and all the rest while, in fact, everything they are doing is exactly the reverse.
Second, there is to be some representation of public opinion. There is to be a consultative committee set up. Enough has been said already today about consultative committees for us to know what a forlorn hope that is. Surely the best way for public opinion to represent itself about road passenger services is for the public to be free to go to the bus station if the railway fares are too high and to go back to the railway station if the bus fare is too high. That is far better than writing letters to committees or Members of Parliament, as a result of which things are considered months after they have happened. That is the only way in which an organisation, particularly one for passenger traffic, can keep abreast of changing public moods and changing public demands.
Third, we are told that the area scheme is to co-ordinate road and rail timetables. I can hardly believe that the 2132 Transport Commission are so ignorant of what has been done already as to have said that in full sincerity, because these time-tables have been co-ordinated for years through the medium of standing joint road-rail committees. That work has largely been done already and all other necessary measures of co-ordination have already been carried out. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members will not take that from me, let them ask some of the Socialist-controlled councils in the towns of the North-East coast of England. Let them ask those councils, as I have already asked them, and then hon. Members will perhaps begin to see how sound and sincere is the opposition to this half-baked scheme. There is no doubt that the way to do this now and in the future is, as it has been done in the past—by means of an independent licensing authority which ensures good coverage of all essential routes without wasteful overlapping of services.
Another important reason why this scheme must never be allowed to proceed in its present form is that fares are cheap now and that we are all quite convinced, as indeed are the passengers in the North-East area of England, that the fares will go up as soon as the Transport Commission can lay its hands on the buses. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne the bus fares did not go up for 27 years until postwar prices, in 1948, necessitated a rise. On many routes, still operated by private enterprise buses, penny fares are still in existence; they are only threatened now, at last, by the absurd increase in the Petrol Duty passed through this House by a Socialist Government this summer.
The fact is that independent ownership and operation of the buses, whether by private enterprise companies or by highly efficient local authorities, is the only way in which one can ensure a continued cheap bus service for each locality. The buses are sought by the Transport Commission as a highly profitable source of revenue to offset deficiencies in other fields. In many areas, particularly in urban areas, where there is not a suitable railway line, persons must use the bus to travel to and from work because there is no alternative. What an easy way to get additional revenue, to step up the bus fares, particularly where they are cheap, in the areas controlled entirely and 2133 autonomously by local authorities and by private undertakers.
Furthermore, it is clear that the Transport Commission are jealous of any other efficient transport undertaking. They cannot bear to see some of these private undertakings operating efficiently and cheaply, showing up the Commission in an unfavourable light. I would ask the Minister to look at the Section of the Act again and remind himself that these are permissive powers only. There is no mandate imposed upon the Commission to review the road passenger transport of this country. I ask him to stop this madness and to insist upon the Road Passenger Executive confining itself to the management of the assets already transferred. Let him waste no more time on area schemes such as the present Eastern Counties scheme, which is meeting with equally virulent opposition as did the North-Eastern scheme. Let us save for the British public one form of cheap and efficient transport.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) will forgive me if I do not follow the points he has made. I recognise that there are still a number of Members who wish to take part in this Debate, and I wish to deal with several points arising from the speeches of the Minister and the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft).
In the course of our transport Debates I have been amazed at the attitude adopted by the hon. Member for Monmouth. He obviously has a knowledge of the industry, although I think his family roots are more in the coal industry. Possibly that explains why he has not dealt with certain salient features which must be dealt with before we get any real solution to this transport problem. I think it is true to say that the hon. Member's tendrils go very far back into coal in my own county. Be that as it may, I always feel that after he has spoken we get a completely unreal attitude to the problem—an attitude of frivolity and froth in his onslaught which takes the whole subject out of the perspective in which it ought to be argued. The hon. Member's undoubted success in arousing great glee on the Opposition benches and in the synthetic indignation which he stirs up in 2134 relation to this and other nationalised industries is no real help to this nation.
We are confronted by a position where public ownership applies in the transport industry, and generally the attitude adopted by the people will depend upon whether or not we approach the subject in a helpful spirit. I feel that the hon. Member did not approach it in that spirit of helpful reclamation which he could have done with his undoubted ability and knowledge of the industry. I hope that in the future the hon. Member will try this building up process instead of the wrecking process. If he would do that we might get a really good Debate which would accomplish something.
Arising out of what the Minister has said, I want to say that I appreciate his remarks about the three main proposals that have been most discussed from the angle of getting the industry into a proper working position. I agree with him almost completely in his attitude to the suggestion of repudiation of interest payments on invested capital, at the same time recognising that our people who have put forward this proposal have a genuine case if one examines the history of British Railways and recognises that during its building up period and during the taking over of complicated transport concerns, including buses and canals, the railway companies had been paying excessive prices for share capital held by these concerns. I am certain that much of the money on which we are paying interest charges out of the industry today is not genuine money. I know that hon. Members opposite regard it as good business, but I think it is bad business. It is against good ethical principles and it causes class division in which we on these benches do not believe.
I want to make clear where I stand on the proposals relating to a subsidy. I agree with the hon. Member for Monmouth that there is no easy solution to the problem of British Railways. I am convinced that with the capital expenditure that is necessary in order to streamline our railways and get them into the condition in which they should be, we must have subsidies to a large extent. I also feel that possibly there is a great deal in the argument that some of our Defence expenditure ought to be debited against our railway upkeep in this country because of the importance of the railways 2135 in defence matters. I have not examined the point, but I feel that a strong case could perhaps be made for it.
The Minister said that he thought we should wait before we decided definitely on any one of these three main ideas. I can understand why he should want to wait and give the Transport Commission a settling in period and allow them to make a success of the job which he has asked them to undertake. I have every faith in my right hon. Friend and I support him, but I feel that we must not say "Now, wait." Until when do we wait? It is all very well saying "Wait," but I cannot say "Wait" any longer to the low wage earners in British Railways—those earning £4 12s. 6d. a week. I can no longer say that we must wait for the Transport Commission. That is what it means if we are not going to subsidise the railways.
I am not attracted, and I hope that the Minister is not attracted, by this synthetic indignation, that it is a crime to spend public money in subsidising the railways. Yet we never hear a word from hon. Members opposite about the money which was poured out before nationalisation. In 1947, the railway companies were guaranteed £43 million and overspent this sum by £16½ million, making nearly £60 million of the taxpayers' money paid out to the companies. The history of the British Railways for them starts only from the time of the take over. I do not think that that is fair to the history of the British Railways, and I hope that the Minister will recognise that this question of better wages for the lower paid railwaymen is a first charge on the industry.
I believe that railwaymen have suffered tremendously in their day and generation under private enterprise because of the continuous bad periods through which the railways have gone. We had men during the years of depression becoming redundant, losing their status and being reduced in position, losing fairly large sums weekly, being transferred all over the country, even from Scotland to London. I had three years of that myself. We had many men being shifted not once but many times. I could quote cases of young railwaymen, married, with one or two children and a few sticks of furniture, being shifted about the country as many 2136 as 12 times. Hon. Members can imagine what the furniture looked like after it had been in railway vans for 12 journeys. Their homes were ruined; and the weekly wage was 42s.
I do not believe in the low wage position of today, but, at any rate, it is slightly better than it was in the days of which I am talking. Therefore, when we talk about the British Railways, let us remember that they have a history. I would say to the Minister, because possibly he is not aware of what is happening in the country, that while we are consistently refusing to increase the basic rates for the lower paid railwaymen, they are consistently being asked to work overtime to make their wage a little better, so that they can exist. They are consistently being brought out on Sundays to do unnecessary work. I can give him proof of permanent way men being brought out Sunday after Sunday to weed the tracks. That is something which could be brought into the ordinary weeks' work. Local officials are having to do that in face of the refusal for wage increases in order to keep the staff. I am not sure that this money which is being paid as an on-cost charge is not as heavy as the wage rate would be for which we are asking.
I feel that the Minister should pay attention to what is happening in that connection. I believe that if we did that we should secure a new spirit in the industry. We have to secure new wage rates before we get the spirit that is necessary, and we have to have a proper pensions structure. We have to be no longer in a position in which pensions are applicable only to the administrative staff—because someone wears a white collar and is doing an office job at a depot where the vast majority of men who are actually on the job, such as at a locomotive depôt, have no pension. I am not saying that the administrative men should not have a pension; they should, and I will fight for them to have it; but the men on the maintenance staff and other grades ought to have pensions, too.
I feel that there is a danger in this Debate—and it is true of Debates on other nationalised industries—that we are inclined to look purely at the profit and loss aspect. This I think is all wrong. We must have maximum efficiency in the running of these industries and I feel that it 2137 may, as a national policy, prove better on occasion to have lower freight charges and still show a loss on the railways. I think that the Leader of the Opposition said something similar. One can obviously see that in an integrated policy covering the country as a whole and taking in every aspect of industry and trade that something on those lines could be possible and successful despite having to show a loss on the railway industry.
I feel that the industry has to be judged on its service to the nation. We have many services operating in this country. I had fairly lengthy service on a local authority, and I consider that one of the most important services of that local authority was the cleansing service. It is heinous to think that we should make a profit from that service; no one would accept such a thing. I think that the sooner the Government view the transport industry from the point of view of serving the needs of the people of this country, and not from a profit and loss point of view, they will be doing a Socialist job in meeting the needs of the people.
If we view industry in this way, we shall ultimately obtain success and restore to the industry the vitality necessary to do its job in the interests of the nation. The first charge on the industry must be good wages and a pensions scheme.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
I hope that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his remarks, because I wish to speak entirely on the subject of the Consultative Committee, which has already been mentioned by the Minister, the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thornycroft) and the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton). I feel that this is an extremely important aspect of the problem which we are discussing today. The hon. Member for Monmouth quoted the famous paragraph on page 8 of the Report and I hope that the House will bear with me if I quote it again:That the number of matters referred to these Committees has not been large is an indication that the executives are maintaining direct and satisfactory contact with customers and traders throughout the country.I think that is one of the most remarkable statements that has ever been uttered in a public document—and a monument 2138 of complacency. I hope that the Minister will go further and draw the attention of the Transport Commission to the fact that their opinion is controverted in the Report of the Central Transport Users Consultative Committee. Incidentally, I hope that the Minister will be able to think of some shorter or pet names for these organisations. In paragraph 27 of the Report, they say:The failure of users to avail themselves of this facility in the past year is not surprising. …and they give as the reason that.industry and the travelling public have not yet become accustomed to the idea … of Consultative Committees,which is entirely a different point of view from that given by the Transport Commission.
I should like to refer to a personal experience in regard to one of these Consultative Committees. I asked the Minister a Question in July about the constitution of the London Committee, and he gave me information I required. He also said that Press notices had been sent out. In my opinion, that is not nearly enough to get the idea over to the public that they have these Committees to whom they can send their complaints. A parish council in my constituency wrote on behalf of a village within 20 miles of London that has no bus service. The letter was sent to London Transport, and the appeal was rejected with the usual polite letter from the P.R.O. in his inimitable epistolary style. The parish council then took the matter up with me, and I wrote to the Transport Commission. My plea was also rejected by Lord Hurcomb in phraseology largely reminiscent of the earlier letter.
As a pioneer experiment, I decided, on behalf of the parish council, to refer the matter to the London Area Transport Users' Consultative Committee, but again the plea was rejected with the same polite reply. I wish to submit that cases of this kind are really not given a fair trial. I put forward a written case that was agreed upon by the parish council, and presumably the other facts were reported to the Committee by London Transport. The Committee includes representatives of the British Transport Commission, and no opportunity is given to the complainant to controvert certain facts put forward by 2139 London Transport. I think that representatives should be invited to attend, because in this case the reasons given for rejecting the plea were inaccurate. I submit that this is not fair treatment in the case of a serious complaint.
I also ask the Minister to consider whether these committees, particularly in regard to passenger transport affairs, are not far too remote from the needs of the areas. In the case of the London area, there are some 20 or 25 people on the Committee. They are all very worthy ladies and gentlemen, representing various interests, such as shipping and so forth. There are only five people coming from local bodies in the area. It means that there is no one who can represent the ordinary man in the street, but only those who represent the large vested interests. I suggest to the Minister that he should consider giving London two committees, one for North of the Thames and one for South of the Thames; or one for the County of London area and two for the areas outside, which would be better still. I suggest that direct representation should be given, for example, to county councils, which would mean that we should have people far more in touch with the passenger needs of a particular area.
Local government bodies, such as borough and district councils, in the area should have the right and duty imposed on them to make direct representations to the committee. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Coventry, South, in some of the complaints she wished to be referred to these committees. These complaints should be taken up with the Transport Commission, and only when it is impossible to get a satisfactory reply should they be taken up with the Consultative Committee. By working in harness with the local government authorities, far better representation will be given to the needs of the ordinary users of transport. I put it to the Minister that the Government have created this huge organisation, and that these committees provide the only way of humanising the Frankenstein monster.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
This is the third Debate we have had this year on transport, and I still think, after listening to this Debate, that we have not the time to cover the whole field of British 2140 transport. It does not do the House justice that at one moment we should be discussing something to do with Northern Ireland, at the next should be tracking down a particular problem in the West of Scotland, and then dealing with the consultative committees and road passenger schemes for the north-east of England. I hope the Minister will note that the House should be given a chance to get down to particular points when discussing this vast subject.
The Minister did a good piece of work in the broad picture he painted. I congratulate him on the lucid background he painted, which was more Munnings than Picasso, which is more than can be said of the speeches that have been made on both sides of the House. Having said that, I do not think he went nearly far enough. He dealt with the deficit and with its causes, but where he failed, as did the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), was in high-lighting the deficit and its causes, and in bringing an air of practicality to the Debate by getting down to what can be done to wipe out the deficit and prevent another recurring.
The Minister said that a significant trend was the fact that railway passenger receipts went down last year by £8 million and receipts from general merchandise by £4 million. He went on to point out that the commercial fleet of road vehicles has gone up from 446,000 in 1945 to 850,000 in 1949, while the C licences had risen from 300,000 to 699,000, the increase last year alone being over 100,000.
I do not think it is good enough to leave these two sets of statistics alone; they must be co-related and analysed. There were always these difficulties. From 1930 onwards the railways were continually coming to this House to get them out of their difficulties. Road transport is not the same today as it was when it originally began. It has been intensified more and more by the increase of C licences. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), who said that what had happened was that we had lost in the takeover the long distance haulage. What is happening is that commerce and trade are using the railways for long distance traffic, because it is more suitable and because they are enjoying charges fixed under a scheme, which was made as long ago as 2141 1933, and was in the customer's favour. The railways are being used—the Report gives the average merchandise haul as 118 miles—for long-distance traffic, while the short-distance traffic is being channelled into the C licence vehicles.
Our trade and industry cannot possibly have it both ways. I do not think that this is a political controversial problem at all; it is a very serious national problem. Whether we like it or not, we cannot do without the railways. Not very many tons of coal will be carried by road nor many tons of steel or those other things that are the lifeblood of the industries of this country. Therefore, inevitably we must try to get a proper integration of road and rail. We cannot wait until a new charges scheme comes out, because that will not be before another year and it is going to be two or three years before we see how it works. In the meantime the deficit is mounting. It is not fair to the men in the industry, and the lives and standard of living of many families in this country are tied up with the railways.
What I feel is that whereas the Minister and others are balking at the idea of subsidising the railways, the men employed in the industry are shouldering the burden of that deficit. It is not fair to the many thousands of people employed in the railways who are earning below £5 per week. Their income is below the average of the worker in this country, and it is not fair to them to try to get round this problem.
There are two things to be done. First of all we have to tackle the question of the serious trend in freight traffic today, which the Minister mentioned but with which he did not properly deal. There is no guarantee that this trend is going to stop. In fact, there is every reason to think that it is going to continue, and as the C licences increase so more and more traffic will be taken from the railways, which will put the railways in a more serious position than ever. It is no good laughing the matter off, and saying that it is purely a question of political controversy. It is not, because it is a very serious problem for our railways and, indeed, for the railways of America, South Africa and all over the world.
The last time I spoke in this House on this question I instanced the case of 2142 a British company, which owned the railways in a South American State. I referred to the fact that they had put up a very good argument why the railways should be nationalised—because only the nation could properly bear the burden of railway finance today. We have got to tackle the question of C licences. I hope the Minister will take hold of it. I am not going to suggest how it should be done; that is a matter for general discussion.
On the subject of passenger traffic, I should say that railway travel is a habit. I am sorry to say that people are getting out of the habit of travelling by rail. One reason is that they cannot afford it. One should not be too quick to blame it all on the railways, because after the war they could not provide the rolling stock for the traffic and until last year they were not able to provide better services. The hon. Member for Monmouth was entertainingly truculent this afternoon on this subject, but, as usual, he was rather more truculent than entertaining. He described as silly the idea of having a Press campaign to launch winter services. Lots of people have lost the habit of travelling by rail, and that means that we have more than ever to use the services of the Press to get over just what facilities there are on the railways. The railways have done very good work with their cheap fares and excursions, but they fall down over taking people away for a week-end or a month. That kind of travel is outwith the possibility of the ordinary family in this country. Such people just cannot afford to travel by rail.
I seriously suggest to the Minister that he should make slashing reductions in fares, particularly in week-end and monthly fares. Perhaps he could extend to monthly tickets his present concession in regard to cheap travel on particular days. I think he would find that people would then be travelling once more by train. The railways must get rid of the business of sitting and waiting for traffic. They have now to do a little bit of quick thinking. That is something that has applied always to railways. The railways grew up in a spirit of monopoly. They were sitting pretty, and there was no one in competition with them. They have not lost that habit of private enterprise monopoly, but we are re-educating 2143 them now. I should like to give an instance. One can always get instances from railwaymen themselves, because the men working on the railways are loyal to their job. I know that to my father there was no line to compare with the G.S.W.R., although he worked just as hard for the L.M. & S. Railway. I am sure he would have worked just as hard for British Railways. You could never convince my grandfather that the G.S.W. Railway was not better than anything else in the world.
A very important football match took place in Scotland quite recently, when Ayr United were playing Motherwell United in a semi-final, at Govan. One of the firms in the area went to the railway station to book a certain number of compartments in a special train. The station officials could not tell whether there was going to be a special train. I should have thought that anyone with any understanding of what our people were likely to do on a Saturday afternoon when their favourite football team was playing in Ibrox Park for the first time in history, would expect thousands of people to be wanting to go there. Even before the actual decision was taken whether they were to play there or anywhere else, tentative arrangements would have been made for the railway station to provide facilities. What happened in this instance was that the firm phoned the bus company, who immediately made the arrangements. I do not say that this was private enterprise, because it happened to be the nationalised bus company which was telephoned.
By tackling this matter along the lines I suggest we can get somewhere. The only point in which I agreed with the hon. Member for Monmouth was when he said the position was serious. He never got down to dealing with it properly, or even to repeating the suggestion that we ought to have a high-powered committee to consider economy. I do not know whether that suggestion was blown away by the breezes of Blackpool. All that he gave us was moth-eaten phrases about decentralisation and flowery talk about what the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite was going to be, instead of dealing properly with the problem. The Minister ought not to take the advice of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) who was 2144 apparently fighting the Transport Bill all over again in trying to stop area schemes that are going ahead.
Something has been said about local consultative committees. Too little has been said about the value of such committees within the Department and those parts of the road transport industry that have been taken over. Many workers in the transport industry have been seeking some say in the industry, and they have been disappointed. They have seen how the local departmental committees of the railways have functioned and how the men have had some say in the running of their own departments, and the transport men are hoping for a quick extension of that arrangement to the road transport industry. As a Member of Parliament I should welcome it because at those committees the men can air their grievances with their managers and office staff whereas they are today inclined to bring them to their Members of Parliament. I have a letter which says:One coach builder and four coach painters have been on what we call 'old crocks' from December to the end of April practically. These old cars are of the pre-1920 vintage and of no use today and a waste of manpower. When one thinks of the poor state of the Western S.M.T. buses today these men would be better employed on service to the public. If the buses are nationalised, why is this practice allowed?If there is some controversy about work on old crocks at this garage, the men ought to be able to deal with it on the spot in a consultative committee instead of having to go to their Member of Parliament. Men in my constituency have felt irritated by the continuance of privileges to some of the managerial and shareholding elements of the Western S.M.T., privileges which they think should have been stopped long ago and which I sincerely hope have been stopped now. I think that I could instance the same kind of thing in Falkirk. I have here two very long letters. If they had been in the hands of the hon. Member for Monmouth and signed by someone bearing the un-Scottish name of Ramsden, he might have delighted the House with them, but I will not weary the House with them and by going into detailed repetition of a point which I have already put.
§ The question remains of what we are to do with the present deficit. I must 2145 repeat what I have already suggested. During the war £190 million profit was made by the Government out of the railway companies which they had taken over. I think there is a fair case for a transitional subsidy until the time when the heralded new charges scheme comes into operation, in order to take the burden off the shoulders of those who are employed in the industry and are not receiving the average working wage of the ordinary people of the country. It is not fair to ask a section of the nation which happens to be in a job which it is doing particularly well to be patiently patriotic and shoulder a burden which is really the nation's burden.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will excuse me if I do not follow his argument, but I want to direct the attention of the House to one matter raised by the Minister in his opening speech. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the need to close some branch lines, and it is to that specialised aspect of the whole problem that I want to draw the attention of hon. Members, particularly with regard to a branch line in my own constituency, the East Kent Light Railway, which is to be closed down as from 1st December next.
When nationalisation was brought in the country was told that the justification for it was that we would get a better service. That promise, held forth to us by the party opposite, is being implemented so far as my constituents are concerned by the closing down of their line and the making of a charge for a service which, in the days before nationalisation, was provided free. The result will be that their costs will go up. Our farmers particularly will face increased costs, and it is probable that a considerable acreage under sugar beet in an area good for growing that crop will have to go over to other crops. The farmers will also find that instead of being able to afford bulky manures, which are good for the soil, they will have to go over to concentrated fertilisers which are nothing like so good.
Then again, the entire area will be affected so far as coal distribution is concerned. Recently the line in the Elham Valley was closed down. If those increases in prices there are an example of what will happen when the East Kent 2146 Light Railway is closed down, we shall find that the price of coal to the consumer in this area will go up by something like 5s. a ton.
Those are the problems which are being created by the closing of this railway. It is not for me to say whether it is right or wrong to close that part of the line. I do not want to argue the merits or demerits of the case, but assuming that the line is uneconomic and that it is right that it should be closed down, the Ministry should have come to that conclusion earlier rather than at this late date. Since nationalisation £10,000 has been spent on re-sleepering that line and on reconditioning the metalling, so if the line is uneconomic it means that £10,000 has been thrown straight down the drain since nationalisation. I hope that the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, who is to reply to the Debate, will say why this line, which gave good service under private enterprise, became uneconomic the moment it was taken over under nationalisation.
Particularly I want to ask that before the line is closed down on 1st December a public inquiry shall take place so that the people in the area who will be affected will have an opportunity to put forward their case and to express their views. This public inquiry should bring to the people of that area the realisation that all the pros and cons are being weighed carefully, so that they will feel, if the decision to close the line is implemented, that the decision will not have been taken lightly but only after full consideration and after all the facts have been weighed, and in public.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. McAdden (Southend, East)
I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. John Arbuthnot) on the question of uneconomic lines, because I believe that unless some radical alteration is made in the procedure now being adopted, there will be far more uneconomic lines. I, for my sins, live upon a portion of the line which, I believe, has been in the past a very profitable section of the railway undertaking, and it is only right that I should draw attention to some of the things which are happening there before I make one or two brief comments upon the road haulage side of the activities of the British Transport Commission.
2147 I notice that on page 101 of the Report there are set out the various steps which have been taken to attract traffic to the railways. It is said:Special measures were taken to stimulate travel by further restorations of pre-war cheap fare facilities.Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will be kind enough to explain why, if it is the policy of the Transport Commission or the Railway Executive to press for the reintroduction of cheap fare facilities, in my own constituency all cheap fare facilities have been completely removed; no cheap fare rate is allowed whatever. It is true that the constituents of the Minister are permitted to travel from his constituency to mine at a cheap rate. It is most unfair that my constituents should not be allowed to travel to his on equally advantageous terms. I appreciate that there are various reasons which might be advanced why his constituents should come to me instead of mine go to him, but I am a little puzzled by a further paragraph of the Report, dealing with the steps taken to attract traffic, which states:To increase the popularity of day travel to London …cheap fares have been encouraged in this direction. That is simply untrue so far as my constituency is concerned.
Whereas formerly people were always able to travel at very cheap rates from Southend to London, now they are denied those opportunities. Furthermore, members of the Forces who are unfortunate to be stationed at Shoeburyness—not that Shoeburyness is not a nice place—have had removed entirely the Forces tickets which formerly were available. I am always prepared to give the Railway Executive their due, but that is going a bit too far, especially when they have taken very good steps to try to improve the train service. We have a regular service which runs more or less to time and carriages which are more or less improving in condition, but it is not the slightest use running trains if there are no passengers travelling in them.
I do not profess to be an expert in a matter of this kind. The Minister is embarrassed by having on the back benches behind him too many experts, some of whom seem to think that they would be able to do the job very much better themselves. I am not an expert in 2148 railway operations, but I am a passenger, and I have come to the conclusion that passengers happen to be rather important to a railway undertaking; without a sufficiently large number of them travelling fairly regularly, all the desirable improvements which we want to see, including the conditions of the railwaymen, will never come to pass.
Because passengers are important, it is rather stupid to have, as we have at present, a railway line upon which trains run twice in every hour but upon which people are being discouraged from travelling because all cheap fares have been abolished. As a result, people are having to resort to hiring coaches to come to London because they can do so much cheaper than by coming by the railway, which has to provide trains anyway. That is a stupid way of going on, and I hope that when the hon. Gentleman replies he will say a word or two about it.
I pass to the road haulage side of the business. It really is not good enough for the Minister to tell us that this is not a monopoly. In fact, they have monopolistic powers. It is true that the Road Haulage Executive do not possess anything like the whole of the vehicles which could be used. They possess at present some 30,000-odd vehicles, or they did at the time the Report was produced, whereas there were at that time in private hands 129,000 vehicles. Obviously the Minister, if he likes, can make a case that, as there are roughly four times as many in private hands as in the hands of the Road Haulage Executive, there is, therefore, not a monopoly; but if one is exercising monopolistic powers as a result of which one can restrict the operations of those vehicles in private hands and ensure that in a matter of a few months the whole of those allowed to operate even long distances are to be called into review, then one has the powers of a monopoly. It seems to me that it is the intention of the British Transport Commission to use their powers to the fullest possible extent to force people to use the facilities provided by the Road Haulage Executive and to remove from them the choice which at the moment they exercise in a limited degree for the carriage of goods in another fashion.
§ Mr. Rogers (Kensington, North)
Will the hon. Member tell us how the Transport Commission can force the trader to 2149 send goods by a nationalised service when at any time he can take out a C licence and carry them himself?
§ Mr. McAdden
That is precisely what I am going to deal with. It seems to me obvious that the power does exist at the moment for traffic which is available to be forced into the hands of the Road Haulage Executive and the nationalised railways as a result of the powers they possess at the moment to crush out A and B licence holders by periodic review. It has been asked whether it is wrong to suggest that they have monopolistic powers when it is always open to a trader to carry his goods under a C licence. Surely the hon. Member has not been insensible to the feeling which seems to exist on the benches around him on that particular question.
I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) extracted a promise by implication—I am sorry we could not get it in words—from the Minister of Transport and the hon. Gentleman who is to reply that it is not in fact their intention further to restrict the carriage of goods by an individual in a vehicle which he owns. I hope we are right in that assumption, but there is no doubt that considerable pressure will be brought to bear on the Minister by some hon. Members behind him to try to persuade him to change his mind. If we are right in our assumption, we can take some consolation from it, and if we are wrong in the assumption, or if pressure from the benches behind him becomes too strong, we shall have made a convert of the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Rogers), who apparently is not a believer in monopolies. We were told by the Minister that we cannot have this ruinous and wasteful competition. If we are not to have ruinous and wasteful competition and if it is the intention to crush out competition of all kinds, the Commission are going to exercise monopolistic powers, as we long suspected they would.
I am glad to hear that empty running has been reduced in regard to road haulage vehicles and that the Minister considers this important. If he considers it important for the efficient running of the Road Haulage Executive that there should be a decline in empty running, may I hope that in the interests of a general improvement in British transport he will 2150 also discourage empty running of other vehicles?
§ Mr. McAdden
No, A and B Licences. Why should the Minister compel them in many cases to operate on a heavy basis of empty running? Is it because he is afraid of the competition they might put up? When we have a position in which four times as many transport vehicles are operating in this country as are possessed by the Road Haulage Executive, one would think there might be a word or two in the Report on the steps to be taken to bring them into full economic use; but apparently that has not been mentioned in this Report. I am sorry it has not been.
I promised to say the few words I had to say as quickly as I could. I am sorry if I have had to gabble them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will remember that it has been brought out from both sides of the House that the present financial position is disastrous. It has been pointed out by Members on both sides that the capital assets of the British Transport Commission are not improving. It has been clearly demonstrated from all sides of the House that the continuing losses they are sustaining cannot be allowed to go on. I hope that we must not read too much into the fact that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply for the Government comes from where he does, and that the continuing losses of the railways will not so liquidate their assets as to call for further assistance from the Admiralty.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
A few moments ago the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said that the Minister's speech reminded him more of Munnings than of Picasso. I venture to disagree with that suggestion because I found that I never had the sensation of looking a gift horse in the mouth, which I sometimes find in the case of the pictures of the first-named artist, whereas I had a very definite failure to understand—which often affects me in the case of the second artist—the Minister's complacency in dealing with the serious situation in which, as is established in this Report, the country is placed.
2151 No one has any doubt about the problem that faces the country. With an estimate of a deficiency of £15 million for 1950 after the rise in freight charges, we are faced with an accumulated deficiency of £40 million, and not one word has been suggested from the Government Front Bench today as to how that is to be dealt with. The nearest that the Minister got to that was his statement that we were on the way—on the right road—to dealing with it. But we must face the situation. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are still, for a short and uncomfortable time, the Government of the country, and when that situation is placed before them they must tell us what action is to be taken to deal with it and with its most important implications.
Nothing in the Debate, no word of the Minister, has shown any hope of improvement at any time in the reasonably near future. He has stated that the traffics are disappointing, although it is the constant boast of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that economic activity is generally as high as or higher than it has ever been. Why, then, are the traffics disappointing? The Minister has mentioned the decline on the passenger side as being £8 million out of the £12,500,000 of the decline, but has given no reason for that. There was a reference to a £4,500,000 fall on the merchandise traffic side, a slant at C licences but nothing more—no suggestion as to how the traffics will improve.
We all agree that prices will continue to rise. Petrol has been made to rise in price owing to the Government's action. Tyres and other materials are likely to take the same course. With £22 million improvement being the minimum by which this matter can be put right in six years, or £25 million if it is to be put right in 10 years, and the situation facing us at the moment, we are left with this position; that under nationalisation there is nothing to meet the demand for high wages which hon. Gentlemen have put forward with great eloquence and feeling, to which I have listened and fully appreciated. The charges schemes, about which I will say a word in a moment, are likely to fall between the two stools of ill-digested integration and the adding to revenue.
2152 The capital position is even more serious. Even if we get that improvement, which nobody has suggested we are likely to get, the improvement of £22 million of £25 million, we shall still have no surplus to maintain or improve the capital assets. During the year under review the liquid funds fell by £75 million to £160 million, and the net current assets fell by £90 million. Again, there may be a case for the cry of misfortune which has come from hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite; but the same drains are continuing on the capital assets, continuing with the concurrence of, and, in some cases, under pressure from, His Majesty's Government at this time. We have that continuance still, a continuing deficit; and every suggestion we have made has been disregarded.
There is now capital expenditure beyond the year's provision for depreciation. There are arrears of maintenance but there are also cash payments for the road haulage organisation which were not necessary. They are a piece of Government policy and folly forced on the Commission. Therefore, the position is that apart from what is being conceded as a hopeless income position, the railways are steadily eating their capital under Government pressure.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty is to reply to the Debate, and the last time that we debated these matters he put it against me that I wanted to hive off—as I still want to—the road transport part of this industry. At that time, of course, he could put forward the argument that it was a profitable part of the industry. Now that argument is taken from him.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head in a charming but slightly military manner, so I will deal with the argument. But first let me point out, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, what a ghastly state of things it is if we do not have a profit on road transport. The Commission have taken over the big firms, the historic names in heavy and general long-distance carriage by road, firms which, as everyone knew, were making large profits under private enterprise. They are now part of the Transport Commission, and if the Commission are not making a profit after having taken over these firms, how in the name of 2153 heaven must they be mishandling the other firms which were not in such a strong position?
The first figure which I give the hon. Gentleman for him to answer is that the net traffic receipts with regard to road transport are this year 3 per cent. of the gross traffic receipts, instead of approximately 10 per cent. as they were last year. If there had been some abnormal rise in expenses. I could understand that the hon. Gentleman might throw it against me, but there has not. Depreciation is only up from 22 per cent. to 24 per cent. of the expenses, and I think operating costs from 40 to 45 per cent., and, against that, we have an improvement in general expenses, but, when we have taken all that into account, we have still to consider, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) said, what are the proper capital charges to place against this section of the industry.
I will give the hon. Gentleman the basis on which we work. We say that the expenditure on British road services is 8 per cent. of the total, and that the capital involved is 3 per cent. of the total, the 3 per cent. meaning something like £49 million. Therefore, when we take the net receipts of £1,431,000, when we place interest charges against them, that is, the 3 per cent. of the £49 million, it is £1,467,000 or a £35,000 loss. Of course, we cannot stop there, because we have to add 8 per cent. on central administrative expenses, if we are to do the accounts properly, and that amounts to £71,000, which takes the total up to £105,000. Then, we have got to add 3 per cent. of the redemption charges, which is £75,000. which brings the total up to £182,000.
Thus, there is that loss—I suggest an unanswerable loss—which, when I complained a year ago as to the Transport Commission adopting a form of accountancy which was, to say the least of it, a rare one, they said "Oh, no; you must keep to this form of accountancy." All right, I will do so, and the hon. Gentleman ought to take it, too, because he was persuading me to accept the Commission's form of accountancy. They do not put their acquisitions to capital, but, if we include the sum of £620,000 for writing off equipment which the Minister himself mentioned, we have another £700,000. which brings the loss on road transport up to £1½ million.
2154 One and a half million pounds lost on road transport. There has not been anything like it since three years ago, when the effects of a Socialist Government contradicted the statement of the Minister of Health that this country was made of coal and was surrounded by fish and that only an idiot or a lunatic could make people cold or have insufficient food. At that time, we were all shivering because the electric current had failed us, and we felt that the Minister's statement was a little in advance of the facts.
But the hon. Gentleman must follow this, because we want an explanation. This is the only day of the year when we can get it, and we want an explanation why more vehicles over 1949 were acquired and were in operation in 1950—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
All right, I will take the hon. Gentleman's point and take 1950. The figures for January, June and August show that we have a rise in vehicles in 1950 and a fall in tonnage. That, again, is simply inexplicable.
Before I leave the subject of road haulage, I want to make one point which I think the road hauliers who were not nationalised ought to appreciate, and that concerns the permit position. As I understand it, a large number of permits will be expiring soon. Are they to be terminated? Is there to be any chance for these people to do the work they did before? If there is not, and if the Government are going to stop them doing the work, then in heaven's name let the Government have the decency to tell them that they are to be stopped, and put them out of their misery if they cannot be given any happiness.
I have heard a great deal of talk about C licences tonight, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen who have indulged in it seriously to consider this point. How much of that traffic is truly newly created? I think they will find that if they take a reasonable cross-section of industry in many cases a great deal of that traffic would not have been produced if the C licence vehicles had not been available to carry it. But, again, the shadow of the Minister of Health hangs over me because, no doubt, he considers the C licence, the right of someone to carry his own goods 2155 on the King's highway, part of that miasma of private enterprise which poisons the whole of the public sector.
May I make an appeal for another miasma, and in that I am supported by the great words so bravely spoken by the Lord President of the Council. I am now speaking of the Road Passenger Executive. It has little to do at the moment, and it will only have more to do if these schemes largely to take away the transport undertakings of our great local authorities and hand them to a regional board are proceeded with. I ask the shadow of the Lord President's former self to speak from the past years and to tell us once again the value of local authority undertakings, and how they were not to be interfered with by nationalisation.
The next point I wish to deal with is the question of integration. As I indicated, I believe at the moment that integration is a will o' the wisp in this problem. I am not at all sure that that view is not shared by members of the Transport Commission, because in this stout volume they give it only between one and a half and two pages, but it is still held out by the right hon. Gentleman as being something to encourage us. The plain fact is that the integration which is being discussed cannot be applied in any period which will be of any help to the problem. To put it in the words of the "Economist" of a week or two ago:It is quite impossible to expect that such schemes can be applied in the reasonably near future or that, if they could be introduced, they would bring in the net revenue that the Commission so earnestly needs. For their full realisation, many years will be needed, with angelic co-operation from the staff, complete understanding by the public, and repeated applications to the Transport Tribunal for sanction for charges schemes of growing complexity as each means of transport is brought in to form the co-ordinated whole.That is the picture.
It is quite true that the Commission say that the policy of integrating rail, road, and inland transport services is being pressed forward as rapidly as circumstances allow. That is a good cover. We know what circumstances will allow; we know that the Commission said last January before the Tribunal that 1952 would be an optimistic date for the charges scheme to come into being, and 2156 we know that their financial controller thought that the economies would not appear until 10 years after the beginning of the charges scheme. What is the use of talking of integration as being the right road? It may be a signpost to a possible right road, although I would not admit that, but something in 10 years ahead is cold comfort for the position we are in at present, with these mounting losses.
And there is this real danger, that in seeking this far-off will o' the wisp one deflects attention and energy from the real problem of the moment, which is that of economies in cost and a greater and improved commercial output in putting this business over. If I may be allowed just a fantasy, it is always worth remembering that a will o' the wisp, although it is taken as a guiding beacon, only leads in the end to the irridescence of decay but, usually, decay does not show itself in so early a period as 2¾ years after the start, as has been the practice with this set-up.
I should like to say more about the working of the set-up and to compare it with the various prognostications made on each side. I only want to make the point that in this Report there is shown an increasing overall centralisation, an increasing functional power in the body at the top and, even if one puts aside the signs of that in the Commission, one has in the Railway Executive the continuance of the over-driving of functional control. The result is that one has not a real policy control, not the leadership of great thinking on transport which we hoped the Commission might give. The Commission is more and more concerned with the detailed oversight of matters of the Executive and the Executive, again, speak, each member in his own functional capacity, over the chief regional officers to the corresponding functional persons in the regions. That is not a healthy set-up.
What is the action that must be taken at once? This is on the basis that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are still going to cling to this grandiose house of cards that is shaking so obviously in the wind. On that basis, wind up the Hotels Executive at once. There is no reason for that to be maintained. At any rate, it will show the spirit—that the Government are trying to deal with the administration. Stop the work of the 2157 Road Passenger Executive. Stop the interference and threat of interference with local authority transport. When that is done I will say no more, for the moment, than re-echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth has said about the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. Try and direct the information they give us to what will be useful to production at the present time.
On the view of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who believe in nationalisation and who want to produce a good form of nationalisation to justify the claims they have made for 50 years, the next step is that they should look at decentralisation, not through party eyes but by the test of what is going to be efficient. Surely they designed the Transport Commission for what I mentioned a short time ago—something which should be a policy body which should give the leadership, not a sort of daily governess chiding the Executives as her children.
Again, with regard to the Executives, what can be the advantage of sending orders from the staff at brigade to the staff of the company commander, missing out the battalion commanders? How can it work as a scheme? Yet that is what is happening. On the wider point, on which we make our appeal, we admit that decentralisation is a long word; what we mean is that local problems should be dealt with by local people who understand them and who understand the conditions. That is what we ask at the present time. We say that the vice-like grip in which the railway regions are held by the centre produces frustration and unwillingness to accept responsibility and interferes with the work.
These are immediate points and the right hon. Gentleman has always asked me to condescend to a more long-term view. I use the word in its strictly legal sense and I am sure he will not misunderstand me. I shall do so for five minutes and then give the hon. Gentleman every opportunity to reply. He has asked what we want with regard to the railways? I have already mentioned the reasons why I believe in decentralisation, and I believe, accepting nationalised ownership, that the railways would be better organised on the basis of regional boards, under whom there would be a regional officer with the authority of the old general manager, and that the responsibility should lie with such boards. Instead of 2158 the Commission, I myself would have the chairmen of such boards forming a central board to deal with them. That would be the set up.
May I make this quite clear, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth; for I do not want any hon. Member to hold this against us: we cannot understand the suggestion that C and D vehicles should be taken from the railways. I cannot imagine any of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken with such great knowledge of railways understanding or imagining it either. Surely the collection and delivery services ought to be ancillary to, supplementary to and part of the railway which gets the goods to the railhead. I also believe that the railway companies should have their share in the big bus companies in which, before the war—and still, for all I know—they had a 41 per cent. to 45 per cent. shareholding interest. I saw the system grow up in the West Riding and in Lancashire 20 years ago. The joint standing committee was an effective co-ordinating body. In many cases, where a branch line was closed, for instance, or trams were closed down by a local authority, one had the local authority on the committee and obtained a body which was a good co-ordinating body. It would be absolutely foolish to suggest that because the railways are nationalised they should lose that opportunity.
I want to make these points quite clear, for they go into a little more detail than that indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth. If anything else were necessary, this Report reinforces every word that I have said so often in the House—that road transport must be a matter of local application by small units. Once we try to build up these enormous mastodons we fail. Even before 1st January they were big enough, too big for doing the job, which is that of getting the right vehicle to the right place at the right time; but now they have been taken and placed under the Road Haulage Executive, entirely administrative, so that one has to get on to the department of the Executive.
I do not believe we shall ever run road haulage on that basis. I believe we have to set road haulage free from the trammels of the Transport Act. Then we must hand it back, it may be gradually, to the only form of operation that has made a success of it and can make a success of 2159 it—private enterprise and comparatively small units.
My time is up, but I want to say this: The Lord President has done me the honour of listening to what I have said for the last 20 minutes. Nationalisation, as he would be the first to agree, is on trial. The verdict, when the verdict should be pronounced, is a matter for the fairness of our people, who will always see that it gets a run before they decide that anything that has been done is, as I believe it is, wrong. After two and threequarter years we have had a Debate in which enormous losses are accepted, unexplained, and no answer to them is produced by the Government of the day, with not a ray of hope of their being dealt with in the next few years. I say to the Lord President that centralised nationalisation, nationalisation which has to be run in the vice-like grip of its central authority, is damned by this Report, and, not only is it damned, but it has created its own financial Nemesis from which no escape is indicated and no escape can be seen.
I beg to move an Amendment to the Motion, at the end, to add:but deplores the accumulated losses already incurred; the further losses contemplated by the British Transport Commission even after charges have been increased; the drain upon the Commission's assets and the failure to take or indicate the measures necessary to turn the Transport Commission into a profitable undertaking.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Callaghan)
The last few words of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) were addressed to the Lord President of the Council. I expect that my right hon. Friend will take an early opportunity of replying for himself on these matters. I am sure that he would like to be standing here doing it now. I shall do my best to be a substitute for him, and to say some of the things that I think that he and I might agree about if we had discussed the matter.
I think that it is very interesting to note the form which the right hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism takes. Overhanging the whole of his strictures are the great financial losses, which are the financial nemesis of nationalisation, and which are going to be the keystone, touchstone, or 2160 whatever the appropriate word is, by which nationalisation is to be judged. I ask my hon. Friends to note this: the Opposition today have been telling us about the things which they would do. They would alter the form of the organisation and improve the cleanliness of the stations—
§ Mr. Callaghan
—and do a great deal to improve the efficiency of the railways by hiving off road transport. In all the suggestions which they have to make about the way they would handle this undertaking if they had the responsibility for it, one thing they have never said, and that is whether they would make a profit. All the time the right hon. and learned Gentleman was pinning his condemnations of the Government, as his last few words suggested, on the fact that there are serious financial losses, as he called them. He never by any conceivable chance led us to believe that the measures he proposed we should take would result in a profitable undertaking.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If he intended to, I will analyse some of his suggestions in due course. Let us take the most feeble one now, that we should wind up the Road Passenger Executive to help us to cope with a loss that he quite rightly said is £20 million this year. The Road Passenger Executive last year cost £6,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is something."] It may be something, but I am saying that it is a very little coin to put in the balance if we are to try to deal with a loss of £20 million. The whole case of the Opposition has not been based on any prospect that if they were in charge or had responsibility for this undertaking they would be able to come down here and report, on the present level of charges and prices, that they would be in a position to make a profit.
We had a very typical and interesting speech from the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). He told us of things that were wrong, and he painted a most vivid picture of the miners in South Wales striking against the bus fares going up. He did not mention that it was private enterprise bus fares that were going up. He talked contemptuously of the £30,000 saving that would result 2161 from the bulk buying of paper. Does the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby think that is worth saving? He told us that we were centralising everything, without speaking of the great degree of decentralisation which has taken place. I really think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is living in a different world from mine, if that is his picture. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hope to show, if hon. Members opposite do not shout me down, that his is a world of fantasy and mine a world of reality.
The hon. Member for Monmouth poured scorn on the Commission's Report for devoting only two pages to integration. He did not go on to say that a very detailed document has been issued to every trader with an interest in this matter which goes into all the principles of integration and sets them out for public discussion. This debate has been going on in the journals which concern transport. He talked about abolishing the two Executives, saving £150,000, and of stripping away bureaucracy and selling road transport back to private enterprise. All this is a very vivid picture, but it is not related to any reality, and he knows it. I would deal with the hon. Member in more detail, but I have to come now to a case with more body and substance made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
Let us consider for a moment what has been happening in connection with this question of costs and charges. The Commission made a loss of £4.7 million in the first year. I want to run through the results without mentioning for the moment any of the factors. They made a loss of £20 million in the second year, and in the year we are now in, the third year, the expectation is that the loss will be £15 million. Given the same level of prices and wages as today, the Commission estimate that they will be able to break even in 1951. Members will have noticed my conditions—given the same level of prices and wages as exist at the present time. Does that indicate to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the sort of picture he was painting to us a little while ago?
§ Mr. Callaghan
With great respect, it is entirely different from the picture he gave us last year when he told us that 2162 by 1952 the Commission would be running into a loss of £100 million.
§ Mr. Callaghan
What I am dealing with is the situation as it exists, and whether the financial results of the Commission are likely to yield a result which will enable them to break even. If I may give my honest opinion whether I think they will break even, I am bound to say I do not think they will. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite think that is very funny, but I should like to ask them a question. There are wage claims to the various Executives totalling £25 million. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why? "] Let me just deal with the facts. Those wage claims are there. How would hon. Members opposite, who find this so amusing, propose to give satisfaction to the railway workers who have put in these claims, assuming that they are met, and at the same time make a profit on the undertaking? [Interruption.] All I can hear is a babble of replies, but nothing coherent.
Let us examine the immediate question of rising prices. We had a most impassionate appeal from the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. John Arbuthnot) against the closing down of his branch line. Every time a branch line is closed, the hon. Member concerned comes along and tells us that his branch line is the one branch line in the country which ought not to be closed down. If I were in the same position I would probably do the same thing. Substantial savings were made last year as a result of closing down branch lines. These savings were wiped out overnight by the increase in the price of rubber and the consequent increased cost of tyres to the Commission.
There is the dilemma. What will they do about it? No one can claim that the Government are responsible for the rise in the cost of rubber or of tyres. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh.'] At least, if hon. Members opposite claim that they will not carry public opinion with them. If hon. Members opposite are going to deal with this situation in a responsible way, they must face the fact that there cannot be one price structure for the world as a whole and for Britain in particular, and another insular price structure for the British Transport Commission. The Commission, unlike almost every other 2163 industry in Britain, have to operate on fixed-price contracts. They have to go to the Transport Tribunal and say what they expect their costs will be for the next two years, and having stated that they then have to contend with changing world prices or changing internal prices.
Several people, including the Federation of British Industries, have given us the idea of a subsidy. It is a remarkable thing that this Government, having been attacked on its policy on subsidies for the last four years, now find that when it comes to a question of subsidising, not the cost of food but of transport, the F.B.I. tell us there is a case for such a subsidy. My right hon. Friend made his position quite clear in his opening statement this afternoon. He thinks—and I think the House will agree with him—that the first thing to do is for the British Transport Commission to try to get the system working as efficiently as it is possible to do, to try to effect all the economies that are possible, as they are being effected; and to increase their efficiency, as they have been increasing their efficiency, which all the statistics that the transport men can produce demonstrate. These are the first things to be done before questions of subsidy are considered.
I should like to pass on quickly—I have not a lot of time—to the question of liquid assets. I notice that the Amendment deals by inference with the drain on assets. It says that hon. Members opposite deplore the accumulated losses. Really, we will not launch this ship on a synthetic flood of hypocritical tears. It is no good just deploring these losses. The Amendment goes on to talk about the drain on the Commission's assets. What, in fact, do the Opposition mean by that? I thought the hon. Member for Monmouth meant that at the beginning of 1947 the Commission had £290 million in a stocking under the mattress, and that by the end of December that £290 million had dwindled to £200 million. I speak within a million or two. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] If hon. Members want to make a rather feeble point they can. It will save the time of the House if I speak about £290 million instead of talking about £290,105,865.
Let us just ask seriously for a moment, as people concerned with this great undertaking, whether we want to keep this vast 2164 amount of money liquid. We do not think it is good normally to advise people to put their money in a stocking and keep it under the mattress. That is not normally our idea of finance. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may think so, but we do not on this side of the House. We put our money into National Savings.
In fact, how has the £90 million been spent? Thirty million pounds have been spent on new working assets, capital additions to the British Transport Commission's undertakings, in new rolling stock and in permanent way improvements. Less depreciation, they came to £30 million. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen do not think that we ought to keep the £290 million, and not make improvements in the permanent way or additions to the rolling stock. Of course, they do not. The second point concerns arrears of maintenance and war damage, in connection with the permanent track, rolling stock, buildings and the rest of it, which came to £18 million. On road undertakings—here the right hon. and learned Gentleman was critical—£22 million has been spent. The Commission are putting this money to work.
§ Mr. Callaghan
They are not, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows it very well. In so far as he is making any point, I think he knows that what the Commission have had to take over in the last 12 months in road haulage undertakings has not been exactly the cream of the industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen may not have heard of it, but there is a proposal that transport in this country should be run on a sensible integrated system. Finally, the loss of £20 million has been financed out of this £90 million by which the liquid assets have run down. Is it fair, reasonable or sensible to describe this £20 million diminution in the capital assets of a vast undertaking running to nearly £1,700 million as "a drain"? I would describe it as "a drop," if I had to use any word about it.
Let me now turn to another important point, although I have not a great deal of time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and others have complained about the condition and state of the undertaking. I think the Government 2165 have to take a lot of responsibility for that because of the limitation which they have placed upon the Commission's capital investment programme. The Commission complain because they have only been able to run down their liquid assets by that amount. They wanted to do a lot more and we had to hold them back. In paragraph 23 of the Report hon. Gentlemen will see a significant passage to the effect that the programme which the Commission put forward for capital investment for last year, this year and next year has been cut by the Government. These are the words:But so long as national needs make it necessary that the present degree of Government control should apply to the Commission's capital investment'"—This applies not merely to new works and improvements but also to the renewal of buildings, depôts, tracks and locomotives—the Commission can hope to do little more than preserve their undertaking in a reasonable working condition.This is extremely important to the future of the undertaking. The Government have a planned capital investment programme. It was cut following devaluation, and the railways in particular suffered a cut in order that we might live within our means. The "Yorkshire Post," with which I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has some family connections, was very sniffy about it, saying:The Government shirked the duty of making the country live within its means. If the Commission could not get all the steel they needed, the fault lay with the Government's system of priorities. If their capital investment programme was restricted the fault again goes back ultimately to an administration which pays greater attention to maintaining a high standard of living than to building up the country's industrial apparatus.No applause? After Blackpool I am not surprised. At Blackpool the Opposition said, in effect, to the railways and the British Transport Commission, "We will increase the housing programme by 50 per cent. as a minimum." Will they take that out of the railways? Well, they will not take it out of dentists' remuneration. The Opposition know perfectly well that what is in competition here is not dentists' remuneration on the one hand or the British Transport Commission on the other, but the building labour, the bricks, the timber, the steel and the paint which 2166 go into the British Transport Commission's structure on the one hand and the programme they have set themselves on the other. It is no use their complaining on the one hand about the state of the British Transport Commission's undertakings if, on the other hand, they propose to drive them into the bankruptcy court by refusing to allow them to undertake any capital investment at all. They would have to halve their capital investment if they were to do that. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will live to regret that magnificent moment when Lord Woolton refused to tell his colleagues and delegates the truth.
I shall conclude by talking briefly on the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about organisation. He spoke of the relations between the Executives and the chief regional officers. He spoke of the vice-like grip in which the regions are held by an over-centralised administration. That is utterly removed from the truth. It is simply not the case. I will adduce some evidence about it. The relations between the Executives and the chief regional officers are very simple. The Executives leave the day-to-day policy to the chief regional officers. On the other hand, it is the job of the chief regional officer to see that the policy is carried out. He has considerable power. One chief regional officer has told me that he has more power now than a general manager had under the old administration. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Why do hon. Gentlemen say "No"? I am telling them about the evidence given by someone who is doing the job. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to know what he said, I advise him to turn up the lecture which this chief regional officer gave this afternoon to the Railway Students' Association.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Mr. John Elliot, the Chief Regional Officer of the biggest region in the country. He said that there is more power now in his hands than there was in the hands of a general manager, particularly in matters of finance. He considers all the new works proposed in the region. He is not by-passed. The regional officers go to him and the Executives go to him. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the chief regional officers believe they are 2167 doing a good job and have the freedom to do a good job.
I would like to quote again from the lecture delivered this afternoon because, by a coincidence, the speaker used words which the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself used. This is what the chief regional officer himself said about his powers:It is not true…in my opinion to say that regional initiative is strangled, enterprise frowned on, frustrated. …I have considered it necessary, for the good name of our great undertaking, to speak out freely, and I trust you will credit me at least with sincerity, for I do not take kindly to being frustrated"—the word the right hon. and learned Gentleman used—nor yet to being misrepresented, be it well or ill-intended.I hope that some of those who have interests to serve who are spreading this gospel that the Executives are strangling the regions will take note of the words of the Chief Regional Officer of the biggest region in the country.
I will say one other thing in evidence of the argument I am now advancing in the hope of getting the right hon. and learned Gentleman off this point once and for all. Mr. David Lamb, a past President of the Institute of Transport, a figure well known to the transport world, who occupies a central position as the editor of "Modern Transport," a well-known transport paper, was at the beginning of nationalisation writing scathing articles about the set-up of the Executives and the Chief Regional Officers. I am sure the hon. Member for Monmouth remembers that. I had a conversation with this gentleman yesterday. He told me he had changed his mind. In his view, having seen the system in operation for three years, he believed—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but do they not want to know that the system is working well? This gentleman believes that the relationship between the Executives and the Chief Regional Officers is the best
§ that could be devised, and he has changed his opinion from the days when he was writing his powerful editorials denouncing the Government's scheme. That seems to me to be an important piece of evidence.
§ I have only three minutes left in which to deal with a number of questions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked when those who have now got road permits which might be taken from them will be notified. I understand that they will be informed of the position by the end of October; that is to say, within 14 days or so from now. It is the intention of the Executive to tell them as quickly as possible.
§ In conclusion, may I say that I left transport nine months ago. I went out more convinced that. I was when I took up office that the proposal to integrate road and rail and our plans for nationalisation had been absolutely well founded. I do not believe that the transport system of this country today would have been nearly as efficient as it is had the railways been left to flounder in the financial mess they would undoubtedly have got into if they had not been able to rely upon the whole resources of the Commission. I am quite certain that the very difficult operation which the Commission are undertaking—and undertaking well, in my view—will come to fruition. It will be a long job. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about that. During the Debates on the Nationalisation Bill he said it would take 10 years. So did Sir John Anderson. Sir John Anderson, I am glad to see, has now parted company with his right hon. Friends. Sir John Anderson says he thinks that the case for nationalisation has been made out. I am very glad that there is one sinner come to judgment and I hope that we shall see the right hon. and learned Gentleman joining him before long.
§ Question put. "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 284; Noes, 296.2173
|Division No. 65.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Baker, P||Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Baldock, J. M.||Bennett, W. G. (Woodside)|
|Amery, J. (Preston, N.)||Baldwin. A. E.||Bevins, J. R (Liverpool Toxteth)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Banks, Col. C||Birch, Nigel|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Baxter, A. B.||Bishop, F. P|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Black, C. W|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Bell, R. M.||Boles, Lt.-Col D. C (Wells)|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Boothby, R|
|Bossom, A. C.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Nutting, Anthony|
|Bower, N.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W||Oakshott, H. D|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A||Higgs, J. M C.||Odey, G. W.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H|
|Braine, B||Hill, Dr C. (Luton)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon W. D|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr J G||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Orr-Capt. L. P. S|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col W||Hirst, Geoffrey||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Hollis, M. C.||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mate)|
|Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Osborne, C.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T||Hope, Lord J.||Peake, Rt Hon. O|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E||Horsbrugh, Miss F||Peto, Brig. C. H M|
|Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A||Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Butcher, H W.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Carr, L. R. (Mitcham)||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Price, H. A. (Lewisham. W.)|
|Carson, Hon. E.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O|
|Channon, H||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N J.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Hurd, A. R.||Raikes, H. V.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Rayner, Brig. R|
|Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth, W.)||Hyde, H. M.||Redmayne, M.|
|Clyde, J. L.||Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Remnant, Hon. P|
|Colegate, A.||Jeffreys, General Sir G||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Conant, Maj. R J. E||Jennings, R.||Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)|
|Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Johnson, Howard S. (Kemptown)||Robertson, Sir D. (Caithness)|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Robinson, J. Roland (Blackpool, S)|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Robson-Brown, W. (Esher)|
|Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Kaberry, D.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Keeling, E. H.||Roper, Sir H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Ropner, Col L|
|Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O E||Lambert, Hon. G.||Russell, R. S.|
|Crouch, R. F.||Lancaster, Col. C. G||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Crowdar, F P. (Ruislip—Northwood)||Langford-Holt, J.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Crowder, Capt. John F E. (Finchley)||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K||Savory, Prof. D L.|
|Cundiff, F W||Leather, E. H. C.||Scott, Donald|
|[...], W. N.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H||Shepherd, W. S (Cheadle)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y. (Edinburgh, S.)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lindsay, Martin||Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Linstead, H. N.||Smithers, Peter H B (Winchester)|
|de Chair, S.||Llewellyn, D.||Smilhers, Sir W. (Orpington)|
|De la Bère, R||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Deedes. W. F||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Donner, P. W.||Longden, G. J. M. (Herts. S. W.)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M||Low, A. R. W.||Spens, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lucas, Major Sir J. (Portsmouth, S)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. R. (N. Fylde)|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T, (Richmond)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H||Steward. W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E-)|
|Duthie W. S||McAdden, S. J.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Eccles, D. M||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Storey, S.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon A||Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon Walter||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J (Moray)|
|Erroll, F. J.||McKibbin, A.||Studholme, H. G.|
|Fisher, Nigel||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Summers, G. S|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fort, R.||MacLeod, lain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Foster, J. G.||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Teeling, William|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thompson, K. P. (Walton)|
|Gage, C. H.||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Marlowe, A. A. H||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Galbraith, T. G. D (Hillhead)||Marples, A. E||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Gammans, L. D.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Thorp, Brigadier R A F|
|Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Tilney, John|
|Gates, Maj. E E||Maude, A. E. U, (Ealing, S.)||Touche, G. C.|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Maude, J. C. (Exeter)||Turton, R. H.|
|Gridley, Sir A||Maudling, R.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Grimston, Hon. J (St. Albans)||Medlicott, Brigadier F||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Mellor, Sir J.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Harden, J R. E.||Molson, A. H. E.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Wakefield, E. B (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Morris, R. Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Wakefield, Sir W. W. (St. Marylebone)|
|Harris, R. R. (Heston)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Ward, Hon. G R. (Worcester)|
|Harvey, lan (Harrow, E.)||Nabarro, G.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Hay, John||Nicholls, H.||Waterhouse, Capt C|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Nicholson, G.||Watkinson, H.|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col Rt. Hon Sir C.||Nield, B. (Chester)||Webbe, Sir H. (London)|
|Heald, L F.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||White, J. Baker (Canterbury)|
|Heath, Edward||Nugent, G. R. H.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)||York, C|
|Williams, Sir H. G (Croydon, E.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Wills, G||Wood, Hon. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Drewe and Brigadier Mackeson.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Adams, Richard||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lever, N. H. (Cheetham)|
|Albu, A. H.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham. N.)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Ewart, R.||Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Fairhurst, F.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Fernyhough, E.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Field, Capt. W. J||Logan, D. G.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Finch, H. J.||Longden, F. (Small Heath)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||McAllister, G|
|Ayles, W. H||Follick, M.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Bacon, Miss A||Foot, M. M.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Baird, J.||Forman, J. C.||McGovern, J|
|Balfour, A.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Melones, J.|
|Bernes, Rt Hon. A J||Freeman, J. (Watford)||Mack, J. D.|
|Bellenger, Rt Hon. F. J||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Benson, G||Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Mackay, R. W. G. (Reading, N.)|
|Beswick, F.||Gibson, C. W||McLeavy, F.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon A. (Ebbw Vale)||Gilzean, A||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Woolwich, E.)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Gooch, E. G.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Greenwood, Anthony W. J. (Rossendale)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Board man, R||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Booth, A.||Grenfell, D. R.||Manuel, A C.|
|Bottomley, A. G||Grey, C. F.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A|
|Bowden, H. W.||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Mathers, Rt Hon. George|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||Messer, F.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Gunter, R. J||Middleton, Mrs. L|
|Brook. D. (Halifax)||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mikardo, lan|
|Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Hale, J. (Rochdale)||Mitchison, G. R|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Moeran, E W|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||Monslow, W.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hall, Rt. Hn. W. Glenvil (Colne V'll'y)||Moody, A. S|
|Burke, W. A.||Hamilton, W. W.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Hardman, D. R.||Morley, R.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hardy, E. A.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)|
|Callaghan, James||Hargreaves, A.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)|
|Carmichael, James||Harrison, J.||Mort, D. L.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Moyle, A.|
|Champion, A. J.||Hayman, F. H.||Mulley, F. W|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Murray, J. D|
|Clunie, J.||Herbison, Miss M.||Nally, W.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hewitson, Capt. M||Neal, H.|
|Coldrick, W.||Hobson, C. R.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J|
|Collick, P.||Holman, P.||O'Brien, T.|
|Collindridge, F||Holmes, H E. (Hemsworth)||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Cook, T. F.||Houghton, Douglas||Oliver, G. H.|
|Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Hoy, J.||Orbach, M.|
|Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Hubbard, T.||Padley, W. E|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Paget, R. T.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'Ily)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Crawley, A.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Pannell, T. C.|
|Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Parker, J.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Paton, J.|
|Daines, P.||Isaacs, Rt Hon. G. A.||Pearson, A|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Janner, B||Pearl, T. F|
|Darling, G. (Hillsboro')||Jay, D. P. T.||Poole, Cecil|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Jeger, G. (Goole)||Popplewell, E|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.)||Porter, G.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jenkins, R. H.||Proctor, W. T|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Pryde, D. J|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Pursey, Comdr. H|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Rankin, J.|
|Deer, G.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Rees, Mrs. D.|
|Delargy, H. J||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Diamond, J.||Keenan, W.||Reid, W. (Camlachie)|
|Dodds, N. N||Kenyon, C||Rhodes, H.|
|Donnelly, D.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Richards, R.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich)||King, H. M.||Robens, A.|
|Dye, S.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Roberts, Goronwy Caernarvonshire)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Kinley, J.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Edelman, M.||Kirkwood, Rt. Hon D||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Paneras, N.)|
|Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Lang, Rev. G.||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Lee, F. (Newton)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Shackletm, E. A. A.|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E)|
|Shinwell, Rt Hon. E||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Shurmer, P L. E.||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)||Wigg, George|
|Silverman, J (Erdington)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Silverman, S. S (Nelson)||Thurtle, Ernest||Wilkes, L|
|Simmons, C. J||Timmons, J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Slater, J.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Tomney, F.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Turner-Samuels, M||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Snow, J. W||Ungoed-Thomas, A. L||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Sorensen, R. W||Usborne, Henry||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Sparks, J. A.||Vernon, Maj. W. F||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Viant, S P||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H (Huyton)|
|Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R||Wallace, H. W||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon J.||Watkins, T. E.||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)|
|Strauss, Rt. Hon G. R. (Vauxhall)||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford. C.)||Woods, Rev. G. S|
|Stross, Dr. B.||Weitzman, D.||Wyatt, W. L|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon Edith||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)||Vates, V. F|
|Sylvester, G. O||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)||West, D. G.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)||Mr. Hannon and Mr. Royle.|
|Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||White. Mrs. E (E Flint)|
Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Second Annual Report, Statement of Accounts and Statistics of the British Transport Commission for 1949.