HC Deb 24 October 1950 vol 478 cc2755-8

6.20 p.m.

Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, for taking this subject on the Motion for the Adjournment at about three minutes' notice.

What I want to raise is the question of the booking of first and third class sleepers by the general travelling public. I read with interest the second Annual Report of the British Transport Commission, but in that Report I found very little mention of sleepers, though it stated that, during the summer, the demand for first and third class sleeping compartments exceeds the supply and in winter there is some increase in the number of sleepers available.

I should like to give an idea of what has to be done by the general travelling public in order to get a sleeper. About two months before one wants to make a booking, one has to ring up or go round to a railway station and ask whether one may have a sleeper for something like two months ahead. One's name is then put on a waiting list. If the application has been made by post, the applicant receives a very courteous card stating that his name has been placed on the waiting list. Week after week, one telephones and inquires how one is situated on the waiting list, and one is told that one is tenth, eighth or whatever it is on the list until the great day arrives.

From my investigations, it is necessary to write or to ring up something like two months ahead, and sometimes one is told about a week before the time of travelling—and this applies in London especially—that the accommodation is available. If only six weeks' notice has been given, it is very often the case that not until four o'clock on the day on which it is intended to travel is the applicant definitely informed that a sleeper is available. It is, therefore, almost unsafe today for the general travelling public to make business appointments at short notice or for people to arrange their holidays, because they have to be worried for many weeks, and quite unnecessarily, about whether they will be able to take their accommodation on the day of travel. This is, of course, a constant worry to many people using the railways today.

I have made every investigation into this situation, and the Minister is aware of this, because he has seen me once about it already. The other day, travelling to Glasgow, I thought I would not examine the position from the experiences of my own friends and business associates solely, but that I would walk down the train to the sleeper compartments and ask people whom I did not know what was their experience. I can assure the Minister that all the people occupying sleeper compartments to whom I spoke stated that the situation is as I have described it in general terms. I asked one man why it was, and I will quote his actual words. He said, "I know what is wrong; it's those bloody M.P.s." It is not, however, only Members of Parliament who are responsible, I know, but we must agree that this is a very serious problem indeed for very many of the travelling public, and I raise it in no spirit of levity.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I understood the hon. Gentleman to use a word which should not be used here. He must withdraw it.

Mr. Browne

Yes, but Mr. Speaker, in his Ruling of 10th May, said that if the word was used in a quotation, it was in order, and I was only giving a quotation of what a gentleman said to me.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I remember that Ruling, but I think we should use it with caution; otherwise, we may be saying all sorts of things about people.

Mr. Browne

I apologise for using the word, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I should like to ask the Minister of Transport if he will ask the Railway Executive to make arrangements so that those who apply for a sleeper may be told immediately, either that they have secured a booking or that they have not, or alternatively that if they like to wait until all the priorities have been taken up, they can then take their chance. I cannot see why people who take up sleeper accommodation should not be made to pay for it, and that seems to me to be one solution. It should be possible by such a system to ensure that applicants are told immediately that a sleeper is available for them for a journey. I also ask the Minister to examine all the priorities, as well as the number of them, in order to see exactly what can be done to provide extra accommodation. Finally, I thank him very much for waiting here this evening to hear what I had to say.

6.25 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)

I understand that I can only speak again with the leave of the House, and I only wish to do so for the purpose of assuring the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Browne) that I will read very carefully the report of what he has said this evening. As he has already indicated, we have had discussions on this matter, and I am familiar with the problem. The hon. Gentleman has been dealing with a particularly heavy route—that to Scotland. There is the problem of rolling stock and other facilities, but, so far as the administration of the booking system is concerned, I want to convey to him that it is under my examination and that I hope soon that we may have an easement of the situation, if not a solution.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes past Six o'Clock.