§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I feel that it would meet with the general approval of the House if we used the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill as an opportunity to discuss some of the problems of the transport industry. We have as a background to our debate the Third Report of the British Transport Commission. It contains a mass of detail and factual information of immense benefit to all of us who are concerned and interested in this aspect of our affairs.
A debate of this nature is ill-suited to a Division. At any rate, I do not think we shall divide against the Bill, and that will give an opportunity to Members in all quarters of the House to say what they think without fear or favour, and no one need be anxious about going into the Division Lobby at the end in a manner perhaps a little inconsistent with his arguments.
The Report of the Transport Commission covers a vast range of subjects, almost too vast for any one debate. I wish to devote myself to the big issue of principle concerning the relationship between road and rail transport and the very practical and urgent problem of how the transport industry is to get through next winter. At the same time I think I might be failing in my duty if I did not say something about some of the other principal activities of the British Transport Commission. I propose to leave the question of London, which is an enormous subject on its own, to one of my hon. Friends.
I want to start by saying a few words about the dock industry and the work of the Docks Executive. The docks are the arteries of British commerce, and on the proper use of mechanical appliances in the docks and the labour relations depends the industrial prosperity of the docks, which all of us have at heart. I found the Report of the Docks Executive 1188 the least informative part of the whole Report. They do say that they are satisfied that there is a good rate of output, but such short experience as I have had of the transport industry has taught me that it is unwise to generalise about it, and it is most unwise of all to generalise about the docks. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, or the President of the Board of Trade or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is really satisfied with the rate of output of British docks and harbours at the present time. At any rate, if they are, we are entitled to many more facts and figures than are presented to us in the Report.
I gather that the Docks Executive have visited London, Liverpool, Manchester and Bristol. It is said that they have obtained much valuable and detailed information and that they have made reports to the Commission. The first question that I would ask the right hon. Gentleman is: can we have those reports, too? They should be made available to those of us in this House who make a special study of this subject. It is true, too, that a good deal of the time during 1950 was spent in pursuing the argument as to who should be responsible for providing dock facilities. Various schemes were put forward under Section 66 for the Hartlepools and Aberdeen.
Might I, with some diffidence, offer this advice to the House? If we spent less time arguing about what I regard as the rather academic question of who should be responsible for providing dock facilities, and concentrated more time on trying to improve the port facilities, took steps to improve labour relations, and saw that the mechanical devices now available were worked to the full, we should be doing a better service to the dock industry and to the industry of this country generally.
We have also had presented to us the very valuable report of Sir Frederick Leggett, which still waits an announcement from His Majesty's Government of their attitude on the matter. There was in a few pages of that report more of the real stuff of what is needed about the real problem which has to be dealt with, than in all of the pages of these rather long and academic arguments.
So far as we are concerned, we propose to have—unless the right hon. Gentleman will do it first—an inquiry of that character covering a wider field than London. 1189 So far as the Docks Executive are concerned, we cannot really see that it serves any useful purpose to carve out and centralise this one particular function of transport. It seems contrary not only to good sense but even to the policy of integration, the merits of which the right hon. Gentleman has so constantly urged from the Box opposite. For our part, we intend to wind up the Docks Executive as soon as we have an opportunity of doing so.
I now pass to the Road Passenger Executive. The Docks Executive, with all its limitations, is a serious body seeking to do a serious job, but the Road Passenger Executive is a purely frivolous assembly. It has no executive functions whatsoever. It merely costs £25,000, which is four times what it cost in 1949. If it has a task, it is supposed to be what is called "a planning or scheming body." It is said here that it is supposed to report on the best acquisition procedure. Fortunately, none of its schemes has so far been accepted. I say, "fortunately," because it is an open and acknowledged policy of the British Transport Commission to put up the bus fares in this country as soon as it can lay its hand on the buses. That has been stated by the representatives of the Commission.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have no doubt that private enterprise bus fares have been put up. but not as a deliberate policy in order to subsidise something else, which is the acknowledged procedure of the British Transport Commission. If by -any chance these schemes did come to fruition and municipal bus companies were seized from the great cities of this country, we intend to return them to municipal ownership.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Would the Opposition return the buses to the Liverpool Corporation? [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not catch what I said.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No, I did not. The hon. Gentleman can tell me afterwards. So far, the Road Passenger Executive has had no particular impact upon British travel whatsoever. We are told in the Report that the Executive are keeping in 1190 touch with events abroad, particularly in France. I have no objection to anybody keeping in touch with events in France. I hope to do the same myself in two weeks' time. We have reached the point when this idyllic existence of the Road Passenger Executive must cease. This body must follow the Docks Executive into the limbo of forgotten things.
I turn to the Hotels Executive. Some hon. Members may not have got as far as the Hotels Executive. I did, but not without difficulty. I see in the opening paragraph that this Executive proudly announce that they have opened the first nine holes of the Ailsa golf course. Apart from that, I find the extraordinary truism that the re-opening of a number of hotels has increased the revenue of the Executive. How on earth could it have done anything else? I do not find very much beyond that. The Report contains the usual, no doubt well-founded, charges against the Government's treatment of the hotel industry generally, connected with the Catering Wages Act and all that.
Then, finally, Lord Hurcomb says that the position in which the Commission's enterprises find themselves is not singular. I do not know what he regards as "singular." It may be that he cannot think in less than millions. The fact is that the Hotels Executive turned a deficit in 1949 of no less than £47,000—I mean before they had paid a penny in interest—into a deficit in 1950 of £190,000. They did not have any trouble about putting charges up if they had wanted to increase them. I should have thought that that was a fairly singular achievement. Any private body which set about its job in that way would be in the Bankruptcy Court by now. I think it is a remarkable achievement that this Executive have kept out.
This Hotels Executive cost £166,000. I have dealt with three Executives, and I hope I have disposed of them satisfactorily. They represent half a million pounds' worth of "top hamper" on the transport industry. I think it is a good thing that we should clear them out of the way. That is what we intend to do. I have not yet mentioned the Transport Commission itself, not because I think it should be ignored but because I wish to deal with its policy presently. There is a good deal of pruning to be done there.
1191 I see from the Report that the Commission have 38 persons engaged on public relations and only 13 engaged on research. That seems a rather remarkable contrast. If the Commission had a rather better story to tell, they might require fewer people that try to tell it. However, I will leave them for the present and I will turn—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh."]—there is a lot more I could say about it—to my central theme, which will probably form the central theme of the debate, the very much more formidable problem of the embargoes which have had to be imposed in the early months of this year, the dangers of the coming winter, the substantial losses which have been incurred by the British Transport Commission and the whole question of the collapse of the road-and-rail charges scheme.
The financial side is serious. I propose to deal with it, but what is equally serious is the increasing difficulty in which the Transport Commission find themselves on the operational side. Their primary job, after all, is to accept, carry and deliver traffics, and the real tragedy is not simply that they are losing money but that they are refusing goods and losing money at the same time. For a period which stretched well into the summer, there were widespread embargoes which affected the export drive, re-armament and the whole trade and commerce of this country, piled up goods in factories, slowed production and caused every kind of frustration throughout the whole economic system.
I agree wholeheartedly with a speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), the other evening in which he dealt admirably with the subject. This is much more than a matter of day-to-day administration. It is something which goes to the root of our transport policy. It is also much more than the question of the summer services. I shall not tease the Minister about the summer services, but I always regarded Messrs. Biff and Buff as ridiculous characters. When they were put forward to apologise for the cutting off of the first half of the summer services, they were pathetic, and I hope that they have been withdrawn before they have to apologise for the cutting off of the second half of the summer services as well.
1192 This matter affects the whole of the freight traffic. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that on 19th and 20th June no fewer than 254 freight trains had to be cancelled. That was in mid-summer, and if we get into that condition in midsummer one has to think carefully about the sort of situation in which we may find ourselves when the winter comes along. All of us ought to consider what ought to be done next winter. I hope the Minister will make a full and frank statement today about his appreciation of the position.
There is one thing that I hope he will not do, and that is trot out the efficiency figures of the British Transport Commission and the railways. I shall not take up time in dealing with those figures now. I could do so. I believe that the statisticians have set out to prove much too much. Accepting all the technical efficiency that we have—I give British railways credit for very high efficiency—it did not prevent a breakdown in the early months of 1951, and unless something is done about it, it will not prevent a breakdown in the winter of 1951–52.
§ Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
All who are associated with the transport industry are conscious of this. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us the positive measures he would employ to deal with it?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have only just started. I shall disappoint the hon. Gentleman if he thinks I am approaching my peroration. As the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, said the other evening, the key to the problem is manpower. One or two difficult questions have to be asked and answered about manpower. The railways are short of certain grades of men in certain vital places, and we have to face that problem. I want to ask some questions of the Minister.
First, are we making the maximum use of the men who are already in the railway industry? I know that raises controversial issues, such as lodging turns and overtime work. Those issues were raised when the railway wage settlement was made a considerable time ago and they were remitted by the Government to the industry to discuss and to try to work out a solution. I am not saying 1193 that efforts have not been made on both sides to work out a solution. Some of the statements I have read from speeches by Mr. Franklin lately seem to me to be both wise and courageous, but I do not think that anything has really been done about the matter. At any rate it has not been brought to my notice that anything has yet been done. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some information upon that subject, and I hope that hon. Members opposite, many of whom are very well qualified to speak on the subject, will have an opportunity of doing so in the course of the debate.
Second, there is the question of the call-up. I have read the statement on the subject made by the right hon. Gentleman and also the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. I thought the right hon. Gentleman was a little more optimistic than the Ministry of Labour about something being done on that matter. I do not think anybody could possibly ask for the overall exemption of all railwaymen from call-up—I do not think anybody on any side of the House of Commons would ask for that—but if the presence of certain key men in vital spots next winter will make the difference between the British Railways having endless hold-ups or otherwise, it would be a major blunder if something were not done about it—and done about it soon.
No doubt there are many decisions which will have to await the autumn but this is not one of them. We have to take that decision quickly if it is to be effective. It is no good waiting until the emergency is upon us and then trying to solve something very quickly. That is no way to deal with it. A decision upon that matter has to be made. I know that it affects defence policy generally, I know that it affects other industries besides transport, and I know, probably not all the difficulties, but most is no way to deal with it. A decision on the topic must be made. If it is not made and something goes wrong, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that he and the Government have received ample warning from both sides of the House of Commons.
Another matter on the operational side is coal. Whether we import American coal or not will make the whole difference to our transportation problems. It 1194 is not the responsibility directly of the right hon. Gentleman but he knows the transport difficulties of this age. If the Government are going to import American coal, they had much better import it now. It is no good putting an additional traffic upon a system which is on the verge of breaking down at the moment when it is on its peak loads. That would be a crazy way of doing it. This is another decision which cannot await the autumn. I hope that on both these matters the right hon. Gentleman will impress on his colleagues, as hon. Members opposite have sought to impress on him—I give them full credit for that—the urgency of a decision on these matters. So much for the operational side. I put it first because I think it is the most urgent.
I now come to the question of finance. The Transport Commission now have an accumulated loss of £40 million, which is a very great deal of money. We must all direct our minds to what can be done to stop that continuing drain. There is one suggestion not contained in the Report which is widely canvassed in the country, namely, that we should solve the problem somehow by fiddling with the interest rates on British Transport Stock.
I do not know whether anybody in the House is prepared to defend that argument. I imagine not, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will use their best endeavours in all the various spheres in which they exercise their influence to see that that argument is not advanced. I shall not meet it now; hon. Members opposite can meet it, for they know just as well as I do what nonsense it is. It serves rather to blur the issue and distract our minds from the real difficulties and dangers to which we must direct our minds.
I turn, therefore, to Lord Hurcomb's solution, which at any rate has the merit of simplicity. He says that, in a rapidly changing world, we cannot keep pace with all these price increases. The remedy, he says, is for British Railways to be able to adjust their charges as quickly as prices are rising round them. But he produces a formidable list of difficulties with which he has to contend.
One of the difficulties is the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Hurcomb finds it awfully difficult to keep pace with him. Chancellors have taken out of this industry in the last three years £9 million in fuel tax—that is a 1195 quarter of the total accumulated loss. It is a formidable sum and it does not seem to be quite in keeping with everything that the Chancellor is saying these days. If there is one way of forcing up charges in this country, it is to increase the financial difficulties of this great industry.
However, Lord Hurcomb says that on this and other matters we must have greater flexibility and greater freedom—we have to put up the charges faster—the trouble is due to all the delays. Well, he has done pretty well; he cannot complain. He has increased the freight charges by 28 per cent., and the passenger fares are going up; there is an inquiry going on; the London fares are going up and, in regard to the road industry, he has had a free market there. Without let or hindrance he has put on increases of 60 and 100 per cent. but "Faster! Faster!" he always cries.
Whenever I look at the present head of the British Transport Commission—for whom I have a great affection even if I am not entirely in agreement with his policy—I am reminded irresistibly of Tenniel's delightful drawings of the Red Queen in "Alice Through the Looking Glass." Readers of that book will remember the incident where the Red Queen takes Alice by the hand and they tear through the countryside with the Red Queen saying, "Faster! Faster!" Eventually they come to a standstill, and Alice finds herself sitting under the same tree from which she started. She says, "It is curious. In my country, if you run very fast for a long time, you generally get somewhere." "Oh," says the Red Queen, "what a slow sort of country. Here it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place."
I find that Lord Hurcomb has more resemblance to the Red Queen than merely a facial one. However fast he puts up the charges, he always ends in roughly the same position—losing the public money at somewhere between £25 and £50 a minute. But let me say to the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness that we would hesitate a long time before we were prepared to grant to the British Transport Commission, in the exercise of its vast monopoly powers, greater freedom and flexibility in the putting up of charges.
1196 It is amazing what monopolies can do. I have many examples but I will give just one. It was given to me yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) and it concerns fishermen in the North of Scotland. I choose it because I suppose that no class of person has been harder hit than the fishermen in the North of Scotland by increases in freight charges in recent months. An enterprising firm up there hit upon the idea of shipping lobsters to the South after taking off the shells up North and turning them into fish meal. It was obviously lighter to shift the meat to the South without the heavy shell. That sort of thing can make all the difference between employment and unemployment in the North of Scotland.
The day before yesterday my hon. Friend got a telegram saying that after three years trading the railway companies had decided to alter the category of Sinclair Fisheries goods from fish traffic to that of delicatessen, thereby altering the rates from an average price of 13s. per cwt. to 31s. 4d. per cwt., both in the company's risk; and that the increased price was an increased levy of £1,200 per annum, which simply killed this business.
That is the sort of thing which a monopoly can do. It is the sort of thing which anybody in competition would not dare do for a single instant. I hope very much that we can get this put right. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with it today, but to look into it. However, I say that it would be wrong if we were to accept flexibility and freedom in charging policy by some body which has such absolute control as the railways have at the present time over long-distance transport.
Our answer on that matter is plain. As long as the right hon. Gentleman has a monopoly and claims a monopoly, so long he must have the controls which go with a monopoly. Let him abandon that monopoly in some degree, as we have often invited him to do and then, and then only, are we prepared on this side of the House to concede the freedom and the flexibility which would undoubtedly be of great advantage to the transport industry.
The truth is that the whole basis upon which the Transport Act, 1947, was framed has now broken down and has been abandoned. Under the Transport 1197 Act the road-rail charges scheme was to be drawn up within two years. That charges scheme was to be alike the major weapon of integration and the major safe- guard for the consumer. That was the basis of the Act. There were many arguments about it, there were many speeches made about it, pamphlets were written on the principles upon which a charges scheme ought to be drawn up, and others about how the industry could be integrated. It was said to be "vital," "urgent," "supremely necessary"—I quote from various speeches I have read upon the subject. But nothing happened and, at the end of that two years, a further two years were granted. The further two years expire on 6th August next, and it is now 31st July.
What has happened to that charges scheme? I will tell the right hon. Gentle- man, although I expect he has been told already. It is dead. It will never see the light of day. As a matter of fact, the cat was let half out of the bag in the Report on page 26, as follows:… it is improbable that any such scheme can at present lay down a detailed basis for road haulage. …The only things wrong with that sentence are the words "improbable," "present," and "detailed." The truth is, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it perfectly well, that they have dropped the road-rail charges scheme. I have no doubt it is the course which the right hon. Gentleman will adopt this afternoon, because it is the practice of the House of Commons to announce publicly that a scheme has gone so that we can all turn our minds to what can be put in its place.
I invite the attention of the House to the situation which this has created. Let us contemplate it, for example, in the case of the British Road Services, who hold today a monopoly of all long-distance road haulage in this country. What a tragedy that industry is! They took over hundreds of profitable firms against the wishes of the men who were running them, running them with profit to themselves and service to the community. They turned those profitable businesses into a vast concern which last year lost £1 million of public money before they had paid one penny piece in interest on the assets they had filched. That is the position.
The basis of that acquisition was that a charges scheme should be put up. But 1198 there is to be no charges scheme, and what Lord Hurcomb and the British Transport Commission are claiming in this Report—I hope the Minister will not claim it—is that they should seek to recoup those losses by an unlimited right to raise charges against the consumer. The sky's the limit. To be able to discriminate between one business or industry and another business or industry is a flagrant abuse of monopoly power.
With all the propaganda that they have put out about monopoly, I cannot conceive that the party opposite will support a solution of that kind. Would they dare to come here and say, "Well, we thought we would have some checks to this monopoly but we now find it is too difficult to have them, so we want the monopoly without the checks." If they say that, it will put paid to a good deal of their party propaganda in the country.
I say, in conclusion, that the right hon. Gentleman has a formidable case to answer. He has to do more this time than just explain the accumulated losses of the British Transport Commission, serious as they are. He has to deal with the very real danger of a transport breakdown in the coming winter, a danger which will become an eventuality unless some action is taken within the next few weeks. He has to deal with the situation in which the whole basis of the policy hitherto pursued by the British Transport Commission has been found wanting and is now openly abandoned by the men who put it up.
Our policy upon this is quite plain, and I shall state it now, quite shortly. We intend, to start with, to abolish the ridiculous restriction of a 25 miles' limit upon the private road haulier. At a time when this country is short of transport, there could be no more idiotic solution than to impose a 25 miles' limit upon the road haulier. We are not suffering from too much transport. Next winter we may be desperately suffering from too little transport, and I beg the right hon. Gentleman and his associates to stop trying to legislate for some situation which may have existed in 1932 but certainly will not exist in 1952.
We propose also to give an opportunity to those who have been driven out of the business to come back into that business. We propose to re-organise publicly-owned transport—the railways, 1199 publicly-owned road haulage, and the canals—in regional boards of a size at which there is some possibility of finding some body big enough to run them. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that one of the biggest dangers into which the party opposite are running is in over-rating the number of men they have, or who are available, anywhere who can run the mammoth-sized industries which they set up.
We propose to wind up the functional executives because in the system which we propose to set up we can see no very useful purpose which they would serve. In that more competitive atmosphere, we propose to give to the railway companies a much greater degree of flexibility and freedom, a degree of flexibility and freedom which is tolerable in circumstances Of some competition but utterly intolerable in circumstances of monopoly.
The right hon. Gentleman may agree or disagree with that policy, and he will have an opportunity of saying so tonight, but there is one thing on which hon. Members on all sides ought to agree: the present policy has failed. It has finished. It has been abandoned by the very men who put it up. It is for the right hon. Gentleman either to step in and produce a policy of his own, or to step out and give us a chance.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
I listened with the greatest possible care to the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), and it surprises me that in the Report, a formidable document of 446 pages, he has been unable to find a single redeeming feature. The Report is more courageous than its predecessors and a little firmer in tone. Successful features of the year's working are modestly recorded and the difficulties that have to be overcome are made perfectly plain. But many of the difficulties are the responsibilities of Parliament, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will secure the assent of the House to any proposal he may make to facilitate the work of the Commission.
The Editor of "Modern Transport" rendered the Railway Executive a great service in publishing in booklet form a series of articles written by members of 1200 the Railway Executive describing their activities and the task they are attempting. Hon. Members will no doubt have seen these articles, but if not, I hope they will try to get copies, for they will be found very useful indeed.
An equally interesting, but more critical, article was published in "Progress," the official organ of Unilever, Limited. It was written, I gather, by Mr. A. G. Marsden, the transport adviser of that organisation. Mr. Marsden postulates the question: "Britain's transport—service or burden?"
I do not accept all his conclusions, but he is certainly right in his contention, which I pass to the hon. Member for Monmouth, when he says:We have emerged from the Railway age to the Transportation Age. I hold strongly the view that a first essential to any satisfactory progress in our transport affairs is to decide the position of railways in the new world.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Has this gentleman any relationship to driver Marsden, who was mentioned by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) in an earlier debate?
§ Mr. Morris
Mr. Marsden goes on to say:The processes of evolution apply as much to transport as to other forms of human activity, and so long as change is resisted so will a country be denied the full benefits which a flexible transport system, in all its forms. could and should provide.That seems to me to be a perfectly sound argument, and is the sole reason for the appointment of the British Transport Commission. It is the very task to which they are now applying themselves.
But what is hindering the Commission? Let us turn to paragraph 47 of the Report, which says:The Commission's transport system is practically alone among the industrial and commercial organisations of this country in that it has little latitude for increasing its own charges. The charges can normally be increased only as a result of public inquiries in the nature of litigation which may be prolonged far beyond the date when the need for increased charges becomes clear.Why maintain these restrictions in the field of transport? If the secret of success is free enterprise, why not give to the B.T.C. the freedom to regulate their charges like any other industry? The Railway Executive have to earn about £330 million per annum and to maintain 1201 a staff of 625,000. The deficit of 1950 might well have been avoided altogether had the adjustment in charges which was eventually made been authorised a little earlier. This is pointed out in paragraph 56 of the Report.
I now turn briefly to one or two of the observations by the hon. Member for Monmouth regarding charges. He suggested that the Railway Executive were asking for uncontrolled power and liberty to increase their charges in any manner they liked and to do so faster, faster and faster. But the request of the Commission in the Report is for a scheme of public control over the general levels of fares and charges which is both speedy and flexible in operation. Public control is what they ask for, and something which is speedier and more flexible of working. They ask also for the introduction of new bases of charges for transport services which will recognise this aspect over a wide field.
The speech of the hon. Member was more significant for what he left out than for what he put in. In a few eloquent words he dismissed the Docks Executive, the Road Passenger Executive, and the Hotels Executive, but he did not suggest what he would put in their place or how he would cater for any of those bodies. I presume, however, that the hon. Member agrees that these services must still be maintained. He ridiculed the road passenger service, but he did not say that the Road Passenger Executive had been obstructed on every hand by organised opposition and that their slowness was due to the over-generous terms of the 1947 Act.
Because the Government were so fair and so anxious to do justice to the road passenger transport owners throughout the country, they made provision for certain machinery through which appeals could be made. That provision, however, is being used as obstruction. In fact, threats have been made by privately-owned passenger companies that they will not only go the whole hog, but will do everything possible to prevent the law from being implemented for the benefit of the public.
A suggestion was made about the use of increased fares to subsidise other forms of transport services. I happen to be associated with some bus services in South Wales which were recently given power to increase their fares on the 1202 ground that things were getting so difficult. Shortly after the increase had been granted, a dividend was declared at 14 per cent. Is it right and proper that a 14 per cent. dividend should be declared at the expense of the travelling public? The transport service is a service and ought not to be used for merely speculative purposes.
The physical resources of the Railway Executive are so limited, due to the neglect of the war years and to difficulties of today, that it is absolutely impossible, unless the Government come to their aid, to cope with the increasing traffic that is the result of full employment. I can well recall the position in South Wales when it was a simple matter to move the traffic. The chimneys were smokeless and the people of South Wales were walking the streets living on unemployment pay. The Margam Steel Works, which now use 20,000 tons of coal per week, were unheard of in those days. Now, because of the Government's full employment policy and because of the increase in trading activity throughout the country, the railways are being asked to cope with increased traffic, but without the necessary facilities and great resources they require.
In view of the fact that many hon. Members also wish to speak, I shall confine myself to the four suggestions made by the Commission. There isthe provision of adequate resources, financial and physical, to replace and re-equip and remodel the transport system; a greater willingness to accept changes, whether in conditions of work or in types of service or in proposals to integrate the Commission's services and to avoid costly delay in action on each proposal for re-organization.That is a suggestion which must be applied to both employer and employee and to the Commission as a whole. The third suggestion is a system of public controlwhich is both speedy and flexible in operation.Finally, there isthe introduction of new bases of charge for transport services which will recognize that over a wide field the Commission's services are not a monopoly and that the ordinary principles of competitive business must therefore be allowed a greater place in the fixing of charges in detail.If those principles are adopted, the work of the Commission will be facilitated very much and it will enable us to get a better transport system throughout the country.
1203 There are two other points to which I wish to refer. The first is that the Commission have suggested a superannuation scheme for the salaried grades. Quite frankly, that scheme, as now framed, is quite unacceptable. It imposes too great a penalty upon the employee and makes us wonder why facilities comparable to those given by the coal, electricity and gas boards are not available to the employees of the transport service. We want to make it abundantly clear that unless some improvement is made we shall have to take steps to get a better scheme altogether.
The second point is that much of the trouble on the railways is due to two factors, shortage of manpower—deferment from call-up will be dealt with by other hon. Members—and, secondly—even the Report indicates this—the reluctance to give railway employees and transport employees generally proper rates of wages and salaries. The Report indicates that they come at the end of the queue on nearly every occasion. It is pointed out that there have been increases in almost every other form of industry preceding those given to the railwaymen. Railwaymen are disgruntled and disappointed. They will not be content to remain at the end of the queue longer. They have revealed greater restraint than any other section of workers in industry and everyone recognises that, given improved conditions, they are a fine body of men who will redeem the transport service from the chaos in which it was left by private control.
I hope that subsequent speakers will deal with the history of financial chaos on the railways prior to nationalisation. After 40 years service, I can never remember when the railway system was not in grave financial difficulties. Over and over again the Government came to its help and the only provision possible was Government control. If these long-term policies are applied and the Executives are given a proper opportunity, we shall still have the greatest transport system in the world.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The, hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) started by referring to the contents and form of the Report and I wish to join with him in agreeing that the Report is highly informative. It is a very full 1204 Report. In spite of the fact that it is a very full Report, there are necessarily some matters about which we are left in doubt; and about that I do not complain, because I think that, even if the Report were twice as long, there would still of necessity be some matters which called for explanation. Perhaps where I might complain is that we do not have the opportunity of obtaining the full explanation when we need it.
I wish to deal with two other points mentioned by the hon. Member for Swansea, West. He referred to the shortage of manpower on the railways and to the results which full employment has had on railway traffic. We are all familiar with and deplore the tragedy of unemployment; but the Government, which the hon. Member supports, will have to be very careful or we shall have a further tragedy, which will be the tragedy of full employment instead of the tragedy of unemployment.
If these railway embargoes continue and become intensified, compared with the terrible state they were in from February to June this year, the economic system of this country and the feeding of our 50 million people will break down. It is as serious as that, in my opinion. So when the hon. Member glories in full employment, as we all do, we have to remember that it should be the duty of the Government to see that manpower is not wasted in any way over which the Government can exercise some supervision.
In relation to British transport, and more particularly the railways, there are some figures which are very appropriate to this part of the problem. In 1937 the locomotive crews of the railways amounted to 74,000 men. In 1948, the first year of nationalisation, they were well above that figure—98,000 men. Now they have gone down to 90,000 men, but that is still well in advance of the figure for 1937. In order to compare the figures for 1951 with the figures for 1937, we have to make certain allowances. We have to make allowances for holidays with pay and various factors of which the Minister has reminded us from time to time.
The Commission say that we require a lift of 12½ per cent. in order to take into account those changing conditions and, if we allow a further 3 per cent., because 1205 the figures are not precisely comparable, we find that the position is as follows. Taking into consideration the total comparison, so long as there are 15½ per cent. more in 1951 compared with 1937, then there should be enough locomotive crews to do the job. In fact, on the figures, comparing 74,000 men in locomotive crews in 1937 with 90,000 men in 1951, there is an increase of 22 per cent. In other words, the 1951 figure is 122 per cent. of the 1937 figure. So that rather than there being a shortage of locomotive men, which would cause the embargoes, what we must accept is that there is either a bad distribution of them or a bad utilisation of them, to use an ugly modern word.
§ Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he talks of train crews and give' figures. I am a little uncertain whether he is clear about the terms he is using when he mentions a figure of 79,000 crews. Perhaps he will explain more fully what he means.
§ Mr. Renton
These figures, so far as the recent figures are concerned, are taken from the Report; and I understand that they include engine drivers, firemen and train guards. That is the position. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge those figures and can give more precise figures, it is up to him to do so when he makes his speech, but those are the figures which I have extracted.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Gentleman shall have it in due course if he wishes. Of course, one does not take a note of every paragraph and every page from which one extracts information, but it shall be forthcoming if the hon. Gentleman wishes.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West, cannot explain away these embargoes by merely saying that they are the unfortunate results of a fortunate state of affairs, namely, full employment. It is a matter which we cannot complacently accept; and the Minister, as I maintain, speaking as the exponent of the Commission's policy and difficulties, must explain these matters to us.
1206 Another point raised by the hon. Member for Swansea, West, arises out of the Commission's desire to be able to increase their freight charges more quickly, and I presume also their other charges as well. Presumably the Minister does not agree with the Commission on that matter, because last year, when he was sent a recommendation by the Transport Tribunal that there should be certain substantial increases in freight charges, instead of granting those increases with the rapidity which the Commission obviously desired, the Minister oat on them for many months. I do not know what the Commission had to say about it; but it is quite clear that, if monopoly conditions are being granted, or if conditions which amount to a monopoly over three-quarters of the Commission's activities are granted, then there has to be full and adequate safeguard for the trading and travelling public.
It is quite ridiculous for the Commission to suggest that they should be allowed to meet the blind economic forces, to which Socialism is supposed to be impervious, by the way, that they should be allowed to counter the fiscal policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, by getting an increase in freight charges through some quick administrative process. If they do so, that will have the result of intensifying those blind economic forces and the mistakes of the Chancellor's fiscal policy.
I turn from the arguments of the hon. Member for Swansea, West, to make some further comments upon these matters. May I say, without disrespect to the Chair, that I am very glad to have caught your eye on this occasion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because, although I studied both the previous Reports very carefully indeed and attempted to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, along with many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I was unable to do so. But third time lucky! I would express regret that two hon. Members opposite, whose contributions are always heard with great interest, are not here on this occasion, and I am sure the House will join with me in expressing to them our hope for a quick recovery from their illnesses. I refer to the hon. Members for Perry Bar (Mr. Poole) and Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), both of whom have made useful and spirited contributions to transport debates in the past.
1207 With regard to Parliamentary control, these debates on the annual Reports are supposed to be an example of Parliament sitting as the grand inquisition of the Realm. It takes the place of the shareholders' meetings. We have a right to criticise and to inquire, and we have a right to answers to our questions. I do not make any complaint about our opportunity to criticise and inquire; but I feel bound to point out that these occasions have a serious limitation in the nature of things, for which the Minister is not to blame. After speeches from both sides of the House for something over five hours, after we have raised many serious points and expressed doubts about matters in the Report, the Minister will have only 30 minutes in which to reply: and it is impossible for him to do so.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
That does not mean that those comments are not studied subsequently and have their ultimate influence on policy.
§ Mr. Renton
That may very well be so. Those points may have their influence upon policy, and I think this year's Report is some indication of the fact that they do. I grant that. But at the same time, hon. Members opposite must make up their minds about this question of Parliamentary control. If it is to be just an opportunity for us to let off steam, so to speak, in the hope that somebody will absorb some of the steam and not get indigestion from it, then hon Members are entitled to be satisfied if they feel so. But that is not what we were given to hope when Parliament, governed by a large Socialist majority, thrust nationalisation upon us. One of the principal arguments—in fact, one might say the principal argument—in favour of nationalisation was that the whole of the transport industry would be subject to regular, thorough Parliamentary scrutiny and control: and we are not getting it.
With regard to Parliamentary Questions, which after all are possibly one of the best ways in which Parliament can serve a useful purpose in helping the country, I would refer to that part of the Report in which the Commission mention that Parliament sat for 27 weeks in 1950 and that during that time 77 Parliamentary Questions were answered. I consider that is a very poor average; 1208 77 Questions in 27 weeks is something like three Questions a week. Speaking for myself, there have been some weeks in which I have tried to put down more than three Questions myself and all of them have been rejected. I must not complain of the reasons why they have been rejected, but I suggest that it is for the House as a whole—this is not a party matter—to consider carefully whether we are given enough opportunity to use our democratic right to improve the affairs of this industry by means of Parliamentary Question and answer.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North) rose—
§ Mr. Renton
I have given way quite a lot, and this is the first opportunity I have had of speaking in these debates.
§ Mr. Hughes
Is not that argument a criticism of the Chair and of the Table, and not of the Minister or of the British Transport Commission?
§ Mr. Renton
No. I carefully covered myself by saying that I was not complaining of the fact that Questions had been refused. I say, with all respect, that Mr. Speaker and Mr. Deputy-Speaker are in the hands of the House. That is a well-known fact about our Parliamentary constitution.
It is for the House to consider whether or not the Minister of Transport is playing his full part in the democratic control of the transport industry. After all, his performance compares unfavourably with that of Ministers responsible for other nationalised industries, and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), will not dispute that. It may well be that this question of complete Parliamentary control is insoluble. It may well be that Members on both sides of the House would be so divided on this matter—for example, on the question whether a Select Committee should investigate the problem—that we should not get agreement about it.
I would, however, remind hon. Members once more that the essence of nationalisation should be, but has not so far been, democratic Parliamentary control. It is no use hon. Gentlemen saying that we are now getting more control than we used to have before nationalisation. That is just not so. I remember that, in the period between 1209 1945 and 1949, it was much easier to get a Question down to the same Minister of Transport about the railways than it is now.
§ Mr. Renton
The right hon. Gentleman says that it was too easy then. Perhaps he himself has had some part in our arriving at the peculiar state of affairs which we have now reached.
The Report shows, as we all know, that things are not well with the railways. The public want to know how much of the trouble is due to nationalisation; how much is due to the blind economic forces; how much is due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and how much is due to the failure of management. I dismiss the last possibility at once. I do not consider that the able men who are trying to run our transport industry are at fault. I lay the blame on the task which has been imposed upon them. I blame the system contrived by the Transport Act, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) mentioned, is rapidly showing itself to be one which is incapable of fulfilment.
That the blind economic forces, aided perhaps by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have made it difficult for the Commission, is pretty obvious. Undoubtedly the Commission are victims of inflation. But, bearing in mind the importance of the Commission and their services in our economic life, I do not think that the fact that they are victims of inflation entitles them to make the inflation even worse by immediately trying to counter it by increasing their charges.
The real trouble is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth pointed out in his brilliant speech, that integration is a failure. I agree that the railways would have had a difficult time even if there had been no nationalisation, but I cannot believe that conditions would have been quite as bad as they are. Opinions may differ on whether Socialism has made the conditions of the railways better or worse; but the point which I wish to stress is that Socialism has so far provided no solution whatever to those difficulties.
1210 Obviously something must be done. Freight embargoes will ruin this Kingdom. As for passenger services, they should be a valuable source of revenue. I should have thought that, in times of inflation, passenger services should, if anything, be a source of rising revenue. Passenger services are a necessity to the community—sometimes a pleasant necessity. But under nationalisation the passenger services are neither a source of revenue, nor are they even available to the extent that they were in the past and should be now.
From the public point of view it is most unfortunate that passenger services are regarded as a sort of public luxury which must be scaled down in times of economic difficulty. That, clearly, seems to be the attitude of the Commission. We must face the fact that in 1950 passenger train receipts were about £5,500,000 less than they were in the previous year, in spite of some increase in fares. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth pointed out last year that the railways had already priced themselves out of the market. That remains true. The average citizen, which the Minister once professed himself to be—before he became a Minister—just cannot afford the high fares, even though his income, as Socialists so often remind us, has frequently increased, owing to inflationary processes.
I want to put forward a suggestion which is not a new one, but is one which I do not think has been considered sufficiently. It is that the railways would lose less money if they charged less for their passenger services. My argument is based upon the very simple proposition that the average train can carry about 1,000 passengers and that it is better to have it full, or nearly full, with people paying, say, 10s. for the journey, than only two-thirds full with people paying 12s. 6d. That is simple arithmetic, and one could multiply the examples.
But, of course, the accountants produce wonderful tables, use their slide rules and so on. They say that it does not work that way and that it cannot be done. I believe that it can be done. There are many railway enthusiasts in this country who have also been working with their slide rules. They write to the newspapers from time to time. There are experts on railway management, many of whom take 1211 a completely different view from that taken by the accountants to the Commission. I suggest that this matter is deserving of second-thoughts and that it might help considerably to solve the problems of the railways.
I pass to the Road Haulage Executive. They again have a deficit this year of over £1 million after meeting their various and necessary charges. They also had a deficit in 1949; but then we were told, "They have not had a chance to get going; they have only just acquired their vehicles; give them a chance and then we shall see." Now they are well under way. By the end of 1949 they had already acquired nearly 35,000 vehicles, and they acquired only another 4,800 in 1950. They are well under way, yet they are still losing money.
This is a section of the industry which was supposed to be profitable. Indeed, when my hon. Friends were supporting the Transport (Amendment) Bill, they were told quite specifically in another place, though the Minister was not so imprudent as to say so in this House, that what they were trying to do was to de-nationalise the profitable part of the industry. It has turned out that, in the clumsy hands of the nationalisers, it is not profitable, after all; and that is very surprising indeed, because under private enterprise these 39,000 vehicles were known to be good money-makers. which contributed an immense amount in taxation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If the House will bear with me for a few more simple calculations, I would say that if the Road Haulage Executive vehicles had been left in the hands of private enterprise, instead of having a deficit of over £1 million, they might very well have had a net profit of anything from £3 million to £6 million, after paying the 3 per cent. interest and after making a contribution to central charges.
I worked that out in this way. The total capital value of the vehicles and assets of the Road Haulage Executive—and this estimate is based on the Commission's own figures—is something well over £60 million. Under private enterprise, it was considered that a man was a complete mug if he did not earn at least 5 per cent. net on his capital, after paying the interest charges; 10 per cent. was a pretty ordinary kind of net profit: 1212 while there were cases in which profits as high as 15 per cent. and even higher were earned. I remember that from my own pre-war experience in the traffic courts.
After paying the interest charges on this £60 million, and after paying the central fund charges, these 39,000 vehicles—or even not the whole of the 39,000, but just the 35,000 which the Commission had throughout the whole of the accounting period of 1950—would have earned approximately £3 million net if their net profits had been 5 per cent. and £6 million net if their net profits had been 10 per cent.; but, instead, they have scored a loss of £1 million. That is a pretty shocking state of affairs, and nationalisation is to blame—nationalisation with all its over-centralisation, the bureaucratic pyramid, the inflexibility of commercial practice and the red tape.
The Report—and, if the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me earlier wants the reference, I can now give it to him; it is in paragraph 158—does offer an explanation of this loss. Candidly, I think the explanation flimsy. It is one which does not impress, because it does not tell the whole story; and, in order that that part of the Report could have been completely candid, it should have mentioned that, as my hon. Friend said, before the Road Haulage Executive increased their charges by 7½ per cent. in order to meet the imposts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they had, in many cases—in fact, in most cases—increased their charges by anything from 30 to 100 per cent. immediately after nationalising the vehicles.
They made these increases immediately on acquisition because they thought that the private enterprise charges, which the vehicles had been earning before, were "unduly economic"; but, even if they were, they were nevertheless earning reasonable profits, and sometimes handsome profits, for their former owners, as well as some taxation for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We know and understand the difficulties of the railways, but the position of the Road Haulage Executive is inexplicable, except for the reason which I have given, that is to say, nationalisation, with all the trouble that goes with it.
Judging the situation of the British Transport Commission as an ideological 1213 experiment, as a financial exercise, or as a matter of practical efficiency—no matter by which of these tests it is judged—it is a continued failure, and we do not see any sign of this failure being turned into a success. I remember so well that, when he wound up his speech in moving the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, the Minister said that, given five years of power in this field of transport, the Labour Government would do more than the Tories had done in centuries.
Well, three years and seven months of that five years have already run out. The sands are running out very fast; and I do not see the slightest hope of that vain prophecy coming true, certainly not under the present set-up, not under a Socialist administration, not until the Transport Act has been radically amended and not until some prudent measures such as those suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth have been adopted, backed up, as I am sure they will be, by the good will of the vast majority of the people now working in the transport industry, mostly under the Commission itself. We have to face the fact that they are disappointed, just as disappointed as Socialists must be now.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The speech of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), to which we have just listened, is a good example of the confusion which characterises many speakers on the other side, both in the House and in the country, when they talk about nationalisation.
The hon. Member devoted his time to discussing certain defects in the present British Transport Commission, and argued from that that the principle of nationalisation is a bad principle. He might just as well argue that, because there are some bad and wicked people calling themselves Christians, therefore Christianity is a failure. That is an obvious fallacy, and the kind of fallacy which I am sure hon. Members will not accept, nor will the country.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South) rose—
§ Mr. Hughes
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will bear with me, I will give way in a few minutes, hut, first, he should hear my argument.
1214 I wish to discuss the transport system to and from the north-east of Scotland, concerning which I have had considerable experience and a great deal of correspondence with the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, with fish merchants and consumers, with farmers and with many other persons who are interested and concerned in the transport system.
From Scotland, there are many criticisms of the transport system. One criticism is that it is unsatisfactory, as regards freight transport, in its timing, its cost and its distribution of commodities to the London markets, but I am sure that the House will not argue from that fact that, because the present set-up is not perfect in every particular, the principle of nationalisation is therefore wrong. It has nothing to do with it.
I regret to say that I shall have to point out what I regard as certain defects in the present administration, but they are defects which have nothing to do with the principle of nationalisation, and they are defects which can be remedied. Of the three to which I have referred, timing can be rectified by better time schedules and strict adherence to the schedules when they are settled. Costs can be rectified by flat rates for the transport of commodities all over this island, perhaps by an extension of the "taper" system and certainly by equal treatment for all parts of this island. Distribution to the London markets can be rectified by more and better organisation of the labour services available, and, above all, by more sympathetic administration of the organisation by those at the top.
All these defects can be remedied, but, in the long run, they can be remedied best in Scotland by the electrification of the Scottish Railways, by the vast hydroelectric power which is now being so rapidly harnessed by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board for the benefit of the people of Scotland. That these matters are urgent is evidenced by the various representations which have been made to me, and I shall refer to just one letter to indicate the kind of complaints which are being made.
The letter is dated 26th July and was sent by one of the great systems of road haulage to the Aberdeen Chamber of 1215 Commerce. I shall quote one paragraph from it which says:The chaotic conditions in King's Cross this morning led to a large portion of the Aberdeen traffic arriving too late at Billingsgate for today's sales, and having to be iced over until tomorrow. This reacted back to Aberdeen, where most merchants were advised, and, of course, could not buy any further supplies today. This not only meant the loss of a day's work to the merchants, but also a considerable loss to the trawl owners, as, consequently, prices slumped.I would not trouble the House with that complaint if it were only an individual complaint, but it is typical and characteristic of many complaints not only from the fishing industry, but also from the agricultural industry. That letter does not stand alone. Earlier complaints which I have made to the Transport Commission, and the answers to them, suggest that this nationalised industry which should be administered sympathetically by administrators who believe in the principle of nationalisation is, in fact, being administered by administrators who are unsympathetic to nationalisation, who do not understand what is required, who cannot organise their staff, who do not understand the facts, and who cannot control the vast organisation which is under and ought to be under their control.
I am putting that strongly. I regret having to put it so strongly, but it is evidenced by another latter which is only one of several I have received from the Commission. The letter is dated 2nd July—this month—and I propose to quote two paragraphs from it to make clear the viewpoint of the Commission in relation to the work it has to carry out. The letter says:The Railway Executive are doing everything possible to speed up the handling arrangements at King's Cross, but the labour situation there requires careful treatment.No doubt the House will ask, why, then, does the Transport Commission not give it that careful treatment which will bring about a successful administration? The letter goes on:We could not, however, accept the view that the difficulty is entirely due to a shortage of railway staff; it is a question of getting the existing gangs to adapt themselves to a different time-table of working.Again, the House will, naturally, ask, why does not the Transport Commission, whose duty it is to organise these gangs, 1216 organise its labour services? Why does it not do it effectively in the public interest? The letter continues:On the question of bulking, it is true that this has operated to some degree for a considerable time, but our Executive believe that handling would be further simplified and speeded up by the complete merging of the cartage arrangements.What does this letter mean? In my submission, it is a confession of incompetence on the part of the Transport Commission. It shows that the Commission cannot or will not organise their handling arrangements, cannot or will not plan the work of their staff, cannot or will not get their staff to work the plan so as to fit in with market times and thus put fish into the hands of the consumers in the South fresh and in the condition in which it ought to arrive. It is perfectly evident from all this that a change of management is indicated.
§ Mr. Hughes
That interruption again indicates that kind of person who argues that the principle of nationalisation is bad because a particular organisation is not well managed. That is a fallacy which will not commend itself to this House or to the country. I say that a change of management is indicated so that this important Commission can be managed by men who believe in nationalisation and who can make it a success.
Complaints relate, in the main, to essential freights affecting the food supply of the country—agricultural produce and fish. Aberdeen produces and distributes these essentials. I shall deal only with farm produce and fish in relation to cost and timing. In these the cow and the codling go hand in hand. They are the harvest of the land and the harvest of the sea. They are essential to the people of the South of this island, and, therefore, the people of the South have just as great an interest in good administration by the Transport Commission as have the industralists of the North.
Let us take farm produce first. It is not putting it too high to say that a high percentage of agricultural produce from the North of Scotland goes South by rail, road or coastwise shipping through Aberdeen, which is the pivotal transport centre. It would probably be true to say that 75 per cent. of that farm produce goes to 1217 England generally, and that of that amount 25 per cent. probably comes to London. Some comes for human food, directly ready for consumption, and some for further production on farms in England and Wales. It comes in various forms—seed oats, seed potatoes, dairy cows, store cattle, calves, sheep and pigs. This is a big traffic, but so also is the fish traffic.
I have already referred to the fish industry and traffic. The daily quantities sent to London from the north of Scotland are enormous It is essential that the fish should reach the London markets early in good time for the market, fresh and otherwise in good condition. If it does not reach London promptly and in good condition it is a loss to the producers, the distributors and the consumers and to the country at large. This would tend to stamp out of existence valuable fishing communities productive in peace, courageous in war, and a great asset to the whole nation in both peace and war.
These essential commodities are the victims of an absurd and unethical freightage system which shows lack of sympathy with the idea of nationalisation, and lack of ability to make it succeed as it ought to succeed in the interest of all the people. By absurd and unethical transport freightage system I mean more than the actual charges. I mean the theory upon which they are based which involves unfair and unjust discrimination between port and port, between market and market, between Scotland and England.
I submit it is wrong that Scottish producers should be penalised by their geographical position. It is wrong that they should have to pay more for freight than do producers in the South. Parliament legislates for the whole of this island and it should legislate for it as a whole, otherwise there will be, as there is, unfair discrimination between Scotland and England in this freightage matter. The South takes benefits from the North, East and West. All should be treated equally and fairly.
National transport is a national service and should be so treated. Before nationalisation, transport was not run as a national service. It was run by private enterprise for profit, and without success. Now, as a nationalised transport, it is 1218 primarily a national service like the Post Office, and it should be run as a national service like the Post Office. I have support for this sound and rational view from a somewhat surprising and unexpected source, namely a periodical called "Progress," the magazine of Lever Bros. and Unilever, Ltd. In its summer issue it carries an authoritative article by a Mr. Marsden, who is described as the transport advisor to that combine. He says:Transport is a service, and its functions must not be confused with the fundamentally different functions of industry and commerce within a community. The latter create wealth, sustain the community financially and materially, and open up avenues for its development at home and abroad. All this creative force requires certain facilities or machinery for its successful operation and transport is one of these. It is not a primary industry and never will be. …While, therefore, user and provider of transport may very properly be considered complementary—one providing the traffic and the revenue and the other the service—their functions and responsibilities differ fundamentally.I do not wish to be taken as agreeing with Mr. Marsden in anything else, but I cite this paragraph from his article as showing that even he, the adviser of a big capitalist combine, takes the view I am advocating now that national transport should be, as it is and should be treated, a national service and nothing else. I therefore submit that the transport of essential commodities like food is a service and an essential service. All parts of the country should be treated equally for and by this essential service. Some parts should not be favoured and other parts penalised as they are today by their geographical position any more than senders of letters are favoured or penalised by the geographical position of the recipient.
This island, Scotland, England and Wales, is treated as a whole for the purposes of conscription, postage and pensions; and I suggest it should be treated as a whole for the essential service of food transport. The inland letter is no more and no less important than fresh food. Let us contrast the letter with the fresh food. Carriage of the letter is charged for by weight regardless of mileage. Fish and farm produce are doubly charged for by weight and by mileage. This, I submit, is irrational and unjust. A letter posted in London will be carried at the 1219 same cost to Aldgate, Aberdeen or Aultgrishin; to Leicester, Lanark or Lerwick in Shetland.
The same rule should apply—weight only, not distance—on national railways for the essentials of life because the national railways are a national service just as much as the national Post Office is a national service. It would be high statesmanship for the Minister to take steps to make this change. It would do equity. It would secure justice and fair play to all parts of this Island.
§ Mr. Hughes
I have nearly finished. If the hon. Member will ask his question at the end of my argument I promise that I will give way and will answer it.
As an immediate measure I suggest to the Minister that he should restore the flat rate for the carriage of farm produce and fish or, as an alternative, that he should extend the present "taper" system, whereby freight charges are stepped down after the 20th, 50th and 100th mile. I also suggest to the Minister that he should use the splendid hydro-electric power in Scotland to electrify the railways of Scotland. This would electrify not only the railways of Scotland, but would electrify the producers and consumers. It would electrify the whole country and provide a good deal of benefit. Now I will give way to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire. East (Mr. Boothby).
§ Mr. Boothby
I was only going to ask whether the hon. and learned Member's proposal related solely to fish and fresh perishable farm produce and not to any other article of produce in North Scotland, and if so why.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am glad that the hon. Member has asked that question because I thought I had made the answer abundantly clear during my speech. The reason why I say that national transport should be a national service to which my proposal should apply is because I think that food is an essential of life. Therefore, I say it should apply to all the essentials of life. It applies to conscription, to postage and to pensions and I do not see why, in the case of a national organisation like the transport organisation, it should not apply to the carriage of food, too. I hope that the hon. Member will 1220 take the view that I have fairly faced his question and given him a direct answer.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. J. R. Bevins (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I have listened with very much interest to the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) and I congratulate him on the critical vein he showed in his speech. I am quite sure his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will take note of his criticisms.
I thought the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) was rather less than fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). He suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth had evaded the question of the docks and the problems of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, whereas, of course, my hon. Friend made it perfectly clear we consider that Executive to be a superfluous organisation which should be abolished straight away. I recognise, of course, that the Minister of Transport is not responsible for the problems of the docks.
It is a matter for the Minister of Labour, but it is worth pointing out—and this requires some emphasis—that His Majesty's Government have been in possession of the Leggett Docks Report, which made certain specific recommendations, for a matter of three or four months. Even now, the House has no idea as to how far the conversations with various interested parties have progressed or, indeed, whether conversations on a comprehensive basis are going on as regards all the ports in the country.
The attitude of my hon. Friends on these benches is perfectly clear. If we had the responsibility we should set about vigorously tackling this problem by doing away with the duality of trade union representation whereby a trade union leader represents his men on the one hand and, at the same time, is a member of the local organisation of the Dock Labour Board. We should try to bring some real human relationships into this industry and clear the wreckers out of our docks.
§ Mr. Keenan
Is the hon. Member not aware that the Leggett Report refers to the London docks and has nothing to do with the Railway Executive, who have no control over the London docks?
§ Mr. Bevins
If the hon. Member will read the Leggett Report he will, with his knowledge of Liverpool, quickly understand that many of their recommendations are obviously applicable to the port of Liverpool and, indeed, to the port of Manchester.
I have stated that this is not the responsibility of the Minister of Transport, but it is a responsibility of His Majesty's Government. If the hon. Member for Kirkdale would be good enough to read that section of the transport Report which deals with the Docks Executive he would realise the relevance of what I am saying.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West, referred also to the financial position of the railways of this country between the wars. He went out of his way to insinuate that between the wars the railway companies of this country never made any money, that they were virtually bankrupt and that the Railway Executive could, therefore, hardly be blamed if they also succeeded in making quite considerable losses.
I propose to deal with that point in some detail in a few moments, but I wish, at this juncture, to make one simple observation. One of the troubles in any approach to our nationalised industries is that the ownership of them is so diffused over the community that nobody feels any real responsibility for them. It is chiefly because of that that the country as a whole does not demand those exacting standards of efficiency which we find in so many other spheres of our commercial and economic life.
I put it to the House that if hon. Members on both sides were to regard themselves as the sole shareholders of the Transport Commission, and if they had received last week, as important shareholders, the Annual Report of the Commission, they would have taken a very poor view indeed of it. Even hon. Members opposite, who believe in nationalisation would first try to discover whether the undertaking in which they were shareholders had been making a loss or a profit.
They would have seen at once that for three years in succession the B.T.C. have made a loss and in all probability will make a further loss, and probably a bigger one, in 1951. They would read this Report to try to ascertain the reasons 1222 for these losses. They would discover the Report to be absolutely chockablock with ambiguities, equivocations and evasions—expressions such as. "It is not easy to quantify," which is used at least a dozen times in the course of the Report. Another favourite is, "It is extraordinarily difficult to compare this with that."
The second thing we should notice would be that the section of British transport which was prosperous until 1947 has this year, for the first time in our history, incurred a loss. It has incurred that loss, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth said, even before central charges are taken into account. This Report also includes in its balance sheet an item of £60 million for goodwill paid to the operators of road haulage vehicles before the latter were handed over to the Transport Commission. As a shareholder, I think that that asset should be wiped out of the balance sheet pretty, soon. It is obvious that it has already disappeared.
The next thing we should notice would be this curiously naive statement about taxation, where the Reports says, on page 203:The Commission are liable to Income Tax in accordance with the ordinary rules applicable to trading concerns. …That is perfectly true.In view of the deficits shown on the Consolidated Net Revenue Account for the years to date, no charge has been made in the Consolidated Revenue Account in respect of Income Tax.That is surely a glimpse of the obvious.
I would urge hon. Members opposite to ask themselves what would happen to the foundations of the welfare State of which they are so proud if the private sector of industry in this country as well as the nationalised sector conducted itself in this way. Where would be the financial support for the welfare State of which hon. Members are so proud?
I come to the question of the alleged plight of the railways in the years between the wars. This is important, because it is inevitably connected with the argument, which is sometimes put forward by members of the Labour Party, either that interest charges ought to be done away with altogether or repudiated or that they should be scaled down or, alternatively; should become a liability of the Treasury.
1223 If it be true, as was suggested in the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, West, that the railways were losing money between the wars, if it be true that the railways constituted a "very poor bag of assets" when taken over, there might be some justification for the view of the extreme Left. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear the expression used by his hon. Friend, who said that the railways were in a state of financial chaos between the wars.
At the annual conference of the Labour Party at Margate last year speaker after speaker advocated the repudiation or the scaling down of compensation. I remember taking a very modest part in the by-election in the Ormskirk constituency about six months ago. I can very well recall, in spite of the rather hopeful tone of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, a speech made on the succeeding evening by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), who I am sorry is not present, in which she made it perfectly clear that she considered that no compensation whatever ought to be paid in respect of the railways.
It is equally true that when this subject was debated at Margate in October, 1950, the present Foreign Secretary did not object to repudiation on the grounds that it was immoral or anything of that kind. He pointed out that if the resolution were passed it would lead the party into much discredit and would be electorally embarrassing. That is the Tammany Hall psychology at its very best.
On the point as to whether the railways were in such financial chaos between the wars, what are the facts? Between the wars, from 1919 to 1938, the big railway, companies in this country paid an average of about 3.5 per cent. in interest or dividends on their issued capital. In the best year, in 1925, they paid 4.19 per cent.; in their worst year, 1932, they paid 2.57 per cent.
I agree that since they took over the railways the Labour Party have been trying to put across the propaganda that the railways always lost money. For instance, in a booklet issued to Parliamentary candidates at the last election, 'Transport House told them that ever since the First World War the finances of the 1224 railways have been in a bad way. In 1919–20, they were told, the deficit was £41 million; in 1920–21 the deficit was £51 million, and both those sums were met by the taxpayer; in 1938 none of the railway companies paid any dividend on ordinary stock. That is what they were told. That is, after the railways have been nationalised. Before they were nationalised hon. Members opposite—
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
That is very important. Will the hon. Gentleman give the date to which he is referring—the date after the railways were nationalised? Is he not confusing this with the period before nationalisation?
§ Mr. Bevins
The publication of the document from which I have been reading was in 1950, subsequent to the nationalisation of the railways. What I am trying to do is to emphasise that this was the propaganda of the post-nationalisation era when the pipe dreams were over and when hon. Members opposite were face to face with hard realities.
But before the railways were nationalised hon. Members opposite used to talk in a very different vein. Here, for instance, is a quotation which may be familiar to one hon. Member opposite who said:What did they earn? Between 1921 and 1944 the total amount paid by the railways in interest and dividend (£981 million) was seven-eighths of the total railway capital.In other words, the railway companies were making too much. In short, before the railways were taken over they were making profits which were too large, but once they had been taken over and put into the condition into which the Transport Commission have put them, it was discovered that, in fact, the railways had always been making losses.
His Majesty's Government cannot have it both ways. The fact of the matter is that all this talk about interest repudiation is completely irresponsible. Since nationalisation British Railways have had to pay more for their coal and more for every commodity and raw material they use, including their labour. The only overhead, if we can call it one, which has not risen since the railways were nationalised is the level of the interest charges themselves, and any suggestion that the level should be disturbed at all amounts to obvious and blatant theft.
1225 All of us have a soft spot for railway trains, and I would admit to the right hon. Gentleman that during the past 12 months there has been a noticeable improvement in many main line services. I give that to him in all fairness; I think it is only right that one should do so. For example, the main line service between London and Liverpool has improved during the last year both in point of timekeeping and in point of rolling stock. Indeed, one might almost go as far as to say that the "Red Rose" and the "Manxman" are almost worthy of the contribution Liverpool is making to the Festival of Britain.
But once one gets away from the main line services and commences to probe the rather obscure localities in the country, one does not find quite the same improving situation. Again, I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman for this, because, obviously, we cannot expect him to understand or know about all the details of railway working. Let me give one small example, however, of the sort of thing which is happening in my own city.
There is a local train, known still as the dockers' train, and it leaves Lime Street station at ten minutes to one every day. In the old days it went to Garston docks, taking dockers from Liverpool to Garston. Today, it runs only as far as the station known as Allerton. On the few occasions on which I have travelled on it, it has consisted of five coaches, and generally it has carried about five or six passengers in all—that is, a total of five or six passengers in the five or six coaches. The reason, of course, is that the railway fare is 50 per cent. higher than the bus fare.
The fact is that the line between Allerton and Garston was ripped up years ago and the station at Garston dismantled, but for some completely inexplicable reason that train is still running and, what is more, all the suburban stations between Lime Street and Allerton—and this is perfectly true; I am sure Liverpool Members can verify it—have recently been completely renovated and overhauled. One station close to my home has had about 25 men working on it for about three months. It has been pulled down in parts, re-erected, painted all over and tarmac has been laid all along the platform.
1226 That station is not used by more than about a dozen people a day. It would have to be open for a thousand years to recover all the money which has been spent on putting it right in recent times. I am bound to say that if that sort of thing is being reproduced throughout the country, I can well understand why the railways are making losses and I can well understand why Lord Hurcomb is complaining that he has not enough money to spend on capital account. It has been frittered away on quite unnecessary purposes.
I should like to say a word in support of the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). It is quite true that the financial policy of the Railway Executive on the passenger side is one of very dubious wisdom indeed. It is a fact that during the last two years, between 1948 and 1950, passenger takings in this country went down by 12 per cent. During that period the number of passengers travelling fell, and so, too, did the distances travelled. It has gone down in every respect—the income, the number of passengers and the mileage travelled.
I do not altogether agree with the diagnosis of my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon, but I agree with him in this sense: that when prices are rising generally throughout the country the first industries which will feel the draught, and will suffer because people are getting progressively more and more impecunious, are the industries which are trying to sell marginal commodities.
In the case of the vast majority of the people travelling on the railways, if railway travel is anything it is a marginal commodity. People are free to decide even not to travel at all between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, let us say. They can go by car or by bus, or they can even walk or send a letter. It is for them to decide; it rests with them, and it is because railway travel is very largely, although not wholly, a marginal commodity that passenger traffic has been declining during the last two years.
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think he must take this argument to its logical conclusion. If he is making the case that passenger receipts have fallen by 12 per cent. over the last 12 months—I think that was the period 1227 he said—will he give the figure by which bus receipts have increased? He must take that into account in any comparison he makes before a final decision is reached as to whether or not service has been given—because that is what we are trying to provide.
§ Mr. Bevins
I think the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my meaning and I am afraid I have not time to explain it further. I am not criticising the service at this point; all I am saying is that, as railway travel is obviously a marginal commodity from the point of view of most people who contemplate using the railways, then when prices generally are rising the railways are bound to feel the draught fairly quickly. I therefore draw the inference from that conclusion that in times like these, times of inflation, the correct policy for the railways on the passenger side is not to increase fares and so drive away more and more passengers but, in fact, to reduce fares.
I am perfectly well aware that some hon. Members opposite may say, "We could not contemplate that for one moment. After all, here we have something which is approaching a monopoly and we are entitled to increase fares if they are not high enough." I do not know whether they take that view or not. But do let us realise that the case of transport and the case of coal are in no sense parallel. Coal is a monopoly in this country. The National Coal Board can increase its prices as much as it likes and probably get away with it within certain limits. The Railway Executive cannot do that.
What I am suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman is that in times of inflation the Railway Executive would be doing the right thing if it were to adopt the bold, imaginative policy of reducing fares and filling the trains, and so improving its financial position. I am perfectly certain that the traditional reaction of the monopolist mind to every time of loss—to increase prices—is the wrong one. It leads to greater and greater damage to every industry to which it is applied.
I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate he will give the House his reasons—if he has any, of course—why he supports the policy of the Railway Executive in this matter.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I hope in the course of my very short speech to cover the points which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) has raised, but I should like first to refer to the case which was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), in opening the debate. I thought it was perfectly clear that he had not a very good case at all. The hon. Gentleman made some sweeping proposals for doing away with the Docks Executive, the Passenger Transport Executive, and the Hotels Executive. Everyone on this side of the House knows that the hon. Gentleman is violently opposed to the nationalisation of transport altogether, and what he would do away with is the whole of our system of nationalised transport.
I admit that the difficulties today in the transport world are extremely great. During the war the railways, vital to our system of defence, were neglected from the point of view of repairs and renewals, because of the concentration upon the war effort, and it was quite understandable to everyone that, when the war was over, the railways would have to undergo a long period of expensive work in connection with repairs and renewals and the provision of new equipment, and generally with bringing them up to date.
I think that up to now we can congratulate the Railway Executive for the manner in which it has got down to this very difficult problem. I have never disguised my view—although I have been associated with road passenger transport for many years—that our railways are essential not only to our defence, but essential to the industrial well-being of the nation. I say quite frankly, and without any apology at all, that I have always believed the policy of increased freight charges and the policy of increased fares has not been the right policy to adopt so far as the railways are concerned.
I believe, as I have said more than once, that the railways should be regarded as a semi-social service. I said it before nationalisation, so hon. Gentlemen cannot accuse me of wanting to subsidise the railways because they are now under nationalised control. I believe that, with all the competition of road transport for both goods and passengers, it will 1229 be an impossibility for any transport executive to make the railways a paying proposition.
I think, therefore, that the Minister of Transport must look at this position first of all from the point of view of trying to get the utmost amount of efficiency on the railways, with the co-operation—and the essential co-operation—of the trades unions. Then he must decide whether the increasing charges are to be passed on to the community in the form of increased fares and freight charges, or whether he should recommend to the Government the payment of subsidies. I take the view that a subsidy, provided that it is applied with caution, is the best method of dealing with the position arising from the competition with the roads.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth is, of course, always joyful when increased fares have to be charged. He referred particularly to increased fares for road passenger transport. I want hon. Members to realise the position of the men engaged in the road passenger transport system. I spent over 30 years in that section of transport, and I contend that the men on road passenger transport have never really had a square deal so far as wages and conditions of employment are concerned.
I remember the war period when our men, working sometimes long hours, were transporting men and women to the munition factories in the mornings, taking them home, in some cases, for lunch at noon, and then taking them home in the evenings. I remember very well that, because the Government were not prepared to increase the fares of road passenger transport, our drivers, conductors and staff generally were not getting wages and salaries commensurate with those which were being earned in munition factories and in other industries.
I say to the House that, while I believe that we should keep fares down to the utmost minimum, we should not do that at the expense of refusing to the men and women engaged in the industry wages commensurate with those applying in other industries. During the war road passenger workers did a magnificent job.
I remember being with them on Merseyside during the blitz and after the 1230 blitz, and I remember the tremendous service they rendered and the great risks they took in providing transport for the factories and the general public. I think it is wrong for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when an increase in fares is proposed to meet the reasonable demands for wage increases for the employees, to try to make political capital out of it.
In my view the work of the Transport Commission will be very difficult. They must get on with the co-ordination of our transport system. The freedom which was given by the Minister to the C licences was a profound mistake, because of its effect on the railways and the nationalised section of commercial transport; eventually the extension of the C licences will result in our national transport not having funds available to bring about the requisite measures of efficiency. I congratulate the Transport Commission upon their work up to date, and upon the Report they have presented to the House. Only by the co-ordination of our transport system, rail and road, goods and passengers, and shipping, shall we get sensible transport organisation.
I should very much like the question of transport taken completely out of the field of political controversy between the two sides of the House. It is essential to have efficiency and economy in this industry, and the welfare and happiness of our people depend upon the co-operation of every one concerned. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to refer to inefficiency here and there. For instance, the hon. Member for Toxteth referred to a local line in Liverpool in order to criticise the efficiency of the Railway Executive.
Quite frankly, I cannot understand why he should try to discredit the Railway Executive. If I have any complaint, it is that, in the main, the old gang who operated under private enterprise are still in power and directing the policy of this nationalised industry. My criticism is that, either they are inefficient and were inefficient under private enterprise, or they are not doing their job because they are not interested in the principle of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Bevins
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Three or four years ago it was argued by hon. Members 1231 opposite that once the railways were nationalised there would be a big improvement.
§ Mr. Bevins
Now that the railways have been nationalised, the hon. Gentleman himself deplores their inefficiency. Surely he cannot now attack hon. Members on this side of the House because some of the same people are running the industry.
§ Mr. McLeavy
The hon. Gentleman himself paid tribute to the improved conditions on the railways during the past 12 months.
§ Mr. McLeavy
I am not talking about the inefficiency of the railways. I am trying to point out that the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. In the main, the same people were running the railway undertakings under private enterprise as are running them now, and if they are inefficient now my charge is that they were inefficient when they were employed by the private railway companies.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
Has it not occurred to the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), that they may have been given an impossible task?
§ Mr. McLeavy
I doubt very much whether asking a man to perform the same administrative duty and paying him at least the same remuneration for the work would prevent him from carrying out his job. The Transport Commission have left it to the various Executives, with their expert members, to get on with the job, and if there is any inefficiency it is due, in my submission, to the fact that those who served these undertakings under private enterprise have been retained in the service of the nationalised undertaking.
There can be improvements in our nationalised transport system, and I believe that debates in the House will contribute to an improvement of the management of this industry. However, I urge hon. Members opposite not, merely 1232 for the sake of cheap political advantage, to make silly gibes against this great national undertaking. This industry has a tremendous job to do, and when there has been an opportunity for re-organisation, provided the policy now being pursued by the Minister of Transport and the Government is continued, our nationalised transport will prove a tremendous success, and will be of great value to the well-being of the nation.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
This debate has shown how difficult it is for the House to try to deal with the Annual Report of the British Transport Commission, which this year consists of 446 pages and deals with six Executives. All one can do is to speak on one subject, and I will endeavour to say something about the London Transport Executive. In doing so, I must apologise to the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), because it will be impossible for me to connect my remarks with the points he made.
I should like to preface my remarks by congratulating the Transport Commission on the form of their Report this year. It is not easy to read through and digest this large Report, but it is well written so that one can understand what the different paragraphs mean even if one does not agree with all of them. All through the Report the Commission seem to be asking us to realise what a Herculean task they have been given, with what appalling difficulties they are faced, and why some of the Executives doubt whether they can even make them pay.
While reading the Report, I could not help wondering who is better off for the nationalisation of transport. I am still in doubt after the speeches so far made in this debate. I do not think that the passengers on the railways or the nationalised Road Passenger Executive are any better off. They have to pay more for a service which is certainly not superior to what we had before the war. I do not think that trade and commerce are better off, because they again have to pay more for the carriage of their goods which, to judge from our correspondence as Members of Parliament, does not always seem to be over efficient.
Are the employees really any better off? All I can say is that we are always 1233 being told that there are not enough employees on the railways because they are leaving the services in comparatively large numbers. Therefore, they are perhaps not better off. Certainly the ordinary taxpayer is not better off, because he fears that at any moment he may have to make up a loss of £40 million or so on nationalised transport. The only people who seem really satisfied with nationalised industry are the doctrinaire Socialists, because it has been in their programme for so long.
The London Transport Executive start off their Report by saying:The year 1950 can in general be regarded as one of achievement under restrictions.Last year—I have been trying to look it up, but I cannot find it—I think they started off by saying that the year 1949 was "one of steady progress." It all depends on what is meant by achievement. In London, during this year the passengers carried have declined by 95 million, 2 per cent., and passenger traffic receipts are down by £633,000, 1.1 per cent., whilst working expenses are up by £1,283,000, 2.4 per cent, and net traffic receipts are down by £1,962,000, 52.9 per cent. Those figures will be found in paragraph 498 of the Report.
I am asking the House to consider if that can really be called a year of achievement, even if it were "achievement under restrictions." Londoners will chiefly remember 1950 for the London Area Passenger Charges Scheme, and on this I link up to some extent with the hon. Member for Bradford, East. He asked us not to make a party issue of increased charges, but I would ask him to realise that when these charges schemes go before the Transport Tribunal, the people who object are not only Members on this side of the House but trades councils, the London Labour Party and a whole number of other people who belong to quite different political parties to my own.
Last year, the London Transport Executive asked for an increase in London fares of £3,692,000, and the Tribunal granted them an increase of £2,680,000 which we in London were pleased was not the full amount asked for. Although I cannot discuss it, as it is now before the Tribunal, a further increase is being demanded on top of that increase of £2,680,000. That, of course, is sub judice, and so we cannot discuss this 1234 year's increase as well. I would, however, point out that this places a very heavy burden on the person who has to live and work in London.
In paragraph 502 of the Report, we find the statement that the charges scheme is:In order to achieve a measure of assimilation of fares on London Transport and British Railways services in the London area, …I do not think that is strictly accurate. The real reason is that British Transport had to try to get increased revenue, and the Londoner—and this is what we feel rather in London—has to travel probably on the London transport system from his suburb, or wherever he lives, to his place of work. London is so vast that some form of transport is absolutely necessary—as it is in other big cities—and, therefore, the Londoner cannot avoid this increase.
The Report states that travellers are not using the railway services as they should. That is put down to the wet weather in the year 1950, but I think it is financial stringency and the cost of living that has caused the number of travellers to fall off. The point that I want to emphasise is that the piling up of fares on these people who have to travel—season ticket holders and so forth—means a very serious increase in the budget of those people living in London and immediately around it.
§ Mr. P. Morris
Does the hon. Member really think it fair to quote all these increases in fares and charges without indicating the tremendous increased charges which London Transport and British Railways have to meet in respect of practically every commodity they use; in fact, the average increase is at least 245 per cent., and is it not fair to quote that when mentioning the increase in charges?
§ Sir A. Hudson
I am speaking of the difficulty that the Londoner is facing, first, by the charges scheme which we are discussing in this Report, and further by the charges scheme which is to come. The fact that these charges are felt hardly is borne out by the enormous number of objectors going to the Tribunal to protest against any further increase taking place. They do not all come from one side. They are not political objections. Everyone is realising that London is in a peculiar position because of its enormous 1235 size and the difficulties which Londoners have to face if the fares go up too high. I do, of course, realise—and it is properly set out in the Report—why fares have to go up, and all I am asking of the House is to take note of the difficulties we are in and to hope, although we cannot discuss it now, that the further increases will not be too heavy.
I want to say a word about the new works of the London Transport Executive. Mention is made in the London plan of the proposed extension from Bakerloo to Camberwell—I mention this now because further on it would come to my own constituency—and the fact that it has had to be either cancelled or postponed. I do not want the Minister to reply to this point now, but perhaps he will let me have a reply in writing so that Londoners may know what are the engineering difficulties which have caused this extension of the Bakerloo to Camberwell tube to be, if not cancelled, at least postponed.
§ Sir A. Hudson
It says, engineering in the Report. I think I am right in saying that paragraph 27 states that, apart from financial difficulties, engineering difficulculties have arisen. It is a small point, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look into it and give me an answer, because it is a matter about which we in the south of London are particularly anxious.
There is one small paragraph on page 3 which states that the transfer of a certain number of electrically operated lines has been made from British Railways to the London Transport Executive. We should all rejoice in that, because one of the great advantages—I would say the only advantage, but I should be accused of being partisan—of nationalisation is that the whole of the greater London transport system comes under one control.
§ Sir A. Hudson
As Londoners, particularly in the south of the City, we are interested in the big scheme now going on for the scrapping of the trams and the substitution of buses, which is also mentioned in the Report. Could the Minister say whether that is up to 1236 schedule? It is due to be completed in October, 1952, and we can see with our own eyes that it is proceeding, but I should like to know if it is going according to schedule, because it will have two advantages. One is that it will relieve congestion in the south of London; and, secondly, it will help on the question of power cuts, because trams are large consumers of electricity.
That brings me to the two problems with which London Transport Executive have to deal. They are not peculiar to London, but are peculiar to any great city. The first is peak hour travelling. In my days at the Ministry of Transport and, indeed, all the time I have been in this House, I have studied this problem, and I do not think there is any solution. Londoners, like all the British, are very much creatures of habit, and while we have altered working hours to avoid the peak rush, it has never succeeded because most people like to keep to the present office hours. Many efforts have been made to alter hours of work, but they have never succeeded.
Another point which is talked about in this Report is traffic congestion. That links up with the peak hour rush, because if we could do away with some traffic congestion, we would get the traffic running more smoothly and able to take more people in a shorter time. Traffic congestion could be dealt with if the Minister would make a great effort to do so.
On page 163 there are some interesting figures about the population of London. Since 1939 it has declined—slightly in the London Transport area, but substantially in the administrative County of London. Of course, the amount of traffic on the roads has not declined, but has gone up. There is not, however, the problem of a population as great now as before the war. I do not think the population will come back to London because of the bombing of the centre of the City, and because of the housing estates which are being pushed further and further out.
The Minister had a very interesting report given to him, the report of the sub-committee of the London Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, which reported in January, 1951. They made quite a lot of suggestions about traffic congestion. I feel that by a comparatively small expenditure of money quite a lot could be done.
1237 One reason why I say that is that when the Festival of Britain South Bank Exhibition was being prepared a small number of road alterations were made around that area. Opposite County Hall is one small link road going round the Exhibition and to Waterloo Bridge. I have to use that route quite a lot, and the difference by these small alterations is simply phenomenal. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look at this report and see if he can follow some of its recommendations. He may find he can do so and thereby greatly relieve the traffic in London.
§ Mr. Rankin
My point is that I was wondering if the hon. Gentleman agreed with one of his hon. Friends when he suggested that, by increasing traffic, fares might be reduced. Now that he has suggested additional expense, does he still hope to reduce fares?
§ Sir A. Hudson
Traffic congestion is very uneconomical, and if we could get as smooth flow of traffic, particularly in the peak hours, it would make this country richer and not poorer. I do not think that this is a party matter of any kind, and that a lot more could be done without spending enormous sums of money on "The Greater London Plan" and things of that sort.
I want to give one example to the House of the sort of general economy which could be made by the British Transport Executive. A constituent of mine sent me a letter with a copy of an enormous advertisement which recently appeared in a newspaper. The advertisement referred to the fact that people could not travel on the railways because trains had to be reduced in number. This constituent priced the advertisement at £375 in one issue, which is correct, and I wrote to the Transport Executive to find out what the position was, because it occurred to me that the railways were losing enough money without taking so much space—and one knows how costly it is in the dailies—to announce further reductions in passenger services and fewer electric trains.
I was told that the space had to be booked a considerable time ahead and 1238 that before the recent cuts were arranged at short notice the Railway Executive had planned an advertising campaign to increase traffic. Therefore, we have the position that although the Executive must have known, as we did in this House, of the difficulty of the coal situation, this extensive space was booked to advertise more trains and then it had to be used to tell people that they were not going to be able to travel as much because of reductions. That is that sort of thing that wants carefully looking into, because £375 is a considerable sum.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth is unable to be with us any longer. I understand that he got out of a sick bed to make his speech and that now he has returned to it. I am sure the whole House will regret it. I agree with my hon. Friend in saying that the whole set-up of the British Transport Commission, with its six Executives, is inclined to be unwieldy and inefficient. I cannot help thinking that this Government, and certainly any which succeed them, would be wise to try to break it down into more efficient working units and, if possible, to provide some measure of competition, which would be better for all concerned.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)
The House today has had the rather unusual experience of listening to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) opening rather than dosing a debate on transport. We always enjoy the vigorous and entertaining way in which the hon. Member delivers his speeches and keeps up sallies that get the House roaring with him. I am a little concerned at another unusual feature of the debate, which is that apparently no right hon. Gentleman on the Opposition Front Bench is to close the debate, as none has opened it. In other words, a debate on transport is not of sufficient interest to right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)
In very short debates which close at 7 p.m. it is quite usual for only one speech to be made from the Front Bench in order to give speakers on the back benches more time.
§ Mr. Collick
I am very glad to hear that explanation, but it is significant that so vital a subject as transport did not warrant a speech from a right hon. Gentleman opposite. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), that possibly Back Benchers on that side of the House do no less well than their Front Benchers. Whether the Front Benchers will agree with that observation I am not sure.
Whatever the hon. Member for Mon-month said in opening the debate, I am sure we are all sorry that he has had to leave the House because of being unwell. Those who listened to his speech must have been struck by how trifling the criticism was from the Opposition on this Annual Report of the British Transport Commission. I expected that we should get very much more vigorous criticism than came from the opposite side of the House.
The House might well note another interesting feature of the debate. Only a fortnight ago my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), asked the question on Business of the Leader of the House, whether we were to have a debate on transport before the House rose. The answer was "No." I confess that I was a little astonished when I discovered that a debate was to come on today. There lad been an interesting development. Some hon. Members on this side of the House had called the attention of the Government to the serious situation which, in their view, was arising, on British Railways in particular, from the shortage of skilled manpower. We were, in certain respects, highly critical of the Minister. No sooner was that done than approaches were made through the usual channels. The result is that the Opposition have given us the advantage of this debate.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Monmouth gave support to the criticism that some of us ventured to make from this side of the House 10 or 12 days ago in regard to the shortage of skilled men. I hoped that we might have had some statement from the Minister in the intervening time, but as we have not had it, perhaps it is worth stating briefly the facts of the situation.
A while ago there was concern—it is no use denying it—when the public 1240 were informed that summer-time railway services had to be postponed for a fortnight. It occurred because of the shortage of skilled locomotive men. That was not very good. A very short time afterwards, we learned that no fewer than 254 freight trains had to be cancelled in a matter of 24 hours, again because of the shortage of locomotive train crews.
Even more serious than that is that during the last 12 months there has been a loss of no less than 1,200 enginemen and 2,984 locomotive firemen. That is serious enough. More serious still, when that was going on, was the Minister standing idly by, as he did—and as I said in the House of Commons before and now repeat—and allowing during the last year no fewer than 4,000 locomotive men to be called up into the Forces. Every one of those men would have been held to his job in the event of an emergency arising.
If the Opposition really wanted to be critical of the Government, they could make out a very strong case on the waste of public money in doing this sort of thing, calling up men to go into Army camps at the same time as the British Transport Commission were cancelling 254 freight trains in 24 hours. All the while that this was going on, the Minister did precisely nothing. That is my criticism of the Minister.
I urged last week that if there was a conception of the real urgency of this problem, and if we were to avoid a crisis in transport this winter such as we had in coal a few winters ago, it becomes important to see to it that something is done in this matter now. I am astonished that, in the light of the facts and of the representations that have been made to the Minister by the Railway Executive and by those who speak on behalf of the men and know the position, even now—unless the Minister has some announcement to make, and if he has I will gladly give way to him—apparently the Government have not made a decision on this vital matter.
I do not know how much longer the Government are going to take to make up their minds, but I share the view that unless something is done we can very easily get into an extremely difficult position in railway transport this autumn and winter. Because I know this, and because everybody in the industry who understands the situation knows it, it is pretty 1241 painful not to have had any statement from the Minister on this matter at all.
Why is there this loss of skilled railway staff? British Railways have an amazing record of safety. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me talked about London Transport. It carries 2½ million passengers every day without a single casualty, while murder on the road by the thousands is still going on. The record of safety is because of the highly-skilled nature of the work of the railway operating staff, born of long years of training and experience. How vital it is, therefore, to see that this skilled manpower is held in the industry instead of being allowed to fritter away. Remarkably few of the men return to the railway service from the Army, because conditions of railway employment today cannot be what they ought to be by reason of the financial structure of the industry. That is the real problem.
The Railway Executive have, in many respects, no serious argument against the improved conditions which ought to be conceded to, say, the locomotive men, but in view of the financial structure of the industry they are unable to give these concessions. As a result, the men find outside more remunerative employment in which they do not have to suffer the handicap of going on duty at every hour round the clock. I say, quite frankly, to the Minister that unless he deals with the financial structure in some way as to make it possible for the Railway Executive to improve staff conditions and remuneration more sucessfully than they can now, the drift from the railways is bound to continue.
The great attraction of railway work in normal times was that a person who went on the railways knew that, by and large, he had a job for life. In conditions of full employment that has gone. It is no use now talking to a youngster about going on the railways in order to get a job for life he laughs at such a notion. We must therefore make conditions on the railways in wages and employment not merely comparable but superior to those in outside industry. In Scandinavia and other places we find that the conditions and remuneration of railway employment are slightly better than those of outside industry.
The conditions of full employment in Britain today mean that there 1242 is no attraction in regular employment on British railways. This must be replaced by something, and I submit that this should be by improved conditions. A main line engine man with 20 to 30 years' experience of the footplate in running the crack expresses between Edinburgh and London, which are the envy of the world, finishes at 65 years of age without a penny of pension. Is not that a disgrace?
§ Mr. Collick
I agree, but we have a right to expect the new administration to do something about it. If we could create a superannuation scheme worthy of its name for highly skilled men like that, it would help to make employment of this kind sufficiently attractive for skilled men. I had a little to do with the removing of the ban on the consideration of superannuation schemes by state organisations. Our men on the old Great Western system also had something to do with its removal.
I hoped that the new administration would provide a superannuation scheme for the locomotive men and other railwaymen, but in dealing with superannuation and pensions for wages staff the Report says:In the circumstances, the Commission considered that they should open discussions on the subject with the unions and at the close of the year arrangements were being made to hold a meeting for this purpose early in 1951.I can tell the Minister and the Railway Executive that there have been enough meetings to get somewhere with this. The miners have got somewhere. It is an ironical comment that the railwaymen who were as responsible as anybody for the removal of the ban have not yet been able to get a superannuation scheme.
The difficulty is essentially a financial one. It is most notable that the hon. Member for Monmouth was keen to emphasise that, whatever was done, we should not interfere with the interest rates. I do not want personally to urge such a course, but I suggest to the Minister that if the financial structure remains as it is, there can be no real hope of getting the substantial improvements which ought to be made in the industry. The onus is on the Minister. He should bring to the House his suggestions for dealing with this.
1243 I urged this course in the last transport debate. If I had not ceased long ago to be disappointed in such matters, I should be the most disappointed man in the House, at not hearing from the Minister some positive proposals for dealing with this. I could quote statements, irrespective of party, that in consideration of the strategic value of the railways in the defence of the country the Government ought to make a financial contribution to the industry. The figures suggested have been £10 million, £20 million and £30 million. That would be a great help, and there is very much justification for it.
When people talk about the financial structure of the industry, it ought not to be forgotten—I am afraid it is too often forgotten—that the Treasury netted £125 million from the war-time arrangement, which was earned by the sweat and the toil of the railwaymen. Why should not some of the £125 million be put back into the industry, for it was earned by the railwaymen? I and other hon. Members who know the conditions under which the railways operated during the war could make out an overwhelming case for something like that to be done. The last time I urged such propositions I was told by the Minister that the matter would have to be considered. We are always told that. One wonders what happens during that consideration.
There is another aspect of the matter. We are about to spend the colossal sum of £4,700 million upon defence. My experience in two world wars tells me that the railways are of terrific importance in such a matter. Anyone who has studied the reasons why Hitler met his demise knows that the failure of his transport system had something to do with it. I should have expected that a Minister alive to his responsibilities in such a set of circumstances would personally have been concerned to see that the skilled staff were held in their jobs, that plenty of other men equally competent were coming along and that we should look upon the matter as one of great strategic importance on the labour side as well as on the capital side of the industry.
As anybody knows who is aware of the facts, the truth is that there is a tremendous need for great capital investment in railways after all they suffered 1244 during the war. That has been restricted. Every one knows that we ought to find some way of dealing with the problem of shortage of train crews. I do not know what suggestions will come from the Minister, but I know that all of us who are connected with the railway industry keenly await some proposals for dealing with this matter.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth. When he was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow), who asked what were the positive proposals of the party opposite on transport, I sat here with my ears pricked up awaiting the answer. The hon. Gentleman said he would deal with it in a moment, but he left it until the end of his speech.
I have always understood fairly clearly, although not authoritatively, the policy of the Opposition on road transport. The hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition might like to give us an authoritative view on this. The Road Haulage Association, who have their advocates on that side of the House, have sent out a circular to their members, one part of which says:When a Conservative Government is returned, it will undoubtedly take powers to sell back road haulage to private enterprise.Is that the policy of the party opposite? I will give way to any hon. Gentleman who can speak authoritatively for them. Is that the policy? Apparently they wish not to answer. I am most anxious to let our chaps on the railways know what is the policy of the Opposition. So I waited with great keenness to hear what the hon. Member for Monmouth had to say about the Conservative policy for railways.
First he made it abundantly clear that we must not interfere with interest. All right, we must not interfere with interest, but they complain when there is a smallish deficit. After all, anybody opposite who understands the facts will not argue that £12 million, having regard to the colossal turnover of the Transport Commission, is a tremendous sum in itself. No one has argued that, and I give them credit for it. But if we are not to interfere with the interest, what are we to do to put the finances of the Transport Commission in such a condition that they can meet the just claims of labour? I want a reply from the Opposition on that.
§ Mr. Collick
I am glad, because we shall certainly be interested. I suppose we were told by the hon. Member for Monmouth the policy of the Opposition. I took down these words: "Give the railways a greater degree of flexibility." Does anybody wish to insult us by calling that a policy? The Railway Executive have as much flexibility as they want. They can do what they want in their own domain, subject only to one or two overriding considerations on finance. So that is no solution.
However critical some of us may be about the shortage of skilled labour, the remedy for it and the means for preventing further deletion, not a single positive proposal has so far emanated from the Benches opposite to deal with these problems. Therefore, we on these Benches have to be both Opposition and Government; we have to govern and also to put up points of opposition. We have put those up, and I hope that the Minister will tell us what the railwaymen of this country are anxiously waiting to hear from him on points which some of us have put before the House. If the Minister is not able to be positive in what he says tonight, we shall not be disappointed; it will be something much more than that.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
I have listened with interest and care to the speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick). Early in his speech the hon. Member complained that the criticisms which came from these Benches of the Commission and the nationalised transport system were trifling. I hope to be able to satisfy him on that score before I have finished. The hon. Gentleman then asked what was our policy. Perhaps he will do me the honour for a moment or two of listening while I try to reply to him.
It would be quite impossible, in a speech of the type which I can make in the time at my disposal, once again to go through the policy of the Conservative Party. However, it is all in black and white for the hon. Gentleman. He has only to read the Transport Commission debate of last year, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) outlined in considerable detail what we propose to do about road haulage.
1246 Any unbiased hon. Member of this House would say, I think, that my hon. Friend went a long way in detailing what would be the policy of our party for all the Executives, since he dealt with one after the other. Therefore, I can only suggest to the hon. Gentleman that if he will read the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the speech of my hon. Friend today, plus the OFFICIAL REPORT of a year ago, it will be abundantly clear to him what is the policy of our party.
§ Mr. Collick
I happened to be in the House when that speech was made, and I am familiar with it. But that is 12 months ago, and I am not sure whether there has been any adjustment meanwhile. If that is all the hon. and gallant Gentleman has to say is the policy of his party, I am familiar with it.
§ Colonel Hutchison
There it is. If an adjustment has been made, it has been made today; there have been no major adjustments between that debate and now, and so our policy is laid down in considerable and clear detail.
We have listened to a number of notable speeches, and perhaps the most eminent was the one of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, who has had to leave the Chamber. Yet it was an unusual circumstance to find among a number of notable speeches that perhaps the most notable was made by somebody who is not in the House of Commons. I refer to Mr. Marsden of Unilever, who was quoted verbatim by two hon. Members opposite, one in succession of the other, in identical terms. Well, he was another critic, and there has been a most extraordinary series of voices in critical harmony from both sides of the House today which the Minister must try to answer when he replies. I have seldom seen a series of speakers rise one after another to criticise a nationalised undertaking in the way that has happened today.
When we look at the voluminous and detailed and instructive report of the Commission, we are presented with an embarrassment of choice. How, in one day, in one short afternoon debate, are we to cover properly five major industries—road haulage, railways, docks, hotels and canals and inland waterway transport? It really is a colossal task, and therefore I should like to confine myself to one or two peak problems which seem 1247 to me to stand out of this great promontory of criticism to which we might address ourselves.
One of those peaks is the debated, contentious question of a freight charges scheme. It is the product of Section 3 of the Transport Act, which provides for integration—a word which nobody seems quite accurately to be able to assess and which will, no doubt, be given a separate gloss and interpretation by each person who uses it, and which, finally, whatever comes out of the maelstrom of nationalised transport at the present time, will be claimed to be integration by the Minister at the end of the day. We have heard "Alice in Wonderland" quoted already today. I should also like to quote what Humpty Dumpty said to Alice:When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will have to fall back on that definition of integration at the end of the day.
Originally, this freight charges scheme was to be produced in two years. Then it was delayed until early next month. Only the other day the Minister informed me, in answer to a Question I put, that he is considering whether it will be delayed still further. I hope he will take this opportunity of telling us tonight of the conclusion to which he has come.
We must always keep clearly before our eyes one of the main purposes—perhaps, the main purpose—of the whole of the Act which nationalised transport. It was to secure an efficient, adequate, and economic system of transport for the country. But we must also keep in mind what Section 3 (2) of the Act says: that there shall be to the user some "freedom of choice." In a recently issued statement of policy, the British Transport Commission say two mutually contradictory things. On page 14 they say:The Commission … have no intention of operating integration schemes in such a way as to over-ride the duty resting upon the Commission under Section 3 (2) of the Transport Act to allow freedom of choice to any person desiring transport for his goods where regular services of different kinds are available between the same points.That is all very well, but a moment afterwards they say this:Rail and road services should be regarded and developed much more as complementary 1248 to each other, and much less as rival forms of transport.They then proceed to outline the types of goods which should be steered into each particular form of transport. The logical conclusion of that steering system, the logical conclusion of defining traffic as being suitable to railway or road, leads finally to no freedom of choice at all, and makes nonsense of the first principle which the Commission had previously enunciated.
It has been rumoured—indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, I think, mentioned it—that the freight charges scheme, which is going to see the light of day sooner or later, will apply only to rail transport for distances over 40 miles and not to road transport at all. This represents an alarming change of policy and is completely out of harmony with Section 76 of the Transport Act. It is a dangerous situation which is developing, because it leads to a number of unsatisfactory positions.
Under such a system, road rates will be able to be varied by the Commission at will. Similarly rail rates, for distances over 40 miles, will be able to be varied at will. The full process of appeal to a tribunal, carefully thought out by the House during the passage of the Act in both Second Reading and Committee stages, will disappear. All the protection which a near-monopoly should grant to the user and to the public will no longer be there. Road rates could be varied so as to divert traffic to the railways, and both the rail and road systems could be used to subsidise short hauls, where alone there will be effective competition. That would make the position of the private haulier at the end of the day impossible, an ultimate result which we always predicted in the earlier stages of the Act.
The question of subsidy has already been mentioned by two hon. Members. The hon. Member for Birkenhead, I think, indicated that some form of subsidy should be given. I beg the House only to use the principle of subsidy as a very last resort. It is the refuge of the inefficient. It is a drug that needs to go on being taken in ever-increasing quantities, and I ask the Government to look at the example of the shipping industry which throughout the years, has set its face against it even in face of subsidised foreign competition.
§ Mr. Monslow
Does the hon. and gallant Member deny that £100 million was given in subsidies by the old orthodox parties in 1919, 1920 and 1921? Was that because of inefficiency?
§ Colonel Hutchison
All I would say is that subsidies are the refuge of the inefficient, and should only be used in the very last resort. It is so easy to go on asking for one subsidy after another and to go on increasing them when the spur to efficiency has been completely blunted. We are moving, and if the charges scheme takes the form which I understand it is likely to take, we will move very rapidly, toward a complete monopoly, a monopoly which the Commission, in paragraph 96 of the Report, are at pains to deny, and from which the House was at pains to preserve us at the time the Transport Act went through.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
The hon. and gallant Member is making an interesting submission that subsidies are really the mark of inefficiency. Surely that is a rather tall doctrine to put across from the party which believes that in agriculture, for example, in some circumstances subsidies are very necessary to provide a commodity at a reasonable price. I agree that the problem is different in the railway industry, but may it not be argued that it is better for the country to have a reasonable transport service, in terms of cost, even if it has to be underwritten by a subsidy?
§ Colonel Hutchison
I am firmly a believer that once we start using the subsidy system for a commercial venture we start to subsidise inefficiency—or, at any rate, we remove the spur of efficiency from that industry to put itself right. Of course, there are all kinds of special circumstances—agriculture may be one of them—in which temporarily, or perhaps even permanently some form of subsidy has to be granted. All I say is that we remove the spur to efficiency as soon as we make a subsidy available.
Meantime, the integration scheme is still in the obscurity of the future, and as the "Economist" said in an article not so long ago, it is as much a will-o'-the-wisp as ever.
I want for a moment to deal with the claim to increased efficiency which is made in paragraph 53 of the Commission's Report. When one gets involved, 1250 particularly a non-technical man, in statistics of efficiency, one is very apt to find oneself floundering among figures. I want, therefore, to avoid that particular test of efficiency, except just to say this. I find it hard, when working expenses on the railways have risen 5 per cent., wage rates and prices have risen 10 per cent.—these figures are given in the Report—and when train miles have risen by 7 per cent., to see how the result of bringing these figures together is to show that the fall in expenses per train mile has been about 2s. per mile.
Of course, it all depends what figures one takes. It is well known that statistics can be made to prove nearly anything. A comparison of train miles performed per train engine hour with pre-war figures shows that in 1950 the figure was about 8.3, compared with 8.61 in 1937 and 9.15 in 1938. Using that set of figures, therefore, the increase in efficiency has very much turned round and gone the other way.
Of course, we could get wonderful train mile statistics if we ran so few trains compared with demand that every train was crammed with goods waiting to be transported. But surely the pat on the back which the Commission give themselves in this way is not a pat of real value. What counts is when one gets a pat on the back from a person using one's system. The real test is whether the user can get his cargo at reasonable charges carried in a reasonable period of time.
Let us see how the Commission come out of it in that respect. I will use a rough and ready method and, to the layman, a more appealing way of discovering this. It is the vexed question of C licences. In the 1950 debate, the hon. Member for Perry Bar (Mr. Poole), whom we are sorry has been prevented by illness from being in his place today, bitterly complained that the C licences were "creaming" the traffic. He complained that the number of 380,000 at the time the Transport Act was put through had risen to 670,000 odd and was rising today.
I beg hon. Members opposite to realise that people do not go in for this expenditure, trouble and anxiety if they can buy a service equally cheaply from the nationalised system or, indeed, from anyone else. The fact is that at the moment they cannot. I want to give an 1251 example of a concern I know well. They have found in the years they have run their C licence transport fleet that, after providing for full depreciation and everything else, they have been 20 per cent. better off than they would have been if they had used the cheapest form of national transport for all their goods.
It is alleged, and I am glad that the Minister took the opportunity of denying that there is much in it, that there was a great deal of contravention of the law in the matter of carrying goods back under C licences in vehicles intended only for use in carrying one's own goods. The concern I know are punctiliously careful to carry nothing but their own goods, and they get a part or full load often, but not always. Never do they touch anything else, even workmen's tools, which is not part of their own work.
The average industrialist is not prepared, at any rate lightly, to break the law. The penalties are very severe, even if he has no principles to observe. He would lose this licence with a 20 per cent. saving in transport costs. But, if he were prepared to break the law, what tremendous disadvantages he suffers in so doing! He would have to accumulate a return load, clandestinely, unable to advertise and liable to be denounced by anyone who knows what he is doing. But, if he did this, it would be proof of how inefficient is the national transport service, because it is their job and they would be beaten by the private individual doing it clandestinely with all these penalties over his head. It is an emphatic example of how inefficient the national road haulage system is at present.
I wish to ask what is happening regarding planning for this winter. Last year, when we imported coal from the United States of America—particularly at that time—it was found that we could not handle expeditiously and well the traffic which was then being offered. I ask the Minister whether this is not the time to anticipate what the situation may be this winter. This is the time to plan for the winter. It will be too late when we have run into an intractable problem to try to solve it.
I ask the Minister to provide for the harnessing of all forms of transport, not 1252 only A and B licences for vehicles but, as he has power under the Act, to use C licence holders when the piling up of traffic comes about. Let him examine the maximum volume of traffic which he can handle during the winter, and let the Road Haulage Association know what surplus there might be so that they can call on the Association to apply for A and B licences which may have been refused earlier in the year, and use C licence holders, to get over the peak period and the "jam" which may build up again.
I wish to refer to the question of the embargoes, because it is part of my picture of testing this claim to increased efficiency. Other hon. Members have spoken of the embargoes, but I wish to draw the attention of the House to what the Chairman of the Railway Executive said at a Press Conference on 1st June. He said:The position is serious. It is the worst pile up that any of us have ever known. We have never had a pile up of freight in May on railways before.That does not seem a very strong argument for increased efficiency. Here history is being made of a pile up in transport in May.
There was a slogan during the war, "Is your journey really necessary?" I would like to bring it up to date and ask whether the Commission is really necessary. Why should not such Executives as are found to be necessary perform directly under the Minister? This is only another administrative layer which slows things up and kills responsibility.
It is one of the gravest defects of nationalisation that all the officials who formerly were used for taking decisions and showing initiative are all the time look to the top for that to be done for them. If we do not practice decision taking we find it increasingly difficult to do so when we have got to do so. With the decentralisation which we propose, we ought also to see if the Commission is necessary at all.
The Commission says in its Report—and we have heard it from hon. Members today—that money is needed for modernisation. That is perfectly true. It is one of the crying needs of the nationalised transport system at present. In paragraph 54 the Commission say that proper provision for replacement of plant is not being made. That is a serious thing to 1253 say. They have still liquid assets of £110 million, although some is pledged for replacement of the Railway Finance Corporation loan, and they have borrowing powers for £200 million.
The methods of operation in many places are quite out-of-date, as are the methods of handling and administration. Hon. Members have only to look at Euston, Birmingham or Marylebone to see in what a chaotic mess those places often are. I have a great deal of sympathy with the four points mentioned in sub-paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) of paragraph 96. I do not think the public are entitled to cry out every time an uneconomic line is closed down, but we have to be extremely careful before we depart from the system of safeguards before changes in charges schemes are made. The Report says:They will be bound to urge the necessity for a more adequate allocation of the total amount available for national capital investment if an important part of the national transport system is not to be allowed to stagnate or even to decay.Those are very grave words.
How are these capital allocations and priorities made? Has anything been decided yet? Is the Ministry so put off looking into the future in its planning by the capital allocation scheme that it becomes almost impossible to plan? It cannot be done at such short range.
The Ministry's claims for capital expenditure in 1952 should be being examined now. I do not think that is happening. Who is, in fact, doing it? Who is the responsible authority for this? Re-armament impinges on every aspect of our national life. It is, after foreign policy, the biggest question before the country. It affects transport, exports, the standard of living and labour. In every direction one turns one's eyes one sees it playing its part. On both sides of the House with certain minor exceptions, we are agreed that rearmament must be priority No. 1, but where does it begin and end?
It is no use our importing coal, for example, if, when it has been imported, the railway system cannot move it. Are there any plans for the importation of coal this winter? It is no use the railway companies carrying on with rolling stock or permanent way which could not face a war if war broke out.
1254 Who fixes the priorities between, for example, transport's needs for vehicles and the Army's needs for vehicles? Who decides the priority of steel for a ship or the manufacture of a railway wagon or an agricultural tractor or a vehicle for the Air Force? Yet these decisions are vital. They should not be in the hands of a single Ministry.
There are too many Ministries involved in these great questions for that to continue. Defence, Materials, Supply. Board of Trade, Transport are all concerned. All of them are grappling with this problem, all have their problems, which need to be integrated. There needs to be, and there will have to be, set up a cold war Cabinet presided over by the Prime Minister or perhaps by the Lord Privy Seal. No less a body is able to see the whole overall and menacing picture, and no smaller body should be left with decisions fraught with such grave consequences to the country.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
The hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) has made, as he always does, an interesting speech but I could not gather from it anything of a sweeping and constructive nature relating to the question of the transport services of this country. He will not expect me to follow him in the short time at my disposal, but one point which rather intrigued me was the statement which he made, so I understood, to the effect that he was utterly opposed to all kinds of subsidies in transport services.
I understand that he does not go so far as his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), who opposes all forms of subsidy—for agriculture, food and the rest. It is important that we should get this point clear. We are in the dark about the policy of the party opposite on subsidies.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
I would not presume to speak in the name of the party on this side of the House, but I wish to make it clear that I said that subsidies should be used only in the last resort and that they are the refuge of the inefficient.
§ Mr. Robertson
That is a very interesting statement. I wonder if I could carry the hon. and gallant Gentleman a little further with me. He sits, as I do, for a 1255 Scottish Parliamentary division. Would he agree to join me in a protest at the very large subsidy which is given, for example, to the MacBrayne shipping company for their services to the Western Isles? Does that indicate that there is a degree of inefficiency there which can be overcome by a more efficient nationalised shipping service? Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that that subsidy should be withdrawn and this service to the Western Isles had better be taken over and co-ordinated into the general national transport services?
§ Colonel Hutchison
I have never suggested that a subsidy is not to be granted under any circumstances. The MacBrayne shipping service is clearly uneconomic. The company is asked to run to places which have a tiny population in order that those people should get a necessary service. It is in quite a different category from the large railways systems. I have always said that a subsidy should only be used in the last resort.
§ Mr. Robertson
It is rather interesting to find that the hon. and gallant Member appears to be willing to give subsidies in certain extreme cases. He must remember that considerable profits are still made from the running of the MacBrayne service, due very largely to the subsidies that are being paid.
I should like to turn to an aspect of the transport services of the country which affects Members on both sides of the House, particularly those who, like myself, represent a country area, an agricultural area, what may be described as in some respects a remote area of the country. One must remember that some of the counties of Scotland which are off the beaten track—off the main line—are, to some extent, remote.
I speak of the county of Berwickshire where several branch railway lines have recently been closed. I do not object to the closing of branch lines as such when the line concerned is completely uneconomic and where it has been superseded by more flexible road services. That should be done in the interests of efficiency. It is tremendously important, however, that when a branch line is to be closed the two sections responsible for the administration of the transport services, the Railway Executive and the Road 1256 Haulage Executive or the bus services section, should have a co-ordinated plan in order that the service will not be less efficient when the branch line is closed than it was before the closing of the line.
In my constituency, particularly in the Berwickshire area, I am not sure that it can be claimed that the services. which have taken over have been adequate or sufficient to fill the need from which people have been suffering due to the closing of the branch line,. This part of Scotland, East Lothian and Berwickshire, is a particularly prosperous and developing agricultural area. It is tremendously important that the services there—road haulage, bus, and railway services—should be efficient and well run.
The other point which I desire to make is in regard to transport users' consultative committees. We have one in Scotland which meets frequently to consider the disappointment or disagreement of the users with the service concerned, but I am not satisfied that it is fully representative of the country districts. I hope that the Minister will give some special attention to this matter.
Looking at the personnel of the transport users' consultative committee in Scotland, I find that most of its members are from the urban areas and the large towns. Not nearly enough of them come from the rural areas. Yet it is the rural areas, the country districts, which have to depend so greatly on the transport services.
Finally, I wish to press the Minister for an assurance that there will be the very closest liaison and co-operation in future between the various sections of the publicly-owned transport system to see that when railway lines have to be closed adequate road services are capable of taking over and are ready to take over.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) gave what I thought were some very disturbing figures about the amount of skilled labour which was leaving the railway industry at present. I do not think that we can over-emphasise the importance and significance of that fact. His speech gives me the opportunity of making a brief reference to what I can only call the continuing and rapid demoralisation of the railway system of this country. I do not think that that is putting it too high.
1257 I speak merely as a user of the railways. There are hon. Members opposite who have great practical experience of the trade union movement and of many other aspects of railway life. Hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House use the railways from a commercial business point of view. Some have been directors in the past, and they have great experience and knowledge of the practical working of the railways. I am just a traveller—a fairly extensive traveller—on British railways and I must honestly say that the deterioration since the war has been terrific.
There is no cause for complacency whatever on either side of the House with the British railway system at present—absolutely none. I should like to give one or two examples. First, there is the question of unpunctuality. Trains in this country are slow-scheduled. By comparison, they are slower scheduled than the trains of France. I have made it my business during recent weeks to study the arrival of main line trains both in Scotland and in the main London termini. The record is very bad. The record at Euston during the winter months—and I have looked at the figures—was really disgraceful.
I propose to say something which would upset my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) if he was here. The record of the L.M.S. for punctuality before the war was never good. The record of the L.N.E.R. main line trains—not the Liverpool Street line—was absolutely superb before the war. That has all gone. My last three journeys to Aberdeen have averaged over one and a half hours late, whereas before the war it was unheard of to be five minutes late. I travelled north with one of my hon. Friends last Saturday night to Aberdeen and the train was three and a quarter hours late. When we questioned the sleeping car attendant we were told the same old story.
They call it engine failure. It may be that nobody bothered to clean the engine. It may be that the fireman did not bother to turn out. They say that the coal was bad. But the fact is that engine after engine cannot pull, or will not pull, the train and the engine has to be changed. This happens again and again, sometimes three nights out of six. The 1258 punctuality record is getting worse and worse. So much for that.
I turn for a moment to the question of dirt. I assert that the rolling stock of British railways is permanently in a filthy condition, both outside and in. That does not apply only to the rolling stock, but also to the locomotives. That is a bad thing. If one studies the locomotives at any of our great London termini, one finds that the gleaming, splendid creatures that existed before the war—symphonies in blue and green and brass of the Great Western Railway—have disappeared.
Now they are all the same, covered with soot and muck—even the great new ones of the London and North-Eastern like the one we call the "Coronation Express." One cannot see them for dirt. Nobody ever touches them. It is the same as with a motor car. I do not believe that an engineman can take a real pride in his engine or in his work if he has to drive these filthy machines along the lines and nobody can tell one from the other.
That is a condition which hon. Members will find staring them in the face if they go to any one of our London termini. They will not find that a single engine has been cleaned for weeks and weeks. They are never cleaned. What is the cause of it? I should like to know. I pass over hastily the restaurant cars, and I come to the service generally.
I want to echo what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) as an example of bad service and of what has been happening in recent weeks and months to the fish from Aberdeen. Before the war, fresh fish consigned from Fraser-burgh, Peterhead or Aberdeen itself could be put on a train at a certain time and one knew that it would be delivered at Billingsgate in time for the next market. That has not been operating for weeks and months, although we have written to everybody including the Railway Executive and Lord Hurcomb.
They write and say that it is a question of shortage of labour. Then, two or three days later, they say that it is not a shortage of labour, and that it is a shortage of wagons in which to carry the fish.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Gentleman will find on page 1259 120 of the Report figures to prove that the degree of punctuality was higher in 1950 than in 1949.
§ Mr. Boothby
I cannot conceive that I have been as unlucky as all that. If that is the case, I must be the most unlucky man in the country, and my friends must be equally unlucky. However, I will let that pass for a moment.
The hon. Gentleman certainly cannot deny what I was saying about the delivery of fish from Aberdeen to Billingsgate. I can tell him, with full authority, that if one wants to have a chance of getting fish delivered in time to Billingsgate, one has to take care to put it not on the first train out of Aberdeen but on the second train, which runs out an hour later. One can take it as certain that the second train will arrive ahead of the first. Fish put on the second train has a reasonable chance. If it is put on the first train there is not a hope. I do not call that good service.
The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Robertson) referred to the closing of branch lines. It is now proposed to close a branch line in my constituency from Aberdeen to Macduff. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) is also concerned about that. If they close this line altogether to passenger services, it will put paid to the development of an important part of the northeast coast of Scotland. It might not be so very bad if an alternative method of transporting goods was available, but that is not so. The line is costing £5,000 a year, I grant that.
This is an obvious case for the introduction of the auto-rail car which is in common use on the continent of Europe and also in America. It never seems to have occurred to the Railway Executive to attempt to use such a method. There they have the permanent way, a solid steel road; but it never occurs to them to run a tram service along that road at comparatively small cost in diesel fuel. Why do they not do that? I do not understand it. One has only to cross the Channel to find these things running all over the north of France and making profits. That is what these branch lines require.
This leads me, in conclusion, to the general question of what we used to call in the Army esprit de corps. I think that 1260 this is at the root of a great deal of the trouble on the railways. I think that there is a case for increases of wages in the railway service, especially for the more highly skilled men. Whatever the cost may be, and however it may have to be met, I believe that there is a case. It was put by the hon. Member for Birkenhead, and by other hon. Members. But the fact remains that there is very little esprit de corps in our railway system at the moment, and not much discipline.
The stationmaster at one of our principal terminus stations said to me recently, "If I want to give an order nowadays, Mr. Boothby, I can take it as fairly certain that the men, whatever their grade may be, are bound to have a meeting to decide whether they should obey it or not. I am bound to say that they nearly always decide to obey it, but it is nearly always too late." That is contrary to my idea of discipline. If hon. Members take the trouble to talk to guards and senior attendants on the railways, they will find the same state of affairs.
I took a note of what a senior attendant of 24 years' service said to me the other day when I was complaining bitterly about the late arrival of a train. He said, "Nobody gives a damn any longer whether trains arrive on time or whether, for that matter, they arrive at all." That is what he said, and I do not call that taking a pride in service. Another one said, "I am thankful I am retiring next year, because the heart has gone out of this show. Nobody minds any more."
Why is it? I think it is the same story, once again, of what has happened in the other nationalised industries. It is that the human touch has been taken out of this industry. The Minister of Transport must try to bring some humanity back into it. Nobody in the industry has ever heard of the Railway Executive, ever sees it or knows of whom it consists or what they do; and nobody cares very much, either.
I remember, long before the war, that if one went to the Waverley Station in Edinburgh or to King's Cross, one would see the tall and distinguished figure of Mr. William Whitelaw, the chairman of the L.N.E.R., on the platform. Every porter on the station knew the chairman of the company, and knew that he could go up to him and talk to him, and they were all put on their mettle. We have nobody like 1261 Willie Whitelaw in the railway industry today. He was doing a very good job, and I wish we had him back today, because there is nobody like him.
I asked a stationmaster at another rail- way terminus when he had last seen the Railway Executive, and he said, "I have not seen any of them for nine months, and I have almost forgotten who they are." That is one of the troubles, and the answer to it, of course, is not to denationalise, but to decentralise. This thing is far too big for these men to control. Even the L.M.S. was too big for a single board of directors to control, and the whole of British Railways is far too big for any one small executive to direct and control efficiently. How can they know what is really going on, and how can the people whom they are supposed to be directing know much about them?
I am inclined to agree with an hon. Gentleman opposite who said that the railway system should be regarded as a service rather than—as my hon. and gallant Friend behind me described it—as a commercial venture. I do not think it is a commercial venture. I think it is a service, and that the conditions of that service should be good. I for one, and I speak only for myself, do not rule out entirely the necessity, in the end, in the interests of standardised freight charges all over the country, and not merely for fish, of some form of subsidy for our railway system, but only in return for real efficiency—and efficiency is what we have not got today.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
We have listened to an interesting speech by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), and I should like to say in reply to him that I, too, have had complaints from the staff when I have been travelling on the trains.
On one occasion, I asked a member of the staff why he gave us these complaints in this manner, and he said, "It is my job to keep the passengers pleased, and many of them are against nationalisation." I believe that, if the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East, would take the place of Mr. Whitelaw, to whom he referred, and went on the railways showing his pride in British Railways and encouraging the people who are working them to regard them as a great national asset, and if 1262 he also took his proper place as a Member of Parliament and encouraged the people with whom he came in contact to regard this industry as a great national service, he would not hear so many of the tales of woe which he apparently enjoys on his way to Aberdeen.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument to be that the railways allow their engines to become dirty to please the passengers?
§ Mr. Proctor
We have heard a lot about the cost and the amount of money which it would cost to keep the railways efficient. Let the hon. Gentleman opposite consider the immense cost of polishing the railway engines. The hon. Gentleman has wide experience of the railways, and he ought to know better, because he knows how costly that can be. We have to consider brilliance, as against efficiency and economy.
§ Mr. Proctor
Yes, and, the French have many accidents which we avoid. The hon. Member has compared our railways with those of France, I suggest that we come out of that comparison very well indeed. Let us compare the track of British Railways with the French railway tracks, and, when the hon. Gentleman speaks of speed, let him balance that against the safety of British Railways as against any other railways in the world. Let us consider, when we arrive half an hour late, that it is better to arrive safely than to have an accident.
The question was posed to us as to who is better off as the result of nationalisation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody."] There were two great industries in this country in 1945 which were in danger of complete breakdown. One was the coal industry and the other was the railway system. I say quite frankly, in answer to the question as to who is better off, that the whole nation is better off as the result of the nationalisation of the railways and of the mines. If the railways had not been nationalised, miles and miles of railway which is at present serving the community would not now be in operation. We should not have the resources, or the number of trains running today unless we had had nationalisation, and we ought to consider these facts sensibly and courageously.
1263 One of the most important statements that has been made since nationalisation took place was made by Lord Hurcomb, who, I am only quoting from memory, when talking to a body of tradesmen, said "I am entitled to ask that this problem of transport shall be considered without malice." I think that too much malice is brought into this question of our nationalised transport system. I want to warn traders, and especially the party opposite, that they ought not to make party capital out of this, but that it is their duty to make a success of the transport system. Unless we do make a success of it, all our other industries will collapse.
I should like to see this whole question lifted to a higher level than it has ever reached in the House of Commons. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) to enjoy himself in making the irresponsible statements which he makes in this House, but what we want is a carefully balanced view of our transport system. I should like to see this question lifted out of the rut of party politics altogether.
Let us consider whether we might not have a joint committee of both Houses set up, so that we could consider the nationalised industries in that committee upstairs. I should like to see the heads of the nationalised industries sitting on that committee, and Lord Hurcomb himself answering the charges made from the other side of the House. I believe that that is a sensible way of looking at this problem.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
What about the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Durham?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman is making a most interesting speech, and he is referring to the nationalised industries, of which I understood coal was one.
§ Mr. Proctor
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in his speech at Durham, was dealing with foreign affairs, and not particularly with the coal industry.
If we consider why the railways are losing money at present, we shall see that there is a very simple answer. There was 1264 a time when the railway system was very prosperous, and then there came along a new invention and we found road transport competing with railway transport. If we can stand back and view this problem from a distance, it is perfectly easy to see that, if we run two systems, one competing with the other, the older system will not be as prosperous as it was before.
The problem with which we are faced is that of integrating these two systems and of keeping them going, because they are both necessary for the welfare of the country. The railways were always unfairly dealt with by the House. Restrictions were placed upon them and red tape in abundance was used with regard to them before they were nationalised.
§ Mr. Proctor
They were called upon to make returns, and many restrictions and controls were placed upon them, some of them quite unfairly.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Whoever suggested that a man should walk in front of a railway train carrying a red flag, as was done in the case of road transport for the benefit of rail transport?
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
Is it not a fact that the party opposite were very interested in prosecuting the case for the railways in this House when they were defending the interests of railway shareholders, and that in the 'thirties they were against road transport?
That, of course, is so. One of the mistakes we have made is that for the party opposite we have taken all the financial interest out of the railway system. If the return of £30 million a year depended upon the prosperity of the railways, the party opposite would be considering the efficiency of the railway system very much more carefully than they are doing at present. Today, they do not care a rap. Their only interest is in road transport, whereas in the old days they had a brilliant set of men who were interested in rail transport and who looked after the system pretty efficiently in this House. But the interest of the party opposite has gone, although there are one or two hon. Members opposite who will have some real concern for the railway interests in a sentimental, if not in a financial, sense.
§ Mr. Boothby
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that if what he says is true it is by far the most powerful argument which has so far been advanced in the House against nationalisation?
§ Mr. Proctor
It is always easy to be wise after the event, but I think we should have had much more co-operation in this matter from the party opposite than we are getting at the present time had we linked the payment to the results.
A most interesting suggestion was put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Scotstoun (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison). He suggested that we should abolish the Commission and place the administration in the hands of the Minister of Transport. That would be to bring in the Post Office system to run the railways. It does not alter the principle of nationalisation, but merely substitutes direct administration by this House. There may be a lot to be said for it.
Our railway system is something which this country cannot possibly do without, and we have to make that our basic consideration. The heavy industries of coal and steel could not possibly be run without it. Much is said about large C licence transport, but that form of transport is inefficient inasmuch that a lot of the vehicles run empty one way. I believe that we should be thinking out a method by means of which we could use all our national and capital assets to their full capacity. We have to remember that the basic need is to keep an efficient railway system going in this country as well as an efficient road system. At present we are preoccupied with re-armament, and I believe that it is perfectly legitimate to look upon the railway system as one of our defence assets.
The Labour Government of 1929 did an immense job for the railways. To relieve unemployment, they spent millions of pounds in making the railways efficient. The great stations of Cardiff, Bristol, Swansea and Newport were rebuilt and many of the lines were doubled, trebled or quadrupled at that time.
§ Mr. McAdden (Southend, East)
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the Labour Government of 1929 did this? Do I understand that they were not only in office, but had power as well?
§ Mr. Proctor
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. All I know is that they spent millions of pounds in bringing the railway system up to a state of efficiency and that the late J. H. Thomas was largely responsible for it.
Years afterwards, in 1939, the railway system had suddenly thrown upon it the burden of carrying millions of tons of traffic necessary for the safety of the nation. Had that money not been spent in 1929 and had the railways not been brought up to a state of efficiency with the help of the nation—not by private enterprise—we might very well have lost the war.
Supposing we were suddenly to find ourselves without oil, we should be compelled to utilise the resources of the railways in quite a different manner from what we are thinking of at the present time. I hope the Minister will give great thought to the suggestion that engine power, coaches and capital equipment of every kind should not be used to the full in times of peace and when difficulties are not upon us. We should have a cushion of reserve so that in case of need there would be something to fall back upon.
I ask my right hon. Friend to see if something cannot be done under the defence programme to assist the railways in this important direction so that we may have a reserve of transport in case of need. The great improvement in services, the catching up on repairs and the keeping of the system in being is something of which the Transport Commission can be justly proud.
I wish now to turn to the question of staff. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) dealt very fully with this matter, but I would suggest that we as a nation must consider a wages policy. We cannot have an attractive wages system for the luxury industries and leave the heavy industries under worse conditions. It is the responsibility of this House and of the nation to find the financial solution to that.
My hon. Friend referred to the question of pensions. This is a long overdue reform. The fact that at the present time there are no pension provisions in the transport industry represents an immense problem, because in normal circumstances pensions should be build up over a long 1267 period of years. If one has to give a man a pension who does not contribute to it and one has not saved up money for the pension over a period of 20 or 25 years, then it is a matter of immense cost to provide it. That is the problem that confronts the nation and the transport system at this time, and it must be faced.
Just a word to the trade union movement to which I belong. I feel myself that it has a great responsibility at present in these matters. I want to say to every railwayman and other transport worker throughout the length and breadth of the land that it is his duty to help make nationalisation a success, and to work for the nation at the present time. Whatever grievances we have should be put forward and we should do our best to remedy them. The staff should come into closer co-operation with the nation, and be given greater responsibility. For 30 years we have asked for nationalisation, and it is the responsibility of the trade unionists working in the transport industry to make a success of it.
One word on the question of military service. I do not suggest that the Minister of Transport has done nothing in this matter. I believe that he has given most careful consideration to it, as the Transport Commission has. I think that the Cabinet and the Government as a whole should really give this matter most careful consideration, because this is the position as I see it: we may call a man up at the present time and train him for an emergency, and we may train him in any arm of any of the Services, but if we meet with a real emergency the greatest value he will be to the nation will be as a transport worker.
I am quite sure that we are wasting our resources in training railwaymen for any other job when, in an emergency, we should instantly want them for the railway system. That has been true in the last two wars, and it would be more true if there were another emergency in future. Therefore, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to convey to the whole Government the opinion that has been expressed in the House today, that something should be done in this matter so that the manpower on the railways, particularly in those grades where we particularly want it, should be left to con- 1268 tinue their work, in which, I believe, they are being of the greatest service to the nation.
In conclusion I would say that I believe that if the whole of the community assists the Transport Commission and really does put its heart into this business we can have the finest transport system in the world. We must not sabotage it. I would ask my hon. Friends to read the resolution that the Tory Party passed at one of their recent conferences, in which they threatened those who offered their services to the nation in nationalised industry. I ask the House to pause to consider the needs of the nation, and I suggest that our duty now is to make this great transport service a real success.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) is, I think all hon. Members will agree, a very broad minded man. He approaches all these problems without that party bias which is so prevalent amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite. However, I should like to point this out to him, that the nationalisation of transport was one of the main planks of the Socialist Party programme in 1945. Then, they had no inhibitions about it. They were quite sure it was in the country's interest. They were quite sure they could make a success of it. We have, unfortunately, had a spate of nationalisation Acts covering a whole range of industries, and every one has been a complete and abject failure.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
—to tell us today that, because the nationalisation of transport was a failure that did not necessarily mean that nationalisation as a policy in itself was bad; that because there were some bad practising Christians it did not necessarily follow that Christianity as a whole was bad. I entirely agree, but there is a very great difference, which is this, that whereas 1269 there may be some bad Christians, there is a very considerable number of good Christians; but so far as nationalisation is concerned, the whole thing is wholly bad.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
Assuming that the Tory Party were returned to power at some remote time, would it be their intention to de-nationalise the coal mines, for example?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I think that if I attempted to pursue that point Mr. Deputy-Speaker would rule me out of order.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I think that the policy of the Conservative Party so far as the mines are concerned has been very clearly stated. There was a debate on this subject in this House not very long ago, when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fylde, South (Colonel Lancaster), put forward very positive proposals in a manner which earned, I think, at least the grudging admiration of hon. Members opposite, who are as equally affected by the malaise which affects the coal industry as they are by the subject we are discussing today.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Gentleman says it is something I know something about. How right he is. If hon. Members on the other side would address themselves on occasions to subjects of which they knew something the debates in this House would reach a higher standard than they do.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Right. I want to deal with the standards of the hotels, the refreshment rooms and dining cars, and such other personal services as the toilet accommodation on railway stations and in railway trains.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I think it is true to say that these can only be described as thoroughly disgraceful. In the Report we are discussing tonight, the Transport Commission states that a number of hotels have been repaired, renovated, and brought up to some degree of modernity, but the fact remains that some of the principal hotels of this country which are owned by the Transport Commission are in poor shape. I quote, for example, the Queen's Hotel in Birmingham, where the standard is lamentably low. For example, even today, if the right hon. Gentleman will go to look at this, he will see that outside, for example, one has the greatest difficulty in discovering what is the name of the place.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
If the hon. Gentleman does not notice these things it is not of much credit to him. It is in an area where there was a considerable amount of war damage. I was resident in that area not so many weeks ago. The front of the hotel is without paint, and there is no glass on the entrance—on the canopy in the front—and there is very little indication that it has got any name at all. I am suggesting that it is high time, six years after the war, that some of these big hotels in the leading cities of our country should be brought to some degree of presentability in which we can have some pride.
§ Mr. Shurmer
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that we use materials for that instead of for building houses?
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
In the same hotel—which I believe is typical of many, from my own experience—the general 1271 standard in the dining-rooms, the quality of the linen on the tables, and the service which is given, is of the very poorest.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I say that it is high time we got above these mediocre standards. It seems to me that since we have had nationalised transport, or since the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends have been in power, they have sought only to give a service of about N.A.A.F.I. standards, and have not sought to rise any higher.
In the dining-cars on our railways the service is bad generally and the food is appalling. I was very interested to listen to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, who at one stage said that the cow and the codling went hand in hand. Maybe that is one of the reasons why we get such odd meals on our railways; maybe they get confused when once they get into this process. I was also interested to hear him say that he regarded food as one of the real necessities of life. We rather had that idea ourselves, and I am hoping that he will let that information, that "gen," percolate through to the Minister of Food who seems to have a quite contrary view.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Perhaps I might intervene, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to me and misrepresented what I said. I said that I regarded fish and agricultural produce as essential commodities; that there should be special freight rates for them, and that in that respect the cow and the codling walked hand in hand.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I am glad the hon. and learned Gentleman confirms everything I have said.
On the question of the dining-cars, here is something to which I want the right hon. Gentleman to address himself very seriously. On many trains leaving our big cities, particularly Manchester and Liverpool, in the evening many of the seats in the dining-cars are reserved. Passengers take those seats, with the result that only half the dining-car is available for the service of meals to passengers who have seats in other parts of the train. The result is that, generally speaking, a smaller number of meals are served because in one half of the dining-car the people who 1272 have reserved seats from the commencement of the journey occupy those seats for the whole journey, and it is only in the second half of the dining-car that the seats—
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I am sorry the hon. and gallant Member says that it is not true. I can assure him that it is perfectly true. If he will inquire in Manchester and Liverpool he will find that what I am saying goes on day in and day out on such trains as "The Comet."
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington)
I frequently travel through Manchester to get to my constituency, and I have never observed that.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn rose —
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I hope that this practice will be looked into, so that the dining cars are reserved for their prime object, which is the service of meals to people who travel on the trains. If it is said that there is not sufficient accommodation in the rest of the train to provide seats for these extra passengers, surely the obvious answer must be to provide further coaches.
I believe that on one of our trains in the south of England there is an observation car, but in the general make-up of our trains, in the placing of the carriages and so on, we are many years behind every other country in which I have travelled, even on the Continent, which has already been quoted. The general service, for refreshments, and so on, in the dining-cars in continental countries is far ahead of anything available to people in this country.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
This is not a reform which will cost very much money. It is a reform which simply needs the application of a little common sense in the making up of our trains.
I now come to what is probably the worst defect of our rail transport, and that is the toilet arrangements in trains and stations. In the trains, whether it be in 1273 first-class or third-class carriages, the toilet arrangements are deplorable. So far as I am aware—and I travel about Europe a great deal—this is the only country in which no towels are provided, whether in first- or third-class carriages.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I wish the hon. and gallant Member would not keep saying "That is not true." The facts I am now giving to the House are easily capable of proof by any hon. Member opposite who cares to find out the facts for himself.
The question of there being no towels in our trains has been raised in this House on more than one occasion. I will give the right hon. Gentleman one example of a recent case. On the 6.55 a.m. from Paddington to Parr, on 7th July there was no water either in the toilet or the wash-basins in the third-class carriages. Is that not something of which we ought to feel somewhat ashamed, that a holiday train can travel all these miles with no elementary facilities for the people travelling in it? There was no water in either the lavatories or the wash-basins. It does not cost very much money to provide that. That is merely ordinary management.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I now come to the question of lavatory accommodation on stations. If the writ of public health authorities were to run through the British Transport Commission many of the lavatories on public platforms would be closed down. I will give only two examples, although I could give hundreds.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
If the right hon. Gentleman will cause investigation to be made into the facilities on stations such as Stafford or Wellingborough he will find that they are a disgrace to this country of ours. All I am suggesting, whether it be under nationalisation or private enterprise, is something which should be 1274 the everyday concern of the people running the undertaking.
The fact that these things do happen, and still continue to happen, in our country today shows that there is not proper supervision being exercised over these details. What is wanted is sound administration and a rigid application of soap and water. If that can be done, many of these evils can be removed. The general public themselves to a very large extent, are to blame for the continuance of this state of affairs. If those travelling on our trains or using our platforms, and so on, were to complain and refuse to put up with these second-rate mediocre facilities, we should very soon get back to a service such as we used to enjoy.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
A number of matters have been mentioned today to which I should like to refer, but I will start by replying to the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper). While I think everybody will agree that the facilities provided on the railways leave much to be desired, particularly in the lavatories, I ask the hon. Gentleman: Whenever were they any good? Whenever were they in a decent condition?
In the station at Liverpool through which I travel every week, and which I have been using for the last 50 years, the conditions have remained the same during all that period, although recently some improvement has been made. From my recollection of travelling before the war, when private enterprise was unfettered—although subsidised from time to time—the facilities provided then do not compare with most of the facilities provided today. I do not remember the trains being any cleaner.
It is true that at that period one could depend upon the times of the trains. They ran more strictly to schedule than they do today. We have to remember, however, that since the war the railways have had to be overhauled, and this process is by no means complete. I think that it is true to say that on some of the main lines it is not desirable—I will not say impossible—to allow the trains to go full out in order to get back to pre-war running times.
I can go a long way with the last speaker in his criticism of the occupation 1275 of dining cars. I think that it is a scandalous state of affairs that often half of the dining accommodation on the railways is taken up by people standing. Often one can only get a seat in a diner today by tipping, and that is deplorable.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) is no longer present because he enjoyed himself today, as he usually does on transport debates. He said all the irresponsible things which are characteristic of him when dealing with transport. He attacked the Docks Executive, and the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) followed it up. I think that it is unfair to condemn the Docks Executive, who are not only responsible for London and Liverpool, but for all the ports formerly run by the railway companies including Southampton.
They have under control about 15 or 16 ports of some consequence, including Hull and Southampton, and I do not think that there has been any serious labour trouble in any of those ports since they took them over. I hope that when any arrangements are being made with regard to dock labour that the Docks Executive of the railways will have an opportunity to put their case, because they represent about 30 per cent. of the dock labourers in the ports of the country and handle about 40 per cent, of the traffic of those ports. I think that it is unfair to attack them, as has been done today, without specifying what they have done.
I want to refer to the failure of the railways to integrate their services. I have never been very happy about the way we nationalised transport. I think that the Government, at the time when the Transport Bill was going through, were far too generous and listened too readily to the Opposition in an attempt to pacify them. The biggest blunder made, in my judgment, as I have often said before both in the House and outside it, was to allow C licences to be extended in the way we did.
Hon. Members opposite talk about the failure of road haulage. What has happened? We may as well face up to the facts of the situation. What has happened is that immediately nationalisation took place private enterprise firms, which formerly handled the traffic, were given C licences. Can anyone explain how 1276 otherwise the number of C licences has practically doubled? [Interruption.] I am not saying whether or not the service is satisfactory or otherwise, I am pointing out what has happened. We have to remember the determination of the Opposition to smash transport or any other nationalised industry, and in so far as we have allowed it to be done in this connection, I think that the Government are to blame.
§ Mr. Keenan
I do not know whether the hon. Member has any plans or not. All I am concerned about is that as soon as road haulage commenced to acquire the private firms with A and B licences, which did traffic over 25 miles, the increase in C licences has been got by the firms who run their own vehicles, whether it pays them or not. I know that it has not been possible to find out whether they are carrying traffic other than their own. Many of them, I think, have done a bit of that, but it is a question of catching them doing it. The fact remains that I think we should blame the Government for allowing the number of C licences to be extended.
An hon. Member said the way to ease the burden on the railways was not to pay interest on the railway stocks. I have always been of the opinion that too much was paid for railways stock. We were too generous in that matter. The fact is that we have provided for those who formerly owned the railways an assured dividend which they did not have before. I think it was the hon. Member for Toxteth who said that the railways before nationalisation paid a good dividend. I can remember some years when the railway shareholders got nothing.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
It is not true. Can the hon. Gentleman give any year when the old Great Western Railway did not pay a dividend?
§ Mr. Keenan
I am aware that the Great Western paid a dividend particularly on their deferred stocks and preference shares. They were much better than the railways in the north. The L.M.S. did not pay any for many years. The subsidies that they got at different periods over the 30 years before the last 1277 war, and that covers the Great War periods as well, helped them to pay their dividends.
In this matter we have got to be realists. No less than £49 million is being paid today by the transport industry as interest on Transport Stock. I have not time to go into all that question now, because at the commencement of the debate I did not intend to participate at all; it was what the hon. Member for Toxteth said which forced me on to my feet.
The £49 million which we pay in interest leads me to put this question to the Minister: Did the railway companies in the previous 20 years pay an average of £49 million to their shareholders? If they did not, then they have got in on a jolly good thing, and they have done well through the transfer of interest from private to public transport.
We have got to recognise that the railway services and road haulage should be associated together for the purpose of getting that efficient service in transport which we want. It is tragic that as a nation we should be stupid enough to allow some of the traffic to be on the roads when it should be carried by our railway system. There are far too many heavy vehicles and far too great heavy loads on the roads of this country when we remember the great railway system we have. From the national point of view, reliance on the railways is something which we ought to have developed and encouraged a long time ago.
I had hoped that the transport services, when nationalised, would have controlled the road haulage services and not allowed them to do what they have done with the C licences. We may have got possession of the railways, but we are allowing traffic on the roads which should be carried by the railways. The restrictions on the railways should be abolished and there should be a subsidy paid to them. One Government or another, particularly in war-time, have paid subsidies to the railways, and the time has arrived when, in the interests of this great service which is not able to increase its prices to meet increasing charges except through cumbersome machinery, there should be assistance from the State.
We should remember, too, that the railwaymen, despite the recent increase in 1278 pay, are still badly paid. They are not getting enough. What we as a nation have got to recognise is that this great service is entitled to be subsidised. We should subsidise it to get from it the efficiency which we know we could get. I also suggest to the Minister that the time has come when we should reconsider the question of the C licence holders, so that we can have that integration of road and rail which was intended when the Transport Act passed through this House.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I would like to follow the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) in one or two points which he made. This debate does not seem at all like old times, because we have not heard the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole). I hope that his health is improving, and he will be pleased to know that, if he has not been present, we have had his shadow roaming about this Chamber through the many references which have been made from the other side about nationalising the C licence holders.
I hope hon. Members will not think that I am unduly rude—I do not intend to be rude, but I must speak my mind on this—when I say that any hon. Member who suggests that the C licence holders ought to be nationalised is ripe for certification under the Lunacy Acts.
§ Mr. Keenan
I do not think that I said they should be nationalised. I said that the service should not have allowed the C licence holders to extend the way they have, and so undermine the nationalised service.
§ Mr. Harris
That comes to the same thing. One or two hon. Members opposite suggested that the C licence holders should be nationalised, and I say that if that should come to pass it would bring the industry to a full stop over night.
§ Mr. Collick
The hon. Member ought to be a little reliable in his statements. No one from this side of the House has once suggested nationalising the C licence holders.
§ Mr. Harris
I have listened to every speech made in this debate from 3.30, and I have taken a most careful note of the words that were spoken. The 1279 plain inference to be taken from many speakers was that the C licence holders ought to be nationalised.
§ Mr. Harris
To put it another way, it was suggested that the C licence holders ought not to be allowed to exist.
§ Mr. Harris
Hon. Members on the other side of the House think that the Road Haulage Executive ought to carry all the goods on the roads of this country.
§ Mr. Pannell rose—
§ Mr. Harris
I have got one or two other problems which I wish to put. I want to take up something which was said by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick). I fully agree with what he said about pension schemes for the lower paid workers on the railways. This is something on which I feel very strongly, and in putting forward my views I do not intend to enter on any partisan point.
I was interested in an article which appeared in the "New Statesman and Nation" a short time ago by Helen Gosse. She wrote an excellent article on the mining industry and pointed out that a lot of the dissatisfaction of the coal miners was due to the fact that the white collared workers in the industry had sick pay schemes, retirement pensions, and so on, while the lower paid workers had not. I read that article with great interest. I myself was the secretary of a trade union, the Fire Brigade Officers' Union. In the fire brigades we have a pension scheme, which gives every man in the fire service a pension equal to two-thirds of his pay when he retires.
§ Mr. Harris
In the fire service there are special circumstances, but after 30 1280 years the fireman gets his pension. The cost is borne to the extent of 20 per cent. by the employing local authority and 5 per cent. is contributed by the fireman. If firemen can have that sort of thing, if civil servants can have it, if employees of banks and insurance companies can have it, and if local government servants can have it, why should engine drivers, other railway workers and miners not have it, too?
§ Mr. Harris
As to Members of Parliament, when I got my chit today I saw that £1 had been deducted for a pension scheme.
Sometimes when I drive back from the House to home in the evening I give a lift to bus drivers, bus conductors and trolley bus drivers from Hounslow who want to move up towards Chiswick and Hammersmith. I have a large number of London Transport garages in my constituency. I have been appalled when I have picked up men aged 65 who have told me that they cannot retire because they have not a pension on which they can live. They sometimes sit next to me with their noses streaming and I say, "You ought to be in bed with a cold like that." "Oh, you can't go sick on our job," they say, "because you don't get any pay." Their trade union contributes a very small sum in such cases. I understand. That is not good enough. What is good enough for the white-collar workers is surely good enough for the manual workers.
I hope that the Railway Executive will pursue this question of pension schemes for their workers. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birkenhead read only a couple of lines from what was said in the Commission's Report on this subject. The Railway Executive have been trying to work out pension schemes, but they are pursuing a line which I am sure will never secure agreement from the trade unions. They are trying to arrange that the Railway Executive and the employee both pay the same amount of contribution. I do not think we can ever get a satisfactory pension scheme on those lines. The Railway Executive will have to realise that they have to pay more than the employee, because 5 per cent. is quite as much as an employee can pay out of his wages. 1281 If the Railway Executive will pay 10 per cent. it will be worth while, because they will get better service and better health from their employees.
I hoped if I had time to read a few words from the article by Mr. A. G. Marsden, transport adviser to Lever Bros. Parts of it were read by an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and were referred to by several hon. Members, but they have picked out the words which were favourable to their case. I wish they had read out the passage in which it is stated that railway charges are now 99 per cent. up on 1939, road transport costs up about 90 per cent. and coastwise rates are up between 112 per cent. and 125 per cent. Let me quote from this article, so as to give a fair picture of what Mr. Marsden did say. He said:It is perhaps pertinent to inquire whether, in paying an inflated price for transport, industry and commerce are getting the service they had in 1939, or, indeed, the service they ought to have today. We have now experienced three years of a nationalised transport system administered by the British Transport Commission, and are entitled to ask whether the service so far offered to the user is good and reflects active economy. There can, unfortunately, be only one answer—neither of these standards has yet been achieved.The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), said that the reason why the railways were not as efficient today as before was that they were hopelessly overburdened. The hon. Member trotted out the old argument that because we have full employment there was no hope of the railways working efficiently or being able to carry all the passengers. Just before I came into this debate I went to the House of Commons Library and obtained Statistical Memorandum No. 21 "The Railways of Great Britain: Pre-war, During the War and Now." I see that in 1920, the number of passenger journeys was 2,185 million. In 1935, the number was 1,231 million. In 1939 it was 1,225 million and in 1950, it is only 981 million. That shows that passenger journeys have gone down very considerably, namely, by 25 per cent. What has full employment got to do with it?
The figures for goods traffic show that in 1920 we carried 332 million tons; in 1936, 300 million tons; in 1939, 288 million tons and in 1950, only 281 million tons. Apparently, the goods traffic carried is going down in weight. I cannot under- 1282 stand the argument which is continually brought out in debates upon nationalised industries, that it is because we have full employment that these services are overloaded. In this case it certainly is not so.
I support in some measure what was said by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor), who suggested there ought to be a Committee of this House which could look impartially into the working of the Transport Commission. He said that we should send the matter to a committee where the heads of the nationalised industries could meet us and sort things out. I support the idea of somebody looking into the running of the Transport Commission, but I cannot support the idea of a Committee of the House doing so because I believe that, even with the best will in the world, partisan feelings would creep in.
I should like to see a completely independent body like a Royal Commission carefully examining the whole working of the Transport Commission and the Railway and the Road Haulage Executives. There are things which need looking into, and only an independent body which is completely free from bias could give a report which would be listened to by this House and the British Transport Commission.
The question of staff needs to be examined. There are some hon. Members on the other side of the House who would agree with me that there are probably about 50,000 too many people employed by the railways at the present moment. I know that there is a shortage in some grades, but that is only because there needs to be an examination of all the grades on the railways. It is all very well to say that there is a shortage in one grade when a man in another grade stands on one side of the platform saying, "That is not my job. I cannot do it." That is wasteful. It requires not a politician but an industrial or business expert to make an examination and put forward recommendations.
Another matter which should be examined by a Royal Commission is the accountability of the Transport Commission to Parliament. One hon. Member has quoted that only 77 Questions were answered on this subject last year. The Report states that 1,800 letters were written by Members of Parliament to the Commission, and we may 1283 assume that many of those concerned matters suitable for Questions. The whole set up of the railways and of the Commission ought to be examined.
The Coal Nationalisation Act, the first of the nationalisation Measures, set up a system generally known as a functional organisation. Later nationalisation Acts have gradually moved away from that. The gas and electricity boards have some measure of independence. In the case of the Iron and Steel Act the corporation set up was little more than a holding company. Is that the direction in which the Government are going? If it is the right direction, cannot we send the Transport Commission in that direction?
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Boothby), said that he did not believe in de-nationalisation but did believe in de-centralisation. I believe it is only a matter of time before the Conservative Party comes round to the view that we ought to de-nationalise the railways. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but the Socialist bible, "Let us Face the Future" says:Each industry must have applied to it the test of national service. If it serves the nation, well and good; if it is inefficient and falls down on its job, the nation must see that things are put right.It is a moot point how we can put the railways right, but it may come to the point of de-nationalisation. I am not saying that is our policy now, but it could come to it. The Socialist bible says:Co-ordination of transport services by rail, road, air and canal cannot be achieved without unification. And unification without public ownership means a steady struggle with sectional interests or the enthronement of a private monopoly …We now have a public monopoly in control. The Socialist bible adds that a private monopoly… would be a menace to the rest of industry.We cannot afford to have anything in the nature of a menace to industry. The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) made a good point when he said that there is a grave danger this winter of a complete collapse in the carrying of freight on the railways. We cannot afford that. We cannot put up with that sort of thing for years and 1284 years and, if necessary, we may have to de-nationalise the industry.
The whole question of the future of the railways and the set-up of the transport of this country should be the first thing to be looked into by a Royal Commission. Have we reached a time when the railways must begin gradually to contract so that we expand the more modern forms of transport? We shall always need the railways to carry freight and pig iron and coal, but we must not get to a position where our newer forms of industry have to be held back in order to feather bed or bolster up the railways, because we cannot afford it.
One thing that frightens me about the Road Passenger Executive is that one day they will get their claws on the country's coach services. When that happens presumably coach fares will be brought up to the level of the railways, and in that case millions of people will not be able to go on a holiday. One can travel to the coast now at about half the price of the railway fare. The Act says that people shall have freedom of choice, but they will not have it if we bring all costs up to those of the railways. We may have to think, therefore, exactly what the future of the railways will be.
Finally, I hope that a Royal Commission will look into the question of closer harmony between the Executive and the unions and between one union and another. I make this suggestion in the hope that one day somebody will take it up, and that we shall get a Royal Commission to make independent and unbiased proposals which will be for the benefit of the industry.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
I want to deal with one or two points in the brief time that is left to me. A great deal has been said about C licences, but nothing has been said about the nationalisation of C licence holders. No one wants to nationalise greengrocers' vans and the multifarious services which are run properly as a special business. However, due to the general conditions prevailing in the country, we are still in a seller's market where people think they can get any price for their goods and are not too careful about transport costs.
1285 I should like to see the Inland Revenue and the Income Tax Commissioners looking at the costs of some C licence operators. If it is proved that they are operating much more expensively than British Road Services, they should not be allowed to calculate their expenses as the costs of that business. This would probably bring them to earth quicker than any talk about reducing the services.
I am not satisfied that C licence holders necessarily operate more cheaply than British Road Services. It is almost inevitable that they will have more empty running time than British Road Services, unless they happen to be a multiple concern. Therefore, British Road Services ought to be able to run more cheaply. Within those limits there are specialised hauls which C licence operators can operate more economically than the general road haulage service. However, it is wrong to assume that C licences should necessarily be curtailed severely, although they should operate efficiently. The test ought to be the cost at which they are operating, and I suggest that the authorities should pay much closer attention to the C licence vehicle operators and their cost of operation so that these are not charged up unduly against their total production.
It has been suggested that the rail system is better for many types of haulage but, of course, while it may operate reasonably efficiently, it is much slower. If the railways are to get back the traffic they have lost to the roads, they must have a more efficient system of handling the traffic so that there is easier and more direct delivery in much shorter time. Road haulage can be delivered from door to door in far less time than the railways can do it. The person who wants his goods carried wants it done in the shortest time, not in the longest. If the railways pay attention to that point it will be found that there is quite a lot of traffic now going by road which could easily go by rail.
It was interesting to listen to the advocates of pension schemes. I would have been much more impressed if those on the other side who now strongly advocate pension schemes had been prepared to advocate them when the industry was privately owned. It is amazing how many converts we have to pension schemes when the cost has to be borne, not by 1286 private enterprise, but by public enterprise.
Incidentally, I assure hon. Members opposite that there are very large sectors of private enterprise which are long overdue for pension schemes, and they might well turn their attention to, say, the cotton industry, the woollen industry, or others of the great industries, in which pension schemes ought to be operating for the benefit of the workers. Let us get away, therefore, from the idea that all this must be pinned down upon the nationalised industry, and let us be a little more generous in our outlook towards pensions for industries.
On the question of London Transport, there is a feeling amongst the people of London that they are liable to be mulcted out of proportion to the amount that they ought to pay in order to meet the overall losses of the Commission. It would be entirely wrong if that sort of impression were allowed to continue.
It must be borne in mind that the workers in London have been encouraged to go out into the suburbs and the countryside to live, and that one of the reasons for their doing so has been the provision of a cheap and efficient transport service. There is no question but that it still remains a cheap and efficient transport system, but the answer is that Londoners are now bound willy nilly to travel. Any increase in cost to the Londoner should be kept to the barest possible minimum that is required by the London system alone, and Londoners should not be burdened with costs that do not arise out of the London Transport system in its entirety.
I should like to mention two other points. The first is the reference in the Report to the operation of branch linen and the fact that they must be kept going. I think that they could be kept going, but I say that on none of the other smaller branch lines should steam trains be operated. The diesel or diesel-electric engine, for instance, operates more quickly, requires less handling and servicing, and needs fewer men for its operation, thereby releasing some of the trained crews for operation on the more vital main line services.
That may be a question of capital expenditure, and I do not know what my right hon. Friend will have to say about it. It is, however, a very important point, 1287 because it has been clearly established that diesel-operated engines are quite efficient. They can handle all the traffic of the branch lines, and can do so at far less cost than steam trains. I ask my right hon. Friend to give his attention to this suggestion.
My second question relates to the deficit on road haulage. I notice from the Report that the Road Haulage Executive have decided to concentrate upon maximum capacity 8-wheel vehicles. It seems to me that if the Commission are to concentrate on those vehicles and want the maximum use from them, they must get fuller use from them than at present. I am not at all satisfied with the amount of empty running miles, which is far too high. In a system which ought to be so highly integrated, a vehicle which delivers a load ought to secure another load to bring back from within a reasonable radius of its delivery point. The failure to do this is one of the things which, obviously, puts up costs very considerably.
It would be interesting also to know whether my right hon. Friend has any idea of the extent by which the deficit on road haulage could have been reduced had the 30 miles an hour speed limit, instead of the 20 miles an hour limit, been operated. The higher speed limit would cause no detriment to the workers, who would get extra pay from its working. Certainly, the more efficient use of vehicles and the better deployment of the capital involved, must obviously involve a reduction in the deficit if the higher limit was in force. The fact that it is not is a matter for some regret, but it seems to me that in the interests of efficiency and in the interests of a better transport system something in the way of a unification of speed limits ought to receive very urgent attention, and I am quite satisfied that it would be quickly reflected in the results in the Commission's Report.
I think that on balance the Commission have not done badly. I should have liked to see greater progress made by the Road Passenger Executive. It seems that they are going slowly at present in the integration of road services. I would say that many of the losses are inevitable and that if the railway industry in particular and the services generally need more capital, it is the duty of the Minister to press on 1288 the Cabinet, in spite of capital restriction, that this is a vital service which ought not to be hampered or damaged by lack of capital development.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
I think the House will agree that the first words in winding up the debate from this side of the House might properly be words of praise and tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, whose fortitude and patience are quite unsurpassed. This is the first debate in my experience where a right hon. Gentleman has not at some time or other intervened before now and the House will look forward, therefore, all the more to hearing the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks. It is an innovation and is perhaps one facet of the way in which debates on transport are slowly changing in character. The time is fast disappearing when the Transport Commission and the services that go with it can be regarded as still the baby of the Socialist Party necessitating a strongly marked party debate in the course of the confinement.
We are now arriving at a situation where the child, if not too healthy, is at any rate growing up and there is some disposition on the part of the parent, as we noticed in the speeches today, to criticise this ailing child and see whether he could not be stimulated into becoming a more robust person. The party on this side of the House is perhaps more in the nature of a wicked uncle looking on the scene, but tradition is that in the end wicked uncles always do the child a great deal of good.
The speeches of hon. Members opposite have been markedly critical in character, with the exception of two, those of the hon. Members for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), and for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). The hon. Member for Swansea, West, excused the Commission on the grounds of the state of full employment. He said that full employment had imposed an altogether unprecedented burden on them under which they were staggering and that the House ought to regard the whole process with a great deal of sympathy and understanding. But the Commission have had just as much an opportunity as anyone else to observe that full employment is now, and has been for about 10 years, the established policy of 1289 both great parties in the State. They should have known it and demanded of the Government that they had their due share of the national resources to enable them to allow their enterprises to forge ahead.
Instead of that they are—as I shall show—at some disadvantage compared with some of the other nationalised industries and services of the country. Full employment, we all hope, is a permanent thing in our society and the Commission is not to be forgiven on the ground that it is staggering under a load of work resulting from that fact alone. It ought already to have planned in accordance with the generally accepted policy of the nation.
The hon. Member for Bradford, East, excused the Commission on all grounds altogether as far as I could see. He referred to the transport system of the country as a semi-social service. If we do so regard it and let into our minds the subsidy argument of course no criticism can ever begin to be effective, because the more the losses are the greater the subsidy. The more it becomes a social service the more one is pleased with it.
The ultimate and logical end of the argument is that the Commission should make enormous losses every year and be highly extravagant and that transport users should never pay a penny farthing for any of the services they use. If one accepts that argument then, of course, all criticism vanishes entirely.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The hon. Members for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) and Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) touched upon the question of a subsidy. One of them called it a defence subsidy, the other a strategic subsidy. The attitude of the party on these benches is quite clear. We think—and here I begin to assail the hon. Member for Birkenhead for having said that we never made any suggestions—and have said repeatedly in these debates in the House that there is a case for a definite and clearly defined payment associated with defence and strategy.
We think that if it can be proved that certain railway services, certain branch lines, are absolutely requisite for the purpose of maintaining the safety of the State there ought to be a direct payment 1290 for the use of those lines and services borne upon the defence Vote of the country.
§ Mr. Collick
Would the noble Lord be good enough to tell us when any such statement as that has come authoritatively from those benches?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
If the hon. Member has listened to the speeches made during the last few years on this side of the House he will know that has been given vent to on several occasions.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
No, I have passed on from that topic.
The hon. Member went on to accuse us of never having made our policy clear. I should like to remind him that we have done so quite explicitly. In a number of debates we have demanded the decentralisation of the railway services, that the railways should acquire some commercial knowledge, and that they should introduce a better scheme of passenger operation.
On the question of flexibility, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) was quite clear today, as he always is. Once the transport system has been broken up into competing regions and services, flexibility can be introduced into charges schemes with the certainty that the consumer is served on quality and on price. But flexibility cannot possibly be granted to a system while it remains in a highly concentrated nationalised state.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The hon. Member for Birkenhead claims to have done a great deal to initiate this debate, but I doubt whether he can substantiate that. From time immemorial those who sit on these benches have been accustomed to raise topics on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, and this debate was staged by us.
On the question of the call up, whether the hon. Member likes it one way round or the other, he was supported by or he, in turn, supported my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth in suggesting that 1291 at this time, in view of the possibility of grave danger to the railway services arising this winter, certain key men in vital spots should be exempted from National Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth urged the right hon. Gentleman to take his decision quickly upon that matter. I should like to reinforce that plea now in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say something before we reach the end of this debate.
Likewise, on the question of the importation of coal from the United States, we have had congestion in the docks when coal has arrived there, and now, with the shortage of locomotive crews and the embargoes that have lately been applied, we want to be absolutely certain, first, that the coal will arrive early enough this summer so that it can be dispersed around the country before winter comes or, if that is not possible because the orders have not been placed in time, that a special effort will be made to concentrate the staff resources upon that task.
While I am on the subject of staff depletions, I would point out that the causes go back a very long way. It is no use saying that they have arisen recently. In these debates we have called attention to the statistics of locomotive men and of cleaners. The Commission should have tried to carry out the policy which the House has discussed on a number of occasions, of reducing certain personnel on the railways. The fault in the Commission lies in the fact that they have just allowed the reductions to take place haphazardly, and have not consciously pursued an informed policy of making reductions in those places where the staff was clearly redundant on minor services and in the fact that they have not sought to retain, and pay at a proper rate, those who are required for the vital services of the railways.
A good deal has been said about the deficit which is now at the level of £40 million. There is, of course, something to be said for the Transport Commission in their claim that delay has ensued in granting the charges increases. They dwell upon it at some length. It has not been pointed out so far in this debate that, although there was delay in the first case in granting charges increases, 1292 there was no delay, or very little, in the second case.
There was no inquiry by the Transport Tribunal in 1951 before the 10 per cent. increase was proposed, and the Commission got what they wanted with very little delay indeed. Clearly, in these charges schemes, the whole burden of the work ought not to have to be repeated every time a charge is increased. The proposals ought to go through the Transport Tribunal very much more rapidly; but that is not by any means to say that the Commission can get away every time, automatically, with any charge increase which they feel they must impose upon the public.
No one, even in this debate, has expressed the situation more clearly than the non-party journal, the "Economist." On 14th July, it said:It is possible to sympathise with the Commission's complaint that it cannot for ever fight a losing battle between rising costs and laggard charges; but it is another matter to deny the value of the Transport Tribunal as the one more or less effective arbiter of public accountability to which any of the nationalised industries has to submit.It is not the fault of the Tribunal—any more than it is the fault of the Commission—that a persistent fall in the value of money makes its procedure so financially embarrassing for the Commission. These are matters that vitally affect the public, and if speed and flexibility were to mean merely that the Commission could obtain quickly all that it asked for without any attempt at public justification, the results would he deplorable.To turn from that to the question of efficiency, we on these benches acknowledge that some improvement has been made by the railways in the last year. Their total working expenses per train mile have fallen by 11 per cent., or 2s., in the years since the industry was nationalised. Their ton miles per engine hour have risen from 450 in 1938 to 578 in 1950. One can go through this Report, page by page and through all the appendices, selecting the statistics which do the Report most good. One can also go through the Report, page by page and appendix by appendix, selecting those which do it some harm.
We must not be misled by the points on efficiency that have been taken by the Commission in the written report. There are statistics to the opposite effect, for example, in miles per train hour, the average was 9.15 in 1938, but it fell as low as 7.36 last December to January, 1293 and the average for the year was only 8.36. Even if we concede the whole case in regard to the inferment of technical efficiency, there is nothing to be said, and the Commission do not attempt to comment on it, on the question of commercial efficiency. For example, page 388 of the Report shows the steady drop which has taken place in passenger takings, in 1948, £121.9 million; in 1949, £114 million; in 1950, £106.3 million.
Where is the aggressive, go-getting business man in British Railways? Where are the Butlins and the Fergusons of British Railways?
I was amazed by Paragraph 73 of the Report, which says:It is often said that the cure for declining passenger receipts is to lower the fares. … A generalised lowering of fares on this scale would, in present circumstances, result in a considerable working loss.Then there comes this surprising sentence:If the public cannot afford to pay for services of a given quantity and quality at the appropriate level of cost,—that is a good one—then the quantity or quality of service offered must he decreased, and the budget must be balanced with higher fares at a slightly lower level of activity.If the person who wrote that tried to find employment with Messrs. Woolworths, Messrs. Courtaulds or the Nuffield Organisation, he would be shown the front door.
I find that that kind of attitude in the Commission is very disquieting. There is the lack of any desire to go out and look for revenue. Take, for example, the table on page 71, which shows the relative costs per seat mile and per passenger mile. That particular table alone is an invitation to some enterprising commercial man, though he does not appear to have got on to the Commission so far, to go out and see what can be done about it, particularly on the stopping services and the branch lines.
§ Mr. Monslow
Would the noble Lord not agree that, having regard to the difficulties in running freight trains, priority ought to be given to freight over passenger trains at present?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am right off that point, and I am now talking about the stopping services on the main lines 1294 and the branch line services. As most of the main lines have a slow road for freight services, that really does not apply.
Why cannot the Commission reduce the fares drastically on the stopping services and upon the branch lines, and carry out a scheme rather like that which the late Sir Kingsley Wood adopted in the Post Office in 1931, when he produced a cheap rate scheme for producing extra revenue? It was done by Sir Kingsley Wood with the cheap trunk call, with the result that Post Office revenues on the telephone side expanded enormously. I would like to see something of that kind done on the railways.
I must say a word or two about capital expenditure, because it has not yet been referred to and ought not to pass unnoticed. In paragraph 51, the Commission make the complaint, among their many plaintive appeals in this document, that the capital expenditure allowedsuffices only to patch and maintain the existing apparatus.It is fair to charge the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer with permitting the railways to expend on capital a proportionately less sum than other nationalised industries and services have been able to expend, and I would like to know why that has been the case, because there has been no public explanation about it.
In the year in question, they allowed the railways only £79 million or 6 per cent. of the total capital liabilities of the railways of £1,259 million. That 6 per cent. compares with 17 per cent. allowed on electricity, 14 per cent. on gas and 10 per cent, on coal, or, if one likes, a mean figure of 14 per cent. for all fuel and power services. I know that the Minister of Fuel and Power is a very well-known and forthright Parliamentary figure, but I am amazed and appalled that the right hon. Gentleman has proved to be worth less than 50 per cent. of the Minister of Fuel and Power. I would like to know why he has not been able to come up to scratch and to adopt the forceful processes of his colleague.
But, having said all that, the railways are still to blame, because out of the total of £81 million allowed to them—that is, the £79 million plus £2 million for another service—they, in fact, only spent £68 million in the year in question. What is 1295 the matter with the Commission there? Why was there no queue of works lined up ready to be done the moment it was found, for example, that the extension of the Bakerloo Line, which would cost many millions, had to be abandoned? Where did the Commission go wrong on that?
Part of the staff difficulties of the railways is due to the question of lodging turns. Why did not the railways immediately get permission to spend—the right hon. Gentleman assisting—the balance of that money allowed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on building new hostels for railway staff? I am told that not one new hostel was built for the railways in the year in question. The most that was done was a certain amount of refurbishing of old hostels.
I wish to say something on what I would entitle, "The essential predicament of the Commission." My hon. Friend the Member for Toxteth (Mr. Bevins) referred to the vagueness and indecisiveness of the Report and to the lack of comparative criteria. Those are not his words, but that was the purport of what he said. In my view, the Commission are essentially frustrated. They cannot make up their mind what their objectives are, and that is clear in almost every paragraph of the Report. Their duty to obey the Transport Act is in conflict with their business instincts.
Paragraph 96 (b) says that the outlook depends largely ona greater willingness to accept changes, whether in conditions of work or in types of service or in proposals to integrate the Commission's services, and to avoid costly delaying action on each proposal for re-organisation.The sense of that sub-paragraph is the will to carry out the thing, to concentrate, to organise and to integrate, but one has only to go two lines further down to read that the outlook for the Commission depends largely onthe introduction of new bases of charge for transport services, which will recognise that over a wide field the Commission's services are not a monopoly and that the ordinary principles of competitive business must therefore be allowed a greater place in the fixing of charges in detail.How is it possible to run an organisation whereby if one concentrates and integrates competitive business is reduced 1296 to nothing, whereas if one goes out for competitive business the whole idea and philosophy of concentration must be abandoned? The Commission are in that dilemma, that essential dichotomy of thought, every day of their lives. That is the reason why such nonsense is made of British transport and why this Report is so sad and so sensitive in its nature.
The Commission is like Gulliver held down by Lilliputians. This is the final theme on which I wanted to say a word. The Transport Commission now, under the process of nationalisation and integration, has all the technical power, all the resources, all the information and all the knowledge, and people who complain about the railways and complain about the road services—ranging from the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Department, through Parliament, to the technical organisations and down to the workers' unions—are relatively insignificant by comparison with it. That is the reason—the fundamental reason—why such a hash is being made of the transport system at the present time.
We all wish that the Commission would act like Gulliver in the end—burst its bonds and do something: but there is no agreement, even in the House of Commons let alone outside, about what the Commission should do. The Commission itself is frightened by criticism and cornered by legislation, and it hits back by words in this document instead of by deeds in public life. I believe that the fundamental reason for this frustration is, in fact, the monopoly or semi-monopoly of the Commission. The whole public, Parliament, and even the right hon. Gentleman are at its mercy because it has the technical power and the technical knowledge.
To force a giant to bestir himself one must have a giant's strength. The political and the technical power of the Commission's critics add up to nothing at all. All that was foreseen by the party on these benches during the passage of the Transport Act. It was, in fact, the philosophical foundation of the opposition to the Measure—opposition to the crass folly of nationalising the industry.
We have nothing like it in B.O.A.C. or B.E.A.C. because those Corporations are 1297 pitted against enormous groups of technical men overseas, and that forces up the spirit of competition, increases the skill and wisdom of the concerns, and the quality of service to the public. As long as B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C., nationalised as they are, are in competition with great organisations outside, they will be all right; but when we nationalise an internal industry, which has not great groups of technical men outside to force it to modify its methods, then the rot sets in. There is not yet corruption. We have nothing like that yet. But the rot has begun to set in.
There is no way out except to bring the men with the technical knowledge and power up against their own like and kind in formal, controlled competition; that is, by decentralisation, by denationalisation in its modern form. When that has been done much that is now vague and uncertain will become real and determinable. When regions are pitted against regions losses will become a spur to effort in each. Efficiency will become a standard set by the efforts of different groups of technical men, and the quality of the services will be tested by the criterion of freer consumer choice.
The Minister of Transport, on the Second Reading of the Transport Bill, used these words:I contend that, taking the distribution of population in this country, the small distances we have to travel compared with many other countries, and the concentration and magnitude of its industries, there are no physical or financial reasons why we should not have the most efficient, comfortable, speedy and cheap system of transport in the world … Give this Labour Government five years of power in this field of transport services, and the people of this country will see more progress than would be made in 500 years of Tory rule."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 1623 and 1637.]The wheel has come full circle, and we are seeing today on the railway system of this country the grand failure of the Socialist conception of transport.
We on these benches are much more modest in our proposals. We give no grandiose pledges such as the right hon. Gentleman dared to give six years ago. All we say is that we much hope that the great honour of restoring the fortunes and spirit of service of British Railways will fall to the party on these benches before many months are up.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
The quotation with which the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), concluded his remarks was not made six years ago. It was made in 1947, and I remind him that the five years are not yet up.
§ Mr. Barnes
I should like for a moment to refer to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) who opened the debate. When we listened to and enjoyed his very vigorous, humorous and witty criticism, levelled at myself and the British Transport Commission, it was very difficult to appreciate that he was not well at the time, but was delivering that speech in considerable distress. I am sure that I express the view of all quarters of the House in saying that we sincerely hope his efforts and his vigour will not aggravate his disability, and, although time is short, we trust that he will be able to return before the House adjourns.
The major concern which has been expressed—and it has not been levelled against the Commission or the Executive directly—reflected the general concern of hon. Members in all parts of the House and opinion in the country at the grave shortage of certain key staffs in the railways, which is likely to affect rail transport in the forthcoming winter. I and the Government naturally share that concern. It is a real concern. But it is no use hon. Members approaching this problem with the idea that it has anything to do with either nationalised transport or any other form of transport. It springs from a set of circumstances which prevail, and have prevailed recently.
This has been a developing problem in our economic and industrial life, and has become acute in the railway service over recent months. There is no denying that, because of the special circumstances which have caused the country to concentrate on certain industries for export purposes in recent years, there has been progress and an improvement in the standard of remuneration, mechanisation, and improved processes of production in those industries.
Industry generally has moved to the 44-hour week and the five-day week. Transport happens to be a service that 1299 could not move parallel with the changing pattern of industry and labour conditions. The railways must and do run 24 hours a day for seven days a week.
Then the circumstances which necessitated the importation of coal during last winter reversed the normal movements of wagons, on short distance hauls, from the pits to the ports, and many of them had to be moved over long distances. This coincided, as everyone knows, with a very severe epidemic of influenza, and I think that hon. Members in all parts of the House should recognise that particularly for those in the shunting and marshalling yards who were out in the open under the worst possible conditions, the incidence of sickness was bound to be greater. So we had both the aggravation of operational difficulties and the drift of labour away, which has become a very acute problem.
The Railway Executive and the unions have been discussing this problem continuously. The Government obviously come in on a matter of deferment. I do not think that any hon. Member of this House can be but aware of the extreme difficulties that will confront any Government that is trying to build up its defence forces under the peculiar conditions that prevail today, when the need is to increase our defence output and preparedness under conditions which do not prevail in war and, at the same time, endeavour by every means in its power to maintain and increase the export capacity of this country for the purpose of maintaining our balance of payments.
This is an exceedingly serious problem under these accumulative conditions, especially when we take into consideration that once deferment is decided upon for any particular grade of labour similar arguments can be advanced by many other industries as well. The Government are fully alive to the need of maintaining the transport services of this country, particularly the railways, and while no decision has been made at the present moment, a proposal is being examined.
I cannot in any way indicate how it will emerge from the examination of all the Departments concerned, such as the Defence Departments, the Ministry of Labour my own Department, and the 1300 Railway Executive. Criticism has been directed mainly to myself which I thought was rather shallow, although personal criticism does not affect me very much. Nevertheless, as hon. Members have indicated, in times of war and when war actually exists, the military Services require a railway operating unit.
The proposal that is being examined by the Government at the moment is in relation to the needs for defence and this peculiar in-between or transitional problem with which we are faced today. The necessity of keeping our industrial life at its fullest capacity is being examined to ascertain whether we can meet the military purpose of the call-up of personnel and at the same time marry it to the current railway needs of the time.
§ Mr. Boothby
What military purpose can be met by calling up men who would not be called up in the event of war?
§ Mr. Barnes
It becomes difficult for me as a Departmental Minister to assume the responsibility of advancing the arguments of the Services, as the hon. Member ought to appreciate. I am indicating at the present moment the lines on which the Government are examining this problem, with full knowledge and appreciation of all the difficulties involved.
§ Mr. Collick
Last year 4,000 locomotive men were called up. Does my right hon. Friend not accept that the men now being called up would be told to keep to their civilian jobs in any state of emergency? What, therefore, is the sense of calling up these 4,000 men into the Army when they would be needed here on their industrial job in the event of an emergency?
§ Mr. Barnes
It is my purpose—and I cannot go any further than that at the present moment—to indicate the lines upon which the examination is taking place.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) quoted certain figures of train crews, and I should like to give him the position about the staff. I cannot go back over a long period, because I have not got the figures with me at the moment. 1301 In the footplate grades in March, 1950, there were 94,813 men. By December the figure had been reduced to 92,360 men, and in March of this year it had declined to 89,000 men. It is expected that by the middle of this year it will reach 88,605.
§ Mr. Barnes
That is a steady decline of over 6,000 individuals in those grades. In the case of guards, signalmen and goods shunters, at the same date it was 63,746 and has now declined to 59,595, a drop of roughly 4,000. This shows a steady decline in key grades, and we are bound to remember the severe difficulty we had at the end of last winter and the problem of meeting a similar difficulty in the forthcoming winter period.
Members on all sides of the House have levelled their criticism freely against the administration and services of the British Transport Commission. That is not to be wondered at. It would indeed be a difficult thing not to find some criticism against the rail, road or inland waterways' systems. In the whole of my life I have never known a time when I could not criticise some aspect of the transport problem in this country. It is not difficult to pick out defects in our present system and level criticism against it.
I want to put the general case for the British Transport Commission. That is my responsibility. In view of the criticisms which have been made, someone ought to accept that responsibility and put in an objective way the case for the Commission. If I do that, I want it to be understood that I do not do it in any spirit of complacency. I recognise that this is a difficult and intricate problem and that we are by no means yet at the end of our consideration of this matter.
I should like to clear away one or two points that have been raised and which do not fit into my general presentation of the case. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), dealing with London affairs, wished to know about the engineering and financial difficulties that have prevented me from sanctioning the carrying out of the Bakerloo Camberwell extension. I interjected by saying that it was mainly financial considerations.
That really meant that the engineering problems, which of course could have been surmounted in carrying out that 1302 tube extension, were of such a character that, in my view and the view of the Government, they were not justified at the present moment. The other point was whether the change-over from trams to buses is proceeding according to schedule. Roughly, that is going ahead according to schedule, and I have no doubt that it will be completed more or less to schedule.
I will turn to the main consideration of this debate. I am gratified that Members in all parts of the House have acknowledged the quality of the B.T.C.'s report on this occasion. It is compiled, presented and illustrated in a form that not only the technical people can understand but lay opinion can grasp fairly readily and easily, respecting the types of problem to which we have to address ourselves.
I indicated that I did not view the out-turn of 1950 from all the British transport services with any sense of complacency. I reject equally strongly the idea that the results are in any way disastrous or that the railways of this country face a hopeless future and can be considered a bankrupt concern. There is no real evidence at all to justify this approach to the problem. Let me analyse the position and try to present it in a fair, objective and realistic way to this House. The B.T.C.'s services in 1950 made a surplus, in round figures, of £40 million, apart from the central charges and before the central charges were put against that surplus. The central charges amounted to £54.1 million, which turned that surplus apparently into a deficit of £14 million.
Hon. Members ought to ask themselves, in fairness: What are the central charges? I propose to cite two of them. There is the interest on Transport Stock of £35 million and, on their other borrowings, of £10 million, which make an interest payment of £45 million, out of the £54.1 million of the central charges.
§ Mr. Thomas
I merely wished to bring out the point that these charges that we call "interest charges," would be called "dividends" in ordinary business parlance.
§ Mr. Barnes
I think I could have presented it just as strongly if my hon. Friend had permitted me to continue. In addition to that, there was the railway freight rebate fund, which was a payment mainly to coal and agriculture amounting to £3.7 million. Both coal and agriculture are today more prosperous industries than the railway industry, and yet of the £54.1 million central charges two items, representing interest on stock and the repayment of the freight rebate fund for coal and agriculture, amounted to £48,500,000 out of the £54 million.
I want to make a further point at this stage in order to emphasise the measurement of the difficulties which confront us. While they are serious, they are not disastrous in the sense that they are being presented to the House this evening. For instance, if the increase of 16⅔ percent. on freight charges which was ultimately sanctioned by Parliament and came into operation towards the end of the first quarter of the year had been in operation at the beginning of the year when the British Transport Commission applied for it, the accounts of the Commission would have been in balance at the end of their year.
I want to present to the House another measurement which is even more effective than the measurements which I have quoted. The loss of nearly £40 million has been emphasised; play has been made upon it tonight, and it forms a good deal of the propaganda of hon. Members opposite. It has accumulated over three years. The turnover of the British Transport Commission services during those three years was £1,500 million. I will now give a measurement of the margin that that represents. Over that period, if for every 100 pence paid by passengers or traders for the services which they have received from the British Transport Commission, whether rail, road or anything else, the charge had been 103d. the loss of £40 million would have been wiped out.
I see an hon. Member smiling; it is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh and jeer. I am dealing with a vital service to the nation. Hon. Member after hon. Member has emphasised how vital the railways and these other services are to the country, and I am dealing with a loss of £40 million accumulated over three years and relating it to 1304 the total turnover of these services over the three years. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind the increases which have taken place in the case of coal, cotton, wool and rubber and other commodities. They should then recognise that the measurement between the loss of £40 million which has accumulated over the three years on a price increase of 55 per cent. over 1939 on passenger charges and 99 per cent. on freight charges and financial stability is a figure of 3d. on every 100 pence turnover.
I do not underestimate the fact that we are dealing here with a difficult situation. However. I do not think that hon. Members, either on this side or on the other side of the House, are being fair to the railways of this country in imagining that the facts we are facing today are a disaster. I hope that the figures I have given will settle the approach to this problem.
Now I want to turn to the four alternatives which are advanced from time to time to deal with this problem. The first is that the State should meet these losses with a subsidy. That is followed by the view that the strategic value of the railways should be assessed and a payment made for Defence purposes. Another proposal is that the interest rate should be cut or abolished, which would mean the State dishonouring its guarantee. Then there is the further proposal that there should be a drastic curtailment of C transport in this country.
It is no use dismissing lightly suggestions of this kind made by responsible people when advanced as a solution of this problem. Whatever may be the ultimate decision of Parliament, I do not consider that any of these solutions are correct at the moment. I was glad that Lord Hurcomb, who has an exceedingly difficult task, should have rejected the idea of a subsidy.
Another criticism I have met is that I am averse to questioning and criticism on transport matters in this House. It is not true. I have refused to be subjected to the type of question which my Department has not the administration to handle, and which is clearly the responsibility of the British Transport Commission governed by statute. Also I have set my mind against duplicating in my own Department the type of staff already in existence in the British Transport Com- 1305 mission. I welcome as much, if not more than, anyone the review and debate of transport matters from time to time.
As a matter of fact there is no evidence that transport matters are inadequately considered in this House. In the Session of 1950 there were 27 hours of Parliamentary time given to general debate. There were 14 adjournments and 77 Questions, and I claim that that represents a reasonable proportion of Parliamentary time.
§ Mr. Barnes
But reference was made to the fact that, before transport became nationalised, the Minister was responsible as the ornamental head of the railway industry, and was subjected to all kinds of questions which he could not answer except by being dependent on an administration which he in no way effectively controlled.
Be that as it may, in my view the House ought to address itself, in fairness to the British Transport Commission, to what I consider is the psychology of the transport problem of this country, namely, that the British public and traders generally resist all attempts on the part of the B.T.C. to adjust its charges to its rising costs. No other industry meets that resistance. The British Transport Commission in their Report—I think, rightly—point out the time-lag between when their costs go up—when it becomes apparent to their accountants that an adjustment must be made—and the time when it becomes operative.
I remind hon. Members of the experience of this year. The 10 per cent. increase on freight charges was imposed, and at the same time I announced that the B.T.C. were ready to submit their passenger charges scheme to the Transport Tribunal. That scheme was submitted in April. It arose from obvious, well-known and measurable increases in wages, items such as oil and rubber, and other things. All over the country, private road passenger services and municipal services are applying either to the licensing authorities or to my Department for increases in road passenger fares.
In the case of the railways, the B.T.C. submitted their charges scheme to the Transport Tribunal in April, and as far as one can judge the first hearing by the 1306 Tribunal of the scheme will not take place until October. Because of the rising costs, I understand that the railway unions are preparing, or have already prepared and submitted, a new set of proposals.
What other industry could face such a situation? I do not for a moment suggest we can wipe out this state of affairs. I was not able to abolish the Tribunal machinery when the Transport Act was introduced, but I suggest that if Parliament is aware that the scheme was submitted in April and the Tribunal will not begin to function with its hearings until October, it is no use rejecting the comment of the British Transport Commission on a matter of this kind.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison
I think that the right hon. Gentleman indicated earlier by nodding that he would tell us by what time he had decided that the freight and other charges schemes would come out.
§ Mr. Barnes
Certainly. When I made my statement, the Commission were ready to submit their charges scheme to the Transport Tribunal. Since then I have received representations from the coastal shipping interests, who are very much concerned with the charges scheme and have pressed me to delay its introduction to enable discussions to take place betwen the coastal shipping interests and the Transport Commission.
One hon. Member, I believe, in quoting the increase that has taken place in transport charges, mentioned that coastal shipping charges are already 110 per cent. above the pre-war rate, which is the highest increase in transport charges to have taken place. Everyone who is familiar with this problem recognises the utmost importance of the coastal shipping interests to the country, particularly in war time, as well as in peace time. It is desirable, therefore, that any transport charges, or any alteration in the system of charges, on British Railways, should take into consideration the interests of coastal shipping. That body represented to me very strongly that it was desirable to delay the introduction of the charges scheme beyond 5th August so that discussions could take place.
I consulted the Transport Commission, and Lord Hurcomb informed me that they were quite willing and anxious to 1307 enter into discussions with the coastal shipping interests. He further stated that no harm would be done—in fact, they would welcome it—if a little further time was allowed for polishing up and adjusting their charges scheme, but I understand that it will not be delayed beyond the end of this year. That is the reason why the charges scheme has been delayed.
I wish to say a word or two about the area road passenger schemes. I frankly am disappointed that these have proceeded so slowly, but at the same time the effect and improvement of these on the finances of the British Transport Commission can be exaggerated. I do not think it is sufficiently appreciated that, although there has been delay in these area schemes, the British Transport Commission have been steadily acquiring road passenger undertakings and today have something like 14,000 road passenger vehicles under their direct control and administration.
In addition, the Commission have large shareholding interests, largely taken over with the railway companies, in private road passenger undertakings, including the British Electric Traction Company, which has been most violent in its opposition to the area transport scheme. Probably today the British Transport Commission either own or have a share interest in the value of something like 70 per cent. of the road passenger interests in this country.
Nevertheless, whilst that represents preparatory work towards the area schemes, I want to recall to hon. Members that the basic principle of the procedure of the area schemes was that they should only materialise through local consent and local option. There is no principle of compulsion in the building up of the area schemes and so far many local authorities have resisted this process. I think unwisely.
The British Transport Commission are preparing schemes for the North-East area, for East Anglia and the South-West, but they are making slow progress and will make slow progress until there is a larger body of public opinion locally willing to co-operate. Nevertheless, as I have indicated, progress in this direction is not entirely slowed down, and I sincerely trust that before long, because many local authorities are experiencing 1308 financial difficulty in running their own undertakings, we shall have a change of opinion in that direction.
If hon. Members in all parts of the House will look at these figures objectively and study especially the way I have presented some of the figures, they will see that, taking business experience in other walks of life, there is no overwhelming difficulty against the British transport paying its way. I believe that if we are sufficiently wise not to abolish the transport tribunal machinery but to see that it works much more rapidly, as any other business affair works more rapidly, to a large extent we shall have cleared the way for national transport to prove that it is a successful and desirable thing.