HC Deb 23 November 1954 vol 533 cc1054-125

3.31 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

I beg to move, That the Draft British Transport Commission (Organisation) Scheme Order, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved. The House will recall that the railway reorganisation scheme as set out in an appendix to the White Paper was debated during a full day's debate in the House on 1st November and was debated in another place on the following day. That debate took place in accordance with the undertakings given during the passage of the 1953 Act on a Motion to take note, and it was understood, and, indeed, laid down by that Act that after that debate had taken place it would be for the Government to present a draft of the order and submit it for approval to the House. We have now reached the stage at which it is necessary to submit the order for approval, and the procedure to be followed is that this Motion, if this House and another place approve it, will be followed by the making of the necessary statutory instrument.

The purpose of the debate in this House on 1st November and the debate which took place in another place was to allow expressions of opinion to be made in all quarters of the House before the scheme was finally crystallised in a statutory instrument. Therefore, I hope it does not need to be said that my right hon. Friends and I have carefully considered the debates which took place in both Houses before presenting this scheme.

I think it is a fair interpretation and summary of the debates which took place in both Houses to say that the general feeling was that what mattered about these proposals was not the admitted flexible framework of the scheme and, indeed, of the order, but the spirit and intention with which that scheme would be operated. In those circumstances, with one exception to which I will refer in a moment, it did not seem to me, when reading the debates in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that it was desirable to amend the scheme which had been tabled as an appendix to the White Paper. As I said, this is admittedly no more than the framework, and it is the way in which the scheme is operated that matters.

The one exception is this. The paragraph in the scheme, No. 9 (1), which relates to the provision of information about operating costs and statistics was subject to a certain amount of criticism on the grounds that it was desirable that the fullest statistics should be made available so as to indicate whether or not each of the regions when set up was pulling its weight. The difficulty of providing statistics which would really effectively do that was, I think, fully understood on both sides of the House. As I said in winding up an earlier debate, the British Transport Commission has appointed a technical committee which is at present engaged in working out what statistics it would be possible to give which really would have this effect.

A little anxiety was expressed as to whether or not the fact that under the scheme the onus of providing the statistics lay, in the first place, on the Transport Commission with the approval of the Minister, would necessarily result in proper statistics being supplied. I do not think that anybody doubts the desire of the Commission to provide all the information which it properly can, but it is also better, if possible, to put into a scheme provisions which can quite clearly indicate what it is intended should happen.

As a consequence I have added, in paragraph 9 (1), the words "after consultation with" before reference to the approval of the Minister. By bringing in the Minister at that stage this House is given further direct contact at the formative stage of the provisions, and I assume it will be possible, as the Minister is to be consulted in this case, that he can be interrogated on appropriate occasions as to what he has done. Those words are added to make it perfectly clear and to make sure that the Minister comes into the picture in the preparation of these statistics, and through the Minister the responsibility of this House arises.

As I have said, otherwise this scheme is as was presented as an appendix to the White Paper. I do not want further to repeat what I or my hon. Friend said in the course of the previous debate. If I did, I think I should weary the House, but if further points arise in the course of this afternoon's debate my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will seek to deal with them. The House would not expect or wish me to traverse much of the ground which we traversed during the full day's debate on 1st November.

I was very glad—and this I think is a point of major importance—that in that debate the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) indicated from the Front Bench opposite that the party opposite shared our view in as much as they favoured decentralisation and devolution. I was very glad to hear that because, as I said in the debate on 1st November, that means that the area of dispute in this matter is narrowed down not to the question of whether there should be decentralisation and devolution, but to the much narrower point of whether the particular methods suggested in this scheme for securing those ends were best calculated to secure them. As I understood, the difference in our last debate was of means and not of end.

It is true that in that debate an hon. Member opposite indicated that his party might feel it necessary, when we came to this Order, to vote against it. That is a matter for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I hope they will acquit me of impertinence if I express the hope that, if that be their intention, they will even now be prepared to reconsider it. I believe it is the right method of settling a dispute, when we really differ on principles, that we should go into the Lobby in opposition to proposals which, root and branch, we dislike but, as we are here concerned only with questions of method, only with whether this is the right method of doing what we all want to do, it would be a pity if, at this stage of the proceedings, it became inevitable to involve this matter in the degree of party and political controversy which arises from a party division on an order of this kind.

Having said that, I would like to seek to deal with what I think is in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite on the methods. I believe that what worries them about this scheme is the setting up, and use of, area boards. It is true that the Act of 1953 leaves open the question as to whether the area authority should be an individual or a board. It is true, also, that after some thought my right hon. Friends and I have come to the view that the board is the better alternative of the two. Perhaps, therefore, I should say a word or two as to why we have come to this conclusion, and why I suggest to the House that it is better than setting up an individual authority.

A board can serve several valuable purposes in this connection and, in particular, in the support it can give to that much-tried and hard-worked individual, the chief regional manager. If properly constituted, a board can give him great help by allowing him to draw on a variety of experience, a good deal of it from outside the transport industry, but in close contact with what is happening in the regional area concerned.

As I said in the earlier debate, it is the intention of the Transport Commission to appoint to these boards people of standing in their areas, with understanding of the feelings of people in those areas and of their needs. I suggest to the House that, looking at this from the point of view of what is the best method of carrying out this scheme, such a board composed of such people would be of great practical use to the chief regional manager. It can guide him, for example, on the public reaction to proposals. The House knows that transport activities impinge directly on the lives and wellbeing of the people concerned. Therefore, it is useful that those who, on a regional basis, have to administer this great scheme should have working with them and helping them a body of men who have a wide general knowledge of the needs and feelings of the locality. That is the first point.

Equally, it seems to me that it would be of value to the chief regional manager to have a board of this kind when he is dealing with the Transport Commission. If he has the backing of such a board, it must carry considerable weight if they and he, on a matter which may be in dispute or in discussion, feel the same about the needs of the area which they serve. Again, a board vis-à-vis the public, vis-à-vis the chief regional manager, and vis-à-vis the central Commission can play, if it is properly selected, a useful and valuable part. So I think that the area authorities will be stronger if they are based, as they are proposed to be, on boards, than if they had consisted of a single individual.

Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, East)

Will these new boards in any way trespass on the ground of the area consultative committees?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No. Those committees were set up originally under the Act of 1947 and there is no proposal to alter their responsibility nor, in particular, the fact that, through the Central Transport Consultative Committee they have the right to put matters to the Minister and, if necessary, to ask the Minister to exercise his powers under the Act. No, the boards certainly will not interfere with that, and I am sure that both sides of the House would not want it.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

But could not the area consultative committees give to the chief regional manager all the information to which the Minister has referred, as regards the needs of the locality and area, because they are resident there and know everything about it?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I think the hon. Gentleman confuses two different functions. The transport users consultative committees are most useful bodies, and could be even more useful if the public would use them more. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they are widely constituted but, in the nature of things, being composed of busy people, they do not meet many times in the year, nor can they and their members be expected to have the regular reading of the necessary documents and the necessary contact required for a board. The functions are quite distinct. They are both useful and neither overlaps the other. I do not think that the need for boards of this kind is abolished because the consultative committees could be used even more than they are.

Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

Would not the Minister agree that power is not vested in the boards, but that they are under the jurisdiction of the Transport Commission?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the scheme he will see how power is divided between the two. In particular, he will see that power is delegated under Article 5 of the draft order in respect of a number of important matters. The most important of all is the first one, the management of the railways. It is a mistake to say that, because the ultimate authority lies with the Commission—as it must because financial responsibility lies through the Commission and through the Minister with Parliament—the large measure of delegation proposed in this scheme is anything but a very real and very important thing.

The value of these boards turns on who is appointed to them. The House will recall that these appointments are made not by the Minister, but by the Transport Commission. That is a sound proposal and I think I can say without being controversial that in the hands of the present chairman of the Commission the House can be quite sure that these appointments will be sensibly and responsibly made.

As the House knows, it is not proposed to appoint to these boards members specifically representing particular interests and particular capacities. That point was discussed at some length during the earlier debate and I do not want to go over the ground again. However, I will say that there are bodies set up from time to time—the consultative committees to which reference has been made are a good case in point—on which it is most valuable to have people specifically representing the different aspects of our national life.

However, I suggest that these boards, which are here to do a particular job in respect of the delegated area administration of the railways, are much better selected on the grounds of the personal quality of the persons selected than on the basis of their being representative of any interests, however important. I think they will be able to do the job, which we all want to see them do, more effectively if they are there with a sole responsibility to the administration of their area board, rather than with a responsibility to outside interests, however important.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

Would the Minister say what are the qualifications expected of the part-time people to serve on the board?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The qualifications are that they should be people of good general knowledge, common sense, with knowledge of the locality and with experience of various aspects of our national life.

I think that this was explained in the earlier debate. They are just the sort of people who are on innumerable bodies set up by this House and appointed by successive Governments. We need not get excited about this. It is very much in the interest of the British Transport Commission, which makes the appointment, to secure the best men that it can. Surely we need not be alarmed that the Commission will do other than try to obtain the type of person whom I have attempted to describe and whom I think very suitable for this job.

Mr. Popplewell

We are extremely interested in this question. When we asked the Minister previously what power the boards would have, he suggested that it might be on questions of general overhaul of engines or the permanent way or in connection with timetables. The terms of the appointment of these boards are that they are to deal with questions of management. Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly tell the House exactly what the duties of the boards will be? Before we approve this order, it is essential that the House should have some indication of the duties which will fall to people who are not versed in transport undertakings.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Member knows that it is a very usual principal of administration to appoint to boards of one sort or another people who are not necessarily experts or professionals in the industry concerned. The experts and professionals are there and I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that in the regional organisation of the railways some very fine and expert people are to be found. There is nothing unique or particularly unusual about this arrangement. These people are appointed to perform a good many of the general functions of management.

I gave one or two examples to the House on 1st November, and I do not think that it is useful to go on multiplying examples, because they will have to deal with the general delegated management of the railways and the other matters which are referred to in Article 5 of the draft order in an ordinary and commonsense way. They will perform these duties in exactly the same way as, for example, within their areas and subject to the different Acts under which they operate, the area boards of nationalised industries set up under Acts for which hon. and right hon. Members opposite were responsible carry out their duties.

The question has been raised whether the chain of command will be broken. There is the Transport Commission at the top and the chain of command runs from that to the area board and from the board to the chief regional manager. The chief regional manager, and, if necessary, the specialists on his staff, will deal with their opposite numbers at the Commission's headquarters on technical matters and the ordinary running of administration, but the actual chain of command will run from the Commission to the area board. There is a very close analogy between that and the ordinary system of an Army command where the chain runs from army commander to corps commander and corps commander to divisional commander, but those who have the actual decisions to make are in constant touch with each other in accordance with their staff duties.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

They are responsible to an army commander and not to a committee of generals.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not know whether by that the hon. Member means that he would like the Transport Commission itself to be abolished and turned into a single individual. If that is where the hon. Member's argument seems to be leading, it is a remarkable suggestion from an hon. Member who was associated with the setting up of the Commission.

Mr. Callaghan

And one I did not make.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Commission takes the place of the G.O.C.-in-C. In this context, I think that it rightly takes his place and I do not see why anyone would wish to alter that arrangement at the top.

Mr. Popplewell

Do I understand the Minister to say that instructions will pass down from the Commission to the area boards, from the secretary of the Commission possibly to the secretaries of the area boards, to be transferred to the area regional managers? Is that to replace the present system, which gives the regional manager direct access to the board?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The formal instructions that follow on the analogy which I gave of the chain of command will pass in that way, but I went out of my way to say that the chief regional manager would be in contact on a staff basis with his opposite number. Indeed, his own staff will be in touch with the headquarters of the Commission in precisely the way in which I have described. I do not think that any difficulty will arise in that way. The House will be interested to know the timetable which it is proposed to follow with regard to this organisation.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word or two about Article 7 of the scheme, what the additional authorities within the area authorities are to do and what part they are to play in the general set-up?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think that I can add much to what I said in winding up the debate on 1st November. The hon. Member will recall that when that point was raised I indicated that there was no present intention to exercise the power provided by the article to set up an authority, but that in respect of the wagons pool it might well be convenient to do so in the future. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that questions of internal organisation of that sort might be provided for in the Scheme and should not require the submission of a separate scheme to Parliament. It is a necessary part of the flexibility which we all agree is the merit of the scheme.

Mr. Jones

Are we to understand that, after mature consideration by the Commission and the right hon. Gentleman, the conclusion has been reached that one cannot have a central wagon pool without setting up a part-time board to manage it?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No one has come to that conclusion. When the hon. Member was good enough to intervene, I said that there was no present intention to set up such an authority, but that experience in the future might indicate that to be desirable.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

Did the right hon. Gentleman say, "Good enough?"

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Yes, I said when the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) was good enough to intervene—because I like his interventions. I think that sometimes he likes mine.

As regards the timetable, if the House approves the order and another place approves it this week the order will be made almost immediately. On that basis the Commission tells me that it hopes to be able to announce simultaneously the initial composition of the area boards. While the Commission would not wish to commit itself formally to so doing, it hopes to make that announcement next month. That initial announcement would not cover the full seven members which, under the scheme, can be appointed to each board. It is the Commission's intention to start the boards on a smaller numerical basis with a view to adding from time to time suitable people by way of further members. The Commission, however, tells me that it sees no reason to expect to have to ask me for permission under Article 4 (3) for an extension of the three months' period within which the authorities will be set up.

This scheme has been subjected to a very healthy process of Parliamentary analysis and discussion by both Houses and outside and in the Press. It is put forward as being one of the three major steps designed to assist our railways to improve and stabilise their position in the very difficult circumstances which now face the railways of all countries.

As the House knows, proposals with respect to railway charges are likely to go before the tribunal in the near future and proposals in respect of railway modernisation are at present before the Commission. Those two items and this which is now before the House, are part and parcel of efforts sincerely and honestly made—after a great deal of hard thought and consideration—to get our railways into the state in which they can successfully cope with the very severe problems, financial and otherwise, that face them.

This scheme is put forward with that purpose in view and I believe that it will help towards that purpose and be one of the three necessary components of the new approach to railway management and organisation in this century.

Mr. Popplewell

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with a point on which he has not touched at all—the rates of remuneration for these boards? Many of us are rather suspicious and think that this is a case of "jobs for the boys." We ought to be told what is the rate of remuneration. Surely the Minister must have some knowledge of how the payment is to be made.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Where appointments are made by the Minister—that is, of members of the Commission or the London Transport Executive—under the present system it is right and proper that in the necessary legislation the salaries to be paid should be stated. As the House knows, they are stated in a White Paper. It is not the practice—nor do I think it would be desirable—where appointments are made by the Commission, either in respect of boards such as these or of senior officers, for statements to be made as to proposed remuneration. That, essentially, is a matter for the Commission and certainly not one with which I am equipped to deal today.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

The Minister has spoken most persuasively this afternoon in presenting this Order to us in his usual amicable way, which contrasts very strongly with what we were used to in the old days when he was in opposition. Sometimes I feel that in the old days he was a little more convincing than he is when he uses this persuasive tone.

Quite rightly, this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman concentrated on whether the boards which are proposed in this draft Order are the best means of securing the decentralisation of the organisation and administration of railways which we, on both sides of the House, desire to come about to the extent to which that is considered necessary. I have re-read the debate of 1st November and, having listened to the right hon. Gentleman again this afternoon, I—and, I am sure, my hon. Friends—are still completely unconvinced of the necessity for setting up these superfluous area boards.

The Minister stated at the outset of his remarks that he had taken note of the debates on the White Paper which took place here and in another place. But that is what he was instructed to do during the debates which took place during the passage of the Transport Bill. It was made quite clear to us here, and equally clear in another place, that every opportunity would be given for complete Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals and that any criticisms put forward would be taken into account and, if necessary, the order would be withdrawn and amendments made.

I note that Lord Salisbury in another place in March, 1953, stated that if the order were subjected to criticism in one respect or another and that criticism were serious enough, the Government would be well advised—any Government with any sense would be willing to do it—to withdraw it, consider what had been said, and see whether it could be amended and improved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House Of Lords, 18th March; Vol. 181, c. 185.] On 1st November, the Parliamentary Secretary confirmed that, and the Minister, in commenting on speeches made and suggestions put forward, said, in his winding-up speech that day, that many of them were helpful and constructive. Yet the Minister comes to us this afternoon with this order, which contains only one minor amendment made since the publication of the draft in the White Paper. He has listened to the debates and to the comments made by outside bodies, yet he has made only this insignificant amendment regarding the publication of statistics. It has no effect whatever on the scheme as such or on the reorganisation of the railways. This amendment merely brings the Minister in a little more for consultation. The Minister justified it by saying that it would make for greater responsibility of Ministers of this House, that we could question him on what statistics he had authorised to be published, and so forth.

In passing, I might remark that during the various nationalisation Bills, when the Minister was in opposition, every time we attempted to bring in the Minister there were strong outcries from hon. Members opposite. Invariably it was we who were attacked for giving too much power to the Minister, yet in this unimportant affair he brings in the Minister.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is a different Minister.

Mr. Davies

There are different Ministers, but some of us have a different view as to whether that is an improvement or not.

What influence has Parliament had in the moulding of this scheme?—[An HON. MEMBER: "None."]. An hon. Member says, "None," and he is quite correct. In the initial debates on the Transport Bill hon. Members opposite put forward proposals for the reorganisation of the railways and pressed on the Government the need for some form of reorganisation. As a sop to them, the Government introduced into the 1953 Bill certain Clauses to effect the reorganisation of the railways. As a result, these area boards are being introduced.

I suggest to the Minister that in view of the previous debate and the promises he has given he has failed in his duty to this House by not having taken more notice of the comments and criticisms that were made. There were criticisms of these area boards from both sides of the House and also from both sides in another place. Not only were we on this side unanimous in opposition to these area boards, but hon. Members opposite were certainly critical. One in particular, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), in a very courageous speech, attacked the boards wholeheartedly. I suggest to the Minister that he has not in any way taken into account the views which were put forward.

In one respect, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred this afternoon, he has ignored not only the opinions of hon. Members on this side of the House, but the opinions of the vast body of workers responsible for the operation of the railways. The one concrete major proposal, apart from criticism of the area boards, which we put forward from this side, knowing full well that it was one which the trade unions supported and wished to be incorporated in the order, was that there should be statutory provision for the inclusion of representatives of the trade unions to serve on the area boards.

It was proposed that the words incorporated in the 1947 Act would be appropriate to this order. There, it will be recalled, it was proposed that the membership of the various executives and the Commission itself shall be drawn from persons who have had wide experience and shown capacity in transport, industrial, commercial or financial matters, in administration, or in the organisation of workers… Surely the members of the various railway trade unions are those who are most concerned with the successful operation of the railways.

We are told that on these boards there are to be people representing commerce and industry; that people representing local interests will serve. We are told that it is not necessary for these people to have experience or knowledge in transport matters. Yet these boards, composed of people without knowledge or experience in transport matters, are to be responsible for the management of the railways and for a great number of other functions in connection therewith. The one section of the community which has knowledge of the operation and management of the railways, and which is most concerned, is not to be given the right, as a right, to serve on these boards.

Admittedly, the Minister said during his earlier speech that the British Transport Commission had told him that it was counting on the services of experienced trade unionists to assist on the area boards. That is good so far as it goes, but, after all, no Minister can commit a future Minister, any more than the present chairman of the Commission can commit a future chairman. What trade unionists have asked, and what we on this side of the House have supported, is that the terms of the 1947 Act should be incorporated in this order.

We very much regret that, in spite of the strong views expressed in that regard, both by unions outside and by Members of the Opposition in this House, the Minister has failed to take it into account. As a matter of fact, he rejected this suggestion out of hand, even before the Parliamentary debate took place, because the Parliamentary Secretary, in opening the debate, rejected this suggestion straightaway. In other words, the Minister came here with a closed mind. What Parliament said made no difference to him, and he had no intention that it should.

The Minister referred to the types of persons to serve on these boards. I suggest to him that in his consultations with the Commission—I feel sure that consultations must be taking place about the appointments—because I cannot believe that they would be left entirely to the Commission without some form of consultation with the Minister—he should eschew all former railway directors. We do not wish to go back to the days of railway directors serving on the boards of the main line companies. We do not wish to bring back those people, experienced as they then were in the operation of the railways in pre-war days.

In my view, they have had their day. They were not altogether successful. In some ways their powers may have been limited, and perhaps their abilities were equally limited. They failed in certain respects. They failed to modernise the railways, to bring them up to date and to put them into a competitive position with other forms of transport. They are not the people who should be brought back to operate a modernised railway transport system at the present time.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

The hon. Member is criticising the pre-war directors, I think harshly and adversely and even unfairly. Is it not true to say that on the crucial issue of maintaining esprit de corps among the workers they were a great deal more successful than the party opposite?

Mr. Davies

I should like the hon. Member to take up that point with my trade union hon. Friends sitting behind me.

Mr. Shepherd

I have done so.

Mr. Davies

He should cast his mind back to the pre-war days and recall the low level of wages and the working conditions prevailing on the railways at that time. If he then suggests that the workers and the railway directors shared this esprit de corps I think he is mistaken about the actual position.

Mr. Shepherd

I am not talking merely for the sake of talking. I was born in Crewe and lived there during the early part of my life. I repeat that the esprit de corps on the railways during that time was very much better than it is today.

Mr. Davies

I think we may leave it there.

I was surprised—startled—to hear the concluding remarks of the Minister regarding the persons to serve on these boards and their remuneration. It is extraordinary that we are asked to approve an order giving the Commission authority to appoint people to these area boards—and, therefore, in a way, making it indirectly responsible to Parliament—yet are not told what they are to receive by way of remuneration. It is an extraordinary thing that Parliament should debate these matters, should be concerned with them, that the whole appointment should be the responsibility of Parliament, which will delegate that responsibility to the Commission, yet we are not to be told what remuneration these people will receive.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the hon. Member quote any other case where a nationalised industry itself makes appointments and where Parliament then proceeds to fix the salary to go with those appointments?

Mr. Davies

I cannot recall any other case where the Minister responsible for a nationalised industry has put before the House a draft Order reorganising a section of that industry and made it the responsibility of this House. In the case of the various divisional boards of the National Coal Board, and so on, it is entirely an internal arrangement. It was not the responsibility of this House whatsoever.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the nationalisation Bills of his own Government were schemes presented to Parliament for reorganising—for better or worse—the industries concerned, but that no one sought to lay down what salaries the employees of those boards should receive?

Mr. Davies

They are not employees.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

They were appointed by these boards as opposed to the members of the boards proposed by the Minister. I think that the hon. Gentleman has got hold of the wrong end of the stick.

Mr. Davies

These boards have now been transformed into something different. We are now told that members of these boards are to be employees of the Commission.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The word was "appointed." [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The point of substance—do not let us quibble about words—is that the proposed boards are appointed, not by me, but by the Commission. I ask the hon. Gentleman once again to give me an example where a nationalised industry had its appointments fixed by Parliament and specified by Parliament.

Mr. Davies

I would point out to the Minister that these members of the boards are to have other occupations. They are to be part-time members, and Parliament and the public—after all, it is the public who, in the long run, will be paying their salaries—should be told what payment they are to receive.

We want to know a great deal more about the functions and the duties of the members of these boards. How much time are they to devote to their work? What remuneration are they to receive? It is the responsibility of the Minister to provide Parliament with that information.

Sir Gurney Braithwaite (Bristol, North-West)

The hon. Member is on a point of great importance. Would he tell the House what, in the opinion of hon. Members opposite, the scale of remuneration should be, if we are to attract the best men to these boards?

Mr. Davies

I suggest that the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation should ask that question of the present Minister. That is precisely the question I was about to put to him. I was about to ask the Minister what he has in mind.

Are these people to receive £200 a year or £2,000? I do not know. It is for the Government to tell us what their functions are. It is for the Government to tell us what they are to do. It is not for us to say. I want to know, because if we know what their functions are, we can assess what their salaries should be. At present we know neither. The Government are keeping us completely in the dark.

Sir G. Braithwaite

This is an important point. The hon. Member has been urging the appointment of railwaymen to these boards. In his opinion, what remuneration should they receive?

Mr. Davies

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, for whose opinions on many matters I have great respect, but I am not in a position to answer him, because I do not know what these gentlemen will have to do. That is something I am coming to in a minute, because I am still confused about the functions of the members of the boards.

If the debate we had on 1st November had succeeded in clarifying what these functions were, and had made clear what was the division of responsibility between the boards and the chief regional managers in relation to the Commission, and where this chain of command to which the Minister has referred lies, then it would have been a helpful debate. But I found the confusion worse confounded by the speeches that were made.

We have been told that the members of the boards are not to be guinea pigs, as if they were, it would not be possible to get the right type of responsible persons to serve. At the same time, we are told that they are to be part time. We are told that they are not to be responsible for day-to-day management, but, at the same time, all the instances of what these boards are to do have been examples of management. Every example which was produced during our previous debate was one of management. After all, the main function which is given to them in Article 5 (1, a) of the draft Order is the management of the railways.

Then the Parliamentary Secretary told us in the previous debate that decentralisation is not to be carried to the point where there is any destruction of unification of the railways which has been effected, and, of course, we all desire that that should not take place. But he also told us these boards are to have control over a total expenditure of all but £1 million of the total railway expenditure. He stated that of the £446 million which it is estimated the railways will spend in any given year £445 million will be the responsibility of these boards.

As explained in the White Paper, the scheme provides for the retention to the Commission of a large number of very important matters, centralised matters which should be the responsibility of the Commission arising from unification and including standardisation, and so forth. Does the Minister really think that if the total expenditure of the railways is to be the responsibility of the boards—except for this very small amount—that thereby it will be possible for the Commission to carry on these centralised requirements— this centralisation which is so essential to preserve the gains which have been brought about by unification? I find it difficult to believe that with an expenditure of only £1 million it will be possible for the Commission to continue with unification which nationalisation brought about. It seems that, there, there is inconsistency.

Any sense which appeared to emerge from the scheme, or from statements made in this House, was destroyed by the unhappy examples of the work which the boards might do, which were given to us by the Parliamentary Secretary and by the Minister. The Parliamentary Secretary told us previously that the permanent way of the railways would be one of the matters with which the boards would concern themselves and that the overhaul of locomotives would be another. He said that the Commission would lay down the general standards of maintenance for permanent way and for the repair of locomotives but that maintenance and repairs undertaken locally would be the responsibility of the boards.

Here is a technical matter which does not require the appointment of the boards. We are told that these boards will not be composed of transport men. How can these local representatives of commerce and industry know whether or not a particular section of track should be relaid, or whether a particular locomotive should be repaired? It is ridiculous that these technical matters, which, at present, are the responsibility of technical men, should become the responsibility of area boards of non-transport people and that the area boards should have the right to interfere with the technical management of this great undertaking.

The Minister himself made a choice of example even less happy than that of the Parliamentary Secretary. He suggested that the matter of time-tables should be a matter for the area boards. I do not know how much he knows about railway operations, but the drawing up of timetables is one of the most highly complicated and complex things in the whole railway industry. How can he expect that a local board can intervene in the combination of the scheduled runnings of the trains locally which have to fit in with those trains which run through from region to region? How can he imagine that there can be interference in any way with local trains when one has to plan the operation as a whole.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that, while technical aspects will, of course, play an important part—and the board will have its technical advisers—there is also something to be said, by the example I gave of drastically revising the time-table, for some attention being paid to the needs of the travelling public?

Mr. Davies

It is not necessary to appoint area boards to fulfil that function. That function is already satisfactorily fulfilled in two ways. First, there is the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. In every area there is such a committee and these committees have been made more powerful under the 1953 Act than they were under the 1947 Act.

Secondly, at present, if there is dissatisfaction—I have had this experience in my own constituency and I dare say that the Minister has in his—over the timing of certain trains, over certain suburban trains, for instance, then representations can be made, either direct to the local railway management, or to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, by the chamber of commerce, or local authority, or the ratepayers' association, or others. These representations are made and are considered and in many cases those concerned contact their Members of Parliament who take up the matter direct with the railway management. But that does not mean there is any need to appoint these boards to deal with such matters of management. There are channels for dealing with them at the present time.

The second example the Minister gave was on charges—that it would be possible for these area boards to intervene on the question of charges. Under the Act, the Transport Commission will have to present a charges scheme, as the Minister mentioned this afternoon. This charges scheme will lay down the maximum charges which can be made. Within these maximum charges there is considerable flexibility for special rates for trains. There is considerable freedom.

I suggest that that freedom will have to be exercised not by people meeting around a board table every two weeks or every month, but by decisions which will have to be taken quickly and which are the responsibility of the commercial staff. The commercial staff, operating with the chief regional manager, are responsible in these matters and are quite capable of dealing with them. If it is a question of competing with road transport or other forms of transport, then these decisions must be taken quickly in relation to all other matters for which the chief regional manager is responsible. They cannot await the decisions of a board which, in any event, may not be an entirely disinterested party in view of the fact that the members will be drawn from commerce and industry.

If it is not essential to appoint the area boards to assist in the operation of the railways, is it essential that they should be appointed for the formulation of policy? I find that the statements made in the previous debate on questions of policy are equally confusing and equally unconvincing as reasons for the appointment of the boards to deal with management. It is true that Article 5 (1) of the draft Order provides that the Commission's policy shall be carried into effect by the area boards, but the Minister has said that the boards will act not from the point of view of day-to-day executive management but from the point of view of policy in its local aspects, of a general guidance to the regional manager and by way of report on local conditions upwards to the Commission. They will, therefore, be responsible for policy.

The Parliamentary Secretary told us—and if my hon. Friends can make head or tail of this I should welcome their interpretation—that the policy will, at the same time, be the cause and the effect of what is being done by the boards. I find it difficult to understand exactly where their responsibility for policy comes in. The truth, I suggest, is that the boards have been forced upon the Commission by Conservative back bench opinion and that they have no idea what their true functions should be or will be. The foisting of these boards upon the Commission results from this vague hankering after the old railway boards, of which hon. Members opposite seem so enamoured, and it is based on a complete misunderstanding of how the old railway boards worked and what their responsibilities were.

After all, the railway boards were the final executive organ. There was no British Transport Commission above them; they were the responsible body for the management and operation of the railway system with which they were concerned. If anyone has any doubts about the way in which the boards functioned and their difference from the proposed area boards, he should read the speech made in another place on 3rd November by Lord Glyn, which made that clear.

The Opposition have been consistent in objecting from the outset to the setting up of these area boards. During debates on the Transport Bill, we stated that legislation was unnecessary for the reorganisation of the railways, that any reorganisation could take place within the ambit of the 1947 Act and that it was not necessary for the Minister to ask for legislative powers or to force upon the Commission, through statutory orders, any specific type of scheme. We stand by that attitude, but today we have the order before us and, inasmuch as it sets up these area boards, we are opposed to it.

In the first place, we consider that these boards are superfluous, that they interpose an unnecessary body in the normal chain of command which at present exists from the Commission to the chief regional manager, that they impose an obstacle which can but hamper the railways in their effective and efficient operation and, what is more, that they will merely create an unnecessary additional bureaucracy, inasmuch as the area boards will build up their own empires, will create work for themselves and will add confusion to the organisation and administration of the railway system.

The second reason for which we are opposed to the boards is that, in spite of what the Minister said today in trying to eliminate a blur, if it is possible to do such a thing, there is no doubt that confusion will be created in responsibility. It is impossible to define the areas of responsibility between the Commission, the area boards and the chief regional managers. The chief regional managers will be in an impossible position and will not know where their responsibility lies.

The Minister has made it clear that the chief technical officers must be with the Commission. That must be the case if we are to retain a centralised policy and control other matters at the centre, for which the Commission will be responsible. There must be chief technical officers at the centre and the chief regional managers, who will have to deal with them, will not know where their responsibility lies. There will be a conflict of loyalty.

I recall that the former Minister of Transport, now Secretary of State for the Colonies, during the discussion of the abolition of the Railway Executive, attacked the dualism of control. That was the main reason advanced for the abolition of the Railway Executive, but it is this very dualism of control which is being reintroduced by the setting up of the area boards. These boards cannot possibly work.

The third reason for which we are opposed to the area boards is that they threaten to diminish the gains which have been derived from unification, and they may delay or even prevent the further integration of all forms of transport. Unification followed by integration was a policy of the 1947 Act. This order reverses that policy and in our view, therefore, is a retrograde step. Unification will be diminished because of the creation of the area boards.

Fourthly, this decision makes no contribution to the current needs of transport and particularly to those of the railways. Those current needs—modernisation, electrification, capital investment now being planned—are matters which should take priority over this petty interference with the Commission's responsibilities. Because the priorities have gone all wrong in the scheme now put before us, rather than allowing the Commission to go ahead with these plans for the modernisation and improvement of the railway system, we consider that Parliament is wasting its time.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the hon. Gentleman amplify his suggestion that the Commission has been prevented from going ahead, because I was explicit on the point concerning the stage it has reached?

Mr. Davies

What I was saying was that if the energy of the Commission is concentrated, as it has been in recent months, on drawing up this scheme and working it out, and if, now, it is to be diverted to the carrying out of this reorganisation of the railways rather than to their actual operation and to preparing for modernisation, it is quite clear that it will be delaying them.

The British Transport Commission is entering into one of the most difficult periods in its career. If it had been left alone to develop freely along the lines laid down by the 1947 Act, if it had not been interfered with by a change of Government policy, many of the problems which have confronted it would, no doubt, by now have been solved. The wanton sale of the road haulage undertaking, which is taking away a large proportion of its services, which will make it far more difficult for the Commission to pay its way and is almost certain to result in deficits, means that the Commission is heading for a bad period.

If, at the very time when the management should be free to consolidate its position and develop, it is being hamstrung by the necessity of carrying through this reorganisation and by the creation of superfluous boards, which will interfere in the operations of the Commission, then a bad service will be done both to the Commission and to transport in this country. I suggest to the Minister that it is not too late to withdraw this draft Order, and to allow the Commission to get on with its job.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question on a very important point, on which we should like to hear the views of the Opposition? Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that by this particular scheme much greater power is devolved upon the Commission? Does that represent the views of the party opposite, or not? Do they think that the Commission should have further power, or that it should have less power, as is deliberately given by this scheme?

Mr. Davies

I am sorry that I do not follow the hon. Gentleman, but I do not consider that greater power is devolved upon the Commission. The Commission has power today, and in creating these area boards I cannot see any greater power devolving upon the Commission. If the hon. Gentleman is right, or if the Commission's power is not diminished, that is certainly an argument against the creation of the area boards.

4.43 p.m.

Major Sir Roger Conant (Rutland and Stamford)

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has emphasised at some length the differences between us in relation to these reorganisation proposals. I think that most of the points to which he referred are comparatively small matters, since where the railways are concerned, on the long-term basis we have a great deal on which we can all agree, not only as far as the ultimate aim is concerned, but also to a large extent on methods. We all agree that decentralisation or devolution is a proper step to be pursued.

As I see the position, when the railways were nationalised in 1947 we gained some things and we lost others, but the change was obscured and perhaps made easier by the fact of Government control throughout the war. We gained the advantages of big business, centralised buying, but I think that, although hon. Members opposite may not entirely agree, we lost a great deal in esprit de corps and the personal touch and a real interest in the needs of local inhabitants. I think we must aim now, if we can, to achieve the best of both worlds by retaining such advantages as there were by nationalisation and regaining what we lost when we gave up the old system.

In so far as these proposals are a step in that direction, and I think they are, I certainly welcome them. This will be the third step in decentralisation. As I understand the history of the railways since the war, before 1951 there was the appointment of the chief regional officers, which was the first step in devolution. Then, in 1953, we had the interim scheme by which supreme management was abolished and departmental responsibility was transferred to the regions. The chief regional officers became managers, with much greater powers.

The objection that I see to the present interim scheme under which the railways are now operating is that, while it achieves decentralisation and brings management far nearer to the railway users than under the previous system, it still provides for management of the railways by technicians and specialists alone. I think that with the best will in the world, this must mean that the technician aims to provide the best service which he thinks the users of the railways should enjoy and not what they demand.

I can quote an instance of that in relation to a very small matter concerning my own constituency. Some years ago, a local authority wanted an alteration made in the timing of a particular train. It was not a matter of great difficulty, and it only involved the train stopping at a different station from that at which it previously stopped. The local authority decided that it would be a good idea, but the region would have nothing to do with it, as it felt that they knew better than the railway users what they ought to have. The region has now agreed, I am glad to say, to send along officials to investigate the matter and to count up the number of tickets issued. I am quite sure that, under a system of area boards, with local representatives, this sort of trouble would not have arisen, or, if it had, would have been settled very much more quickly.

The most important point in this scheme, as I see it, is not so much the appointment of the area boards as their composition. I am very glad that the members are to be part-time members, which means that they will have a continuing interest in outside affairs. Their qualifications, set out in the Second Schedule of the draft Order, were rather better expressed by my right hon. Friend in his speech, but they are that the members should have had … wide experience of and likely to be conversant with the circumstances and special requirements, in relation to transport, of the area of the Authority. I think the least important of their qualifications should be a knowledge of the railways, because, after all, they have all the expert advice to assist them in the person of the chief regional manager, and what they will want to know is what the people of their region will be likely to require in the matter of transport.

It has been suggested in all seriousness that, instead of these people of wide general experience, there ought to be a body of specialists, people representing particular interests, but the difficulty about appointing such people is that they are so often selected, not for peculiar knowledge of the interests they represent, but for the lack of knowledge they possess about anything else, and I do not think that a board composed of people who are all specialists in their own fields, however worthy they may be, would be a very harmonious body with which to work.

After all, many of us in this House are specialists in one form or another—fortunately, I am not so myself—but we all claim to represent all the different interests of our constituents, however little we may know about them. The system adopted by the party opposite when they decided how the British Transport Commission should be composed should, I feel, be followed in setting up the area boards.

On the question of competition among the areas, it would be very nice in theory if one could see real competition between areas, but that is out of the question in relation to a service like the railways, and always has been, if, by competition, we mean the sort of competition that one conceives of between two private firms who are both seeking to manufacture the same commodity. None the less, by proper provision of statistics I think we could arrange for some sort of yardstick by which area boards and the British Transport Commission could compare the workings of one department in one board with the same department in another.

These reorganisation proposals cannot in any sense be regarded as a final solution. As my right hon. Friend has pointed out, success depends very largely on the spirit and the intention behind them and upon the way in which they are carried out. They represent a very great improvement on anything that we have or have had, and for that reason I am very happy to give the proposals my support.

4.53 p.m.

Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)

Some years ago, those of us who are actively associated with the transport industry had considerable misgivings about the higher appointments being given to men of military rank. It now seems that our misgivings were unfounded.

First we had General Sir William Slim, upon whom the responsibility was placed of directing staff and labour matters. He made rapid progress and commended himself to the employees, and I think to the managements. Unfortunately, the Government withdrew him for other work. Second was Major General Russell, who did his work so remarkably well that he became like a speckled bird, the envy of all the other birds round about. He has now been deprived of his opportunities, after many years, of useful work. Then we had General Daril Watson working quietly and efficiently.

Now we have Sir Brian Robertson, who is faced with the most formidable task of all. In very difficult days he is called upon to reorganise the railway service and to put it on a better basis. The only suggestion that the Minister was able to make this afternoon was that he must assist in the establishment of these area boards, despite the fact that neither the chairman of the Commission nor the members want them. They regard them as a positive nuisance, and if they were not fettered by the Transport Act they would be very glad to be relieved of the responsibility.

I am not asking the House to accept that criticism merely because I express it. If hon. Members would turn to page 11 of Command Paper 9191, "Railways Reorganisation Scheme," they will read in paragraph 26 these words: Having weighed these considerations, the Commission has decided to recommend the appointment of Boards as the area authorities provided that certain fundamental points are clearly established in regard to them. The experience of the Commission between 1948 and 1953 has shown how essential it is that the authority of the Commission in the scheme of organisation should be absolute. The scheme should admit of no doubt on this point. The function of the Commission is primarily to determine policy, but they must have the authority to ensure that their decisions are carried out. There is a danger that by the establishment of Boards as the area authorities an element productive of friction and lack of cohesion may be introduced. The Commission are, therefore, strongly and unanimously of the opinion that they alone should appoint the persons who would constitute the area authorities. What does that mean in plain English? It means that Sir Brian Robertson does not want to be faced with the difficulties that Lord Hurcomb had and that he is not going to have any more nonsense about divided responsibility and dual control. It is only because the Act of last year imposed upon the Commission the task of suggesting area boards that they come forward with what must obviously be regarded as the minimum proposals they could make. If the Minister and his friends feel that flexibility is the most desirable feature in the transport world, why should he not give the chairman and the Commission the opportunity. Give them the chance to reorganise the transport industry.

The duties allocated to the area boards in the scheme could be adequately performed by existing railway officers. The interpolation of boards between the Commission and the chief regional manager introduces an additional and an unnecessary link in the chain of authority. If we must have boards, they should contain representatives from the employees so that the Commission may have the benefit of their experience.

I am glad that there is to be no change in the boundaries. The Minister paid no attention to the suggestion of regional rivalry, distinctive uniforms and different coloured rolling-stock. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us if he is persisting with those suggestions. If so, it can only be regarded as a very retrograde step. Some of us have been in the House long enough to remember when there was regional rivalry, different coloured or different marked uniforms and different stock. What happened then to the railway industry? It got into a most shocking condition, financially and otherwise. Would the right hon. Gentleman suggest that postmen in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales should have different uniforms in order to prove their higher efficiency in one area as compared with another? Does he want to incur this additional cost merely for the sake of giving someone in the L.M.S. and someone else on the Great Western a different coloured uniform? What advantage will be derived from it? I suggest to him, after many years' experience of the railway industry, that he ought to inculcate a sense of loyalty to British railways as a whole. In that, he would be meeting the wishes of the employees themselves.

I wish to analyse paragraph 27 of the White Paper to which I have referred. The implementation of policy, including general supervision, can be covered by the full-time regional departmental managements and cannot effectively be supervised by part-time boards. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how he can possibly expect part-time people without any experience in the transport industry to be able to make suggestions to improve efficiency and to get the machine to run much more smoothly?

The fact is that the railway industry is as important and in some respects as complicated, as any other. Can the Minister conceive of the I.C.I. or any comparable body bringing in outsiders to tell it how to do its business? Why not give the Commission, whose job it is to organise the industry, the opportunity to win the confidence and the goodwill of the employees? The results would be very much better than the present proposal is likely to achieve.

Paragraph 27 (b) deals with improvements in the service and the recommendations to the Commission affecting general policy and economies. Those are already handled regionally and, as pointed out in paragraph 16, The new arrangements are working well. The Chief Regional Managers are now conscious of a real sense of responsibility for their Regions; they regularly attend meetings of the Commission for the discussion of matters of policy and principle affecting the industry. Why does the right hon. Gentleman want to interfere with arrangements that are working well, and with a method satisfactory to the Commission and encouraging to the chief regional managers? These boards will be nothing but a proper nuisance and a hindrance to everyone in the industry.

In paragraph 27 (c) mention is made of the submission of budgets and forecasts of capital expenditure within the regions. How is the part-time member to function? He will be advised by the chief regional manager that certain capital expenditure should be incurred and certain schemes embarked upon. Is the part-time member to turn the chief regional manager down? If so, on what basis, and from where will he derive his information and authority?

If the chief regional manager has been regularly attending meetings of the Commission under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Robertson he will not go to the regional board with something of which he feels the Commission will not approve, What is the part-time member to do? He has no alternative but to submit to the advice of the chief regional manager. If he does not, he then assumes knowledge which he cannot possibly have, and experience which he has not been able to obtain. The area boards should be abolished here and now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) pointed out that, in the last debate, the Minister canvassed the opinion of the House. He then heard repeated over and over again opinions similar to those which I am expressing. He asked for our opinion, and for the guidance of the House, but has ignored it completely. He has done nothing at all. It is an abuse of Parliamentary procedure to pretend that one is asking for advice knowing full well that one does not intend to accept it. Neither in his speech today nor on other occasions has there been a single indication that the Minister is amenable to suggestion and is prepared to be helped by those who have had many years experience in the industry.

Why not make greater use of the consultative committees now in existence? The right hon. Gentleman said that he thinks that they could make a greater contribution if the public would use them. That is perfectly true, but he should encourage them and say to their members, "Here is your opportunity. We have a Commission to draft policy, and a staff to implement it. If, as a result of your testing of public reaction, you feel that things are wrong, here is your opportunity to make suggestions." Why not do that, instead of introducing a part-time area board which has no authority at all except that contained in a spiteful Clause in an undesirable Act of Parliament?

The Minister should not under-estimate the task which Sir Brian Robertson and his colleagues are facing. The "Financial Times," in its leading article on the 18th November, drew attention to the difficulties now confronting the Commission. It said that, though it may be true that higher wages will be the better policy in the long run, something else must be done. The Government must give to Sir Brian Robertson that which they have denied to those in charge of the railways for several years, namely, freedom, and the ability to engage in a great capital expenditure programme.

The "Financial Times" pointed to various desirable improvements. Why have they not been brought about? It is not because the Commission has not given them attention, nor because they have not been the subject of inquiry by chief regional managers and by the trade unions concerned. Those bodies, through their consultative committees, have made suggestions over and over again. They have said that if British Railways are to be more efficient, have better railway stock and better engines, and derive the maximum benefit at the lowest cost, the problem of increased capital expenditure must be faced. The right hon. Gentleman will render a far more useful service to the community if, instead of fiddling about with area boards that no one wants, he would try to prevail on the Cabinet to allow the Transport Commission a far greater amount of money. Then, perhaps, we should get better coaches, more diesel stock, finer types of engines—and more of them. That is his opportunity, and I beg of him to take it.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Minister has, himself, diagnosed the main complaint—the area boards. Will the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply, quote a single instance of anyone wanting the boards except a few back benchers on the other side? Does the chairman of the Commission want them? If he does, why put in all these conditions? He does not want them. He wants absolute authority. He does not want the Government to nominate the members—he wants to nominate them himself. If Sir Brian Robertson has his own way—and here I do not blame him—he wants yes men on the area boards, and so avoid all the trouble he can. If they are not yes men they will be a nuisance. The area boards should be abolished at once and the job should be left to those who are now doing it.

5.7 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

There is one point on which I think we can all readily agree with the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), namely, that capital expenditure is vital for the railways. I take the view that it would matter very little what organisation the railways have, so long as they had enough capital to modernise themselves. From the remarks of the superheated phalanxes of railway experts on the empty benches opposite, one would judge this to be an important debate. In truth, it is a debate upon a very narrow issue indeed.

When my right hon. Friend introduced his proposals, I think that we all agreed with the Transport Commission itself that a degree of devolution was necessary; and that debate, and this present debate, is merely as to the method of devolution. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), and the hon. Member for Swansea, West chased what I thought were some rather tired hares—and chased them unsuccessfully. In due course, I shall deal with some of the points they raised.

On this narrow issue of devolution the Government are not alone in choosing the method of area boards. The scheme which was originally put up was not the Government's scheme at all, but, as the hon. Member for Swansea, West should be reminded, it was initially the Commission's scheme, and, of the various alternatives open to it, it was the Commission who choose to use the method of area boards now embodied in the scheme.

Mr. P. Morris

The hon. and learned Gentleman may agree that the obligation to submit a scheme was imposed on the Commission; otherwise it would not have undertaken the task at all.

Mr. Renton

Yes, we can all be corrected by the experts on the Front Benches—that is what they are there for. My recollection is that it was proposed to set up area authorities and to set up one or other of the organisations, which the 1953 Act left open. At any rate, the scheme before us is the scheme which the Commission chose—let us say within its limitations. Let us put it that way. I think that we can all agree with that.

I have been brought up to believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The hon. Member for Enfield, East flattered my hon. Friends by saying that the Government had, in effect, succumbed to the ideas which we put into their heads. I must say that we do not take full credit for all that the Government have done in this matter; but I should have thought that the Government could very well claim that they had flattered the party opposite, because what they have done is to adopt the system of part-time area boards which the party opposite chose for coal, gas, electricity, and regional hospital boards. We have not interfered—and, so far as I know, we do not intend to do so—with the broad structure of those boards. They have worked perhaps better than many of us thought they would. Why on earth should not the same broad structure be tried with railways? What can be the objection to it?

Mr. Manuel

I object to the hon. and learned Gentleman drawing a parallel between regional hospital boards and what is proposed here. I was a member of a regional hospital board, which included in its membership very skilled people drawn from the hospital service. There cannot be that comparison.

Mr. Renton

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think he is being a little obstinate. We are not concerned only with industrial organisations, whether it is a matter of production as with coal or industrial chemicals, or whether it is the provision of services as with electricity and transport, but also with the provision of a slightly different brand of service, namely, the medical service, or with a charitable organisation like the National Gallery, and so on.

We in this country understand very well the position whereby the day-to-day responsibility for management is carried on by tried experts, men who have reached eminence in their field and who are followed in the years to come by other experts of the same type. But those experts, it has been found, whatever the field of activity may be, have something to gain by taking advice, not every day not perhaps at least every month, from people of intelligence, of proved public integrity and reputation, people of some broader experience than the experts who are carrying on the job.

To my mind, that is a sound principle, which is now part of the British way of life, and hon. Members opposite made a great extension of that principle—and I pay them credit for it—when they established these area boards themselves. Therefore, if we are quarrelling about area boards as the main matter in issue between the House, we are quarrelling on a very narrow point, and a very surprising point also.

There can be many shades of opinion about the details of this scheme. Varying shades of opinion were expressed on both sides of the House in our last debate on this subject. My right hon. Friend considered them. I would assume that he consulted the Chairman of the Transport Commission in considering them. He decided to make one small but quite significant amendment.

I think that we must accept the scheme as it is now in a spirit of trust, knowing that it is a scheme which has been evolved by railway men, knowing that the experts have had their go at it, and that the politicians in both Houses have had their go at it. In passing, may I mention, in answer to the hon. Member for Swansea, West, that there was one very eminent noble Lord who was himself, so to speak, the architect of transport nationalisation, who, if I understood his speech correctly, did not have very much to criticise in the scheme which is now before us. We must accept this in a spirit of trust, and give it a trial.

I did not speak in the last debate, so may I mention one matter of detail, this question of regional accountability? Many of my hon. Friends and I regard it as most important that there should be a yardstick, not only to compare one region with another, because that is sometimes very difficult to do. What each region requires is a yardstick whereby, even roughly, it may compare its own performance in one year with another. For that reason, some of us thought that it was important to get a little more closely buttoned up this question of the publication of regional accounts.

It is not a question of preparing regional accounts, because they have got to be prepared anyway. If the Transport Commission produces global accounts, they contain only a summation of what is contained in the regional accounts submitted to them. It is no question of asking the regional authorities to do something which is not done within their own walls. The question which arises is the question, how much this House and the public, as well as the phalanxes of railway experts everywhere, should be allowed to go and see and compare for the sake of constructive criticism.

Mr. Ernest Davies rose——

Mr. Renton

I think I should be allowed to finish this point before giving way. My right hon. Friend said in the last debate that we attached importance to the representations which my hon. Friends had made, and that he had asked the Chairman of the Commission to appoint a committee to consider exactly how much more, if any, regional accountability was possible. We cannot after this very short distance of time—only three weeks—expect to hear any further on that point at the moment; but I think that all concerned—my right hon. Friend, hon. Members, whether they agree on that point or not, and the Commission itself—appreciate the importance of the matter, and I express to my right hon. Friend the hope that the House will be kept informed of the progress of the inquiry which the Chairman of the Transport Commission is having made.

Mr. Davies

I want to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman not to mislead the House on this question of regional accountability. There is a very great difference between the present system of accounts and that which prevailed under the four main line companies. The railway clearing house has been abolished, and although there may be regional accounts kept, they do not reflect the inter-regional traffic, because there is no clearing system as there was. One cannot have a comparison on that basis.

Mr. Renton

I entirely agree. In fact, my hon. Friends who have discussed this matter on the Floor of the House and elsewhere have always made it clear that they realise the present limitations of regional accountability, but at the same time we point to the Third Schedule and say that these mere operating statistics are not good enough as a yardstick.

That is as far as we go, and we ask that thought be given to the question of comparing costs especially, and if it can conceivably work out, some way of comparing receipts one year with another. We realise that most of the goods traffic in this country moves not within regions but from region to region. Let that be clearly and fairly understood. We are not being oppressive towards anybody. We simply want to get the best yardstick.

May I in conclusion refer to two points to which I attach great importance? I am very tempted to follow the hares to which I referred earlier, but I think I have spoken long enough. First, I should like to feel that the whole House wishes the Transport Commission well in the operation of this scheme, although we may disagree with the details of the scheme. May I say, to some extent in contradiction of the hon. Member for Enfield, East that I know a number of railwaymen who are not political supporters of mine, but who, when we got into power and although they had voted against us, looked forward to the regional decentralisation proposals. I have got that from them.

This scheme will work much better if it is supported by both sides of the House. I think it will be a very great pity if, through an excess of zeal in the party opposite, there were a division.

With all humility, I should like to say a word about the Chairman of the Commission. He took over his chairmanship at an exceptionally difficult time of change. He is the sort of man, who could have served his country in so many different fields. As it is, he responded to the call to serve it as head of our British Transport Commission. He has now given his life to it and has thrown himself into it heart and soul. Hon. Members sometimes become so enthusiastic about their own pet ideas—criticising this and praising that—that they are inclined to forget, or take for granted, the immense burden which he is carrying. In my humble way I should like to pay tribute to all that he is doing, and to wish him all success in operating this scheme.

5.21 p.m.

Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)

I hope that the Minister, even at this late stage, will consider some amendment to the Order now before the House. I want to suggest to him a way in which he can remedy a fault which, I suggest, is contained in it. The Minister, together with every hon. Member who has spoken from the benches opposite, spoke as though the difference between us was a very narrow one. My view, however, is that the whole work of railway operation has been most unfortunately bedevilled during the last three years by political disputation, and I am certain that that has resulted in harm to the industry.

The scheme recognises the possibility that additional functions for area boards will be provided in the future. The Minister must surely recognise that in the course of the natural evolution of railway reorganisation, devolution or decentralisation, we are not going to accept as eternal the present regions. They exist, perhaps, as a result of historical accidents a little over 30 years ago, and they should certainly not be perpetuated for ever. If, in following out a natural development, the Commission forms not regions but transport areas, does the Minister recognise that, according to the Order, to each of these reorganised areas there must be attached an area board?

Let me explain what I regard as the natural evolution of railway development. I have described the present regions as historical accidents. Earlier on, the Minister spoke of the value that will be derived from the voluntary help of part-time people who can give immense help to regional management. One has only to examine one region—from Carlisle to Euston—to appreciate the difficulty of saying which locality will render the manager the greatest benefit from local knowledge. The truth is that there exist natural transport areas. The North-East Coast is one; Birmingham is another; South Lancashire another, and there are Carlisle, Bristol, Leeds and South Wales. All these are natural transport areas, determined, not by the 1921 Act, but sometimes by the importation of raw materials and sometimes by the steel and coal regions around them. The manufacturing regions in Birmingham and South Lancashire are natural transport regions and, sooner or later, the railway system has to be developed, in devolution or decentralisation, to take account of those areas.

I want to emphasise the fact that if, in the natural course of development, the Transport Commission ultimately constitutes transport areas rather than regions, this Order ties to each area the area board laid down in the 1953 Act.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

That is an interesting point. Can the hon. Member explain exactly what he means? He has mentioned Birmingham—but the railway does not end there; it comes from London and passes through Birmingham on its way to somewhere else. When one considers a railway one must surely consider the terminal points, and not merely a central section.

Mr. Hargreaves

We are not here concerned merely with terminal points. If that were so, Glasgow and London would be the only areas which affected us. I imagine that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) would be as concerned as I should to find that, besides the Transport Commission, all the regions, with the exception of two, had their headquarters in London. I do not think that London is the be-all and end-all of our transport system.

Mr. Wilson

The railways happen to run to London.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

They also run from it.

Mr. Hargreaves

Perhaps the hon. Member for Truro is not aware of the fact that railways run to many other places. His experience of railways may not have led him to appreciate that fact. Most people, especially those concerned with freight working, recognise that natural transport regions such as I have described do exist and that, sooner or later, the evolution of transport development will have to recognise that fact. It may be that sources of raw material will alter in time, and to that extent my argument may be less effective, but the real point of the matter is not affected; this Order ties to every one of those areas an area board, which I regard as quite objectionable.

I should like to direct the Minister's attention to one or two further objections, which I think are sound ones. If the area boards bring to their regions a knowledge and experience of the needs of industry as consumers or customers of transport, large and import ant customers of the railway system will naturally gravitate towards the boards. There is a danger inherent in that. Suppose, for instance, the National Coal Board, or Imperial Chemical Industries, or the Shell-Mex Company, all of them outstandingly important customers of the railways, went to an area board and tried to influence the freight rates of that board, as they could under this Order. The railway system is exceedingly anxious to carry traffic of the sort those great industrial concerns have to send. Suppose those companies were to proceed to influence freight rates in certain directions, that would constitute a danger and an influence that might work to the detriment of the whole set-up. At all events, it is an influence of which the Minister must take account.

It has been said, and the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) emphasised, that among many employees on the railway system there is a belief that with decentralisation their knowledge and experience will be brought to bear more effectively and closely on railway operation in the future. Certainly that belief is strongly held. There also is a danger to which the Minister's attention ought to be directed. He must know that even in the present large regions the mobility of labour is to some extent hampered, at all events among the lower grades, because the system of transfer from one region to another is not at all reasonable. For instance, the vacancies in those grades are not advertised, or, at any rate, not widely enough, and not between one region and another.

The more we can make labour mobile in the future the greater will be the advantage to the whole system. In certain areas there is a great shortage of labour. In the older railway centres where there is a tradition of railway working in many families, a tradition that in some families extends over many generations. In places like Carlisle, Crewe and Swindon, the labour strength can be maintained; but in other areas there is a really desperate need for additional labour. Therefore, I think we can be in agreement over this, that the more we can make labour mobile the better it will be for the transport industry.

We are keeping our speeches as short as we can to allow as many hon. Members as possible to take part in this short debate, and, therefore, I shall not spend any more time in elaborating what I have attempted lightly to sketch. I hope the Minister even at this late stage will take account of the criticisms and suggestions that have been made in relation to these proposals and this Order. I hope he will even consider amendments to the scheme, to make it fit in with the promises made both here and in another place some months ago.

5.34 p.m.

Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)

Having listened to both this debate and the previous one, it has become clear to me that the Opposition base their dislike to the proposals of this White Paper on the narrowest of grounds. Hence the most illogical arguments have been put forward in support of their case. They have criticised the idea of area boards and questioned their value as part of the railway system. In doing so, they have turned Nelson's blind eye on the well-proved basis for successful management of private companies in industry in this country; they just conveniently ignore it.

Almost without exception, every industrial company operates with a board of directors on a part-time basis, with specialists and experts and permanent officers. That structure of management and operation is, broadly, what is proposed by this scheme for the railways. I believe it to be a basic and sound structure. As one of my hon. Friends has already observed, when the Opposition were the Government they imported into all their Measures for the nationalisation of industries provisions for the establishment of area boards and regional hoards, wisely copying private enterprise.

It is always valuable and stimulating to bring into an organisation brains from outside. It gives the technicians and administrators additional confidence, and infuses new ideas into the organisation. It is all too easy for a vacuum to be created inside an organisation in which the same problems are being considered by the same people day after day and week after week. A new man coming in can introduce new angles to an old problem. Very likely he will have contacted and consulted other individuals and other bodies outside the organisation, and so can increase the value of the advice he can give it. A new man can bring new thoughts, new light, guidance and encouragement.

The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris)—whose experience in these matters, obtained over a number of years, I personally respect, so that I listen with great interest to what he says on these subjects—tonight asked a theoretical question: who wants these area boards? I answer that I believe the country wants them. No one in this House can sincerely say that he feels easy about the position of our great railway organisation. It has tremendous problems to face—problems of labour, problems of competition, problems of finance. As to the last, I would ask my right hon. Friend, when he proposes to spend money on the roads, not to forget railway finance, and I should say that the railways ought to have priority, though many would not, perhaps, subscribe to that opinion.

I repeat, the country wants this reorganisation, and I personally look forward with anticipation to the implementation of these proposals. I entirely agree with them in their broad outline. I have, however, a certain amount of reservation about the proposals defining general administrative responsibility; they are not clear enough. When I first heard of the idea of having area boards I hoped that some of the national figures of industry would be induced to serve on them, and I still hope they will. I mean men of national reputation. They would remove any doubt of the sort mentioned by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), that industrialists and others introduced from outside the railway organisation on to the area boards would use their position to further the interests of their own companies. I repudiate the suggestion. I really do not think they would in any circumstances abuse their position.

I hope we do not depend too much, in recruiting members for the area boards, merely on localities. I hope the Minister will look at the national scene, and compose these boards of men with well-known names and reputations, men who have achieved singular success in other fields of industrial endeavour. Such men would give great strength to the railway organisation, and as a consequence the public would have greater confidence in our railway system and all who administer it.

I have been looking up what was said on a previous occasion about the representation of the trade unions. I myself, as many of my hon. Friends do, support strongly the proposal for trade union representation and, indeed, regard it as a cardinal principle. We desire and would welcome the presence of representatives not only of the railway trade unions but also of unions representing other branches of industry. Their co-operation also would strengthen the organisation. Their experience would be of invaluable use. I believe that our railways should be able to command the finest brains and the most progressive minds that the country possesses, bath leaders of industry and leaders of the men.

The hon. Member for Swansea, West made an admission and paid a compliment. He said that he had had great doubts about the introduction of some of the outside personalities into the railway industry when the railways were first nationalised. He proceeded, very fairly, to say how much he admired the work they had done. I hope the time will come when his doubts about the establishment of area boards and their efficiency will also be removed, and that in due time he will be able to say he admires the value of their work.

The hon. Member was, however, quite right, as were some other hon. Members, in suggesting, as they did rather positively, that the British Transport Commission have some reservations. I have a feeling that, perhaps, the wording of the White Paper indicates that. I feel—at the moment I am addressing myself to the Minister—that, as matters now stand, the men we want might not be too happy about coming forward 'because of the vagueness with which the responsibilities are dealt with in the White Paper.

Further, does the Minister think it reasonable to ask such men to do this important public work, giving up part of their time, for a two-year period only? With our taxation system as it is today—I would draw this to the attention of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies)—any remuneration which they receive, whatever it may be, will mean nothing at all to them. They will virtually, if not absolutely, be giving their labours free in the national interest. I do not understand why the two-year period was introduced. I should have thought that a period of three or four years would have been more acceptable. It is unlikely that anyone would be able to grasp the complexities of the industry within the short period of two years. One or two of them may be strong-minded enough to take firm views; they will not want to feel that if they express themselves in a certain manner it may be found convenient to remove them after two years.

These boards ought to have more strength and more authority. For example, the chairman of the area board ought certainly to be a member of the Commission. We should then have a proper chain of authority. He would take part in the deliberations of the Commission and would know the full policy for the whole of the railway structure, and he would then convey these policies to his own area board. Surely that is logical and sensible.

I have a genuine fear about the manner in which the scheme is projected by the White Paper—I do not suggest that it is more than a possibility—and that is that there may be conflict of opinion between area board members and the area general manager. What happens then? Before we proceed any further, the position ought to be carefully defined. I do not want the new area boards merely to be tacked on to the office of the area general manager so that they have the feeling that they are there only to criticise. They should know what their authority is and how far it goes. I should be the last person in the House to suggest that they should interfere with the day-to-day management of the railways, and I hope that the type of man who would not presume to do that will be selected.

The proper functions and duties of boards of directors are well known and understood. The boards ought to have one important power which is common to most boards, and that is that all future principal administrative appointments in an area, including that of the area general manager, should be within the authority of the board. Certainly, the appointment of a new area general manager should require the endorsement of the board. After all, the board has to work with the general manager and the general manager has to work with the board. The last thing we want is to have people who are not in harmony with one another.

We believe the area boards are absolutely necessary to the structure of the railways. We have talked time and time again about regionalisation of the railways, but I have heard no concrete suggestion from the Opposition for any alternative method. The Opposition accept the need for a reorganisation; but it does not say what should be done.

The most powerful argument for such boards and the bringing in of outside men is the acquisition of new minds and experience drawn from a wide field of interest and knowledge. There may be a need for some local interest, but not an interest in time-tables and changes in the permanent way. I want to go far above that. I want these people to be pushing the area general manager to ask for more money and to reinforce him in getting that money not only from the Commission but from Parliament itself.

The appointment of the area boards will lead to greater confidence on the part of the general public in the railways. The railways are subjected to a great deal of public criticism, some justified and some unjustified; at all events, we cannot deny that there is strong criticism. The public are uneasy about the present condition of the British railways. Men coming in from outside and looking at matters from a new angle may be able to meet many of the unreasonable criticisms and eradicate many of the ones which are justified. In this respect they can give powerful support to the area general manager, who has a task of enormous importance and is a key man in the economy of the country. The area general managers will welcome good advisers and supporters.

One thing that the boards will do is to restore good regional pride. I see an hon. Member opposite shaking his head. I mean not uniforms, different coloured flags and all the rest of but a real pride, like that in one football team as against another in friendly but keen rivalry. There will be friendly rivalry and a desire to do better than others. This cannot be done in everything, but it can be done in many things, and one of the things that we want back in the nationalised industries is the competitive element.

Further, we visualise for these appointments men who have made a mark in British industry particularly by their wise handling of labour and their knowledge of labour relations. They can help to bring into the industry a new approach, a new human touch. One of the great complaints about large industries today is that the top men never make real contact with the men down below. One of the very important duties of the members of an area board should be to make that intimate personal contact with railwaymen at all levels, identifying themselves with the railwaymen in their relaxation and on the social side as well as in connection with the industry's problems. We have to restore to the railwayman his pride in his craft, which has been ebbing. There are many who think that British Railways are today running with the brakes on. We must get rid of that idea.

The greater the load we can put on the railways, the more efficient will the railways be. The more freight and passengers we can make the railways carry, the easier shall we make the Minister of Transport's problem with regard to the roads. Modernising the railways would be the greatest single contribution that we could make to solving the great problem of road congestion.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the policy of his Government is precisely the opposite to that?

Mr. Robson Brown

That is a rhetorical question. I should like the hon. Gentleman to offer me some proof, for I cannot possibly accept what he says. Every time someone has wanted to bring in a new red herring during the debate he has dragged in road transport. Let us keep to railways at the moment. I would be most ready to argue on road transport another time.

British Railways are the railroads of the country. It is not accidental that "road" forms part of "railroad." It is not accidental that the British railroads helped to build up the country's economy into the unassailable position which it held up to the turn of the century. It is only during this half-century that the position has deteriorated. The railroads are industrial arteries from factory to factory and from factory to seaboard.

Both sides of the House wish the railway organisation well. We know the huge task that it has in front of it. I believe that these proposals, with certain modifications, will make it more attractive to the best brains to give us their aid. The industry will be the better for it, and the nation will also benefit greatly.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

My hon. Friends and I can agree with much of what has been said by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) but we differ from his assumption that these desirable changes can only be effected by creating six area boards upon which are to be placed two to six people who will give a few hours of their spare time now and then. We do not believe that by that means the desirable ends which the hon. Member outlined will be achieved.

Mr. Robson Brown

I agree with the hon. Member. I hope that the Minister will delay the appointment of the boards until he has more than two members for them and nearer six. It would be a big mistake to start with too small a number. Let us have a proper board and not a skeleton board.

Mr. Sparks

Whether that be so or not, the proposals in the White Paper are sheer hocus-pocus. I listened very intently to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say in support of them. He was questioned on one or two occasions as to what he thought the spare-time duties of these individuals were to be.

He gave me the impression that he thought that it would be a good thing for the chief regional managers to be able now and then to break away from the burdens of day-to-day management and to consult a small select club comprising a few individuals who might meet now and then as a kind of hobby, and that he would feel greatly relieved to join this little private club and to have some pleasant discussions with them, and also a game of ping pong. He thought that by being able to break away and have a chat with these delightful gentlemen the chief regional managers would be able to solve a great many problems. The fact is that the whole of the scheme embodied here is completely superfluous, absolutely redundant and serves no useful purpose whatever.

What the right hon. Gentleman said in support of the proposal gave us the impression that the great weakness of the railway organisation at the moment is that it is so concerned with the problems of its own internal organisation that it loses sight of the wider public interest, and, therefore, it is necessary to have a few spare-time people at hand to bring pressure to bear on the chief regional managers and on their departmental officers to ensure that they take greater cognisance of the general public interest.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong, because without any area boards whatsoever there is very close contact by the British Transport Commission and the officials of British Railways with all forms of public interest. I should like to refer the right hon. Gentleman to the sixth annual report of the British Transport Commission, Volume 1, and to the reference on page 9 which appears to have completely escaped his attention. Paragraph 51 of the report states: Relations with the users of transport have for a long time been highly organised so far as railway freight transport is concerned. Contacts have been maintained with the Federation of British Industries, Chambers of Commerce, the Mansion House Association, the Traders' Co-ordinating Committee, and other such bodies, during 1953, not only in regard to services and charges, but even on occasion in regard to the future organisation of the Commission. The Commission recognise, nevertheless, that a further strengthening of commercial relations with their customers, whether as organised bodies or as individual traders, is a development much to be desired, and steps are being initiated to bring this about. All that is completely independent of the proposals in the White Paper. I believe that these proposals are completely inopportune because there already exists, apart from the contacts which the British Transport Commission and the officials of British Railways now have with the public interest, a wide range of transport users' consultative committees.

The main purpose of those committees is to do precisely the same thing, in general, as the right hon. Gentleman is arguing should be done by the area boards. When he gave the impression that very little, if anything, had been contributed by the transport users' consultative committees to the problem of railway organisation, he was really not aware of the work that those bodies have been doing.

I should like to refer the right hon. Gentleman again to the report which I have already mentioned. Paragraph 53 says: During 1953 the eight Area Transport Users' Consultative Committees and the Committees for Scotland, Wales and London held 51 meetings, while the Central Transport Consultative Committee met on five occasions. As in previous years, consideration of proposals for withdrawing services from railway branch lines occupied much of the time of the Committees, particularly those whose territory covers the more rural areas. Other subjects dealt with included the adequacy of train and bus services and questions relating to both passenger and freight rail charges. Most of the Committees considered the Transport Bill prior to it becoming the 1953 Transport Act, and the Central Committee submitted to the Minister comments on behalf of all the Committees. This is part and parcel of the activities of the British Transport Commission and of British Railways, and I think that it is a great record of contact with the public in an endeavour to organise and operate British Railways in the widest possible interests of the community.

Here we have an organisation set up of 12 transport users' consultative committees, all attached to the British Transport Commission to help it perform its public duties, and the right hon. Gentleman is now going to superimpose on those 12 committees six more area committees and an unlimited addition to those six which the right hon. Gentleman may think it fit for the British Transport Commission to create. If there is one thing which the right hon. Gentleman is doing it is completely to strangle the initiative of the British Transport Commission, and, therefore, the railways, in carrying out their functions and purposes. That is exactly what he is attempting to do.

When we come to consider the duties and responsibilities of these area committees, it must be remembered—and I re—emphasise it-that these persons who are to number from two to six are to be part-time members; they are not going to give the whole of their time to studying the problem of the area which they are looking after. They are just to be men—I do not presume to suppose that there will be any ladies on the area boards——

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

Why not?

Mr. Sparks

Why not, if they can be found, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman intends that. These individuals are to come on these area boards to serve not a primary purpose but a subsidiary one as a kind of hobby. Their main interest will be somewhere else. They will devote themselves to this work for so many hours per week or per month, as the case may be. They will have no intimate connection whatever with the internal organisation of British Railways. What are they expected to do?

The White Paper says that they are to be responsible for the management of the railways. What exactly does that mean? Let me take one region only of the six. What does a region comprise? The Western Region, for example, covers an area from Penzance to Paddington, a distance of over 300 miles, from Paddington to Birkenhead, nearly 250 miles, and then across the whole of Wales and back to Penzance, a distance as the crow flies of approximately 250 miles.

Within this geographical triangle are concentrated some of the most important industries in the country, including coal and tinplate in South Wales, engineering, and important agricultural areas. Consider the operation that takes place within that geographical area—the immensity of the freight train problem, the passenger services, the engineering services, motive power and a hundred and one other problems that need the closest and detailed attention of any man if he is to exercise intelligence in giving decisions from time to time on the organisation of the region.

These part-time people are to be entrusted, we understand, with the expenditure of British Railways. Presumably, they will be given responsibility for deciding how much money is to be spent, but no responsibility, apparently, for revenue earning or for charges. The whole thing must inevitably break down if charges are centralised in a central body and if expenditure is divided among six separate regions.

Revenue and expenditure are two vitally important aspects of railway organisation, and expenditure cannot be properly planned without control of the revenue-earning capacity—that is, the charges for conveying goods and commodities. I believe, therefore, that the proposal will completely break down because of the one-sided nature of the scheme, that is, the centralising of charges in a national authority, and the de-centralising of expenditure over a number of separate area boards.

Then, we are told in the White Paper that the next responsibility of the area boards will be in promoting initiative in improving the services and facilities afforded to the public on the railways, and in effecting economies. The next function is ensuring that contact is maintained with transport users so that the requirements of such users in relation to the railways may be met to the fullest possible extent consistent with the general duty of the Commission. But that is largely the function of the transport users' consultative committees. That was what British Railways were doing before ever the idea of area boards was invented. Now, we are to have superimposed on the transport users' consultative committees these area boards to do precisely the same thing.

We are told that the area boards will have the responsibility of ensuring that proper measures are taken affecting the safety, health and welfare of persons employed by the Commission on or in connection with the railways. That is an important function; it is, perhaps one which the area boards can carry out. In regard to all the other responsibilities that are to be placed upon these area boards, however, is there anybody outside Bedlam who can say that two to six people, giving a few hours of their time as a kind of hobby, will be competent, will have the knowledge of internal railway organisation and will be conversant with all the demands of industry and agriculture in a region and with the traffic movements and the problems of organisation? Does anybody say that such persons will be able to tell the people who are doing the job from day to day exactly how they should perform their duties? The fact is that these area boards will prove to be white elephants.

Hon. Members opposite seem to be completely unaware of how the railways are organised. They agitated first for he removal of the Railway Executive. There might be something to be said for that, because the Executive intervened between the Commission, which was the supreme authority, and the regions and regional managers. It is true that the Minister's hon. Friends have got rid of the Railway Executive, but he is now re-establishing, not one but six bodies.

It was bad enough to have to deal with one executive, but it will be far worse to have to deal with six. We believe that the area boards are completely unnecessary, because the present basis of organisation is the best and would prove to be the most efficient. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were always proclaiming how well the old general managers discharged their responsibilities because they had the power. They were not restricted. They had the power and initiative to get the job done. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not leave things exactly as they are?

The chief regional managers now have more power to conduct the operation of their regions. They are responsible to the Transport Commission, as they should be—in the old days they were responsible to a board of directors—and the chief regional managers have at their disposal at least 15 departmental chiefs; that is to say, chiefs of at least 15 separate departments of railway organisation, men who know what is required and who have their finger on the pulse of every phase of activity and organisation of British Railways.

The departmental officers each have about 20 or more district officers carrying out directions in their regions. Each district officer is in turn responsible for staff varying in number from about 1,000 to 8,000. Throughout British Railways there are about 200 district officers, and these are the men who are in daily contact with the public and with transport users. They do not operate in a kind of closed cell. Part of their function and purpose is to maintain the closest possible contact with all the users of transport in their areas.

A district officer who is responsible for the Plymouth district of the Western Region does not require to consult somebody 300 miles away in London, a part-time individual who does the job as a hobby, as to the requirements of his own region. He knows them better than anybody else knows them. These district officers have regular conferences with their chiefs; and at the head of them is the chief regional manager, who is responsible to the British Transport Commission.

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could by any means improve upon the present plan, and it is my conviction that this sort of scheme has been put forward to placate hon. Gentlemen opposite because they have a political motive in what they are doing. Therefore, the proposals which remain before us are quite unnecessary. In my opinion they will create difficulties where they do not at present exist.

The Transport Commission will find itself strangled by a network of all kinds and sorts of committees while the chief regional managers, restricted in the exercise of their initiative by the area boards on the one hand, and the British Transport Commission on the other, will be between the devil and the deep blue sea. I, therefore, say that these proposals are bad for British Railways, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late hour, to withdraw them and allow the status quo to remain.

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

It falls to me to try to put the Opposition's point of view about the Order which the Minister has laid, and for which he seeks the approval of the House. But before I proceed to do that there is one very important though small matter about the Order itself, upon which I would invite the Minister's comments. May be he will be able to clear it up right away. Article 10 says, Subject to the provisions of this Scheme, the Commission may, with the approval of the Minister, delegate to any authority, subject to such conditions and limitations as the Commission may impose, any functions of the Commission not concerned or directly concerned with the operation "— I want to stress these words— of the railways, and, subject as aforesaid, the Commission may at any time, with the like approval revoke or vary any such delegation. What I want to ask the Minister—and he will readily appreciate the great importance of the point I am making—is whether I am correct in thinking that under Article 10 it will be possible for the Commission to delegate to an area board responsibility for negotiating the wages and working conditions of the staff? I am sure the Minister appreciates the point, and if he knows the answer I am perfectly willing to give way to him, because it is a point which ought to be cleared up at once, if it can be.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not wish to be discourteous to the hon. Gentleman, but I think it would be more convenient if the answer to that point and to other points which have been raised are given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he winds up the debate at the conclusion of the hon. Member's speech.

Mr. Collick

Very good, I am perfectly willing to accept that, but the Minister will appreciate that the trade unions and everyone concerned in this important industry consider this to be a point of very great substance.

I will only add that it has been understood all along—and we had some arguments about it in the early days of the 1953 Bill—that such powers would be held centrally. I have read every word of this Order as carefully and as diligently as I can, and I imagine that it would be perfectly possible under it for those powers to be transferred to an area authority. If I am correct on that point, then I say that neither the Minister nor the House ought to approve this Order tonight. Subject to that, we shall await the explanation to be given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Anyone listening to the Minister today would have had no difficulty in finding the differences there were between both sides of the House on this matter, and I want to come to that aspect as quickly as I can. Before I do so there is a small point which I desire to have cleared up. When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was addressing the House three weeks ago he used these words: There will be six boards responsible for the administration of the existing six regions which will be renamed 'areas.'"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 1st November, 1954; Vol. 532, c. 37.] I have never heard one single word of explanation yet why it is necessary to rename the regions as "areas."

Three months hence, when this Order becomes effective, as it undoubtedly will, I imagine that the railway typists from one end of Britain to the other will be busily engaged each morning typing out the word "region" on the notepaper and substituting the word "area" for it. I should like to know why it is necessary to have this change made. I asked a Conservative opponent of mine if he could tell me the difference between the meaning of the word "region" and the word "area" and he replied "I should have thought that both have about the same meaning."

Mr. Follick

No, they have not

Mr. Collick

They may not have, as my hon. Friend says, and he knows more about English than I do. However, the ordinary person in this country does not care a fig whether the British railway system is named in areas or whether it is in regions. What practical difference does it make whether we say "regions" or "areas"? If that is not change for the sake of change, I do not know what is.

Now I want to come to the real issue about this Order—what is the real difference between us? We can determine this matter only on the basis of the case which the Government make or fail to make. I have in recent years listened to almost every speech on this subject of transport, and I stand here tonight utterly unconvinced that the Government have made a case for these proposals. I believe there must be Members on the other side of the House who take a pretty dispassionate interest in these things, and we are bound in the nature of the case to share that view.

When we had the discussion on the White Paper, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred to these area boards. I should add that the real issue contained in this Order is the question of these area boards. We differ from hon. Members opposite about their creation and whether they are necessary or not, and because of that we have a different view about the Order which is before the House.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave us two examples of what he thought the area boards would do. He said: When, however, it comes to a question of what particular length of permanent way requires to be renewed that will be a matter for the area boards. Is there a single hon. Member on the benches opposite who really believes it is necessary to create an area board to determine what length of permanent way needs to be relaid? If the Parliamentary Secretary went into the office of the permanent-way engineer in York or any of the other railway centres, any of our permanent-way superintendents could tell him what length of line required to be relaid. My submission to the House is that we do not need an area board to tell us that.

His second illustration was expressed in these words: When it is a question of what locomotives require to have a major overhaul to satisfy the general standard laid down, that, again, will be a matter for the boards."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1954; Vol. 532, c. 41.] Is there any hon. Member on the benches opposite who thinks that an area board is needed to say what locomotives need a general overhaul? Any mainline locomotive driver can say what engine needs a general overhaul. If the hon. Gentleman will go down to Nine Elms, Stratford, Willesden or any of the other depots, he will soon be told. We do not need an area board to tell us that.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that an area board might be able to help on the question of seasonal travel into an area or about through trains to the Midlands or to the seasonal resorts? Does he not think an area board might be able to help on the question of whether there was a demand for a loop line in a certain area or whether season tickets were likely to be on the increase, having regard to the increase of population or the new industry coming into the area?

Mr. Collick

I do not propose to be diverted from the argument originating from the Front Bench opposite in relation to locomotives. Any main-line engineman can say what locomotive at a depot needs a general overhaul without any area board being established.

The Minister gave us two examples of what an area board would do. One has been referred to by my hon. Friends, the question of timetables. The other was the question of railway charges. I am not sure whether the Minister is right on this point, or whether I am. What he said was: I suggest that the application of such charges under the much freer system may be a matter which it is very appropriate indeed that an area board should be able to consider and decide upon within local limitations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1954; Vol. 532, c. 147.] I agree that there is the qualification "local limitations," about the meaning of which I am not quite clear. Article 18 of the Order, however, states that one function which is not to be delegated to the area authority-I emphasise the word "not"—is the general control of the charges to be made for the services and facilities provided for the purpose …

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, under the proposed charges scheme there will be much greater flexibility in charges, and it is a question of using that greater flexibility for local variations which seemed to me to be a particularly appropriate matter for the area boards to consider.

Mr. Collick

It is useful to have that explanation because I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on this point amongst technical people.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I am sorry.

Mr. Collick

If the Minister is satisfied that he is correct about it, I accept his assurance readily.

Now I want to come to the other issue. When I first heard examples given of what the area boards were to do, I thought there was so little in it on that basis that it was not worth much argument. But then, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary dropped what I thought was a bombshell. Referring to the preparation of the annual budgets, he said that the regions would submit them to the Transport Commission. Then the hon. Gentleman told us that the total expenditure on the railway system would be about £446 million, of which the area boards would be responsible for expending £445 million. What a different position that puts the area boards in. It means, in effect, that they will not have little or no power. If they are to be responsible for spending £445 million and the Transport Commission is left only with £1 million, the area boards will have quite a big job.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Collick

I am glad to hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary say "Hear, hear." It makes the area boards of greater significance than most of us on this side of the House were willing to believe.

Let us look for a moment at what will happen, and how this has come about. It is no secret. I heard the present Lord Chancellor, in the old days, speaking from this Dispatch Box when the Minister was on the third bench behind. What was the plea of the right hon. and learned Gentleman on every railway debate? On this very theme of decentralisation, which is behind this Order, he said, "Let us have an inquiry, let us decentralise." I could quote indefinitely from his speeches recorded in HANSARD but I am sure the Minister will remember them as well as I do.

What actually happened? There has never been an inquiry. Even the first Chairman of the Transport Commission made clear in another place the other day that there had been no patient inquiry on this point. This scheme has been imposed on the Transport Commission at the political whim of the Government because of their hatred of nationalisation. Let us be honest about it.

Mr. Robson Brown

indicated dissent.

Mr. Collick

I do not quarrel with hon. Gentlemen opposite who oppose nationalisation. I recognise that they have a right to an opinion and a right to express it.

They cannot denationalise the railways because the railways are not sufficiently profitable to be sold, and therefore they cannot sell them out as they are trying to sell out long-distance road haulage. What, then, do they want to do? They call it decentralisation. The previous Minister of Transport ordered the Transport Commission to prepare a scheme decentralising the railways. That was done without any real understanding of the decentralisation which had already been, or was in process of being, carried out by the Commission itself.

The Government said to the Commission, "We do not know how you can do it but you must produce a scheme which decentralises the railways." Acting under these orders the Commission have made the best of a very bad and difficult job. The result is the Order which is now before the House.

I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown). It was evident that the party opposite are so used to boards of directors that we are now to have area boards because such a proposal is a little nearer to the substance of the things which hon. Gentlemen opposite were so used to in the old days. How well I remember Sir Robert Home, a distinguished member of the party opposite. I remember that he was chairman of one of the old railway companies. There was a point in having boards of directors in those days when they were handling their own investors' money.

Sir Robert Horne had an enormous number of directorships. Other directorships were very useful to certain railways with which he was associated. Is there any comparison between conditions then and conditions in which it is now proposed to have area boards in nationalised railways? We shall certainly have the nearest thing to boards of directors by having these area boards to spend enormous sums of money.

It should not be forgotten that British Railways are among the biggest purchasers in the country. Their contracts are enormous. The railway industry is the biggest single industry. The gentlemen who will sit on the area boards will have a few things to do. They are to be part-time members. They will not be more than six in number and may be fewer in each region, and yet they are to spend £445 million.

I can tell the Minister that the wife of the ordinary railwayman is having a full-time job, with rising prices, in deciding how to spend her few pounds, and ordinary railway workers will not find it easy to accept the idea of boards which can do these kinds of things on a part-time basis.

This proposal has been forced upon the Commission. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. P. Morris) made perfectly clear, the Commission did not want it. It has been forced upon the Commission by those back benchers opposite who have been pressing the Government to do this all the time. The Minister knows that as well as I do.

So much for the functions of the boards. How will they work? There is to be the Transport Commission at the top, then the area-boards and then the chief regional manager, though I suppose that he will now be called the chief area manager.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter


Mr. Collick

Thanks very much for that.

I am sure that hon. Members will remember that in all our railway debates since the present Lord Chancellor first took part in them, the argument has been that more power should be given to the regional general manager. The party opposite used to say, "Why should the general manager have to go to the Transport Commission? Why should he be tied to the Commission? Why cannot the system be decentralised so that the regional manager can be the boss of his own show?" That was the argument from the benches opposite, but the Government have not given him more power in this scheme. They have now introduced an area board.

I have some sympathy with the chief regional officer. He is employed by the Commission and is responsible to it, and he is now to be responsible also to an area board. Can we wonder that the Commission, in its own language, in the White Paper expressed the gravest doubts whether this arrangement would be worked properly? The Commission expressed its concern about the possibility of difficulties arising from this set-up.

I do not know whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary wants me to repeat the words again. I should have thought everybody knows them by now. Paragraph 26, in page 11 of the White Paper, states: There is a danger that by the establishment of boards as the area authorities an element productive of friction and lack of cohesion may be introduced. One cannot escape that possible danger, which is foreseen by the Commission.

It is reinforced in its opinion by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), who said: … the area boards are likely to throw sand in the wheels and cause, friction in the existing managerial set-up in the regions. The hon. Member added: I suggest that the introduction of area boards consisting of a number of directors might throw a small spanner into the works, which, are at long last, beginning to turn smoothly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1954; 532, c. 107–108.] Does the Minister wonder why we are opposing this scheme? At long last, as the hon. Member for Canterbury rightly says, the wheels are beginning to run smoothly, yet this is a moment when the Government propose to enforce the carrying out of the Order which creates these boards.

Anybody who knows the feelings that exist at the moment among railwaymen and the delicacy of the existing wage negotiations, anybody who has his finger on the pulse of what is happening, must be concerned, as in fact the Commission itself is concerned. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with the words used by the Commission itself in pointing out the difficulties that must ensue if these constant changes are made.

It is perfectly proper that Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, should argue as long as it likes and make decisions on political principles such as the nationalisation of the railways. That is legitimate political controversy between us. We accept it, but when the House has made its decision, as it has done in this case, and has appointed a Transport Commission with responsibilities for running the railways, the Government should leave the Commission to do the job and hold it responsible for doing it.

What competence, what experience, have hon. Members opposite to interpose boards like this—without any inquiry—into a complex and highly technical industry like the railways? In my opinion they are doing the greatest disservice possible. Because my colleagues and I understand that, we shall have no hesitation at all in voting against this Order in the Division Lobbies tonight.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Member will have to get them to come from upstairs to do so.

Mr. Collick

That is something which applies equally to both sides of the House because, if this question were voted on now, there would be six hon. Members in the Lobby from the benches opposite.

We have been warned, and if this House acts in defiance of that warning it acts on its own responsibility. When the idea of these rearrangements was first put forward, the first chairman of the Railway Executive wrote a letter to "The Times." He expressed his fears on this subject in these words, just two years ago, when the idea was first mooted: Only four years have passed since our railways underwent a considerable reorganisation, which has by no means reached finality. Great and lasting economies have been achieved through unification, and, in my opinion, it would be folly to throw these away by hasty action. The railways are one of the nation's biggest industries, and even senior officers with years of experience in their operation will be hard put to it to face another internal convulsion in so short a time. Moreover, the reaction on the railways' staffs themselves will hardly be less upsetting.… I can add my words to those of Sir Eustace Missenden. I can imagine nothing more upsetting to the railway staffs at the moment than to have this scheme forced upon them. In my judgment, and in the judgment of my hon. Friends, this Order should be defeated, unless the Minister undertakes to withdraw it.

6.43 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

The sound and fury and indignation with which the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) concluded his speech did not obtain the merited applause from his back benchers, no doubt owing to the fact that they are otherwise occupied.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Where are the supporters of the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Molson

I am perfectly willing to accept the suggestion that we should have a Division on this issue now, if we could so far depart from the ordinary custom of the House. In that case, this Order would be successfully carried by the very much larger number of Conservatives here than members of the Opposition. No doubt the trial of the seven 20th Century bishops taking place upstairs is responsible for the small attendance——

Mr. Davies

That is not in the Order.

Mr. Molson

Had there been a larger attendance, especially from the Left-wing of the Party, I think that some passages in the last two speeches we have heard from hon. Members opposite would have met with stern disapproval. We have the hon. Member for Birkenhead speaking with indignation of "change for change's sake" and reproaching us for making an unnecessary change. The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) got worked up and begged for the maintenance of the status quo. What a marvellous line on which the Socialist Party will go to the country at the next General Election.

I will try to justify the attitude of my right hon. Friend in re-presenting this scheme with only one modest change. We undertook that the matter would be looked at again in the light of the debates on the White Paper which took place in both Houses. That does not mean to say that the Government abdicate their right to take a decision after listening to the views which have been expressed. My right hon. Friend went into the matter with the utmost care. He was present during almost the whole of the previous debate and studied the speeches made in this House and elsewhere——

Mr. Davies

And took no notice of them.

Mr. Molson

—and came to the conclusion that in fact there was only one Amendment of any size which required to be made.

In the speeches we have heard from hon. Members opposite the main question asked has been, what are the functions of the area boards? I thought that m the earlier debate we made the position reasonably clear, but, in view of our failure on that occasion, I shall devote the comparatively short time left at my disposal to trying to repeat the explanations then given.

It would be convenient if hon. Members looked at the White Paper which was debated on that occasion. In page 2, paragraph 6, the Commission explained what it hopes will be the new organisation. It says:

  1. "(a) The British Transport Commission is a policy forming body
  2. (b) The Area Authorities are also policy forming at area level and supervisory —
  3. (c) In spite of (a) above there are certain matters of day-to-day management requiring general treatment."
Where matters require general treatment, it is still possible for the Transport Commission to ensure that there shall be the necessary measure of uniformity. That is the answer I give to hon. Members who said that by introducing this degree of devolution we ware breaking up the unity of British Railways. If hon. Members turn to page 11, paragraph 27, they will find a perfectly plain and straightforward explanation of what is intended by this new system: The responsibilities which the Commission would place upon the area authorities in relation to the railways would be
  1. (a) to exercise as organs of the Commission general supervision of the railway system within their areas and particularly to ensure that the policies laid down by the Commission were faithfully executed; "
The paragraph goes on under "(c)" to say: to submit such budgets and forecasts of capital and revenue expenditure as the Commission might require.

Mr. Sparks

Can the hon. Gentleman explain the relationship of these functions to the different functions specified in the White Paper? They are not the same.

Mr. Molson

The order gives legislative effect to the principles which are explained in the White Paper. The hon. Member for Birkenhead took up especially the point I made about the responsibility of the area boards for the expenditure of £445 million out of the total expenditure of £446 million. He said that when I gave those figures he and his hon. Friends realised for the first time that the boards were intended to be really responsible authorities. I am very glad indeed that I gave those figures. Perhaps that was the only way to bring home to hon. Members opposite that this really is intended to be a serious measure of devolution.

What is intended is that the British Transport Commission shall be a policy-making authority in the sense I mentioned on the previous occasion, that for example, it shall decide what shall be the general standard of maintenance of the permanent track. They will decide what general type of locomotive and rolling stock shall 'be produced. But the area boards will control and be responsible for the great workshops at Swindon, Doncaster and Derby, so that they will be responsible for the actual production of the rolling stock and the locomotives on the general designs approved by the British Transport Commission. The hon. Gentleman ridiculed what I said about the maintenance of the permanent way. That is a very heavy financial responsibility, but although the actual question of testing some particular length of line is a technical matter with which the boards will not be concerned, they will be responsible for the expenditure of the whole of this sum of money.

Mr. Collick

But the hon. Gentleman would admit that the deduction which I drew from that was that it was not necessary to set up area boards to achieve that purpose.

Mr. Molson

I was just coming to that point. Perhaps it is not necessary, but in the view of the Government and the Commission it is extremely desirable that boards should be set up to take decisions of that kind.

The hon. Member for Acton complained that they were to be responsible for the expenditure of money, but not for the raising of it. What will happen on the railways is what happens in any other commercial concern—or any Government for that matter—that is, all the experts will want to spend more money than is available. After the area boards have prepared budgets for what each board would like to spend upon developing the services in its area, the budgets will be submitted to the Commission the Commission may say, "In view of the amount of money available, it will be necessary to make certain cuts in the expenditure which you desire to embark upon in your area."

When it comes to deciding how a limited sum of money is to be spent upon a great and complicated undertaking, it is necessary to decide priorities. That is an extremely difficult thing for any technical man to do. That is exactly the point at which it is desirable to have a board composed of responsible men with experience of administering other concerns, to decide where the cloth is insufficient to make the coat desired by the technical people.

Mr. Sparks

But the hon. Gentleman has got all that without area boards. It is at his disposal in the transport users' consultative committees.

Mr. P. Morris rose——

Mr. Molson

I can only answer one question at a time. I am glad that the hon. Member for Acton has brought up this hare about the Transport Users' Consultative Committees. It has been mentioned by several hon. Members opposite who have confused bodies representing those who use transport and boards set up to manage the railways. The point of view of the different organisations is diametrically opposed. There is always the danger that if the administration of a great concern like the railways is left in the hands of technical people, they will be more concerned with running their railways in a convenient way than with meeting the requirements of the public.

Mr. Ernest Davies rose——

Mr. Molson

No, I cannot give way. I have been given a short time in which to answer, and I am trying to deal with the points which have been raised.

The purpose of setting up these boards is to ensure that the organisation administering the railways is not only assisted by general knowledge of how to run big concerns, but is also generally representative of the people living in a particular area.

Mr. Sparks

If the hon. Member will look, he will find it is all in the Order.

Mr. Molson

The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) said that the members of the boards appointed by the Commission would be "Yes men." I would refer him to what I said on the last occasion, when I gave a categorical assurance on the part of the Commission that it had no intention of appointing "guinea pigs" to the boards. That assurance was given me by the Commission in order that I might give it to the House, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept it, coming as it does from the highest authority.

It is quite incorrect to suggest that the Commission which drafted these regional proposals are against the appointment of boards; and when we are asked exactly what kind of people we intend to have on them, I would refer hon. Gentlemen to paragraph 2 of the Second Schedule: Each member of the Authority who is not a member of the Commission shall be a person who has in the opinion of the Commission had wide experience and is likely to be conversant with the circumstances and special requirements, in relation to transport, of the area of the Authority.

Mr. Sparks

What does that mean?

Mr. Molson

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as capable of interpreting simple English as I am. [HON MEMBERS: "Do not be too sure of that."] I hope he will also accept that a statement of that kind drafted by the Commission is an honest expression of its intentions.

I thought that the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) was less concerned than most hon. Gentlemen opposite with scoring party points. He referred to one or two matters about which he felt some doubt. He suggested—and I think that many of us would agree with him—that it would be a mistake if the existing transport areas were regarded as being eternal. In paragraph 22 of the White Paper the Commission makes it plain that at the present time it intends to continue the existing boundaries. Within those areas it considers that it may be necessary to set up smaller authorities in order still further to decentralise the day-to-day control. But the order itself gives the Commission power to make changes in the areas and the powers of these various inferior authorities.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead asked my right hon. Friend whether under paragraph 10 of the order it would be within the power of the Commission to delegate to the boards responsibility for important wage negotiations. The answer to that is "No." He will find that … the Commission may, with the approval of the Minister, delegate to any authority, … any functions of the Commission not concerned or directly concerned with the operation of the railways, and, subject as aforesaid, the Commission may … revoke or vary any such delegation: Therefore, it would not be within the powers of the British Transport Commission to delegate to the boards wage or labour negotiations.

If the hon. Gentleman will turn to page 9 of the White Paper, which explains the spirit in which the British Transport Commission proposes to administer this, he will find that it intends to continue as it has done in the past. The Commission takes direct charge of certain specific matters and in these he will find labour relations of a major character. He can therefore be entirely assured that none of the major negotiations, which I am sure he has in mind, can, under the present system, be delegated, and it would not be the policy of the British Transport Commission to pass them on to any subordinate authority.

Mr. Collick

I now understand that the Commission cannot delegate some powers. My interpretation was that it could. I imagine the Parliamentary Secretary has legal authority for what he has said.

Mr. Molson

It is perfectly plain. At the same time, in order to make the thing quite plain, I would point to something else with which I am sure the hon. Member would agree. It would obviously be a very good thing in the day-to-day administration of the areas, where some small matter in dispute arose, for that matter to be dealt within the area and not on a national basis.

I have tried to deal with the main points which have been raised in this debate today. I have not been able to deal with all the matters which have been raised, because of the limited time at my disposal. I make no complaint of that. But I hope the House will now be prepared to pass this Order, which we believe will combine the benefits of decentralisation with the benefits of having a single policy-making body at the head.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 286; Noes, 266.

Division No. 239] AYES [7.3 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Alport, C. J. M. Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) Maclean, Fitzroy
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead) Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Gammans, L. D. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)
Armstrong, C. W. Garner-Evans, E. H Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)
Ashton, H. (Chelmsford) Glover, D. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.) Godber, J. B. Maitland, Cmdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Astor, Hon. J. J. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A. Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Gough, C. F. H. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir Reginald
Baldwin, A. E. Gower, H. R. Markham, Major Sir Frank
Banks, Col. C. Graham, Sir Fergus Marlowe, A A. H.
Barlow, Sir John Gridley, Sir Arnold Marples, A. E.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Grimond, J. Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)
Beach, Maj. Hicks Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Maude, Angus
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maudling, R.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.) Hare, Hon. J. H. Medlicott, Brig. F.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Mellor, Sir John
Bennett, William (Woodside) Harris, Reader (Heston) Molson, A. H. E.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter
Birch, Nigel Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield) Moore, Sir Thomas
Bishop, F. P. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Black, C. W. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.
Bossom, Sir A. C. Hay, John Nabarro, G. D. N.
Bowen, E. R. Head, Rt. Hon. A. H. Neave, Airey
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Nicholls, Harmar
Boyle, Sir Edward Heath, Edward Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Braine, B. R. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Nield, Basil (Chester)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Higgs, J. M. C. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Braithwaite, Sir Gurney Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Nugent, G. R. H.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Oakshott, H. D.
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Odey, G. W.
Brooman-White, R. C. Hirst, Geoffrey O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Browne, Jack (Govan) Holland-Martin, C. J. Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hollis, M C. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Bullard, D. G. Hope, Lord John Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hornsby-Smith, M. P. Osborne, C.
Burden, F. F. A. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence Page, R. G.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Partridge, E.
Campbell, Sir David Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Carr, Robert Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Perkins, Sir Robert
Cary, Sir Robert Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Channon, H. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J Peyton, J. W. W.
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.) Kurd, A. R. Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Pitman, I. J.
Cole, Norman Hutchison, James (Scotstoun) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Powell, J. Enoch
Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Iremonger, T. L. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Raikes, Sir Victor
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Ramsden, J. E.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Jones A. (Hall Green) Radmayne, M.
Crouch, R. F. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Kaberry, D. Remnant, Hon. P.
Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.) Kerby, Capt. H. B. Renton, D. L. M.
Davidson, Viscountess Kerr, H. W. Roberts, Peter (Heeley)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Lambert, Hon. G. Robertson, Sir David
Deedes, W. F. Lambton, Viscount Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Digby, S. Wingfield Langford-Holt, J. A. Robson-Brown, W.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Leather, E. H. C. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Roper, Sir Harold
Dormer, Sir P. W. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Doughty, C. J. A. Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Russell, R. S.
Drewe, Sir C. Lindsay, Martin Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond) Linstead, Sir H. N. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Llewellyn, D. T. Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas
Duthie, W. S. Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Schofield, Lt.-Col. W
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Sharpies, Maj. R. C.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Shepherd, William
Errington, Sir Eric Lookwood, Lt.-Col. J. C. Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Erroll, F. J. Longden, Gilbert Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Fell, A. Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Finlay, Graeme Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Snadden, W. McN.
Fisher, Niget Lucas, P. B. (Brentford) Soames, Capt. C.
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Spearman, A. C. M.
Fletcher-Cook, C. McAdden, S. J. Speir, R. M.
Ford, Mrs. Patricia McCallum, Major D. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Fert, R. McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S. Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Foster, John McKibbin, A. J. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Stevens, Geoffrey Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway) Wall, Major Patrick
Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.) Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.) Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth) Watkinson, H. A.
Storey, S. Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C N. Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.) Tilney, John Wellwood, W.
Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray) Touche, Sir Gordon Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Studholme, H. G. Turton, R. H. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Summers, G. S. Vane, W. M. F. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Sutcliffe, Sir Harold Vaughan-Morgan, J. K. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Vosper, D. F. Wood, Hon. R.
Teeling, W. Wade, D. W. Woollam, John Victor
Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. PL. (Hereford) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Wills and Mr. Robert Allan.
Acland, Sir Richard Fernyhough, E. Lindgren, G. S.
Adams, Richard Fienburgh, W. Lipton, Lt.-Col. M
Albu, A. H. Finch, H. J. Logan, D. G.
Allan, Arthur (Bosworth) Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.) MacColl, J. E.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Follick, M. McGhee, H. G.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Foot, M. M. McGovern, J.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Forman, J. C. McInnes, J.
Awbery, S. S. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) McKay, John (Wallsend)
Bacon, Miss Alice Freeman, John (Watford) McLeavy, F.
Baird, J. Freeman, Peter (Newport) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Balfour, A. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J. Gibson, C. W. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Bartley, P. Gooch, E. G. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Bence, C. R. Greenwood, Anthony Mann, Mrs. Jean
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Manuel, A. C.
Benson, G. Grey, C, F. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Beswick, F. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mason, Roy
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mayhew, C. P.
Bing, G. H. C. Griffiths, William (Exchange) Mellish, R. J.
Blenkinsop, A. Hale, Leslie Messer, Sir F.
Blyton, W. R. Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Mikardo, Ian
Boardman, H. Hamilton, W. W. Mitchison, G. R.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hannan, W. Monslow, W.
Bowden, H. W. Hardy, E. A. Moody, A. S.
Bowks, F. G. Hargreaves, A. Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.) Morley, R.
Brockway, A. F. Hastings, S. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Hayman, F. H. Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Mort, D. L.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis) Moyle, A.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Herbison, Miss M. Mulley, F. W.
Burke, W. A. Hewitson, Capt. M. Murray, J. D.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hobson, C. R. Nally, W.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Holman, P. Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Callaghan, L. J. Holmes, Horace Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J
Carmichael, J. Houghton, Douglas Oldfield, W. H.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Hoy, J. H. Oliver, G. H.
Champion, A. J. Hudson, James (Ealing, N.) Oswald, T.
Chapman, W. D. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Owen, W. J.
Chetwynd, G. R. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Padley, W. E.
Clurnie, J. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen N.) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Coldrick, W. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Collick, P. H. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Palmer, A. M. F.
Collins, V. J. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pannell, Charles
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Parker, J.
Cove, W. G. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Parkin, B. T
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Janner, B. Paton, J.
Crossman, R. H. S. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Pearson, A.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Jeger, George (Goole) Peart, T. F
Dames, P. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Plummer, Sir Leslie
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Popplewell, E.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Johnson, James (Rugby) Porter, G.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Jones, David (Hartlepool) Probert, A. R.
Deer, G. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Proctor, W. T
Delargy, H. J. Jones, T. W (Merioneth) Pryde, D. J.
Dodds, N. N. Keenan, W. Rankin, John
Driberg, T. E. N. Kenyon, C. Reeves, J.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W Reid, Thomas (Swindon)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. King, Dr. H. M. Rhodes, H.
Edelman, M. Lawson, G. M. Richards, R.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Rogers, George (Kensington, N) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J. West, D. G.
Ross, William Strauss, Rt. Hon George (Vauxhall) Wheeldon, W. E.
Royle, C. Stross, Dr. Barnett White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Shackleton, E. A. A. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Swingler, S. T. Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E Sylvester, G. O. Wigg, George
Short, E. W. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Wilkins, W. A.
Shurmer, P. L. E. Thomas, George (Cardiff) Willey, F. T.
Silverman, Julius (Erdington) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.) Williams, David (Neath)
Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y)
Skeffington, A. M. Thornton, E. Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)
Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent) Timmons, J. Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield) Turner-Samuels, M. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.) Usborne, H. C. Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Snow, J. W. Viant, S. P. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Sorensen, R. W. Warbey, W. N. Wyatt, W. L.
Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Watkins, T. E. Yates, V. F.
Sparks, J. A. Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Steels, T. Weitzman, D. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.) Wells, Percy (Faversham) Mr. Wallace and Mr. John Taylor.
Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. Wells, William (Walsall)

Resolved, That the Draft British Transport Commission (Organisation) Scheme Order, 1454, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th November, be approved.