§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]
§ [Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the limit imposed by paragraph (b) of subsection (l) of section twenty-six of the Transport Act, 1953, on the amount outstanding in respect of borrowings of the British Transport Commission, it is expedient to authorise such increased charges on the Consolidated Fund and payments into the Exchequer under that Act and the Transport Act, 1947, as may, by reason of the Treasury's power to give guarantees in connection with
the borrowings of the British Transport Commission, result from increasing the said limit from two hundred and seventy-five million pounds to six hundred million pounds.—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.]
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
This Money Resolution states:That for the purpose of any Act … it is expedient to authorise such increased charges…as are set out.
When we are asked to approve an enormous increase in borrowing powers it is right that we should consider for a moment or two the conditions under which we think such increases would be expedient. I ask the pardon of the Committee for rising at this stage, but I do so because there is, in the middle of my constituency, one of the biggest railway marshalling yards in the country and also several important railway installations. My own feeling is that although we must give the Bill to which we have given a Second Reading every chance, it is important that we should be very watchful as to how the money is spent.
In my constituency money has been spent by the Transport Commission in various ways for the railways. I should like to give just one example of how some of the money has been spent in the past—money which has been raised as a result of legislation which it is sought to amend by this Resolution.
On Ely station, which I use quite frequently, the signs under the lamps were, unfortunately, mistakenly painted after nationalisation in the Great Northern colours. About six months ago a decision was taken to repaint those signs in the blue and white which has now become familiar for British Railways. The cost of that work was £300. I do not know how many other stations have been similarly affected—
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
On a point of order. In view of the fact that the Resolution refers to the borrowing of money—presumably largely for capital purposes—is this quite in order, Sir Charles? What is being referred to now concerns simple current expenditure.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Before you give your Ruling, Sir Charles, may I say that I should have thought that railway station signboards, and so on, were capital installations. They are part of the 1855 capital equipment of the station, and it is for that reason that I have directed my remarks to them.
§ The Chairman
I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman began by saying he was giving an example, and that he was against the £600 million being given if it was not to be spent wisely.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am only showing how some of the money has been spent. When we are asked to increase the borrowing powers from £275 million to £600 million I want to make quite sure that it is really expedient to raise the amount to that figure. As I have already pointed out, the wording is:That for the purposes of any Act … it is expedient to authorise such increased charges …All I am trying to show is that in many instances the borrowing powers which existed under existing legislation up to a sum of £275 million have been used in a way which has been highly unsatisfactory, and I know that it causes a good deal of dissatisfaction among railwaymen. Many railwaymen, for instance, are horrified by the latest idea of altering the badges on railway engines. They regard that as a gross waste of money, and I am inclined to agree with them.
We have a plan for the modernisation of British Railways. To assist the Transport Commission to modernise—and I should be the last to dispute the desirability of modernising our railways—we have just given a Second Reading to the Bill. When considering the Money Resolution we want to make sure that the Transport Commission will spend the money on a proper modernisation scheme which will make the railways more efficient instead of on implementing trivialities which are extravagant, unnecessary and merely cause dissatisfaction amongst the men who work on the railways, many of whom are my constituents.
I could give many other instances of what the Transport Commission did when borrowing powers were given to it in days gone by. The Commission removed perfectly adequate notices and notice boards from stations—notice boards in heavy cast brass with raised lettering—and replaced them by blue-and-white enamelled tin trash. That is the way in which money was spent on the railways. 1856 That is what nationalisation meant. I want to make sure that when the Government ask for authority to raise the Commission's borrowing powers from £275 million to £600 million-and that is what the Money Resolution does—we shall see that that sort of thing does not happen again. If it does, the object of the Act will be defeated.
All of us, on both sides of the House, want to see the railways given every possible chance of paying their way. My view is that as long as they are nationalised they never will pay their way, but that is a matter of opinion. We want to give them every chance to pay, and my feeling is that unless we have an assurance that the Transport Commission will not be allowed to misuse capital in the way in which it has misused it in the past, then we should be very wary indeed of authorising, as this Resolution authorises, an increase in the Commission's borrowing powers from £275 million to £600 million
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not know, Sir Charles, how far you will permit me to follow my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) into the precise arrangements made for painting signboards on Ely station. Apart altogether from the fact that I should have thought that a coat of paint was probably not capital expenditure, my difficulty is that this Resolution, as opposed to the Bill on Second Reading, relates, if I understand it rightly, not to the increased borrowing powers themselves but to the provisions in the Bill under which those increased borrowing powers are covered in respect of the Treasury guarantee—that is to say, in the words of the Resolution:… it is expedient to authorise such increased charges on the Consolidated Fund and payments into the Exchequer under that Act and the Transport Act, 1947, as may, by reason of Treasury's power to give guarantees in connection with the borrowings …As I understand, the matter which is to be covered here is not the details of the Commission's expenditure but the possibility that by raising the amount of the guarantee which the Treasury can give to the Commission under the Transport Act, some liability might arise. Lacking my hon. and gallant Friend's dexterity and adroitness, I find it difficult to relate that matter to the painting of signboards on Ely station, although 1857 I will certainly take note of that important matter.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
In view of the fact that the Minister is unable to give his hon. and gallant Friend the assurance which he was seeking, does his hon. and gallant Friend now propose to divide the Committee on the matter?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I know my right hon. Friend well enough to know that when he says he will give attention to a matter, he will do so. I have tried, as all hon. Members try from time to time, to air what is a very severely felt grievance by many of the railwaymen in my constituency. That is all I have tried to do. My right hon. Friend has assured me that he will give attention to the matter which I have raised, and that is all I can ask.
§ Mr. Morris
The trouble is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not like the colour of the paint.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.