§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Motion that is on the Order Paper, perhaps I may suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House if the Amendment to the Motion were moved at the end of the debate instead of at the beginning, because it is an Amendment to add words and, strictly speaking, if it were moved at the beginning it would restrict the subsequent debate on the Amendment. I know that on both sides of the House hon. Members wish a little more freedom to discuss the Report. If that is agreeable, it would be a convenience to the House.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Seventh Annual Report, Statement of Accounts and Statistics of the British Transport Commission for 1954.I am sure that the House will agree that the Commission's Report is clear, brief and informative. For that reason, it is not easy to summarise it. I shall seek, in presenting it to the House, to deal with matters in rather a different way and order. The Commission treats all its undertakings as different forms of transport, and so it has successive chapters headed:Main Features, Manpower, Development and Financial Results.Those are in Part 1. In Part 2 the Commission begins to deal with the activities of the different forms of transport for which it is responsible. It might be for the convenience of the House in our discussion this afternoon if I dealt with the different carrying activities of the Commission in the order of their contributions to the Central Fund, as shown in paragraph 230 of the Report.
British Railways are still by far the largest net receipt-earning activity of the Commission. Of the £31.8 million total net receipts, the railways, even in 1954, provided £14.8 million, which was a fall of £18.2 million from the figure of the previous year. This sudden and serious fall 1580 was due chiefly to wage increases totalling £18 million, to an increase in the price of coal and to other costs. While all those costs rose suddenly, the statutory machinery for authorising increases operates very much more slowly. That is undoubtedly inevitable in the case of a great public service like transport, but it obviously leads to heavy deficits at times of rising prices.
I do not think it can fairly be suggested that the deficit is in any way due to a decline in the efficiency of British Railways. On the contrary, the increasing efficiency noted in recent years has probably continued, and is shown in the diagram of statistics relating to efficiency shown in page 61 of the Report. The principal index of efficiency is generally understood to be net ton-miles per total engine-hour. The index for 1954 was very little below the high level reached in 1953. This is undoubtedly due to the decline in freight traffic, and the more serious decline of 3 per cent. in ton-miles.
The 1954 index was, notwithstanding the decrease in traffic, still substantially in excess of that achieved in 1952, or in any previous year, including the pre-war years. I think that British Railways are justified in pointing with pride to the fact that since the war charges per passenger mile have risen by only 90 per cent., whereas the cost of living and nearly all prices and wage rates have risen by far more.
While paying tribute to the efficiency of British Railways in bringing about this result, we ought, I think, to remember that travel is probably an increasingly important feature in the national expenditure. The increasing concentration of large numbers of workers in large factories, and also the decanting of workers into housing estates—frequently quite a long way from the place where they work—must, I think, cause the cost of daily travel to be a substantial burden on their standard of living, and therefore, indirectly, to affect the cost of living. Despite indications of increasing efficiency, the actual financial position of British Railways, as shown by the Report, remains bad. We all know that, in the six months since those accounts were closed, wages have risen and, also, that within the last few days there has been a substantial increase in the price of coal.
1581 What, then, is to be done? At the Commission's request, and after obtaining the advice of the permanent members of the Transport Tribunal, the then Minister authorised—subject to certain conditions—a 10 per cent. increase in railway freight charges, estimated to bring in £23 million. That was to date from 1st March, 1954, and was subject to certain conditions that I need not go into. At the same time, a new passenger charges scheme was approved by the Transport Tribunal which was estimated to bring in a further £700,000 from the London area of British Railways.
To complete the picture, Mr. Speaker, and to enable the House to form some opinion of how the British Transport Commission is now facing its problems, I should like, with your permission, to refer to the increases which have been made during the current year. The Minister has approved an increase of 7½ per cent. on railway freights, and an increase of 15 per cent. on consignments of less than one ton. Within the maxima permitted by the passenger charges scheme of 1954, to which I have just referred, without further reference to the Minister or to the Transport Tribunal, the Commission has power to make certain further increases in passenger fares on the main-line railways.
It has, accordingly, increased these by a further 7½ per cent. The Commission applied to the Transport Tribunal on 7th March of this year for increases in season tickets and early morning returns, and for an extra 1d. on ordinary fares of 7d. and over on London lines of British Railways and London Transport. All three of these increases came into effect on 5th June this year. These are the steps that have been taken by the Commission to try to increase its income to meet these increasing outgoings.
The Government and the Commission attach special importance to the new merchandise charges scheme which is now under consideration by the Transport Tribunal. The main purpose of this is not to increase charges further but to give to British Railways that flexibility in charging which it was decided by the 1953 Act that they should have. If British Railways are to compete, as I am sure we wish them to do, with road hauliers they should be allowed to adjust their charges to suit their own 1582 convenience; to attract traffic which suits them and to repel that which does not. The scales in this new scheme are adjusted to take account both of the weight and of the loadability of the consignment. The charges to be made include a very pronounced taper to cater more favourably for long distance than for short distance traffic and this, I hope, will be specially acceptable to Scottish hon. Members on both sides of the House.
British Railways are already free to incorporate these principles in new arrangements, and they have already done so in a great many cases. Nevertheless, we hope that the scheme will have been approved by the Transport Tribunal in time for the general scheme to come into effect at the beginning of 1956, as we are convinced that it should have a very great effect in rationalising distribution of traffic between road and rail.
We should also look at further economies, in their operations and under the modernisation plan which the House has already debated, to help to bring the finances of British Railways into surplus. The Report estimates that last year economies amounting to £5 million were made, and the staff employed declined by over 16,000. Within a comparatively short time the Commission hopes to effect further economies amounting to £15 million a year. The economies under the modernisation plan, will, I hope be additional to that.
There is the most interesting and hopeful scope for tremendous reductions in expenditure as a result of the modernisation plan. I have just heard from the Transport Commission that it has approved new works at Perth which include, first, the construction of a new fully-mechanised hump marshalling yard, and secondly, a new power-operated signal box. The total cost of the new works is estimated at £1,650,000, but the economies will be of a very remarkable kind.
This new up-to-date marshalling yard will take the place of four existing yards which have not been altered since they were originally laid out. They were the cause of delays in traffic, of double handling, expensive inter-yard working and a general low level of efficiency in the movement of freight in the area. The 1583 new signalling box will take the place of thirteen existing signalling boxes, all of which were out of date and in need of replacement. When we reflect that, at the present time, British Railways are ordering large numbers of new diesel shunting engines which do not require a fireman, it will be seen how very considerable may be the reduction in costs as a result of this comparatively small capital investment of £1,650,000.
At this point, I should like to express the Government's appreciation of the realistic and enlightened views which the trade unions concerned have expressed. They have not adopted the Luddite view that economy of labour does a wrong to the labourer. They recognise that if the railwayman is to be paid wages comparable to the wages paid in productive industry, then the value of his labour must be comparable.
I read with great interest what Mr. Stafford, the President of the N.U.R., said last week at Hastings. He said that railwaymen would need to use more skill and take more responsibility as the modernisation plan came into effect. The introduction of new appliances, he said, might well bring about an entirely new conception of labour values not only on the railways but in all other industries. I am quite sure that that is the right line for us all to adopt towards the modernisation plan of British Railways.
I am very glad that agreement has now been reached on the composition of the Railways Productivity Council. In addition to nine representatives of the British Transport Commission, there will be two representatives of A.S.L.E.F., two of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, three of the N.U.R. and two of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association. I should like to quote one sentence from the rather long terms of reference:To initiate proposals of general concern and application, for increasing efficiency, including the best use of manpower; to advise … as to appropriate ways and means whereby such proposals may be applied to the best advantage.Economies on the railways can also be made by reducing the uneconomic and largely unused services which the railways are still providing to travellers and traders, and which date from the pre-motor age. Great savings have been 1584 made, and far more can be made, by closing down branch lines and small stations and by discontinuing scantily used trains. It was right when the railways had a monopoly of mechanical transport for them to be required to provide these services which, of course, at that time were much less costly than they are now. Now that the people can, and whenever it suits them do, use Motor transport and roads, there is no justification in a great many cases for maintaining these redundant services at the cost of the general travelling public. The transport users' consultative committees have been very reasonable and helpful, and I hope that we shall make even more rapid progress in the future.
I think that the closing of some of these redundant services can be made more acceptable to the general public by the extension of collection and delivery services. These are ancillary to the railways and are, I think, of much greater importance than the actual receipts would suggest. Anyone who has experience of these services in Canada and the United States of America will agree, I am sure, that they do a great deal to increase the good will of the travelling public and so to promote use of the railways. I myself should not worry over-much if these valuable services were run at a substantial loss, because I should believe that it was being made up by increased traffic on the railways. But, in fact, the deficit on these has been falling rapidly from £3.9 million in 1948 to only £1.8 million in 1954.
The second most important undertaking of the Commission is British Road Services. It is a remarkable fact that, despite the lorry sales which had been begun, the net receipts fell only from £8.9 million in 1953 to £8.7 million in 1954.
§ Mr. Molson
It hardly seems necessary for both sides of the House to cheer simultaneously, provided they cheer alternately.
This satisfactory result the British Transport Commission attributes, first, to improved operational efficiency in spite of the disposals, and, secondly, to a reduction in maintenance costs of the vehicles. Perhaps without being unduly controversial—and I should not like to 1585 be that, after the warm applause which I have just received from the benches opposite—I might add my own opinion that the obligation to begin selling their lorries was probably a very valuable stimulus to British Road Services, and obliged them to make greater efforts to compete with their reduced fleets against the private hauliers who had been buying their vehicles. I would claim certainly that, as a result of the keen competition between British Road Services and private hauliers, freed from the 25-mile limit as they now are, the transport users of the country have very greatly benefited.
I see on the Order Paper an Amendment to which you have referred, Mr. Speaker, which, if and when it is moved, will concentrate the debate on this subject. I do not, therefore, wish to anticipate that discussion, and in any case my right hon. Friend is prepared to give a reply to any point that may be raised from the benches opposite.
The buses which the Transport Commission operates through its holdings in provincial and Scottish bus concerns continue to be financially profitable. Although there were two wage increases, the machinery for obtaining authority to increase fares works much more speedily in the case of the buses than it does in the case of the railways, and so, despite this increase in costs, net receipts on the year were up by £100,000. The Report emphasises that the companies owned by the Transport Commission introduced new and augmented bus services, even in some cases where they were unremunerative, when branch railway lines were closed.
The London Transport Executive is able to show better figures in 1954 than in the previous year. We must remember that when, in the spring of 1954, the London Transport Executive sought authority to make substantial increases, the Transport Tribunal did not approve the whole of it. It granted only what was estimated to bring in £3.7 million, instead of the £4.3 million which the Executive asked for. This year further increases were authorised to take effect from 5th June, which were estimated to produce a further £2.7 million. The Executive is showing great enterprise in introducing the new 8d. maximum fares for Sundays, and I understand that in the early days of this new experiment there has been a very great response from the public.
1586 This may go some way to arrest the decline in passenger traffic which was reported in 1954. It was of a serious nature. There was, in fact, a reduction of 5.5 per cent. in passenger miles. The traffic congestion in London, and especially within the then high peaks of travel morning and evening, has put up costs. It is interesting to note that if the average speed of London traffic could be increased by one mile per hour, the London Transport Executive's operating costs would be reduced by about £2 million a year.
During the year under review the Chambers' Committee was at work, and although publication of its Report did not take place until 1955, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will say something of its conclusions. In the first place, the Report finds thatLondon has one of the best transport systems in the world,and thatthe undertaking … is conducted efficiently and with due regard to economy.That is the general conclusion it comes to, and a very satisfactory one it is. Although there are a few suggestions for improvements which the London Transport Executive might make, and which it is now investigating, the two main suggestions are directed to the Government and the London County Council and to the public.
The Committee refers to the failure of successive Governments for fifty years to take effective action to make important road improvements in London and to take other steps to relieve traffic congestion. We fully recognise the importance of improvements in London, although, so far, the heavy cost of any such improvements has always prevented progress; up to 95 per cent. of the cost of those improvements is accounted for by the acquisition of the land and the buildings. Nevertheless, we intend to make larger sums available by way of grant to the L.C.C. as more money becomes available. I have myself been in direct touch with the L.C.C. on this subject.
I would commend to the House and also to the public what the Committee says about staggering hours, and especially the facts and the figures given in Appendix VII. The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has argued most persuasively that something 1587 should be done, and I promised him over a year ago that I would do what I could. I have certainly been active. It is a hard task, however, to persuade the British people even to discuss changing their established habits.
In 1947, the then Minister, Mr. Alfred Barnes, took this matter up, and useful progress was made between then and 1949 by specially appointed sub-committees of the London Transport Users' Consultative Committee. Just recently we have resorted to the same body, and Alderman Fitzgerald, chairman of one of the most successful of the sub-committees in the previous campaign, has kindly taken charge of the matter again. This time his committee is specially tackling selected areas where congestion is particularly acute.
For the Whitehall area there have been meetings with Government Departments, and the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council are also co-operating. Several meetings have been held with large and small employers in the Holborn area, and discussions have started with stores and offices in the Oxford Street area. I can report a disposition which may lead to some improvement.
Although the Chambers' Report properly put emphasis on the financial and economic questions involved, when everyone tries to make the same journey in the same direction at the same time, I am prepared to justify the staggering of hours by consideration for the comfort and well-being of the workers themselves. I cannot understand why they should want to endure long waits in queues and then long stands in public vehicles simply in order to leave work at the conventional hour.
I am glad to say that the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation has set an example—unfortunately, a somewhat lonely example—in the staggering of hours. Although our staff were reluctant when the experiment was started, I am assured that they would not go back to conventional hours on any account. I am sure, therefore, that everything depends on the presentation of the case, and I hope that we may have substantial success. I have, of course, in this matter been in touch with the Trades Union 1588 Congress, and, about the hours of shops, with the U.S.D.A.W.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not wholly a matter for the staffs and employees, but essentially one for managements, and that they are not united on staggering hours for this purpose?
§ Mr. Molson
It is for that reason that, naturally, I got in touch first with the employers, but as this is also and obviously a matter in which it is essential to carry with us the trade unions and their members, I was at pains, at the same time, or immediately afterwards, to get in touch with them. Fortunately, we have in this House an hon. Member who is the President of U.S.D.A.W., with whom I have discussed this matter.
I come to the inland waterways. The House always takes a keen and, I may almost say, an affectionate interest in our ancient canals, and naturally so, because they were the new form of transport which made possible the Industrial Revolution. I was so much struck by the concern shown by hon. Members on both sides of the House in two debates in which I participated that I reported to the present Colonial Secretary that I thought it would be wise to have an investigation into the canals by a committee. The Board of Survey, under Lord Rusholme's chairmanship, was set up as a result, and its Report has since been published.
The Board, as the House will be aware, has divided waterways owned by the British Transport Commission into three categories: 336 miles to be developed and improved; 994 miles to be retained; and 771 miles having insufficient commercial prospects to justify their extension for navigation. I emphasise "navigation" because, of course, these canals often serve other very useful purposes such as providing water for industries, and so on—without mentioning what is probably of much more widespread interest, the activities of anglers.
The Government have not reached any decisions on the Board's recommendations, but I am glad to say that the Commission is pushing on with the improvement of the waterways, and schemes costing £500,000 have been approved or are under consideration.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
Will my hon. Friend give an assurance 1589 that when canals are being considered the local interests of the inhabitants of places by or near the canals will be considered, and that those people will be consulted, and that they will not be faced with a fait accompli? They often feel that decisions are taken over their heads and that, thereafter, nothing more can be said about them.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Will the hon. Gentleman not agree that, when this Government decided to introduce their denationalisation plans for transport, they introduced their plans at a time when the Inland Waterways Executive had presented the then Minister with some major schemes affecting the inland waterways, and that those schemes were abandoned as denationalisation came into effect? The hon. Gentleman seems not to agree, but it was so.
§ Mr. Molson
I confess that I do not quite follow in what way the denationalisation of road haulage would affect the improvement of inland waterways.
§ Mr. Mellish
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me I will tell him, when denationalisation came in the question of the reorganisation of the British Transport Commission arose. Representations were made in the House about this at the time, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he looks back to the debates that took place then. The then Minister had in his possession major schemes concerning the inland waterways. He said emphatically that they were not to be considered while the reconstruction of the Commission and the transport system were under consideration, so they were abandoned.
§ Mr. Molson
Even that somewhat lengthy explanation does not enable me to follow the hon. Member's line of reasoning.
Those who are most anxious for the rehabilitation of the canals are generally disposed to put most of the blame upon the railways when they were owned by private enterprise. Recently they have been expressing extreme dissatisfaction with the British Transport Commission which, they feel, has not done enough to rehabilitate the canals now that most of them are in its ownership.
§ Mr. Molson
In reply to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), in every case of which I am aware there has been the very fullest local consultation, but I will certainly bear in mind what he has said. Indeed, we are most anxious that, wherever possible, local interests and local authorities should take over canals and waterways which are no longer of value to the Commission. If my hon. Friend can persuade such bodies to take over a number of them, he will be assured of the gratitude of my right hon. Friend and also of the Commission.
§ Mr. Molson
Naturally, river boards come into it in a great many cases, though not in all. I know of one case where we have been trying to persuade a river board to take over responsibility for a canal.
I should like, in conclusion, to summarise the present position of the Commission's finances, more particularly since I have been pressed upon the point several times in previous debates. The year 1954 ended with a deficit of £11.9 million, which brought the accumulated net deficit to £39 million. As a result of wage increases and rises in operating costs, the Commission found itself by March, 1955, faced with a prospect of an operating deficit of £10 million for the current year on the railways and of £51 million in its central budget, which has to meet central charges. The increases in charges on the various activities of the Commission, which came into force on 5th June this year, are estimated to yield £27 million per annum, and by an intensive drive it is hoped to make further economies totalling £15 per annum.
In spite of this, the Commission will still be running in deficit at the rate of £9 million a year without taking into account the cost of wages increases following the award to locomotive men and the increases in the price of coal announced last week. I have, however, referred at some length to the modernisation plan, which is estimated ultimately to make an overall improvement in working results of around £35 million a year, and I have also emphasised that the new charges scheme should make a further 1591 improvement, though it is one not possible at present to estimate in money.
The Government have not in any way abandoned the view that the Commission should, in accordance with Section 3 (4) of the Transport Act, 1947, so conduct its undertaking:… as to secure that the revenue of the Commission is not less than sufficient for making provision for the meeting of charges properly chargeable to revenue, taking one year with another.The only effect of the Report of the Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir John Cameron was to make it clear that a longer span of years would have to be taken before financial equilibrium could be restored. The Report which the Commission has presented, and which I commend to the House today, goes some way to giving us an assurance that those hopes are not ill-founded.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
The hon. Gentleman has given us a painstaking review of the work of the British Transport Commission. It was unusual for him to discuss the inland waterways and canals at such length, and I have no doubt that the interest in the subject in the House spurred him on to devote his time to it.
If I had to make any criticism at all of his speech, it would be that it reminded me rather of the smooth-flowing, placid summer waters of the Kennet and Avon Canal instead of striking a note of urgency that we should have expected, with transport in the position in which it finds itself today. Despite the hon. Gentleman's concluding sentence, in which he said he thought the Commission's Report showed some signs of the Commission being able to balance its accounts in due course, I disagree with him entirely. I believe that the financial situation of the Commission is bad and is getting worse, and, by their actions, the Government will make it even worse than it is at present. Yet nothing in the hon. Gentleman's speech betrayed any urgency in dealing with the situation.
By the end of 1953, after some seven years of activity, the Commission had a deficit of £27 million. It had fluctuated between deficits and surpluses. The figure of £27 million was manageable. It was 1592 not large in relation to the Commission's total capital assets. Although it would have been far better if there had been a surplus, nevertheless I do not think any one could have been unduly alarmed by the position.
However, in 1954 we were faced with a new situation, there being a larger deficit, and I believe that situation will continue and not improve. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can look forward to a series of fluctuating surpluses and deficits from the Commission. If things go on as they are at present, he and the nation can look forward to a continued deficit which will increase year by year. The "Economist," in a recent issue, estimated that there would be an accumulated deficit at the end of this year of possibly £80 million. The hon. Gentleman has given some figures which would lessen that figure very considerably.
However, he said that his figure of an estimated loss of £10 million does not take into account the increase in coal prices or any increase in wages which is likely to be negotiated during the current year. A figure of a loss of £10 million which neglects both of those considerations is a very unrealistic one. Even taking the hon. Gentleman's figure, the accumulated loss by December will be about £50 million, but I think that the loss incurred by the Commission by the end of this year will be much larger than £50 million.
I should be glad if the Minister would detail some of the economies amounting to £15 million which the hon. Gentleman said, in the concluding sentences of his speech, are likely to be effected by the Commission this year. What are the economies? Why have they not previously been effected? What can the Commission introduce between now and the end of the year to save the very large sum of £15 million which could not have been introduced earlier? It seems to me that there will either be some deprivation of public service or that the Commission has been remiss in not introducing reforms of this magnitude earlier.
What is the biggest single increase which the Commission is likely to have to face this year, apart from steadily rising prices? It is, of course, likely to be the cost of additional wages. Let no one be surprised if the National Union of Railwaymen is debating at its conference at 1593 this moment the possibility of another wage claim. It would be surprising if it were not. The last wage claim which the railwaymen launched in July, 1953, for an increase of 15 per cent. was not finally conceded until the early months of 1955. When they put in that wage claim, the wages index stood at 135. When it was conceded, the wages index figure had risen to 152.
Of course, the National Union of Railwaymen is considering the situation very carefully to see whether, in fact, since its last claim was put in—not the date at which it was settled but the date at which it was put in—this rise in the index of wage rates would not give it a further claim to increased wages. No one in this House or in the country believes that the railwaymen set the pace for higher wages. Everyone knows that they lag behind, and they have to catch up. The claim in July, 1953., settled after so much industrial unrest and disturbance in the earlier months of this year, was an attempt to catch up on the last round of wage increases.
In March, 1954—the latest figure I could find—a railwayman's total earnings were £9 2s. 10d. a week. In the building trade, the earnings were £9 13s. 1d., and in manufacturing industry, £10 5s. 2d. Both in building and manufacturing, the number of hours worked was lower than it was on the railways, so that the railwaymen lag behind. They work longer hours for less pay.
If I say that the Parliamentary Secretary's speech lacked urgency, I do so because he failed to take into account, in the financial calculations at the end of his speech, any reference to that situation. There is a statement now by which the railwaymen can judge the adequacy of their wages. It was contained in the Interim Report of a Court of Inquiry which was set up last December by the Minister of Labour. It said this:… employees of such a national service should receive a fair and adequate wage, and … in broad terms, the railwayman should be in no worse case than his colleague in a comparable industry.The railwayman has dropped behind again. That is why the new scheme is being considered. The Commission itself will have to face a further period of wage negotiations on top of those of the last eighteen months or two years during which it has been engaged almost whole- 1594 time on this job. The responsibility lies with the Government. What are they going to do about this situation? Are the energies of the Union and the Commission for month after month to be taken up in negotiating or arguing over another 3s. or 4s. for the railwaymen?
I say to the Minister that I can see this coming, and he should take account of it in presenting his balance sheet to the House this afternoon. We are told by the Commission in its Report that wages account for two-thirds of its working expenditure. The last time the Commission said that it could not afford the money. That is going to be even more true this time. When wage negotiations were started on the previous occasion, the Commission was only £27 million in the red. It will be £50 million in the red now. Where is the money coming from?
What are the Government going to do about this situation? Are they content to allow the nationalised railways to slide further and further into the morass of financial insolvency? That is the question which they have to face. It is one to which the Parliamentary Secretary has given us no answer. He said, "Of course the Commission has to pay its way, taking one year with another." The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that on 3rd February. He said that he expected the Commission to carry out its obligations and to balance accounts, taking one year with another.
Over what period has the Commission to balance its accounts? What does, "taking one year with another" mean in this context? The Government ought to give some answer to this, and, indeed, I am not sure that the Commission ought not to give some answer as to the period over which it considers it reasonable to expect it to balance its accounts. So far as I can see at the moment, subject to one consideration which I will come to later, there is no prospect of the Commission balancing its accounts for some years.
§ Squadron Leader A. E Cooper (Ilford, South)
When the hon. Gentleman gave the relative wages in different industries, did he have regard to the value of the concessionary fares to railwaymen?
§ Mr. Callaghan
No, I did not. I gave the straight weekly earnings.
1595 There is no doubt that there is some value to railwaymen in concessionary fares, the provision of uniform, and the like. On the other hand, in private industry also there are many concessions to workers in those industries which are not taken into account in arriving at their weekly earnings. I think that it is better for us all to take the straight "packet home" pay in finding out where the railwaymen are dropping behind those in comparable industries, with whom it has been said that they should be on a par, or, at any rate, in closer relationship than they have been.
How is the Commission to start to pay its way? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last February that modernisation would be one of the methods. The Parliamentary Secretary has said something of the sort again this afternoon. He said—I think that I got the figure correctly—that modernisation would bring in £35 million a year in due course. That is not what the Commission says. Paragraph 47 of the Commission's Report states:It is expected that the capital outlay involved will ultimately improve the financial position of British Railways by at least £25 million a year.I know that the figure of £35 million has been used by the Minister before; but the Commission does not say £35 million; it says £25 million.
§ Mr. Molson
I can tell the hon. Gentleman where the £35 million comes from. It comes from paragraph 127 of the "Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways."
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is obviously where the Minister derived his earlier figure from, and that is the figure which we were using in our last debate, but he is now introducing this Report, which presumably contains a more up-to-date estimate than the one to which he has referred. I suggest that he should use the figure in the Report which he is introducing and asking the House to note.
Here we are told that the figure will be £25 million, but £25 million over what period? I can tell the House what the Commission said. The Commission's period is "ultimately." That is the word it uses. We know that this £1,200 million scheme should be capable of being started within five years and of being completed 1596 in 15 years, so ultimately, if 15 years are equated, there will be at least £25 million to be brought into the Commission's revenue. But the Commission is running into debt at a rate which I would hazard at £20 million a year at least. Therefore, how can the Minister call in aid modernisation of the railways in solving this financial problem?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I agree that there has been increased efficiency. I am delighted to hear that interjection coming from the benches opposite.
As a matter of curiosity, when I was preparing for this debate this morning I calculated the savings in staff. We are always hearing about the bloated bureaucracy of the railways. We certainly took over a bloated bureaucracy with the railways.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That may be true, but I am saying that we had cut them.
What are the figures of the railway staff? In 1948, when the railways were taken over, the staff was 641,000. According to this Report, the number has diminished to 577,000. There has been a saving of 64,000 in staff since nationalisation. If it was bureaucratic and bloated before, at least there has been slimming to some extent, and the process may well go on to a greater degree, at any rate, at some of the higher and middle supervisory levels.
On the technical side, as the Parliamentary Secretary reminded us, there is more work from fewer locomotives. The Commission has made more efficient use of its equipment. There is no doubt that nationalisation has resulted in greater efficiency being got out of the same amount of capital equipment. There are no cheers from hon. Members opposite over that. After all, hon. Members opposite are part-owners in the railways, too. I wish they would remember that sometimes. These facts ought to be put before us more freely than they are by the right hon. Gentleman.
Once a year the Minister comes here and makes a speech along these lines. I have heard previous Ministers in the 1597 House pay tribute to the increase in efficiency brought about by the British Transport Commission under nationalisation. Sometimes that speech is reported, sometimes it is not. I wish the Minister would go out and make some speeches in the country on the same lines, praising the benefits of nationalisation. I wish he would tell the people in the country just what increased efficiency has resulted from nationalisation, and how much better equipment is being used.
I wish hon. Members would do so, too, because they are doing a great disservice to this nationalised industry, which they do not propose to denationalise, by their constant sneers and jibes. This has been going on for seven years, and I say that either the railways should be denationalised or the Government should make them work. Hon. Members opposite should not stand on the sidelines and sneer. There has been too much of it in the past——
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West) rose——
§ Mr. Callaghan
I will provide twenty quotations if that is necessary, including Questions to the Minister in this House which have been a constant series of sneers and jibes at nationalisation.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Gentleman should contain his temper. As I have said, he is one of the worst offenders.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I remember debates here, and having to sit and listen to a constant series of jeers and sneers of this sort.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If the hon. Gentleman cannot remember his own speeches, I do not intend to remind him of them.
I want to say something about co-operation inside the British Transport 1598 Commission. I was delighted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the National Union of Railwaymen, at its conference last week, passed a resolution calling for increased efficiency and indicating that it was ready to work towards that end. But the Transport Commission itself has a job to do in this matter. I believe it has to change its attitude towards staff relations. In many ways it is out of date in its approach to such matters.
I want to give one instance of what I am saying. There appeared in the "Railway Review"—a lively journal published every week by the National Union of Railwaymen; I hope the Parliamentary Secretary reads it frequently—a letter on the subject of the retirement of a repairer on the railways. This is what it said:Sir—On the 8th June, 1955, C. G. Hughes. Repairer, Park Lane Station, Liverpool, received the following signed by the Agent:'8th June, 1955.Dear Sir,—You attain the age of 65 years on 15th July, 1955, and in consequence you will be required to retire from the railway service at close of work on Thursday, 14th July, 1955'.That was what this employee received after forty-nine years' service, and I am sure there is no one in this House who believes that that is the way in which to get the best out of people.
This letter was contained in one written by Mr. J. D. Towers, the chairman of Liverpool No. 2 Branch, and he askedIs it to be expected by the B.T.C. when younger members of the staff see this kind of thing that they will be prepared to co-operate and give of their best to produce more as requested to do by their Union (the N.U.R.)?
§ Mr. Callaghan
This has got nothing to do with nationalisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Why cannot hon. Members opposite realise that it is bad supervision and bad management? I hope they will condemn that wherever it is found.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Does not the hon. Gentleman see the dilemma into which he is getting? He asks us to praise the good points in nationalisation but not to criticise nationalisation where there are bad points. Of course, we condemn bad management like this. It is perfectly ridiculous. But the hon. Member cannot expect us to refrain from criticising a nationalised industry just because it is nationalised.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I ask the hon. Gentleman to conduct himself in the way that I do, to praise where praise is due and to condemn where that is necessary. Hon. Gentlemen must have a balanced approach to these matters. We are getting far better service under nationalisation. This has nothing whatever to do with nationalisation but is a hangover from private enterprise.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper rose——
§ Mr. Callaghan
No, I cannot give way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) makes the prophesy that this is the same form as was used in private enterprise for twenty years, and I would not mind betting that he is right.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
All I wanted to tell the hon. Gentleman was that this would not have happened under private enterprise.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
Perhaps the House would like to be informed that the letter which used to come from the privately owned companies to employees with length of service was couched in far worse terms than the one we have heard this afternoon.
§ Mr. Callaghan
If hon. Members would forget for one moment their prejudices against nationalisation and merely condemn a piece of bad management we should get on a lot faster.
What I am saying is that this has nothing to do with the issue of public ownership. Many of my hon. Friends could give illustrations, if hon. Members opposite want them, in which private management was worse than this. But that is not the question at issue. The question at issue is, does the House want co-operation from the men on the railway? That is the issue, and if we want that co-operation this sort of thing should stop, and stop forthwith.
I want to ask the Minister about one other matter which is causing concern. Again it is a problem of communications. It may be rather a paradox, but it is quite true that the railways are particularly bad in communications—communications between management and men, the human relations in industry. There is the problem of the railway workshops. A great deal of uncertainty exists about the future use to be made of the workshops now 1600 that steam locomotives are gong out and diesels are coming in. It is going to mean a great revolution in the handling, ordering and building of locomotives.
It is the first job of the management to satisfy those doubts, and to make sure that as soon as possible everybody has the fullest information. I believe that although there are very good intentions about this matter at some levels, yet at other levels the old mentality still persists. By that I mean the mentality which regarded this as a disciplined service in which the management gave the orders and the men took the orders and carried them out. That was the kind of relationship that went on for many years, but that is not the proper relationship today in modern industry. I hope very much that the Minister will look into these two matters and will invite the Commission to see that its officers at lower levels in the supervisory scale really do bring their management relationships right up to date.
I must not speak for too long, and I will conclude what I wish to say about the railways by mentioning one or two general points which the Parliamentary Secretary omitted from his consideration of the problem. What is to be the future of the railways? We are getting a great many facts and a great deal of information which lead us to the conclusion that the whole problem of transport is changing under our very eyes. Every year road haulage is taking more and more of the traffic from the railways. By comparison with the railways, the C licences today are doing nearly 40 per cent. of the long-distance haulage of the country.
The railways are losing passenger services, so that both passenger and freight are decreasing on the railways and are increasing on the roads. Where was there any indication in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech of any recognition by the Government of the problem that that must create for our transport system; and what proposals are the Government going to make in order to ensure that the railways just do not slide down into the morass of financial insolvency and comparative disuse? I saw no sign of urgency in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary in this regard.
Our railways are not alone in suffering from this problem. The United States 1601 railways and others are having the same experience. I was reading a report last week from the United States which stated that every year since 1930 the United States Class 1 passenger services had lost money except in the years since the war, and last year they had a record loss of 705 million dollars on those passenger services. That would be about £200 million. That is going on wherever railways are being overtaken by the developing of the roads.
Now the Minister has recently launched a new and enlarged road programme by which he will make it even more attractive to road hauliers to ply the roads. He will make it even more attractive to trade and industry to put their goods and services on the road. I do not complain about that, but I ask the Minister what is to be done about the railways, apart from modernising them over a period of fifteen years, to enable them to be integrated into this transport revolution that is taking place under our very eyes.
So far the railways have had singularly little help in this direction. Indeed, in my view, the Government have not helped them; they have hindered them. They are bound to keep their business going, they cannot shift the scene of their operations like other people, they cannot reorganise their capital, they cannot compound with their creditors. Well, the Government have made proposals which will take effect in fifteen years, and the only solution that I can see in the mind of the Government is that there should continue to be a constant increase in charges.
Is that what the Government hold out as the future prospect for the railways of this country? Are we to have, every year, continued applications for increased freight rates, for increased passenger services, until the railways have priced themselves out of the market, because they are in a highly competitive field, as the Minister knows? For instance, some of the business they lost as a result of the recent strike will not come back because people are finding that the roads can provide a service which is better than the railways. Of course that is not true in every case, but it is true in many cases, and people are ready and able and willing to afford to pay for it.
What does the Minister intend to do about the railways in those circumstances? It is no use telling us that in 1602 fifteen years' time the modernisation programme will come to fruition. Although "The Times" this morning asked the Opposition not to wave its flag too much, I am bound to say that I have as yet seen no alternative put forward by the Government or by anyone else to the proposal, which we started to carry out in the 1947 Act, of integrating road and rail.
By that I do not mean a domination by rail of road. I mean a true partnership of road and rail in which the diminishing railway services—as they are diminishing—can be integrated with the road, and in which both of them can play the parts that they are economically capable of playing. There has been no answer from the Government at any time to that case, which has been made year after year, not only by us but also by independent people outside this House who study the transport problem.
The Report of the Commission refers at one stage to the only solution of this problem being the closing down of branch lines and the substitution of local bus services. Of course that is the right thing to do in existing circumstances, but why take the bus services from the railways? Why take them away so that the railways will sink further into a financial morass while the private enterprise part of the service will be doing well and making a profit?
How does that benefit the nation as a whole? That is the question which we have not yet had answered by the Government in any one of our debates. I hope that will satisfy "The Times" that I have not flown the flag too much, but it is worth raising it because, in due course, the country and the Government will have to return to that solution.
I now wish to say a few words about road haulage, which forms the substance of our Amendment. We are told, and this is indeed the case, that the Minister has reached a turning point in his consideration of the disposal of road haulage vehicles. The "Economist" asked last weekend whether the break-up of the trunk services is necessary or desirable. We have reached the turning point because it is generally accepted that the Minister has now sold all the lorries he can sell to the small men, and the next series of sales that will have to take place will mean a breaking up of the trunk services which have been newly 1603 constructed by British Road Services and which are proving such a great success at present.
The dilemma that the Minister is facing is whether he should break up those services by agreeing to those lorries being sold off, knowing that that will mean a worsening service and the break-up of an efficient enterprise which has been built up under nationalisation. That is his problem, and that is what he has to solve during the next few weeks because the lists will have to go out.
There is no doubt that these forced sales have had a fair trial. Nearly half of the vehicles had to be put up twice before they could be sold at all. I am told that one-third of the vehicles sold so far had to be put up three times. These have been tiny units made up of one or two vehicles. When the Disposal Board attempted to sell the large and medium units in that list, S.4, it put up 6,115 vehicles in 160 packets. How many were sold out of those 6,115? The Board sold 544.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Oh, I see, shortly before the General Election. That is the excuse now, is it? Very well, I invite the Minister to put them up again to see if he gets any different result. He knows that he will not.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) can talk like that on the platform in Cornwall but people who study transport up here—and he must give us the credit for studying it as much as he does—know that the list was a fiasco because there were no takers for that type of unit. If there are not takers for these units, except under tremendous pressure and urging, what will the Minister do? He owes it to the House to tell us what he will do about the vehicles remaining unsold.
I will give one example of the folly of the existing set-up. There is a meat unit of 498 vehicles. Now 498 vehicles integrated in the carrying of meat is an efficient enterprise. It has been put up 1604 for sale twice. The second time there was a firm bid by Mr. George Dawson. It appeared in the Press it is rumoured in the City, and it has not been denied, that Mr. George Dawson, who made a fortune out of selling Army scrap, has now made a bid for this meat unit, presumably with a view to making a profit out of selling Government lorries as scrap. Is that so?
The Minister replied to a Question on this matter last week. He said that he had been approached because the British Transport Commission thought that the offer made—if it was made by Mr. Dawson, as it may have been—was too low. The Disposal Board, however, thought the offer was right. The Minister had been asked to referee. I understand from his answer to the House that the right hon. Gentleman has asked for further information. Has he had that information yet? May I ask him what his decision is.
If he has not made a decision to date, in view of the circumstances of this case—500 lorries, which must be worth at least half a million pounds, being sold to one bidder at the most—it is reasonable to ask the right hon. Gentleman the following question: Would he give the House an assurance that he will not give a decision on this matter until he has fully reported the facts to us, so that we can judge for ourselves. After all, this is a very large business and a very large enterprise. Let the House have the facts on an issue of this kind, where only one bid has been made for one set of 500 vehicles. Let the House judge whether that is a reasonable thing to do in the public interest.
Mr. Dawson is not an ex-haulier, but, if we look around the list of purchasers, there are not so many ex-hauliers among them, and that was what the Act was about. The advertisements that were put out in trying to bring back the ex-hauliers into the business were a ghastly failure. The Commission had very few replies indeed, even though it repeated the advertisements. What has been happening is that existing hauliers have been buying a handful of lorries here and there to add to their existing businesses, but these advertisements have not brought new people in.
I have no doubt that if the Minister is allowed to break up these trunk services 1605 and sell the vehicles off in ones and twos, he will in the long run be able to dispose of the vehicles, because there is always a market for second-hand vehicles. He will be able to sell them over a period of years. I do not know how long, or at what price, but it will be a low price for second-hand vehicles. But that was not the object of the Act, and it would be breaking the spirit and purpose of the Act if the Minister attempted to sell the vehicles in that way.
Let me point to one other example from the Fourth Report of the Road Haulage Disposal Board. There will not be many people in the House who can feel proud of what is being done—this desperate stratagem to sell the contract hire vehicles. There are some 2,000 of these vehicles, which are on contract from British Road Services to private firms. They are operated by British Road Services, who pay the drivers and maintain the vehicles, but they carry the liveries of private firms on the side.
When the Transport Act went through the House, British Road Services went to these private operators with whom they had these contracts and said "We have to sell the lorries; please allow us to break our contract." "No," said the operators, "certainly not; we are quite satisfied with you. You will be breaking your contract if you sell the lorries, and your job is to carry out your contract with us."
So they went back to the Minister and said, "What are we to do? You have told us to sell the units, but the other chaps have told us that we shall be breaking our contract if we do." They persuaded a small number—I think 146, but I am not quite sure—out of the 2,000 to agree that the contract should be broken. What have they fixed up about the remainder? I invite the House to consider these facts.
When the next opportunity for breaking the contract comes, the British Transport Commission proposes to give notice to customers who are satisfied that it intends to break the contract at that point. At the same time, the Commission will notify the Road Haulage Association that it has broken the contract, and both British Road Services and the Road Haulage Association will be free to tender once again for a new contract. If British Road Services are successful, one 1606 might think that they would be allowed to have their vehicles, but not a bit of it. If British Road Services are successful, they have to sell the vehicles and buy new ones.
What is the matter with the Government? Are they quite mad? I really do not follow the Minister on this matter. He was questioned on it by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) last week, when my hon. Friend asked him why he had given his consent to sell the vehicles, and the Minister said this:My consent was asked for as part of an arrangement for dealing with the Commission's contract hire vehicles that had been agreed between the Commission, the Disposal Board and the Road Haulage Association. As the arrangement was a good one I gave my consent.The arrangement was a good one, the Minister said. He forces the sale of the contract hire vehicles and says "If you are successful, you must still sell the vehicles and we will let you buy new ones."
My hon. Friend asked a very good supplementary question, to which the Minister replied:As the hon. Gentleman understands, the disposal of vehicles requires, during the currency of the contract, the consent of the other parties to the contract. In those circumstances it seemed to all the bodies concerned that this was a workmanlike way to handle the matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1116.]A workmanlike way to handle the matter indeed, and the Minister had the effrontery last week, in a debate on the Road Traffic Bill, to refer to the subject of groundnuts. I ask the Minister whether he feels proud of his part in this particular enterprise? What is to happen? British Road Services have to go through all this nonsense in order to get the same result in the end, but it is trade and industry which have to pay.
I ask hon. Gentlemen who support the Government to notice this, because British Road Services will get new vehicles out of this deal. They have to sell the old ones, but they will get new ones, and the difference will be made up out of the levy. Trade and industry will pay for the privilege of supplying British Road Services with these new vehicles. That is one way of doing business, but it does not strike me as a very 1607 sensible way. It has brought full employment to the lawyers, and busy traffic managers have had to break contracts and re-negotiate new ones. There will be many second-hand lorries for sale, and trade and industry will pay. That is the point. But the Government's face will be saved and the lorries will be sold. The Minister will be able to say that another 2,000 lorries have been sold, and that that will show how clever they are.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Perhaps my hon. Friend will be more successful than I in getting that figure out of the Minister.
The Minister has told us that this will result in the long run in a loss of £20 million, and the net result of these operations over the last two and a half years has been uncertainty among the staff, dislocation in the haulage industry, a capital loss estimated at £20 million, a loss to the British Transport Commission of between £8 million and £9 million a year in revenue; and, of course, I had forgotten the figure, to which the Commission refers in this Report, of £4½ million for schedules, lists, catalogues, copies, booklets and notes which they have produced, along with innumerable visits and inspections.
Yet, at the end of the day and after thousands of hours of negotiations, it still has 15,000 lorries unsold while British Road Services have been flourishing. The profit earned in 1953 was £8.9 million, and it was £8.7 million last year. Paragraph 298 of the Report says that over £10 million profit has been made in the twelve months up to June last, before these disposals started to get a bite on the industry. Quite apart from all that, the men have had good working conditions in British Road Services, which have not always been reproduced in outside industry. They have had good maintenance of their vehicles, and the drivers have been law-abiding because they have not had to break the law about hours of work.
I want the Minister to pay some attention to this point. There are persistent reports that private enterprise drivers are compelled to break the law in respect of hours of work in order to get through their jobs. I have seen reports from newspaper reporters who go out and make 1608 investigations, and I have sent him some of them, but the Minister always says, "Send me the evidence and I will investigate it." It may well mean a man getting into serious difficulties with his employer, losing his job and even being black-listed, if he himself provides the information, and that is why Parliament provided the Minister with powers to employ enforcement staff.
I want to ask him to ensure that his enforcement staff is up to strength. At the moment, it is nothing like up to strength, because the Minister has seventy-one employed on this job at present, and the establishment is 114, which I think is not enough. It is the job of these people to go out and investigate these complaints, which are too widespread to be just the tales of aggrieved persons. I know of a case concerning which I have been told that a man has already been sacked for refusing to work the extra hours and who did not mind giving his name. I understand that a prosecution is pending.
I have also received another one this morning, in correspondence from someone in Rugby whom I do not know. This is an extract from the "Rugby Advertiser" for last Friday. This is a report of a crash on the London Road at Rugby, in which the driver was killed when his lorry ran into the back of another lorry. The accident happened last Saturday week. He was employed by a private firm, the name of which I do not propose to give, although it is given in the paper.
This is the part I want the House to note:In the pocket of the dead man was a pay sheet for the previous week showing that he had worked 87 hours and had received £22 6s. 6d. less tax. There were two record sheets, one of which had been filled in in anticipation for hours after the accident. 'He had been over working and kept two sheets so that he could produce one if stopped by the police. He worked until 7.30 p.m. on Friday and set off at 10 p.m. for Birmingham, which would obviously mean that he did not have sufficient rest.'No man can legally work that number of hours in Britain.
Have we got to pick a dead man's pocket in order to get the evidence? The firm knows about this. It has been paying him regularly. I say to the Minister that he has shown a disgraceful complacency in the way in which he has tried to ride off this question every week by telling us to produce the evidence.
1609 We know that these cases are going on, and so does the union. Am I not right in thinking that the Transport and General Workers' Union has been to see the Minister? I have not had that information direct, but I understand that the union has been to see him about this very matter. He has a great responsibility to a public of all shades of opinion to get this matter cleared up and to be far more energetic about it than he has been so far.
The Trades Union Congress has told him to stop these sales. I repeat that request to him now as politely as I can. I have been very polite this afternoon. Goodness knows, the matter has gone too far for invective. The facts ought to speak for themselves. I believe that they have spoken for themselves this afternoon, and I believe there is an unanswerable case against the Government.
The Minister has one more chance now that he has come to the sale of these trunk service vehicles. I know that he will meet with opposition from some of his own back benchers, but he has a duty to more than his own back benchers; he has a duty to the country as a whole. If he were to stand up to some of his own back benchers on this issue, then out of the mischief, prejudice and ignorance with which the Government embarked upon these sales, they could yet retrieve part of their reputation and enhance the public welfare.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
I always like listening to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).
§ Mr. Nicholson
He is an engaging and eloquent speaker and he has maintained his reputation for dealing with matters in a polite manner. If I am right in my estimate of the motives behind his speech, I am in agreement with them. I gather that what he means is that we should take transport out of party politics. Am I right in my interpretation of his motives? Would he agree? Would he agree that transport, like no other service in the country, has been bedevilled by party politics?
I was certainly not impressed by what he said about our criticism of nationalisation. All he asked us to do was to 1610 refrain from criticising a nationalised industry when it does anything badly and to praise it when it does anything well. I do not see the sense of that.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I cannot respond whole-heartedly to any appeal to view this problem in a non-party spirit unless and until hon. Members oppose recognise that ever since the war they have dealt with it in a party political spirit. They accuse us of a doctrinaire adherence to the principles of private enterprise. Did not they show a lamentable example of a doctrinaire adherence to the principles of nationalisation?
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman ought to be fair. Whatever the Labour Party did on transport when in power, at least it showed quite clearly that it was only after the policy had been recommended by a number of Royal Commissions that the party adopted it.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I do not think that a great political party or a Government should necessarily be guided by Royal Commissions. They must make up their own minds. I think it was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport who said that the English, when in doubt, always appointed a committee. I think that is a deplorable habit. Governments should take responsibility for their own actions. If there has been an over-rigid adherence to doctrinaire theory, a major part of the guilt rests on the other side of the House.
Nor should the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East pretend that he has any easy solution to the problem of the railways. What does his policy of integration mean? All it means is that the loss on the railways should be masked by taking the profits of the roads. That is what his policy of integrated transport means. If on both sides of the House there has been a good deal of unnecessary political prejudice in dealing with transport, I do not think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and his hon. Friends can claim that they are completely innocent.
I am willing to make my contribution to what I think was the spirit of his speech by saying that I should be with him in deploring it if the trunk network were to broken up. I think it would be a thousand pities if this great service 1611 were destroyed. It seems to me that such an action would be contrary to Conservative pinciples. We in our party always criticise the Labour Party for their rigid adherence to theory. I believe that there is one great Conservative principle which overrides all others, and it is that in any given set of circumstances we should do what is best for the nation without regard for theory.
I believe that we have reached such a stage. We did not denationalise the mining industry or the railways. We resisted their nationalisation and I think we were right to do so, but I think we were equally right not to denationalise them. I see no point in denationalising an industry unless we can be quite certain that the denationalised industry will give greater service to the community than the nationalised industry. My main burden of criticism of hon. Members opposite is that in all their nationalisation proposals they never approached them from the practical angle.
I believe that in this trunk network we have a great and valuable service for the nation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that there is a large body of opinion among those who support the Government which would back him if he said that the trunk network should be kept as one organisation. After all, if we try to take this matter out of party politics and to abandon political theory, we see that a great variety of courses could be taken. The service need not necessarily be run by the Commission. It need not necessarily be a technically nationalised industry and it need not necessarily be a semi-independent corporation. There is a vast field for investigation and speculation before we decide what to do. The great principle which I should like to see accepted is that we do not break up something which is doing good work just for the sake of breaking it up.
I think that the Minister's sales policy has been justified up to now. Like the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, I have read the article in the "Economist." It is an excellent and interesting article. I observed that 16,000 vehicles have been sold. It would probably take between 8,000 and 10,000 vehicles to run a sound trunk network and I suggest that at all costs that service should be kept together. 1612 I agree that we shall never get a commercial company to make a bid on that scale or to attempt to run the service as a single and integrated service, and I believe that if we mean business with transport we must approach this matter in a non-party political spirit.
This is a simple case and a simple statement of opinion on my part, which it does not require a long speech to ventilate. I repeat that if the Minister announces tonight or at an early occasion that he does not intend to break up the trunk network, I believe that he will be doing good service to the country, not only good service intrinsically but in showing that he, as a Conservative Minister, has followed Conservative principles in trying to take transport out of party politics.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) has made a courageous statement by his suggestion to the Minister that he should not, in fact, break up the country's essential and excellent trunk service. I would say that the hon. Member is in some difficulty when he says, as I understand him, that in some circumstances he would leave it in private hands. If it were left as a single service in private hands, there would be a danger of creating a monopoly into which there might have to be an inquiry by the Monopolies Commission, or something of that sort. If the Minister takes notice of his hon. Friend, I hope he will give special consideration to setting up a public company to run road transport, rather than leave it in private hands, where there may be the danger I have suggested.
The hon. Member for Farnham said that integration—the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who made such a brilliant speech—merely meant taking profits from the roads to assist the railways. In saying that, the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood transport, has completely misunderstood what integration can mean to this industry when properly applied. I ask him to give some thought to the problem of transport and particularly to the fact that every expert who has studied the vast problem of transport over the last thirty or forty years has said that there is no 1613 hope for transport unless it becomes an integrated service, especially, of course, since the coming of the internal combustion engine.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I quite understand what the hon. Member is saying, but I understood the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) to hold up integration as the salvation of the railways on the ground that the profits from the roads would meet what the railways lost. Otherwise, integration is merely a catchword and merely means close working and inter-connecting of the different transport systems and I am in favour of that.
§ Mr. Champion
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East does not want me to defend him, but I know that he realises the existence of this problem of integration and is not thinking merely in terms of taking something from the roads in order to assist the railways. I am positive that he does look at it in its wider aspects.
It is my conviction that if we had not had this policy of denationalisation, of trying to sell these lorries, if we had continued the way in which the Transport Commission was working, we should have seen some substantial benefit from this integration of road and rail. I know the danger of this catchword, as the hon. Member called it, of integration. So many people have used it without understanding it and without knowing anything about it at all. But surely the Minister and his predecessor who put through the Transport Act, 1953, understand it.
I do not want to go further into that. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East brilliantly touched upon these points in his references to the denationalisation of the road services. Before going on to the main points I want to make, I want to make a passing reference to paragraph 20 of the Commission's Report, in which it is recorded that in 1954 not a single passenger life was lost on the railways. It is a matter for congratulation that there were in that year nearly 1,000 million passenger journeys undertaken and not one single death of a passenger was recorded. Yet if I had not read the Report carefully, this would have passed my notice, because not a single organ of the national daily Press made a single reference to that striking fact.
1614 What would have been the case had there been an accident involving the loss of a few lives? There would have been banner headlines across the front pages of the Press. I remember an incident in which I was involved where not a life was lost, but, nevertheless, big headlines recorded the fact that an express train had been derailed. At at any rate, it is for us in the House to congratulate everyone concerned upon the excellence of that paragraph of the Report and the work that lies behind it.
My only question about it is to ask what has been done during 1954 about the further installation of automatic train control. This is the first B.T.C. Report I have read in which there has not been a paragraph devoted to that subject. It is true that it must be part of the modernisation plans for the railways, but there is a justification for a reference to experiments which are going on and to what decisions have now been taken about those experiments, which some of us want to see.
We are facing a near-crisis in transport. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly outlined some of the difficulties facing everyone who is concerned with this vast industry and went on to ask what was to be done. As one who has spent many years working in the transport industry, it seems to me that there are a number of problems to be faced, or, rather, a problem to be faced which arises from a number of causes. Obviously, the very fact of continuing full employment itself is bringing a problem to the transport industry. The fact that there has been a continuing of accelerating production of road motor vehicles and the further possibilities of the use of the internal combustion engine on the railways have presented transport with a problem.
As the Parliamentary Secretary himself said, the shortage of and the increasing cost of coal also present problems to the industry, as must the pressure of fifteen years of inflation within our economy. Those are some of the pains of great changes which are bound to be felt by the industry. That means that something must be done and not merely by those of us in the House. The general public must be made to face some of the problems which this alteration in the climate, or atmosphere, surrounding the industry has brought about.
1615 Everywhere I see evidence of a good deal of muddled thinking and the comments which I read in the Press and everywhere else indicate that the general public expects the impossible from the railways and from the transport industry in general. One does see—and I have actually seen an instance of it here this afternoon—pressure by the public on Members of Parliament for the continuance of uneconomic services run by the transport industry, branch lines, pretty stretches of canal which people like. People are inclined to say that the branch lines should be kept open, that they have always had them, even though they have not been used very much. There is pressure in the House about these things. There is pressure for keeping open these pretty stretches of canal for anglers, and so on.
I think that those are excellent ideas, particularly where the canals are concerned, but the charge should not be put on the transport industry. If the canals are to be kept open for their amenity value, for goodness' sake do not let us expect the cost to fall upon the transport industry and the people employed therein.
§ Mr. Nicholson
If one takes the Post Office, there are many postmen employed uneconomically. Would the hon. Member have the Post Office attempt to make a larger profit by dismissing those postmen? Have not the railways a duty to provide a service? Must every one of their lines and every one of their activities be on a profit and loss basis?
§ Mr. Champion
If the Government will give to the transport industry a monopoly for the carrying of everything, the industry will be able to continue to operate uneconomic services. If the industry is given the same sort of exclusive power as the Post Office has to carry letters, and so on, obviously it will be able to do that; but hon. Members should not say to the railways that they must enter into competition with other forms of transport and then make them keep open uneconomic services. That is quite unfair. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman.
Undoubtedly, the general public demand higher standards of convenience, comfort and speed at a cost very little above that of pre-war. Every slight 1616 attempt to increase fares and freight charges is met with almost unyielding opposition. That is, of course, understandable. Each increase represents a charge upon people which they do not like, but they must remember that if we are to have an efficient transport system, with employees in it who are reasonably well paid and efficient, we must pay for the service. I sincerely hope that the general public will recognise that.
The changes which full employment has brought about have produced a situation in which new labour relationships must be worked out within the nation's economy. In the old days it was one of the forms of payment to me as a railwayman that I had a great degree of security. That counted for something. I accepted a lower rate of pay than otherwise I would have done, simply because there was security in the industry in comparison with the vast amount of insecurity in other industries.
However, in conditions of full employment, which we have had for so long, and which I hope will continue, that form of payment loses all value, because everybody has comparative full employment. That means that there must be an adjustment as between those employed in great nationalised services and those outside who in the old days had higher rates of pay because of the dangers of unemployment. This factor must be borne in mind when we discuss labour troubles in the railways.
We cannot accept that the wages of men in a nationalised industry can be kept low, on the ground that the industry is not profitable, when wages in other industries which are profitable are permitted to rise, especially when the income of the nationalised industries is deliberately kept low so that no profits are made. In fact, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, there is bound to be a mounting deficiency in the railway industry for some considerable time to come. We cannot accept that the profitability of an industry should be the criterion for the amount of wages to be paid in that industry.
The unrest which has been shown among railway employees for some time stems, I believe, from this cause. It arises from the fact that there is a different relationship between employees in the various industries, partly as a 1617 result of the increase in wages in the profitable industries, and the fact that security does not count for anything within the transport industry although at one time it did.
We have heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East about some of the duties of management, and I should like to say how much I agree with him that it is the job of management to face the problems of the new situation. I deplore the fact that, all these years after nationalisation, there are still people employed in official positions who would send out letters such as that which he quoted. As he rightly said, this is, to some extent, a hangover, I would say by old officials, of the sort of thing that was done in the days when the railways were privately owned.
I have seen letters of this sort when I was employed in the industry. I have known people to be discharged without being sent any letter at all. They have been pushed out at the end of the week. They have been told that they had to finish, and they were not even sent a letter. If that kind of thing is happening today we condemn the management which permits it.
Those in management in all industries must realise that in the future they will have to allow for increasingly high labour costs. For far too long in transport, the planning—in the old days of private enterprise and, I believe, to some extent, today—has been based upon the fact that the industry has been able to call upon comparatively cheap labour. It must be emphasised that that day has gone, and I hope that it will never return. Those in management must realise that it is bad for management to feel that there is cheap labour available and it is also bad for the industry. This means that management must seek new and economical ways of using what will be, and what ought to be, higher cost labour.
The modernisation plan presented to us early this year, and discussed in this House, is excellent as far as it goes, but the railways must press on with vigour, adapting the plan to the changes which will be produced by the scientists as time goes on. I ask management also to get down to the job of educating the key men in the industry to what modernisation will mean to them and how they should approach the new state of affairs. I 1618 appreciate the difficulties, but I ask management to tackle the task of getting the men whose minds are not adjusted to accept all that the plan involves.
This means that we must get the staff to accept a vast degree of reorganisation and to tackle all the difficulties which modernisation is bound to bring. This is a painful process. All change is painful, especially change of this kind. Those who have lived with this problem recognise the vastness of the nature of the difficulties involved.
I recall being in a position where I felt that, by making a suggestion, a way could be found to cut out a signal box, with the saving of the expense of paying three men's wages. That is the sort of thing to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred; but what would have been the result if I had made the suggestion? In the circumstances, I simply could not make it. It would have meant three more men on the dole, and who was I to dare to suggest something which would result in three of my friends finding themselves signing on at the employment exchange? The Minister as well as management must recognise that the experience of working people over the past 150 years has inevitably made us "Luddite minded" about some of these things.
We must overcome that, but it will not be easy. People employed in the industry have to recognise and accept the fact that the high wages of the "automation age" and early steam age standards of productivity cannot go hand in hand. In present circumstances, we cannot have high wages and think in terms of the George Stephenson period, because the two things will not go together. Therefore, those employed in the industry must accept and face the new situation with all its consequences.
I know how easy it is for people like me to produce a few phrases of this sort. It is an entirely different thing to get other people who are doing the job to see it in the same light. The Parliamentary Secretary was justified in praising some of the recent utterances of the leaders of the National Union of Railwaymen. They have a great task to do and it is the job of everyone to assist them to get beyond the phrases, which may be uttered by union leaders or Members of Parliament 1619 or Ministers or anyone else, and to convince the men doing the job.
From my present position I can see clearly the need for these changes. But I doubt whether I should view the matter in the same light were I considering it from the window of a signal box. Then, I might be thinking in terms of what such changes might mean to me. It might be that I should have to shift my family to some other part of the country, and be faced with all the difficulties which such a move would involve. I might find myself obliged to alter my habits and to uproot myself from a district in which I had spent most of my life. But if these facts are not faced by men in the industry, as well as by everyone else, our railway industry will die. It will die unless we face the fact that we must alter our standards.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the existence of machinery for negotiation. I am of the opinion that those paragraphs about joint consultation which were deliberately written into the 1947 Act have never been properly used, either by management or men. I feel that it has not been sufficiently realised that now, by Statute, there is a right to question the acts of management. Had it been so realised, some of the grumbles, which I hear about additional stationmasters being appointed, and so on, would never have come to my ears. It would have been recognised that men employed on stations have a right to ask the higher officials why such stationmasters are there, and, if they are not satisfied, they can take the matter to the higher level of negotiation. Joint consultation is something which should be more widely used and better understood. I sincerely hope that by education we shall eventually achieve the position in which joint consultation machinery is used as it was intended to be by those who wrote it into the 1947 Act.
I have said that the public, management, and staff must recognise these facts. I am bound to add that the Government must recognise the stupidity of some of the actions which are rightly condemned in the Amendment on the Order Paper. The job of a trade union leader is to bring home to the members of his union some of the necessities in this transport situation. But that is a difficult thing to do, 1620 if the men see that there is a loss of £11.9 million on the railways. If they are thinking in terms of trying to prevent such losses and make up the deficit, it is difficult to convince them about such things, when they see that, due to the acts of the Government, £20 million is being lost on the sale of lorries.
Those are a few of the things which concern me about our transport industry. I hope that those responsible will consider the points which, if I may say so with humility, have occurred to me after having spent a long time in the industry and thought a lot about it. I wish to see the transport industry an efficient, live and modernised industry which will prove a good servant to the public.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I agree with the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion). I, too, was impressed by paragraph 20 of the Report, which states that no passenger was killed in a train accident on British Railways during 1954, and that the year was noticeably free from serious accidents involving passenger trains. On reading the paragraph, I thought that I had not been very observant about the publicity issued by the British Transport Commission; that this was one of the events of 1954 which had been announced loudly to the public. Apparently, however, I am not alone in noticing that little has been said about what is—in days when we are experiencing such trouble on the roads—a quite remarkable and very wonderful result.
There are a number of other items in the Report which reveal good progress and about which the Transport Commission should have been talking; such matters as the improvement of main lines, the extension of stations to take larger trains, signalling, new coaches, and so on. There have been plans for them for some time, but, until the publication of this Report, we have not been aware that they have matured. I hope that the Commission will not be so modest about blowing its own trumpet in future years. Publicity about these matters would have been an excellent way of attracting more custom, and persuading people to use the railways, where that is the most suitable form of transport.
This Report is different from previous reports in that it shows an essential 1621 realisation of the implication of the 1953 Act. One Report—I have not been able to check whether it was in 1951 or 1952—commented on the rather optimistic view of some people about the saving which would accrue from the closing of branch lines. In this Report, however, the Commission states that the closing of branch lines has resulted in an estimated yearly saving of £900,000. In another part of the Report the Commission states that millions more may be saved by the closing down of more branch lines.
If an attempt is to be made to enable British Railways to be self-sufficient competitively, the industry must be encouraged to develop the two things most likely to be productive. They are the development of main lines and of multiple diesel train sets between main centres of population. It should be assisted as much as possible by this House in closing down or getting rid of some of its other unremunerative activities. It is really quite unreal for this House, having accepted the implications of the 1953 Act, still to bring pressure to bear on the Minister to see that the Commission carries on activities which are uneconomic.
I feel that under the 1953 Act we have done something the full implications of which we have not yet realised. We have tried to turn a nationalised industry into a competitive corporation without seeing that its structure is like that of a competitive corporation. I spoke of that on the Transport (Borrowing Powers) Bill, and I do not wish to go into all the details again. However, I do not think that we can leave the financial structure of the Transport Commission as it is at the present time.
If a private enterprise firm gets into difficulties, and if its visible assets completely lose their market value, it can write them down, have a capital reconstruction and start again. It may even do that so effectively as to attract further money and build itself up into a successful enterprise.
So far as railway operation is concerned, we have tried to bring about a revolution. The 1953 Act is a milestone in the history of the railways. But we have made no alterations with regard to their financial structure. Having read this Report, I am optimistic that great improvements can be made in the economic functioning of the railways, 1622 but I still doubt whether, even in ten years' time, they will be able to make both ends meet unless there is a close examination of, and a solution found to, the capital structure of the Transport Commission.
§ Mr. Collick
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument—and I remember it on the previous occasion—but am I right in thinking that what he means is a smaller payment of interest than that now being paid?
§ Mr. Holt
I should think that almost inevitably that would be the result. If we are to run the railways like a private enterprise firm, then there must be an assessment of what the capital assets of the Transport Commission are now worth in terms of earning power; and if, as a result, it is found that the Commission's assets should be written down by half, then that should be done.
Of course, the obligation to pay interest will have to be taken on by someone. Nobody but the Treasury, and ultimately the taxpayer, can take it on. That is logical. Although I do not want to become involved in that aspect, I feel that because of some remarks made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), it must again be stated in this House.
I now wish to say a few words about another aspect of this transport enterprise—the canals. I and other hon. Members have recently asked a number of Questions about canals. There is a very excellent Report on this subject, to which reference is made in the British Transport Commission's Report. It is the Canals and Inland Waterways Report of the Board of Survey. That Report refers to an earlier Report which has been in the hands of the Ministry since 1951, that of the Land Drainage Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee. The Report was, of course, submitted to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, but I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has seen those parts of it which relate to canals.
The right hon. Gentleman gave me some succinct answers the other day, but I am afraid that they were no more revealing than a black night. They did not indicate what is in the minds of the Minister's Departmental officials and himself regarding the future of those canals 1623 of which the Transport Commission may wish to get rid. I take it from those answers that the Commission has not yet made a recommendation to the Minister, which it is stated in the Report of the Board of Survey it intends to do.
Although the Minister said that my Question to him on the matter was hypothetical, I assume that the right hon. Gentleman accepts it as a certainty. Surely his Department is considering the matter. Can he not say in what way his mind is working, and whether he intends to favour the kind of solution offered in the earlier Report of the Sub-Committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee, that these unremunerative canals should be taken over by the river boards. I feel that this House must help the Transport Commission to get rid of these unremunerative enterprises at an early date, particularly as its financial condition is in such a parlous state. The matter cannot be allowed to drift year after year.
As I have said, the earlier Report has been out since 1951, and I should have thought that four years was a reasonable time for even a Ministry to arrive at some recommendation to place before the House. I hope that when the Minister replies he will say a little more about how the Government view the problem of unremunerative canals, and in what way their minds are working, even if he cannot say that they have come to a final decision.
May I also recommend the same kind of procedure regarding the closing of branch lines? In paragraph 18 of its Report, the British Transport Commission says:A special survey of the various types of train service provided by British Railways has made it clear that for many of the slow or stopping services … there is no remedy except withdrawal.It would be very interesting and helpful if this House could have a White Paper dealing with that survey. Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that it might speed up the closing of these branch lines if the matter were dealt with in the same way as in the case of the canals.
The British Transport Commission must now be aware of which branch lines it wants closed in the next four or five years. I suggest that if that information was presented in a report to the Minister 1624 which he could then present to Parliament, it would help us all to see what scope there is for the closing of branch lines and how many millions of pounds can be saved by so doing. The resultant alternative methods of transport on the roads which might be required could then be brought into existence. It would greatly speed up the closing of those branch lines which the Transport Commission says are taking up far too much of the time of senior officials who should be engaged on other duties.
There is one last question which I would like to ask the Minister. In paragraph 339 of the Report there is a very interesting comment to the effect that more than fifty buffet and cafeteria cars were in operation. That is in accordance with the policy of substituting light catering for full restaurant car service. The paragraph does not say, however, whether these new cars were remunerative. As the normal restaurant cars of British railways have usually been unremunerative, it would be interesting to know whether the experiments which have been carried out with these buffet cars have indicated that they are worth going on with from an economic point of view; whether they make less loss than the restaurant cars, or even make a profit.
When the Minister replies, although he may be diverted, by the Amendment, into talking about many other things, I hope that he will be able to answer some of the points which I have raised.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Major Sir Duncan McCallum (Argyll)
I should like to take the House a little further north than the area represented by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). I was especially interested in his remarks about the closing down of branch lines. In the case of the sparsely populated areas of the Highlands, where branch lines never have paid and never will pay, but where they provide a service which no bus can provide—and, in certain areas, where there is not even a road—it is not quite so easy to say that the Commission ought to close those branch lines because they do not pay. I agree that we should try to get rid of such branch lines in the more populous areas, where buses can be substituted, but in the far north the problem is more difficult, because communications are difficult.
1625 One of the burdens and liabilities in connection with the development of the remote areas—whether in the far north or the far west—is freight charges. I have attended deputation after deputation to the Commission in an endeavour to find a solution to the problem of the ever increasing freight charges which, to people in the remote parts of Scotland, especially in the Islands, the North-West and the North, are a greater burden than any other.
I want to refer to the question of the Amended Charges Schedule, to which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred and which, he said, is still before the Tribunal and is likely to come into operation early in 1956. I wonder if the Minister has anything to say about the representations which have been made in connection with this Amended Charges Schedule, which deals with loads of two tons, four tons and ten tons. The Transport Commission could bring some meaning to the Schedule and help small consignors, especially in the Highlands, who deal not in tons but in stones or a few pounds, if it would amend the Schedule accordingly.
I am told that in drawing up this Amended Charges Schedule the Commission had in mind the big potato growers in the far north, but I am thinking of the small farmers, who order half a ton of feeding stuffs, a ton of hay, and even smaller weights in manures, etc. Could not there be incorporated into this scheme a provision which would help the small consignor of loads of less than two tons? I hope that my right hon. Friend will ask the Commission to consider helping us in that way. The whole problem boils down to the question of tapering freight charges. If we could have a tapering system of charges in respect of smaller loads carried over greater distances we might help to solve the problem of the tremendous freight charges.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was inveighing against our criticising the Transport Commission without putting forward any suggestions to help it economically. Ever since I became a Member of the House I have tried to do what he urged. In my maiden speech, fifteen years ago, I referred to the question of tolls over the Connel Ferry Bridge, and to the granting of concessions to industries developing 1626 north of that bridge. I am told that this is a branch line, and that a revenue of £13,000 a year in tolls is the only thing that makes this line pay. It might pay even more if the Minister could persuade the Commission to make a concession in respect of freights for the granite chips and seaweed transported by the industries to the north of the bridge. I do not suppose that the Commission can yet abandon the toll, but in order to develop industry in the north of Argyll it might consider such a concession because at the moment nearly everything from the industries to which I have referred is sent by road. Those two industries would be quite prepared to send their produce south by the railway crossing Connel Ferry Bridge.
One of the biggest economies in the whole country could be effected by taking up the line crossing Rannoch Moor and by taking the main line through Crianlarich, Connel Ferry and Ballachulish to Fort William. That would save twenty or thirty miles of line, running through country where there is scarcely a house, and no prospect of any passengers or freight. If that line were taken away, and the line developed from Connel Ferry Bridge, through Ballachulish to Fort William, I am certain that the Commission could save millions of pounds.
The Report states that strides have been made in the replacement of old rolling stock, but there are still some 4,000 "life-expired" passenger carriages. A certain number of those carriages seem to be used on the line between Edinburgh and Oban. I have never travelled in such dreadful rolling stock as there is on that line. It is even worse than some of the old London Transport rolling stock. Some of the carriages which are put on as special through coaches from Edinburgh to Oban during the depths of winter have heating systems which break down, and windows which are broken and cannot be closed—and the seats are certainly "life expired." They are liable to make passengers "life expired."
Just because that line is in a remote area, must it have the worst of everything? Could not the Commission be asked to use some of those carriages between Bath and London, Rugby and London, and so on? Perhaps something can be done about that.
1627 I turn to the question of sleepers. It is said that these are a luxury, but the sleeper trade is developing enormously. I would a4k the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a few questions on this subject. I wish he could come up to Oban, travelling by the Euston-Oban sleeper line. There are two sleeper coaches. We know them very well. The windows of one of them do not close properly and the central heating of the other one does not work properly. Such rolling-stock ought to be scrapped.
I am told that the Commission cannot put that rolling-stock on the main line because the coaches I refer to are composite coaches, each consisting of so many third-class and so many first-class compartments. It can only put these old coaches on these remote lines. I do ask the B.T.C. to give us a little consideration. We try to give it all the help we can. We want a little more consideration, especially in the winter. These carriages are hopeless, even in the summer. I heard about a Welsh party that came to Scotland the week before last, and they were disgusted. They said that they had never been in such dirty coaches.
In the last two or three years the British Transport Commission has made tremendous strides with the development of railway steamers on the Clyde. Hon. Members have seen photographs of them in the Report. They are a double-purpose motor ferry-boat, and are doing wonderful work. They are excellent boats and they keep good time. I believe the traffic is developing enormously between Dunoon and Gourock. That shows what can be done when we are given up-to-date rolling-stock—or floating-stock, or whatever we call them. I do plead for some new rolling-stock.
Only one thing have I to say in criticism of these Clyde steamer services. Would the Commission consider not cutting out a number of the calls that these steamers used to make? They used to go to one pier after another to embark people and take them across the Clyde. Can the Commission not still retain some of the calls that private enterprise used to make with their Clyde steamers? I shall not press that point any more because I am sure that the Minister knows all about it.
1628 My next point relates to inland waterways. In the North of Scotland is a waterway which is very important, both strategically and industrially, the Caledonian Canal. In both World Wars it served a very useful purpose as a means of transferring smaller craft, such as minesweepers, from one side of Scotland to the other. My information is that the canal could be used industrially, especially now, when industrial development, hydro-electric development and atomic development in the Highlands are taking place.
Such water transport between Glasgow and the north could be improved enormously. It would not be a very great scheme. A certain amount of deepening would be necessary in some parts of the Caledonian Canal and two or three of the lochs would require dredging. If that could be done, more reasonably-sized coasters, such as the Dutch motorschuiter, as it is called, could pass through the canal, although they cannot do so at the present time. This waterway should be kept in use for strategic and defence purposes, and if it can be improved slightly it will bring increased revenue by being used more industrially.
We hope that in the vital matter of transport freight charges for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland the new Scottish Area Transport Board and the British Transport Commission will evolve a solution which will help our people and will keep down the cost of living in the Highlands of Scotland, both in the far north and the far west.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I am very glad to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Sir D. McCallum) as I, too, wish to speak for Scotland, in relation to two matters which vitally affect Aberdeen and the North. These are coal and fish, and the freight rates that apply for the carriage of both.
I shall rely on authorities which I think will and should appeal to Parliament. I hope to engage the sympathy and support of Members present when I mention that I rely upon the Report of the British Transport Commission itself, on the annual Reports of the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, and on the evidence given by the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the 1629 Barlow Commission on the Distribution of the Industrial Population. This last should appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on Government benches. Finally, I rely on the Aberdeen Fish Curers' and Merchants' Association, Limited, which has a close and expert knowledge of these problems, on the British Trawlers' Federation and on the current issue of the Board of Trade Journal.
This publication shows, incidentally, that last year meat consumption increased, but fish consumption fell to 77 per cent. over the pre-war total. This body of opinion is of considerable significance. It is non-party and expert, and it should commend itself to Parliament. I beg the House and the Minister to consider the relevant problems in a judicial and statesmanlike way for the good of the nation, and not in any party spirit.
My general argument will be that the present policy of the British Transport Commission is unsound and bad for the nation at large and for the Commission itself. My particular argument will be that the present policy is bad for producers and consumers, who are discouraged by unfair freight rates. My more particular submission will be that the present policy is penalising producers of food in Scotland and thereby prejudicing consumers of food all over this island, especially in the big consuming centres in the South which rely so largely upon Aberdeen fish for succulent and nutritious food.
That policy has, for Scotland, imposed invidiously high freight charges. It has increased the price not only of coal but of all other essential commodities. It has discouraged old industries in Scotland; it has handicapped new industries; and it has impeded Highland development. It has, in particular, penalised the fishing industry and increased the prices of fish, meat and vegetables and other Scottish products for the consumers in the South.
Only yesterday, the President of the Near-Water Section of the British Trawlers' Federation said:Eighty per cent. of the home-water fleet (which provides the British housewife with sole, hake, plaice, turbot and all the other prime varities of fish) is coal burning. The home-water fleets at a number of our ports have been on the razor-edge of bankruptcy for years. This includes the fleets at Grimsby, Fleetwood, North Shields, Aberdeen and the three Welsh ports.1630 On that I venture to comment that the present policy of the Transport Commission is adding further to the troubles of those fishing fleets, and thereby penalising the consumers.
The present policy is penalising not only the fishing industry but the Commission itself—as this Report shows. We read in paragraph 24, in page 4 of Volume 1:The total freight train traffic carried on British Railways in 1954 decreased by 676.7 million net tons miles against 1953, a decrease of 3 per cent., due to declines in each of the three principal categories of traffic, namely, general merchandise, minerals and coal and coke.Arising out of that paragraph, I should like to ask the Minister the following specific questions. (1) Do these three categories include fish? (2) Was there less fish carried by the railways during that year? (3) If so, why was this? (4) Was this due to a change in transport policy? (5) Has this not inflicted loss upon the railways? (6) Has this not also inflicted loss on the public? (7) Is it not penalising Scottish farmers, fishermen and producers generally? (8) What steps is he taking to remedy this adverse policy which has that prejudicial effect upon the railways, the British Transport Commission, the producers and the consumers?
Also in the Report we read about the disastrous change in policy. Paragraph 26 quite unblushingly says this:As was mentioned in the Commission's 1951 Report a draft Goods Charges Scheme, designed to cover the Commission's rail, road and inland waterway services was about to be lodged with the Transport Tribunal towards the end of 1951. Submission of this draft Scheme was, however, withheld owing to the change in national transport policy, as subsequently embodied in the Transport Act, 1953, which came into force on 6th May, 1953.There the House has the secret; there the House has, plainly stated, the causes of the downward trend of the Transport Commission since that change was made. Paragraph 26 goes on:Under this Act, Charges Schemes submitted to the Tribunal must not provide for fixed charges or standard charges but must provide for maximum charges below which the Commission would be free to fix or vary at their discretion, and if necessary after negotiations, the actual charges to be made to individual consignors. This principle differed fundamentally from that of the system of railway charging established under the Railways Act, 1921, 1631 Which is still in operation; namely, that operative rail charges should be the standard or exceptional charges provided for under that ActWhy has this change been made? What steps have been taken to go back to that other position to try to rectify the mistakes which the change has caused? Why have not the powers given been more fully used to the public advantage? In particular—and this is the major point to which I am addressing my argument—why were they not used to introduce a flat rate throughout the country for the carriage of essential foods? There could then be a flat rate of charges and prices for essential goods, instead of having the price of coal at one figure here and at another there, and the price of fish here at one figure and there at another. What we want is something in the nature of a flat rate for the transport of essential goods which will enable us to have a flat rate of price to the consumer for each of those goods.
The House will remember how, not so long ago, our coherent and co-ordinated system of national transport was wrecked by the Tory Government robbing that system of the road service. In paragraph 28 of the Report we read this:Carryings by British Road Services in 1954, with their depleted fleet, were maintained at a satisfactory level. Notwithstanding increases in costs, it was possible to avoid any general increase in road haulage rates.In the interests of the North-East of scotland—indeed, of this whole island—I submit that in British Transport there is a bad policy which should be altered; an evil system which is uneconomic; and a conflict which should be resolved. This bad system results in discrimination in freight rates which operate as an arbitrary division of this island. This discrimination causes invidious and unfair disparities between North and South, between England, Scotland and Wales. It artificially discriminates between certain commodities. For instance, toothpaste, cigarettes and chocolate can be had at the same price in any part of the country but not so coal and fish, because of our unfair transport system. To take merely one instance, Aberdeen pays more for its coal and London pays more for its fish. The fact is that in this respect our present transport system disunites the various parts of this small island, is unfair to each, is uneconomic and invidious.
1632 The solution of a flat rate for freight—or, at worst, a more extended tapering rate for freight—is not my invention. I did not discover it, but I approve of it and adopt it as good and sound. It was considered by the Barlow Commission on the Distribution of the Industrial Population as long ago as 1938. As I have said, among the witnesses was the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. He, jointly with a Mr. J. R. H. Cartland, put forward a Memorandum and gave evidence before that Royal Commission. On 31st March, 1938, they advocated:… Seeking to eliminate distance as a factor in costs.In paragraph 33 of their evidence they said:We are suggesting that it should be the aim of national transport policy to average transport costs over the whole of the traffic of the country or, alternatively, over zones where it is necessary to relieve population congestion and apply a flat rate charged on a tonnage basis. The industries away from the congested areas would by this means no longer endure a competitive advantage.I stress that they recommended not a distance basis which we have, but a tonnage basis which I seek. Weight, not distance, is the basis upon which letters are carried throughout this country. It is not an unknown system, and I see no reason why it cannot be applied to freight rates as well.
Those two witnesses further said:The social, economic and strategical advantage of such a scheme would be so great that it is worth investigating how far it is technically possible to go towards its adoption.The strategical advantages manifestly include preservation of the fishing industry, which, in times of peace, feeds the people, and, in times of war, supplies courageous and skilled men for the defence of the United Kingdom. Any system such as that which is used by the Transport Commission at present is inimical to the best interests of Britain and to the fishing industry, and, in the unhappy event of another war, would rob it of a source of skilled and courageous seamen who have served us so well in the past.
These witnesses later said, in paragraph 39 of their joint evidence:In order to expedite transport reorganisation the Government should be prepared to give generous financial aid more especially for the purpose of promoting experiments in an 1633 entirely new system of transport charges, which would seek to minimise or eliminate distance as a determinant of those charges. It is, in our view, the aim which should be pursued even if it involves some form of State subsidy.Presumably this memorandum and evidence, which was submitted by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was carefully considered by him. I would like to know whether he has now run away from it. If not, why does he not use his influence in the Government to implement the views which he then uttered, or, alternatively, why does he not resign from a Government which refuses to implement a policy which he advocated so strongly and which is beneficial to the country? This policy of a flat rate is just as true today as it was then, and I shall indicate in the spheres of coal and fish the authoritative attention which has from time to time been given to this solution of the problem by the flat rate.
The Domestic Coal Consumers' Council, a reliable and authoritative body, in its Annual Report for 1951, contained the following paragraph dealing with the problem:We are aware that there is a growing demand in some quarters that there should not merely be uniformity of prices within zones but that there should be one price for one coal all over the country. We realise that the demand comes mainly from those living in areas which would benefit by a uniform price at the expense of householders living nearer to the collieries. There is division of opinion on the Council as to the merits of a uniform price but fuller consideration will be given to this, when there has been some experience of the working of the zone price scheme.The Domestic Coal Consumers' Council Annual Report for 1953 returned to the topic, and in paragraph 4 it said:Two years ago we welcomed the introduction of the zone prices scheme, as we believed that it would be generally acceptable to consumers in spite of certain anomalies that remained.In paragraph 25 the Report said:Some among us attached importance to the demand in some quarters for price equalisation over the whole country, but the majority thought that there was not a clear case for taking this drastic step. We did feel, however, that a measure of equalisation could have been introduced by widening the zones established in 1951.
§ Mr. Hughes
I cannot congratulate the hon. Member on either the relevance or the elegance of his quite unnecessary interruption.
This solution was referred to again in the Domestic Coal Consumers' Council Annual Report for the year ended 30th June, 1954, which discussed the matter at some length. In paragraph 26 it said:Though, in 1951, we welcomed the introduction of the National Coal Board's zoning arrangements which equalised prices within the zones irrespective of the source of particular consignments, and the idea of equalisation appeals to some of us, we do not regard it as the function of the National Coal Board to introduce what in effect would be a general equalisation of domestic coal freight charges irrespective of the distance which coal has to be carried. We should, however, be lacking in our duties as consumers representatives if we did not point out that the continually increasing retail price of coal bears very hardly on that large body of consumers, the old age pensioners and people on small fixed incomes. We suggest that the appropriate remedy in such cases lies outside our scope and feel that the matter should receive recognition at the highest Government level.Here we are at the highest Government level, and I appeal to the Minister to do one of three things—to introduce a flat freight rate for essential goods throughout the country, but particularly for the North of Scotland; secondly, if fuller legislative powers are required to do this, by all means I invite the Minister to seek those powers——
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether it is in order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to repeat his main thesis, as he has done about twelve or fifteen times, and to make a very lengthy speech, however eloquent, in which he repeats himself so often?
§ Mr. Speaker
To be out of order, repetition must be tedious. I had not yet come to the point where I could say that the hon. and learned Gentleman was tedious.
§ Mr. Hughes
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would have thought that you, in your long and impartial experience in the Chair, would have been the arbiter in these matters, and not a junior Member of this House. The argument that I have adduced applies not only to coat but——
§ Mr. Renton
Further to that point of order and to the hon. and learned Gentleman's answer to it. I think I entered the House on the same day as he did, about ten years ago.
§ Mr. Hughes
I would be the last in the world to attempt to hurt the feelings of any hon. Member in this House, particularly a colleague of mine in my own profession, but the apparent repugnance with which he views this argument, which is for the good of the country and particularly for the good of Scotland, coerced me to say to him what I have said. I do not withdraw a single word.
The argument I have ventured to adduce applies not only to coal but to fish as well. I have often drawn the attention of this House to the unfair way in which the present freight charges penalise not only the fishing industry generally but particularly the fishing industry in the North of Scotland. I say that it is invidious and unfair, and that these industries should be given equality of opportunity.
This matter was drawn to the attention of the Transport Commission by the Aberdeen Fish Curers' and Merchants' Association Ltd., and it is relevant to the argument and good for the country that I should bring it to the Minister's recollection. He will remember that the Chairman received a letter on the subject. I must trouble the House with the letter. It is not a long one. It was dated 31st March this year, and it said this:At a recent meeting, the Directors of the above Association studied the present draft of the new Freight Charges Scheme and were greatly perturbed because the draft contained no reference to the special problems affecting the North and North-East of Scotland and Aberdeen in particular. At a meeting at Inverness you"—that is to say, the Chairman of the Commission—listened to the reasons and needs for special consideration of these problems. You gave your assurance that the new Scheme would take these factors into account. This Association wish to protest most strongly that no reference or indication is given to a substantial reduction of charges for transporting fish long distances. It is felt that special consideration should be given to lower freight charges on fish travelling 200 miles and more. 1636 We trust you will implement those assurances already given, and that you will favour us with a reply confirming this.The reply, which is the last letter with which I shall trouble the House, was in the following terms:In the absence of the Chairman, on leave, I am replying to your letter of 31st March about the concern felt by your Directors that no reference to the problems of transporting fish from the North and North-East Coast of Scotland was made in the Draft Charges Scheme. In a national scheme of maximum charges it would be invidious if not improper, to select a few traffics for individual mention, thereby incorrectly conveying to senders of other traffics, possibly just as worthy of special consideration, that they were not to be so well favoured. It was in the application of the scheme that the Chairman gave the assurance that the particular problems affecting your industry would be taken into account. It is the intention and desire of the British Transport Commission that the new Charges Scheme shall place them in such a position that they can quote rates sufficiently attractive to enable them to secure the traffic and sufficiently remunerative to warrant its movement.From that reply it is evident that the Transport Commission did not address itself to the real problem, did not realise the national nature of it, failed to understand its magnitude or its bearing on the fishing industry in all its phases and on the fish consumers throughout Britain. I ask the Minister, in no party spirit, to take a larger and more modern view so that the people of the North of Scotland will be no longer treated as foreigners to be exploited.
I venture, therefore, to ask the Minister some questions. Does he realise that this island was treated as a unit in war? Why then cannot it be treated for economic purposes as a unit in peace? Is he aware that the island's disparities in freight charges penalise Scotland industrially, socially and economically? Does he know that it slows down and even prevents Highland development? Does he regard highly the fishermen's services in war? If so, why should he penalise them in peace, and why should he seek to deprive Britain of their services in the unhappy event of another war?
I hope that I have said enough to commend this to the House. I address my mind to it in no party spirit, but in a large spirit. I ask the Minister to realise that this island is a unit for economic purposes, and for freight charges should be so used. I ask him to follow the lead which was given by the present Secretary 1637 of State for Foreign Affairs, the lead given by him in his evidence before the Barlow Commission as far back as 1938.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will forgive me if I do not attempt to reply adequately to the eloquent plea which he has made in support of a flat rate for flat fish. His remarks were, presumably, if he thought about the matter seriously, not intended for the ears of hon. Members of this House, not intended for the ears of the Government, but were intended for the ears of the British Transport Commission, which not only under the Transport Act, 1947, has the responsibility for the fixing of charges, but, by our Transport Act, 1953, has been given a much greater latitude in the matter.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
As the hon. and learned Gentleman interrupted me, may I, with respect, interrupt him, when he imputes intentions to me, to remind him, as he is a lawyer, of what Chief Justice Bryan said in Thorogood's case some hundreds of years ago? Chief Justice Bryan said in that case what we may well say in this House, what the hon. and learned Gentleman may well think when he is imputing motions and intentions to me. Chief Justice Bryan said:This court doth not try the thoughts of a man, because the Devil himself knoweth not what are a man's thoughts.
§ Mr. Renton
I must say that I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for ever sitting down after that intervention. I must confess that I was treading on dangerous ground in trying to probe the thoughts in the hon. and learned Member's mind at all. Nevertheless, as I had the honour to follow him in the debate I thought that I should make an attempt to do so.
I would conclude my comment, such as it is, on what he had to say by reminding him that the Transport Commission is at present engaged upon the formulation of its charges scheme, that it can take power to introduce certain flat rates, and that it will be its responsibility to do so, if it can satisfy the Transport Tribunal that it would be the right thing to do. Beyond that, I do not consider that it is the function of hon. Members of this House to enter into that matter.
1638 The Commission, in 1954, had a very difficult year. It had increasing costs, it had serious staff problems, and, as a result, it ended with a further deficit, but there are in its Report some most encouraging signs. It achieved economies of £5 million in the year, and the railway staff alone was reduced by about 17,000. But I should remind the House that the railways are still carrying a very large staff indeed in relation to their commitments.
It is very difficult to make comparisons which will stand every test, but, if hon. Members care to obtain the figures for the number of staff, railway mileage, number of passengers carried, the amount of goods carried, ton-miles for goods and passenger-miles, and figures for any other comparison they care to make, they can compare the position of British Railways with that in Western Germany. A comparison with the position in France is also useful, as, to a less extent, is a comparison with the position in the United States.
If we compare the figures carefully, making full allowance for the fact that the comparison is not exact, we find that British Railways are carrying an immensely high proportion of staff in relation to commitments. I will not burden the House with all the figures which are available, but will give just a few. British Railways have approximately 31,000 kilometres of line, carry under 1,000 million passengers and carry approximately 37 million ton/kilometres of goods traffic. The length of line in Western Germany is almost the same—only 500 kilometres less—but 107,000 fewer staff are employed on the Western German railways. Approximately 50 per cent. more passengers are carried than by British Railways, although I concede that many passengers are carried shorter distances. Comparing the carriage of goods, we find that 42 million ton/kilometres are carried in Western Germany compared with 37 million ton/kilometres by British Railways.
The general position is, therefore, this: with about the same length of line and as high a figure of passenger and goods traffic, there are 107,000 fewer staff on the railways in Western Germany. That is a matter which should inspire the Commission, and the unions who have to cooperate with them, to achieve still greater economies.
1639 I thought that the most interesting and constructive speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) was a great contribution to this problem; and, if those who are in authority in the unions and those whom they are leading have the goodness to study his wise suggestions, then the cooperation with the unions will be as good as we all wish to see it and as good as the Parliamentary Secretary, in his opening speech, indicated that it was becoming.
§ Mr. Collick
I formed the impression that the hon. and learned Gentleman was getting a little confused with his figures. Nevertheless, I was trying to follow his argument, and I am sorry that I have not succeeded. If he is trying to make a comparison with the railways of Western Germany to the disadvantage of British Railways, as his figures seem to suggest, I would remind him that, if he compares the deficit of the German railways with that shown in this Report, he will find that the comparison is overwhelmingly favourable to the British Transport Commission.
§ Mr. Renton
That may well be so. I have not the figures of the deficit. At the same time, the very large accumulated net deficit of the British Transport Commission is nothing about which anybody can be complacent.
The question of economy is vital, not only to British Railways, but also to the nation, because unless we manage to get these basic industries, which have been nationalised, on to a footing on which they are not only providing a service, but are providing it at a cost which is not making a terrifying contribution to the inflationary spiral, we shall not be doing our duty. Our suggestions in the House must, if possible, be directed at guiding these nationalised industries into a better position than that in which we find them today.
It is regrettable that this debate is taking place before the debate which, I understand, is likely to take place soon on the Report of the National Coal Board. Had we discussed the Coal Board's Report in the House, and perhaps taken decisions about it before discussing the Transport Commission's Report, we should have known more clearly what is 1640 to be the future of the railways in the use of fuel. We have to face the fact that we still have operating today, as the principal method of locomotion on British Railways, the steam engine, which is about the most wasteful user of best coal known in the world. It is such a wasteful user that its fuel efficiency is only 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. If steam engines were replaced by electric power then, instead of an efficiency of 6 per cent. or 7 per cent., we should have an efficiency of at least 20 per cent., even when allowance had been made for the wastage in electrical distribution.
Seven months ago we had before us the railway modernisation plan. We regarded it as a welcome and vital document and it was given a fair and even enthusiastic reception by both sides of the House. Now that there has been more time in which to study its implications. I must say that on second thoughts I am disappointed about some of them, especially about the proposals for electrification. Apparently the steam engine is to go on pouring out valuable fuel for many years to come. The country cannot afford the serious waste of best coal which that involves.
Under the modernisation plan, out of a total capital expendture of £1,240 million spread over the next fifteen years, only £185 million is to be spent on electrification and only £150 million on dieselisation. That means a total of only £335 million in getting away from the steam engine, spread over the next fifteen years. In my opinion, that is too modest and compares most unfavourably with the favourable treatment which, for example, the Central Electricity Authority is to be given in its capital expenditure. I hope that we shall have second thoughts about the modernisation plan.
May I briefly refer to the Amendment? For the last three years we have had the same sort of rumblings about the alleged breaking up of the unified transport system. The electorate had to listen to them and were not impressed. The electors gave a decisive verdict in favour of the Government's policy on this and other matters. The time has come for the Opposition to take things as they find them, and as they will find them for some time, instead of as they would like them to be.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not realise that that is what we are doing? We want to take things as we find them. Half the vehicles are unsold and cannot be sold.
§ Mr. Renton
I will deal with the question of the sale of vehicles if the hon. Member will wait. His suggestion that there has been a loss on the sale of British Road Services is utterly false. He knows that perfectly well and ought not to go on repeating it. He knows that it is absolute chicanery on his part. He knows quite well that the road haulage capital loss will not be a loss, because it is to be, and is being, covered by the transport levy. It really is time that he raised his own standards of political behaviour in this matter.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for the hon. and learned Gentle man to make these allegations in these terms?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. and learned Member was forgetting the rules which are incumbent upon us all in this House in suggesting a motive that was not perfectly true and genuine.
§ Mr. Renton
The position, as I understand, is this. It is perfectly plain from the terms of the Act of Parliament that there will, in fact, be no loss, yet we have recorded here, in an Amendment moved by the Opposition, the statement that there is to be a loss.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand all that. The hon. Member who is now being criticised might easily have come to that conclusion from a misreading of the Act, if that is the hon. and learned Member's argument. I did not like the word "chicanery." I will be quite frank about it. I think that is a word which we should not use about each other's speeches in this House.
§ Mr. Renton
I will withdraw any word that you do not like, Mr. Speaker. I withdraw the word "chicanery." I leave hon. Members to draw their own conclusions.
Denationalisation was effected at a good pace in spite of the General Election. Unscrambling is always difficult, but the Government went on with this matter 1642 courageously and without any inconvenience to industry which has come to light. Denationalisation acted as a spur to the Transport Commission, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, and enabled it to get rid of a great many vehicles which it was not operating effectively. At the same time, it left the Commission free to develop the best part of its services—the trunk services—with the best vehicles remaining. Nevertheless, I think it is right, especially now that the General Election is over, that the House should take stock of the position which is being reached.
We have fulfilled to the letter and in the spirit the Election pledges which we made in 1951 and as a result of which the 1953 Act was passed. We have abolished the 25-mile limit. We have given the small man the chance to return, and he has taken it. We have relaxed to some extent the licensing provisions of the 1933 Act and restored a reasonable degree of competition between road and rail. The small man has taken the fullest advantage of the opportunities which we gave him. The big man, however, has proved to be a reluctant dragon in this matter. The big man does not seem to be willing to return to road haulage and to undertake the great responsibilities of it to the extent that many of them seem to indicate they would wish to do.
As a result of the reluctance of the big man, the Commission still has its trunk services. What we have to consider is whether, if the big man does not buy them, it would be right to break them up. That is the issue now. I do not complain of the Opposition having raised that issue. I think that it is a perfectly proper Parliamentary performance on their part. The Government and the House have now to make up their minds about it. I would rather see the trunk services maintained, either in private hands, or in the hands of the Commission if good private offers are not forthcoming. That, broadly, is my point of view.
I believe that there is room for considerable difference of opinion about this matter. At any rate, so far as the politician's conscience is concerned—and I hope we all have consciences: even the hon. Gentleman whom I was attacking so vigorously earlier has a conscience of his own, too—I say that we have fulfilled the 1643 pledges which we made to the people and on the strength of which we were elected in 1951. Therefore, I say that honour is satisfied.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I am not proposing to follow the line which the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) took, because I could not follow clearly what his argument was intended to mean, particularly in relation to the German example which he gave. I will only comment that, if he cares to follow that matter up, I am sure he will find that the German figure of deficit as compared with the deficit of the British Transport Commission is wholly favourable to the British Transport Commission.
Nevertheless, I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern about the financial position of the British Transport Commission. I want to say something about that. Before I do so, I would say that I have listened today, as I have listened in most of these transport debates, to the speech of the Minister opening the debate. I was hoping to learn that at last the Government had some constructive policy to put to the House in relation to the Transport Commission and its future. Unfortunately, so far as I understood what the Minister had to say, there was not one positive proposal from the Government Front Bench today to deal with the problems facing the British Transport Commission.
I now proceed to be critical both of the Transport Commission and of the Government. I do not think that anyone can fairly say that hitherto, in the contributions which I have made to transport debates, I have done much else than defend the Transport Commission from attacks from hon. Members opposite. If, therefore, in what I propose to say today I make somewhat of an attack on the Transport Commission, I hope that it will be considered as introducing a little balance into the situation.
The British Transport Commission, on page 10 of its Report, uses these words, under the heading "Manpower":In the list of future objectives outlined in the Commission's Report for 1953, pride of place was given to the objective of a loyal, contented, keen staff employed in the most productive manner.1644 In the light of happenings in recent weeks, I think that the most optimistic person would not pretend that that state of affairs had been reached. I was very pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in making the opening Opposition speech in the debate, made a plea for better human relations between the Transport Commission and its staff.
We have recently had in this country a locomotive men's strike. That was the first national strike of locomotive men which has occurred on British Railways or on the railways of this country for thirty-one years. When an official strike of a responsible body such as the locomotive men occurs on British Railways—the first for thirty-one years—my submission to the House is that there is a reason for it, perhaps a good reason, and a reason to which the House would at least do well to pay some attention.
I have pleaded again and again in the House for the Minister to pay attention to this sort of problem, but I confess it has been without much success because the Minister has seemed to me never to do anything about it. So far, at any rate, the House has never been told that he has ever done anything about it, and, therefore, I want to come to some of the issues of the recent dispute.
I suppose there was no body of workers more maligned in recent weeks than the locomotive men. So far as I could follow the trends of the arguments and the discussions in the public Press and the like, no one had one good word to say about them. In fact—and I should like to put it on record—the only people I know who at least indicated any support for the locomotive men were the Derbyshire miners, and I acknowledge the attitude of those miners.
Here again, in that dispute, we had a common experience. Whenever there is a dispute what does one do? One blames the workers, and nobody was more blamed than were the locomotive men. Some organs of the Press could not say anything bad enough about them or their officials. The common line was, "Blame it on the locomotive men and pour abuse on this body." I wonder if that was justified and if it would stand up to fair criticism. I wonder if there is not something else to be said about it. My submission to the House is that to put the blame 1645 on the locomotive men was wrong, that the blame for the strike rests not by any means wholly on them but upon the Government and the British Transport Commission.
I want to tell the House why that is so. I have lived through some industrial disputes in my time, but I can never recall—and I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends share this view or not—a national stoppage of the kind this was that was more easily and reasonably capable of settlement. I have not heard one word from any responsible body that the claim which the locomotive men made was unreasonable. I will give the figures in a moment, and I invite any hon. Member opposite to tell me whether, in his or her view, the claim was unreasonable.
Nobody has suggested publicly that it was, and nobody has suggested that there was anything outrageous about what these men were asking for. The locomotive men followed the line—and the whole trade union movement may have lessons to learn from it—of being more than reasonable. If I have a criticism to make about the locomotive men's strike and their organisation, it would be that they were far too modest in their application.
Let us examine what happened. There was nothing hurried about the dispute itself, as some persons tried to suggest. I am not going to tell the House the whole history of the matter. I think the general issue was reasonably well understood. Most people gathered that it had something to do with differentials, though few knew the history, and few the amounts involved, much less the feeling that had been engendered by the sequence of the negotiations.
When the issue came to a climax it was considered by the Government. The Minister of Labour intervened, and the usual talks went on. One of the disadvantages which faces us in the House is that we never know actually what is said in these talks, and I regard it as particularly important, as I will show to the House in a moment, that on a matter like this, involving a nationalised undertaking, and where the Government inevitably come into it, we should know what is going on, particularly as tremendous issues arise between the Government and the Commission in its rôle as a managerial authority.
1646 The issue was one of differentials. Trouble had arisen before the General Election, and strike notices were issued to operate from 1st May. As a consequence of the meetings which went on, agreement was finally reached after intervention by the T.U.C. There were only three clauses in the agreement and the second one used these words:Every endeavour will be made to reach agreement.What happened when that meeting took place and the parties got together? I confess that in my time I have read some thousands of documents about railway negotiations, but when I read the report of that meeting, after this matter had reached a crisis, and when a strike had been averted by the narrowest of margins, I came to the conclusion that any fair-minded persons reading it could come to no other conclusion than that instead of the will to reach agreement obstacles had been put up by the B.T.C. which were bound to cause a breakdown in the negotiations.
What happened at that meeting was that, instead of getting down to the issues of the dispute, a claim was made for the reintroduction of what are called classifications, which locomotive men had defeated years ago, and with which they will have nothing to do. Therefore, it was absolutely certain that immediately that issue was introduced there was bound to be a breakdown.
In the meantime we had an Election, and after the Election the party opposite was returned to power. What a transformation occurred. I do not think one is divulging any secrets when one says that the threatened railway dispute in the previous year was prevented largely by the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was astute enough to know that he did not want an industrial stoppage on what might be the eve of a General Election. So ways and means were found of avoiding it.
After the Election of 26th May the crisis again arose. The present Government were returned to power, and I want to say quite frankly that in my opinion the locomotive men's strike was a direct result of the return of the party opposite to power. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Hon. Members opposite may think so, but I am saying, and I believe it to be 1647 true, that there was not sufficient will exhibited by the Government to prevent that stoppage from taking place.
Further, I say to the Government tonight that if the general public were angry because of the dispute, it was nothing to the anger which the locomotive men felt at being pushed into a situation where they were left no alternative but to strike.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Gentleman has made a most disgraceful statement which he will probably regret. If it has any strength at all, why is it that only part of the locomotive men came out on strike and the great majority remained loyal to their obligations?
§ Mr. Collick
I should expect the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be quite sure of his facts. He is quite wrong in them. It is not true that the great majority of the locomotive men remained loyal, as he calls it. The fact is that not only did the whole of the members of the locomotive men's union respond to the call for strike action, but other locomotive men came out as well. Therefore on that issue there is no dispute amongst those who know the facts.
What, then, was the line which the Government took in this matter? When the negotiations were taking place after the General Election I believe it was the mind of the Government—I say this frankly to the House—and the mind of certain hon. Gentlemen opposite that the time had come to call a halt to wage advances, and particularly to wage advances on the railways.
I am sorry to have to say that while the dispute was on there was much criticism of the conduct of the Chairman of the British Transport Commission. I should much prefer not to be placed in the position of having to say this. So far as the general public was concerned, he might have gone into hibernation during the period of that dispute. It is deplorable that, when we had reached the stage of negotiation, there ensued what I would call "packet of cigarette negotiations." It was the same thing as had happened before the strike when, before the strike notices had been issued, half of the men were offered half a crown a week—less than the price of a packet of cigarettes. Is that the way in which any responsible body should conduct negotiations in these days? Yet 1648 that was the offer made by the British Transport Commission in this dispute.
What was the dispute about? It was about 5s. 6d. a week. That was the maximum which the locomotive men's union was asking to maintain as a differential. And in an endeavour to defeat the desire of the locomotive men for 5s. 6d. for a main line engine driver, the British Transport Commission could afford to throw away enormous sums of daily revenue for eighteen days, to say nothing of the enormous sums which the Government must have paid to defeat the claims of the locomotive men. If any hon. Gentleman opposite wants to get up in this House and say that he thinks that claim for 5s. 6d. was excessive or unwarranted, let him do so now.
§ Mr. Collick
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says he does not suggest it but steps were taken to prevent that claim succeeding.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
May I tell the hon. Gentleman, as he evidently does not know the facts, that the Socialists set up the machinery. They set up the Transport Tribunal, so they were the people to defeat the claim, and it is no use the hon. Gentleman accusing anyone on this side of the House or the Government.
§ Mr. Collick
I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would have known that, when a dispute of this kind arises and a crisis ensues, the Government automatically come in. The hon. Gentleman knows that when this crisis arose the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, presumably was in contact with the Government. The Government were in the same position as was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford in a previous dispute, when he told the responsible Ministers, "This job has to be settled."
If there had been a will on the part of the Government to have the matter settled I submit that there was no reason 1649 why it should not have been settled. Instead there was a complete absence of will for settlement, and that was obvious from the earliest days of the dispute. Whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may say now, that is crystal clear to me and to the bulk of the locomotive men in this country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite can have the satisfaction, if they wish to claim it, of having prevented the locomotive men of this country getting 5s. 6d. a week. It will be a great asset to the Tory Party to claim credit for that.
Ultimately a High Court judge was brought into this matter after the Prime Minister, by his own conduct, had again delayed the possibility of a settlement. Because, let us face it frankly, when the Prime Minister spoke in this House in effect he laid down a new dictum, as it has never hitherto been the practice in the case of any official stoppage that we cannot negotiate conditions before a return to work. It has been done again and again in official strike after official strike, but the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in his broadcast to the nation and in this House, was obviously trying to lay down the dictum that there could be no negotiations until the men returned to work.
Therefore, the strike lasted at least a week or ten days before any move was made from that position. Then a move was made, and it is to that move that I want to turn, and I should like to have the attention of the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) because, if he looks at "The Times," he will find that in the letter from the Chairman of the British Transport Commission to the Minister of Labour on 8th June, these words were used:I feel that the attitude of the B.T.C. towards a resumption of negotiations needs clarification. I say this particularly in view of allegations … that the commission want 'a show down' or a 'fight to the finish'"—Then he used the following words "We presume that you"—that is the Minister—are likely to invite the parties to discussions at the Ministry when you consider it to be appropriate.When the Minister considers it to be appropriate—in other words, the Government are in on this thing and, therefore, the Government cannot divorce themselves from responsibility.
1650 That is what makes this issue so important, because in this situation they were not dealing with private employers or with a private company handling its own money. They were dealing with a public undertaking for which the British Transport Commission is nominally responsible. Yet the Minister of Labour and the Chairman of the British Transport Commission were obviously in touch with each other saying what was to be done.
What happened was that the locomotive men were not conducting a struggle, as they have hoped originally, to get what they regarded as justice but, in the end, were brought up against the Government, with the power of the State behind the Government, which nobody had anticipated or desired. That, apparently, is a new situation in the context of the labour activities of the Commission, and it is no use riding away on the assumption that the British Transport Commission is solely responsible when the Government and the Chairman of the Commission were running to and fro like that.
I should like the Government to understand quite clearly that, whatever may happen, so far as large sections of the railwaymen are concerned, they have lost any confidence which they had in the present Chairman of the British Transport Commission, and it ought to be said, and said in this House. There were some of us who were a little doubtful whether a military person was the right sort of person to be in a responsible job like that, but when he came into the British Transport Commission the men were willing to extend their utmost good will in the hope that the experiment would succeed. Instead of succeeding, I am sorry to have to say that, in my opinion, it has failed miserably and lamentably.
Let us look at the results. First, when the Prime Minister's dictum that there were to be no negotiations was made known, quite frankly—let us be quite honest about it—the Government were hoping that the strike would be broken. They were hoping that there would be enough locomotive men working to see the thing through, but when it was made obvious that the locomotive men were solid on the issue, there had to be not only talks but understanding, and in the 1651 end a Lord Justice of Appeal was brought in to arbitrate on 5s. 6d. a week. Finally, 3s. was given, so that the locomotive men's strike, all the inconvenience which the country suffered, the millions of loss of revenue to the British Transport Commission, and the enormous sums which the Government spent during that dispute—all that went in order to resist a main-line engine driver in this country having 2s. 6d. a week more. That is the stage which we have now reached.
In that situation, it might well be asked, "Where do we go from there?" Does anybody imagine that we have solved the problem by this decision? Nobody who knows anything about what happens on the railways imagines that anyhow, and, in my opinion, the time has come to face the issue.
I do not know whether I ought to say this, because I am not sure that one is even right in holding the Chairman of the British Transport Commission mainly responsible. I think that perhaps the top advisers are no less responsible than he, because no one pretends that Sir Brian Robertson is a railwayman or that he understands the intricacies of the railways. Therefore, he must have advisers, and, in my judgment, his top advisers in these matters wrongly advised him. I think these top advisers should be dealt with in the same way as perhaps the Chairman himself might in due course be dealt with.
How are we to deal with this situation? I am not speaking in this debate purely from the point of view of the locomotive man. I think that there is a public issue here. I called attention in the House a little while ago to the fact that, while there are roughly about 80,000 locomotive drivers and electric motormen in this country, 10,000 of these men have left their jobs in one year, and I have tried to get the Minister to do something about it. That means a 12 per cent. turnover of labour in one of the highest grades of railway operating. Does anybody think that we can go on in that sort of fashion, losing highly skilled men at that rate, when anybody who understands the problem of replacement knows how difficult it is?
The fact which stands out crystal clear is that the men on the railways today—and it may be the case in other industries, 1652 for all I know, though I am speaking of the one I know best—are not being paid a wage which is adequate enough for the responsibilities which they carry. That is the issue which faces the Transport Commission. I should respect the Chairman of the Transport Commission much more if he had gone along to the Government and said "Look here, you have given us an impossible task. Here we are facing this record of deficits year after year, and you will have to do something about it."
What do we find? When we look into the Transport Commission's Report, we find that it is as disappointing as the Minister's speech today, for when the Report deals with this matter, though it states that the Commission is aware of the problem, it is as funky as are the Government and the Minister in dealing with it. Here are the words which the Transport Commission itself used in its Report. in discussing finances in the future:The Commission's deficit of £11.9 million in 1954 does not fully reflect the continuing upward trend of wages and prices, or of the effect of road haulage disposals, or the declining levels of most traffics on public transport systems. In particular, the cost of the further increases of wages granted early in 1955, which ran through most sections of the Commission's activities, must be a cause of acute financial anxiety in the period ahead.One can understand that—"acute financial anxiety in the period ahead." That is exactly what the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) has been saying in the last two transport debates, in which he has called for something to be done about it. I, too, have called for something to be done about it, and both pleas have been unavailing, because the Minister does not propose to do anything about it. Let the Minister tell the House tonight what he intends to do about this situation. Are we to continue to lose the skill of these men?
I should like to bring to the notice of the House some advertisements which I saw when casually looking at a London evening paper a short time ago. I want hon. Members to compare the rates I am going to quote with those for railwaymen, and ask themselves seriously what they think about them. These are facts; this is not imagination or fiction. Here is an advertisement in a London evening paper of I 11th June offering commencing pay—not pay like that of a locomotive driver, after thirty or thirty-five years' service, 1653 but commencing pay—for a man of 31 years of age in the London Fire Service of £9 14s. 6d. a week, which is almost exactly the same wage as that of a mainline engine driver after thirty-five or forty years' service.
Where are we getting to? Must there not be some sort of comparison in wage rates? Can we really expect men to undergo the arduous period necessary to make them efficient locomotive drivers in face of these figures? We have been talking today about the fact that last year British Railways carried their enormous traffic without one passenger casualty, which is a tribute to every one of the operating staff of British Railways, yet the way in which they are treated is to pay them approximately the same as a new entrant into the London Fire Service receives.
There is another advertisement, which is especially interesting to Members of Parliament, because it refers to a typist. In this advertisement, a copy typist here in London is offered £8 5s. per week, which is more than a main-line fireman receives after he has done years of service. All I would say to the House is that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite imagine that they can go on like that, they are very much mistaken. When young men working on the railways, who have struggled for years to get a reasonable and decent wage, had to strike to enforce their claim, and when they expected that the Government would do something about it, what did they find? In that national strike called by the locomotive men, the Government organised the forces of the State and used them to prevent the men from getting 5s. 6d. a week more for main-line engine drivers.
The men for whom we are pleading are the men who work the main-line trains out of London, who did so right through the blitz and never once stopped, but went through the whole of what war can mean on the footplate of a locomotive, and who have never stopped the railways for thirty-one years; yet that was the response they received from the present Government.
One of the things we lacked in this recent dispute—I regret it very much and I know the argument may be put against me, but I have an answer, so be careful—was that in the old days we had men controlling these affairs who were born and bred on the railways. Those 1654 were men like the late Sir Albert Stanley, politically opposed to me as he was. Do hon. Members think that in a situation like the recent locomotive men's dispute Sir Albert Stanley would have done what the Chairman of the Transport Commission did—or failed to do? Would he have gone into hibernation when the dispute was at its height?
It is one thing to have a strike on the railways, but experience teaches that we should prevent such a thing from taking place, because, when it is over, there are far more problems to solve than ever existed before it started. Men like the late Frank Pick, and Sir Albert Stanley—politically opposed as he was to hon. Members on this side of the House—had, the sense to understand that when a crisis, was developing on the railways, it should never be allowed to come to breaking point. The present Government allowed that to happen.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite believe in freedom for everyone; freedom for the financiers, for the people in the City of London; freedom for everyone to go ahead and make as much money as he can. But when the locomotive men were asking for a paltry 5s. 6d. a week extra, hon. Gentlemen opposite did what they did in the last strike. I say to them, "If you want to take credit for that, do so; but I tell you that all the locomotive men of this country will hold you responsible for your conduct in that state of affairs."
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
The criticisms, strictures and charges which the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) has made, whether justified or not, arise from a fundamental aspect of nationalisation itself. In a nationalised industry the profitability of the industry is guaranteed by the State. In those circumstances—much though we might wish it, much though all of us would wish it—we cannot prevent the immediate transmission direct to the Government of the responsibility for dealing with any industrial dispute in wage matters. That is the point to which all roads lead in a discussion of any nationalised industry.
§ Mr. Powell
I was about to say that although I intend to take one of those 1655 roads myself and arrive at that topic before I sit down, I do not wish to get there straight away. I wish, first, to deal with what is, I suppose, the most striking feature of the Transport Commission's Report, namely, the phenomenon of the sudden change in the situation of British Railways from a position of moderate, but substantial surplus over the previous two or three years, to a very marked deficit, which seems not likely to be reversed, at any rate for some years to come.
Confronted with that fact, it is very natural that we should look for the cause. I am afraid that the Amendment invites us to look in quite the wrong direction. There is no connection whatsoever between this alteration in the posture of British Railways' financial affairs and the steps prescribed by the 1953 Transport Act in regard to British Road Services. Let us look at the facts. The contribution which British Road Services made to the revenues of the Transport Commission was almost identical in 1954 and in 1953. There is no fall in the amount of that contribution which might have anything to do with this phenomenon that we all wish to understand.
Even had there been a fall—which there was not—in the revenues of British Road Services in 1954, it would, in my view, still be a mistake to relate that fact to the failure of the Transport Commission to maintain a surplus, unless British Road Services had failed to earn sufficient to cover the central charges and costs of redemption attributable to them. For we have no right to ask that British Road Services should cover a deficit arising on British Railways. It is no part of the philosophy of this party, or of the Transport Act, that British Railways should be subsidised from British roads. However, we need not go into that further, because, after all, the contribution made by British Road Services to the revenues of the Transport Commission was unchanged between 1953, a year of surplus, and 1954, a year of deficit.
It may be supposed perhaps that the proceedings of the Disposals Board might have had some effect on the revenues of the British Transport Commission. Actually, the Transport Act of 1953 is so framed as to ensure that that cannot happen; for it provides that the burden of any charges attributable to the assets 1656 disposed of by the Board is automatically taken off the shoulders of the Commission. Not only is it taken off subsequently, but, in fact, it is removed in advance. Those who have read the Report attentively will have noticed that as from July of last year, the Transport Commission has been receiving, and crediting to revenue account, the interest upon the whole of the eventual road haulage capital loss, even though that has by no means yet been incurred in full.
While, therefore, the disposal of British Road Services' assets will, inevitably, result in the business of British Road Services being conducted on a narrower front—though by no means necessarily on a less profitable basis—it cannot have the consequence that the Transport Commission is left bearing residual burdens due to the earlier form of British Road Services. Indeed, in 1954, British Road Services slightly gained by the operation of the disposal procedure.
The real cause, or the immediate cause, shall I say, of this sudden reversal, of this sudden change from a position of surplus to a position of deficit, is—curiously, and perhaps significantly—not stressed in the Commission's Report. On the contrary, the main cause lies in what, superficially, may appear merely to be a matter of accounting—the manner in which provision is made for maintenance and depreciation. Indeed, when the Commission sums up in paragraph 260, it actually ignores it, altogether; for there is it stated:The main causes of the decline of £18.5 million"—in the net receipts, the net working surplus of British Railways—were increases in wage rates and other costs not recovered by increases in charges.If we look at the provisions for maintenance and depreciation, we find that, although expenditure upon maintenance in 1954 was actually slightly lower than in 1953, the provision which was made out of revenue had risen by £24 million, a sum which as hon. Members will observe, exceeds the entire decrease of £18½million in the working surplus of British Railways. Therefore, putting the matter at its most superficial level, if, in 1954, the Transport Commission had continued to deal with depreciation and maintenance on the same basis as in preceding years, there would have been a 1657 surplus on revenue account in 1954 as there was in 1953.
The reasons for this change in accounting are, I suppose, reasons which everyone in this House would regard as sound, that in 1954 one could no longer continue to treat as abnormal and transitional the heavy cost of provision for replacement, that it was necessary to bring that on to a realistic basis, and that the Transport Commission is now, with certain exceptions, charging against the revenue account the actual sums used for maintenance and replacement in each year.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that in paragraph 231 of the Report another reason is given. It is theexhaustion of the war-time provisions for arrears of maintenance.Therefore, the Transport Commission had to take it out of revenue. The hon. Gentleman should mention that point, too.
§ Mr. Powell
I am not suggesting that the Commission should or, perhaps, could have acted differently. My point is that it is this change in the treatment of this item which has produced the sharp alteration in the working results of the Commission as between 1953 and 1954. It is only fair that we should recognise the importance of that factor in bringing about this apparently sharp and almost catastrophic alteration, especially as the Commission itself has left it largely out of account.
Naturally, however, it would be wrong to conclude that we might, therefore, dismiss the situation as of no great moment. The reality is that we have, to some extent, been living in a fool's paradise in preceding years, and not that there has been a sudden change between 1953 and 1954, still less a sudden alteration which has anything to do with the 1953 Transport Act or anything done thereunder. It is a fact that we are now facing a period of real deficits in the working of British Railways; and whether we estimate those deficits as did the Commission in its statement to the Court of Inquiry in January, or whether we accept the lower estimate given by my hon. Friend in his opening speech, or, again, whether we share the gloomy forebodings of the 1658 hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the fact remains staring us in the face. It is not as something which suddenly happened in 1954, but as part of the texture of railway finance in postwar years that we are faced with this substantial and apparently durable deficit in the Commission's revenue.
This is not a phenomenon which we can ride off by saying, "Oh, yes, but, of course, this only happened because transport is not integrated." It is very easy to say that before we start to consider what it means. Integration means one of two things, or nothing at all. It either means that we subsidise the railways from the roads, that we use profits earned in road haulage to outweigh losses incurred on the railways, or that, by a monopolistic structure, we force traffic and passengers to use the railways instead of road transport. Well, those who like that can have it; but those who do not like it have to regard this problem as essentially a railway problem, one which has to be dealt with and solved on British Railways.
I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East in feeling—it is not a thing which one can prove—that the modernisation plan, aiming at a period of fifteen years and at a very modest improvement in revenue earned by the end of that period, will not be adequate to deal with this problem in its fullest extent. That modernisation plan itself needs modernising. In respect of its length, it requires to be realised over a shorter period of time. It also needs intensification: we need to get more return for the outlay which we put into it. That is one way in which the railway problem can be solved on the railways. However, I am doubtful whether that alone will, in the long run, see us through.
To me, this debate has been memorable, if for nothing else, then for an expression which fell from the lips of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East when he was describing the straits in which the nationalised British Railways find themselves. The hon. Gentleman was describing the courses which the railways could not take, and among them was that "they cannot reorganise their capital."
We heard the same note, of course, later in the debate from the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). In his case, 1659 it is both understandable and not unfamiliar; but it was a new feature coming from the Opposition Front Bench. I think that it was a very significant feature, showing some of the impact of the events of the last few months upon all of us on both sides of the House—the realisation that when the structure of an industry, as I said when I began, is guaranteed in its profitability by the State, we lose the all-important power to conform to altered conditions by reorganising the capital of the concern.
We have got to find means—whether it involves denationalisation or not, I do not know—in the next few years whereby this essential flexibility can be restored to the great nationalised industries. Against the scale of this problem, the minor issue of what we shall do with the remaining 15,000 lorries pales into insignificance, though, there also, we must still be aware that if they remain in the hands of the Transport Commission we are maintaining that same State guarantee of profitability to the road haulage system as operated by British Road Services.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I want to make sure that I understand the hon. Member's argument Correctly. Is he suggesting that we should have the power to write down the capital of nationalised industries, such as British Railways, in very much the same way that private enterprise did, many years ago, when £1 shares were written down to 5s.? Is he suggesting that State bonds should be written down in that way?
§ Mr. Powell
I am saying that these industries lack that flexibility which is possessed by privately owned industry; that we are seeing the crunch of this, at the moment, upon British Railways, and that we have either to replace that form of flexibility by some other or to reconsider the capital structure of the industry itself—after all, hon. Members of both the other parties have said that this evening.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Member will remember that he used that phrase when he began—he was talking about the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick)—but he has not yet said how, in such a position, private enterprise could have established a decent wage structure for locomotive 1660 men. He is not dealing with the original point which he made.
§ Mr. Powell
I take it that we are all united in wanting a decent wage structure to be met out of the proceeds of the industry concerned. Under private enterprise that is what has to happen, because there is nowhere else from which it can be met; but whenever these issues are raised about a nationalised industry, they immediately become political because of the ultimate responsibility of the Treasury, the State and the taxpayer for guaranteeing profitability—by which I mean guaranteeing the payment of interest upon stock.
§ Mr. Powell
That does not necessarily follow.
Neither in respect of British Railways nor British Road Services can we go back to 1953 or to 1947. If we could stop the disposals of the lorries; if we could erase the 1953 Act, we should still not have a position which was satisfactory from the point of view of hon. Members on either side of the House—and with an Amendment such as we have tonight we should be reminded of that fact.
We should remember that the organisation of the Transport Commission was considered by the Socialist Party to be unsatisfactory in 1953 and in 1955, and it is still so considered. The Commission as they left it in 1947, and as we now have it in 1955, is not what hon. Members opposite really advocate. What they advocate—what they must logically want and advocate if they are honest—is a complete, 100 per cent. transport monopoly which includes privately-owned transport as well as the A and B licence holders and British Road Services.
During the Election campaign the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East had the great courage to make this absolutely clear in one of his speeches, in which he worked out the logical implications of a Socialist transport policy for the individual citizen. I should like to quote his explanation of those consequences. I am reading from "The Times" of 16th May, which reports him as saying that:the problem of C licences would have to be reviewed once more."—1661 and then, in direct quotes—We shall have to see what are the proper spheres of private and public operations. The private operators may have to pay a heavy fee for the privilege of operating a C licence.Under the system of hon. Members opposite it is a privilege for one to carry one's own goods in one's own vehicle. That is Socialist transport policy, logical and correct. The report continues:They may be limited to a mileage radius. Another alternative would be to make them prove need before they carry goods.When we talk about integration we must realise that to hon. Members opposite it means an organisation of transport where no one can carry goods except by the permission of the monopoly transport authority. That is the alternative which is being presented tonight, as always, when hon. Members opposite are being honest. I do not believe that it would work, and I do not believe the people would stand for it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Is the hon. Member aware that in the speech which he quoted I was referring to long-distance goods traffic and not to the small urban traffic, when I was referring to C licences? Secondly, will he tell us what is the alternative? How will the Government deal with this increasingly difficult problem?
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I am quite willing to defer my speech to enable the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). The hon. Member is a well-known warrior in these debates. He becomes very technical and learned, very much as if he were addressing a class of rather young schoolboys. He always forgets the human aspect of the transport industry. He is never very much concerned with the individual.
The hon. Gentleman went into a great deal of technical jargon about finance, but he omitted to point out what is contained in page 49 of the Report, namely, that the working surplus of the Commission last year was £45 million, but from that had to be deducted central charges—which were mainly interest charges—imposed by the Labour Government, amounting to £53.8 million.
The hon. Member would be much better occupied if he devoted his time to arguing that we had now reached the 1662 stage when the Commission should be relieved of a great deal of these compensation charges. Many of us believe that it can no longer carry those charges, and must be relieved of them as soon as possible. We know the hon. Member only too well. We have had this stuff and nonsense from him ever since 1950. He hates anything which is nationalised; he hates State ownership.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes) rose——
§ Mr. Mellish
I am not prepared to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He does not know anything about anything, and if he did he would not be on that side of the House as a Tory trade unionist.
The hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) said that the problem of transport was bedevilled with party politics. He is right about that; it has certainly become bedevilled with party politics since the Tory Government came into power in 1951. The first thing they did was to take away the most lucrative part of the transport industry. They said that they had a mandate from the people, but I do not believe that the people wanted them to do what they did. It has now been shown quite clearly that what they have done is wrong and unjustified. These Measures have been passed by the Tory Party because they detest nationalised industries, and anything they can do to hurt them they will do.
I cannot understand why they take this line. When we introduced the Act of 1947 it was called the British Transport Act; it referred to the British transport industry, and it set up the British Transport Commission. It was something of which one would have thought the Conservative Party would say, "What we shall try to do is to improve this and make it work better than it has done before. We shall find what mistakes were made by the Labour Government." Instead of that, they did not even attempt to give the industry a chance to work properly. They said they were committed to destroying it and returning it to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Mellish
Only the profitable part—and they never attempted to deal with the mines and the electricity industry.
1663 They were too scared to touch the mines, and they have not got round to dealing with the electricity industry—and I do not think that they will. Nevertheless, in transport they were determined to do their best to destroy nationalisation, and they have gone a long way towards doing it.
One of the problems that we face is that the wages of the transport worker are not fair in comparison with their value. They are not to be compared with the wages paid in the luxury trades. For example, a bus driver does not get the sort of wage which attracts men into industry. I know garages where there are between sixty and a hundred buses idle because drivers and conductors cannot be found for them. The wages paid are not sufficient to attract suitable entrants.
When the trade unions go into negotiation on these matters they are told by the employers, that is to say by the British Transport Commission, or the Transport Executive, "Of course, we cannot give you an increase of wages, as fares must inevitably go up because of the financial restrictions imposed upon us under the 1947 Act." While the public complains bitterly of inadequate transport facilities it resents any suggestion of fares going up.
People will take almost any cost-of-living increase from the present Government except through the nationalised industries, yet figures show that the increases in the nationalised industries have been less than in the private sector of industry. One result is the shocking problem of hundreds of buses waiting to be staffed, while wages in the luxury trades, even for women, are far better than the wages given to bus drivers.
We thought that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would tell us how to solve the bigger problems of transport—how to face up to them. We thought he would tell us when the British Transport Commission was to be relieved of some of the financial restrictions. We heard nothing like that from him at all; not a single word. We hope that when the Minister replies we shall hear something about those matters.
In my constituency are three large transport depots, every one of which is making a profit. One of them made more 1664 than £90,000 profit last year for the nation. Since these depots were erected they have given first-class welfare facilities to the men and first-class conditions for the people who were on duty, for sleeping, and so on, such as they never had under private enterprise. The present Government propose to shut down two of those depots. Can the Minister tell me why? Both are making a profit.
Why are two depots to be closed down, in spite of the fact that they are doing the sort of job that makes a profit for this country? Why are they to be sold? Is it because they are State-owned? Because the Tory Government detests nationalised industry? They talk about the profit motive being the only thing that matters: here are two depots making a profit, and they are to be shut down. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is not very much concerned about these depots which are to be disposed of and the workers who are going to be redundant.
§ Mr. Powell
As the hon. Member says that I am not concerned about these people let me tell him that at the last Election I had the enthusiastic assistance of a number of lorry drivers, who were employed by B.R.H.E. before the 1953 Act. They came to help me in 1955 because they did not want that Act reversed.
§ Mr. Mellish
I accept that statement from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West if he says that that is so, but he must forgive me if I doubt it. Perhaps he will be kind enough to see me after this debate, when we can talk more about it. I would like to know these fellows. It is an incredible story. I feel that it just is not so. Mine is a transport constituency. The Government are always talking about being British and saying that they truly represent the British way of life, but when it comes to the British Transport industry they say, "This is a Labour Party set-up and it is going to be destroyed," for no other reason than that it is a Labour Party set-up.
When we introduced the 1947 Act we did not do it on the basis of "We are the Socialist Party. We believe that basic industries have to be controlled by the State," and merely for that alone. That it is our philosophy that State 1665 ownership is right is known. We were also aided and abetted by Royal Commission Reports, which one after another had said that that was the way to organise transport.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West gave a definition of integration which does not agree with mine. He takes the line of profit alone. I believe in transport for public use irrespective of profit. We have had speeches from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) and from the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Sir D. MacCallum), who both said that it was uneconomical to have any form of transport in certain Scottish areas. They admitted it would be run at a loss. I believe it is essential to have transport facilities, even at a loss. What we lose on the swings we must gain on the roundabouts. Certain traffic must of necessity go by certain routes. Traffic which is slow and not urgently needed, or which is bulky, ought to go by rail. Other traffic which is needed urgently ought to go by road. There ought to be a measure of integration.
If I have anything to do with transport when the Labour Party goes back into power, as I hope it will at the next General Election, I want to see not only renationalisation of the transport industry as it was before, but much greater control over C licence-owners. I hope that the Labour Party will not hesitate about that. Our case on transport has been proved. We made a great mistake before we introduced the 1947 Act. I do not think we sold the principle of it and the intention of it to the workers in the industry.
Look at the railway industry. All we did when we churned out this Act was to take over a great and difficult industry. For many months afterwards the railway workers saw no improvement in their conditions. They did not care whether the industry was owned by the State or owned by a private boss, because we gave them no incentive. We imposed financial restrictions that did not allow the B.T.C. to give them an incentive. One of the biggest problems of the Labour Party in the future is to try to make certain that our measures of State ownership are introduced in such a way that those who work in the industry will welcome them. Unless we get contented workpeople we shall not have successful industry.
1666 I know from my experience that the nationalised transport industry has done a fine job. It is tragic that the Government are trying to break up a section of it. We heard two speeches from Government supporters that were helpful. The hon. Member for Farnham said that the trunk services of British Road Services should be retained. I hope that the Minister will say tonight, "We have gone far enough, and we will not go any further. All we want to do is to make this industry work efficiently." Let us cut out party politics. Let us think of the men and women who work in the industry and of the nation as a whole.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has made a sincere speech, in which he gave us a number of points that will assist us greatly at the next General Election. If there is one thing that transport people do not want it is interference with their private vehicles, which, I understand, is the hon. Gentleman's policy on C licences.
§ Mr. Wilson
I thought the hon. Gentleman was querying whether transport workers supported my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). It is certain that at the last General Election the Government received a clear mandate to implement the policy already initiated, including carrying out in full the Road Transport Act, 1953, especially the provisions of Sections 1 to 3 of that Act. These provided for the disposing of the road haulage undertaking of the Transport Commission in small units. If the Government choose to use those Sections or Section 5, in regard to company structure, for the disposal of the remaining lorries they would only be doing what the people who voted for us expect us to do.
Furthermore, the whole trend of that campaign was against nationalisation. Those who voted for hon. Members opposite showed no marked enthusiasm for more nationalisation—most of them clearly voted for them for other reasons—and those who voted for us certainly showed a marked disinclination for further nationalisation. They also expressed 1667 apprehension about what was going on in the nationalised industries. The tendency among the electorate was rather to press for denationalisation than for more nationalisation. Anyone doubting that is taking up the position of King Canute and the rising tide, because there is a growing feeling that something is wrong with the nationalised industries.
Therefore, when the Opposition are asking, as they apparently are, that the Government should cease from further sales of lorries and call it a day, I hope that they appreciate that they are asking for quite a lot. They are asking the Government not only to abandon the completion of a policy which has already been passed into law, but to flout a definite trend of public opinion and, at a time, when the public has clearly stated that it wants no more nationalisation, to permit the Transport Commission to have a greater degree of nationalisation than was a little while ago thought necessary.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Is not the hon. Member aware that, because they are receiving such an excellent service from them, the majority of industrial concerns are themselves opposed to the sale of further B.R.S. vehicles? Is not that confirmed by the fact that B.R.S. depots which I could name are offering to sub-let a considerable proportion of their traffic to private enterprise because they are not able to cope with all the work they receive?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am not aware of any of those things. In any case, I was not speaking of them but of the results of the last General Election, when it was quite clear that our programme, which showed that we were not in favour of more nationalisation, was endorsed by the electorate.
I understand that the Opposition are not, like my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), saying that nothing further need be done because it would be a pity to break up the long-distance services. The party opposite is putting its case on the ground of integration—that old policy of which we have heard so much in the past—and saying that no further lorries should be sold because to stop the sales would make possible some degree of integration by the. Transport Commission. That 1668 could only be a partial integration—surely the most futile of all policies.
Several hon. Members have referred to the fact that before the war a number of Royal Commissions and inquiries into the structure of industry recommended a number of policies under various names—nationalisation, rationalisation; and sometimes integration; that the tenor of those various proposals was that if organisations were concentrated into fewer hands the saving in administrative expenses would be such as to offset any loss the public would suffer as a result of lack of competition. I agree that many of those Commissions did report in that sense. As far as railways were concerned, in most of the Reports it was usually taken for granted that what was wrong with the railways was that there was too much transport—such phrases were used as "wasteful competition" and "creaming" the traffic—and it was usually assumed that if the road and railway interests could be integrated all would be well.
I have never believed that that was true even then. In my view, what was wrong with the railways before the war was not that there was too much competition but that there was not enough. Lorries and buses, subject to the restrictions of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, could compete with the railways as they pleased. The railways, because of legislation passed in this House, could not fight back. They were forced to accept any traffic which was offered to them; to maintain an obsolete charging system, and vexatious byelaws and standard terms and conditions long out of date; to maintain uneconomic lines, and canals for which there was no further use. They could not, as private enterprise could have done, adjust their services and their charges to those for which the public were prepared to pay. That was my diagnosis of the trouble before the war.
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Member has just been telling us what was the trouble before the war, and saying that private enterprise would not have permitted such a state, but the railways were then privately owned.
§ Mr. Wilson
No, I say that the House would not permit such a state because it would not let the railways freely compete; they were controlled in such a 1669 way that they could not compete as private enterprise could have done. When the party opposite came into power, instead of trying to do anything to get rid of the ancient restrictions on the railways, they produced the 1947 Act. That was supposed to make integration possible but, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey has pointed out, the 1947 Act could not possibly produce integration, because all that the Transport Commission was given control of was the railways, perhaps one-third of the omnibuses and less than one in twenty of the lorries on the roads. With that small minority of transport it was quite impossible to produce an integrated system of the type indicated by several hon. Members opposite.
The only result of the 1947 Act was that the railways continued to decline, road services were hampered by the 25-mile limit, and the British Road Services set up a long-distance monopoly which was neither big enough nor strong enough to meet all the needs of the public—as evidenced by the continued growth in the number of C licences.
We came into power and by our 1953 Act made a great improvement and swept away many of the legal restrictions. I should have liked to have seen more of those restrictions go. I can never understand why, of all the carriers in the country and all the various types of transport, the railways alone are still common carriers. That is always puzzling me. However, we did try to sweep away many restrictions. We have permitted the Transport Commission a modern charging system, and have allowed it capital for modernisation—although I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) that the modernisation plan does not, perhaps, go far or fast enough.
It would be a good thing if the electrification of the railways was intensified both as to time and extent. I am credibly informed that the British electrical industry could, if asked, supply greater quantities of materials, and that the necessary loans could be provided by the British Electricity Authority without any interference with other industries, as most of the demand would come at times of off-peak load.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Is the hon. Member saying that 1670 the recent plan for the modernisation of the transport system was not devised in consultation with the electrical industry?
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not say that—I do not know whether or not it is so—but I think the plan could have been of greater extent and could proceed more quickly. I hoped that electrification would take place more speedily than is envisaged in the first draft published of the 15-year plan for the modernisation of the railways because, as has been indicated in the Report, electrification would answer many of our problems. On certain sections that have already been electrified there has been a considerable increase in traffic. Unless the railways can stand on their own sleepers, if that is the right expression, and provide a service for which the public are prepared to pay, it is difficult to make out a case for the continued existence of the railways, and it would be better to pull up the rails and replace them by motorways.
The strategic case for the continuance of the railways is much weaker than most people think. Both from the military and the economic point of view, it is much weaker than it used to be. A modern army is airborne and mechanised, and it is not nearly so dependent on the railways as was formerly the case. In industry it is no doubt more convenient for many forms of goods, such as coal and other minerals, to be carried by railways than by road, and properly used railways can also carry a great variety of other kinds of traffic more cheaply and more conveniently than they can be carried by road.
Nevertheless, a very large proportion of goods is already being carried by road. About 72 per cent. of the tonnage of goods traffic goes by road already; or, to convert it into ton-miles, 37 per cent. of the traffic goes by road and 43 per cent. by railway, so that there must be very few cases in which it can be said that the railways are absolutely essential to industry.
Further, the argument that the railways should be run as a social service does not bear examination. It may be true that the Post Office is a social service, because people cannot supply the postal services themselves, but they can and do provide their own transport, as the railways are finding to their cost with the growth of 1671 C licences, private cars and assisted bicycles.
It seems to me, therefore, that there is no case for the continued existence of the railways, unless they can provide a service for which the users will pay, and I believe that the railways could and should provide such a service. But merely to add a few lorries to their existing fleet does not assist them in that way to any great extent, and it seems to me to be dangerous because it tends to encourage the myth, which I am afraid many people seem to believe in, that railwaymen can sit comfortably on the shoulders of bus and lorry drivers, like old men of the sea, and wait for bus and lorry drivers to earn them their wages. That would be a most disastrous outlook, but it is one in which, unfortunately, a number of people indulge.
What should be done? The sales of the lorries have been going slower than some people hoped for, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson), who pointed out how disastrous it is that this section of the industry should be the shuttlecock of politics, threatened with nationalisation, denationalisation and renationalisation.
If we are to have a compromise, the one suggested by hon. Members opposite is not the only one. It would have the grave disadvantage of splitting the nationalised industry into a partly nationalised and partly denationalised industry. If there is any argument about what is to happen to these lorries, the most logical thing is that they should be owned by both parties. There is a precedent for that arrangement, in that a number of the bus services, both before nationalisation and now, have been jointly owned by the Transport Commission and private enterprise.
In addition, I would remind the House of the provisions of Section 5 (3) of the Act. I know that the Disposals Board does not regard this as a very satisfactory Section, but there is provision for setting up companies to deal with the larger units of road haulage. With a comparatively small amendment to that Section, it might be possible for the Transport Commission to retain, say, half the shares in its companies under Section 5 (3), and to sell the other half, so that they would 1672 be in a position similar to the bus companies.
This position would also be similar to that which is envisaged in Section 18 (6) of the 1953 Act as it affects the other bus companies which were sold to the Transport Commission after nationalisation. Some such arrangement would get the best of both worlds. Hon. Members opposite would not get their integration, but the Commission would have a considerable influence in the management of road haulage companies, there would be a degree of co-operation, and it would also be a profitable investment.
At the same time, it could not be said that the Commission was either dominating or subordinating the road interests to its own railway interests, and it would also be in that strong position which I have always understood was the position into which the Great Western Railway deliberately placed itself in the old days. Having started bus companies, it sold some of the shares of those bus companies so that it did not have complete control over them, and it could not be said that their minor interests were dominated by their major interests. Such a situation would enable the Transport Commission to concentrate on its main task, which must be to restore prosperity to British Railways by concentrating on modernisation.
Personally, I would not mind if the name of the British Transport Commission were altered and it were called the British Railway Commission, because it is principally a railway undertaking. By concentrating on further rapid electrification, by the substitution of diesel engines for steam engines, by a modern charging system and by the ruthless scrapping of uneconomic lines, the Commission could go a long way to rendering a profitable service to the travelling public and, at the same time, paying an adequate wage to its employees. That will never be done while there lingers the myth that the railways can be supported by some of the minor interests which they at present control.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
This debate has reflected with extraordinary clarity the difference in philosophy between those who sit on these benches and those who sit on the 1673 benches opposite. The speech we have just heard, that of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), has emphasised that difference very definitely indeed. It may be true, as the hon. Gentleman has said, that as time proceeds the railways will become an obsolete transport service. It may be that as the roads are developed, as transport with new methods is extended, as the air is used more, our railway service may become less and less important.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
I did not say that the railways were becoming obsolete. I said there was not a case for their being subsidised by somebody else.
§ Mr. Brockway
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention because it leads exactly to the next point that I was about to make.
If, in future, the railways become less important, there can be no doubt about the importance of the railways to our economy today. There can be no doubt at all about the useful service which all those engaged on the railways are contributing to our nation. Those who hold the Socialist philosophy say that any man or any woman who is contributing a necessary service to the community should be rewarded adequately by the community for that service which is being rendered. That is not the case on the railways today.
Those of us who were in the House and able to listen to the moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) will understand the frustration and biterness which are now felt by large numbers of railwaymen. I can illustrate it by reference to men in my own constituency, which is a large railway centre. They are men—and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Truro will understand their feeling—who grew up on the old Great Western Railway, who have a love for and a loyalty to the railways, and the service to which they have given long years, and they have almost a sense of vocation to it.
Now they are finding that, while their wages are at the level of £8 or £9 a week, alternatives for practically unskilled work are available to them at very much higher rates of pay. My hon. friend the Member for Birkenhead illustrated that by advertisements which have ppeared for typists and first-year entrants 1674 to the London Fire Brigade, in which pay rates are much higher than those of the firemen and the engine drivers who have given long service on the railways.
The Socialist, faced with that problem, answers that the man or woman who is working in the railway service and doing an essential service for the community, particularly if he or she is directly employed by the community, should be guaranteed in return for that essential service, a reward by wage or salary which is adequate to a decent human life. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Truro then says, "The railways cannot afford to pay it." The hon. Gentleman says that the railways must not be subsidised by further integration. I put it to him that if there is a service essential to the community, and that service by itself cannot adequately reward the workers in it, the only answer is the integration of that service with a wider sector of our economic system.
My complaint would be that the integration was not wide enough. I would take the view that anyone in the community who is rendering an essential service to the community should receive from the community as a whole—and that must mean the whole economic system—an adequate reward for the service which he is giving. I do not believe that we must pick out one little section of industry and insist that it must be responsible for the payment of adequate wages to those employed in it. I do not regard that as the modern method of considering the problems of industry.
I have been a little diverted into making these comments for in fact I wanted to speak about two other specific issues. I will speak shortly because I do not want to divert the debate from the big issues raised in the speeches of my hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and Birkenhead.
First, I want to ask the Minister of Transport, if he has decided to dissolve the British Road Services, at least to do it in a way which will not seriously affect the trade and industry of this country. I will give an illustration of what I mean from my own constituency. There was a depot of the British Road Services in Alpha Street, a little side street in Slough. It was a great nuisance and we brought pressure to bear on the right hon. 1675 Gentleman to remove it. After that pressure, he agreed to remove it.
We all imagined that a new depot would be opened in the Slough area. Alternative sites were available. To our amazement, when it was decided to end the Road Services depot in Slough, it was transferred miles away to the most distant part of the town of Hayes.
That depot in Slough was serving our trading estate and our great industries. There was opposition to the transfer from the borough council and everyone else concerned. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman not to use the fact that the British Road Services are ultimately to be dissolved to cause difficulties and burdens to localities from which Road Services depots are removed.
I turn to the second point to which I wish to draw the Minister's attention. My predecessor in the House was Mr. Benn Levy. All of us who know him regret very much that he has turned to literature rather than to Parliament as a service to the nation. For seven years he and I have been hammering the British Transport Commission on the subject of privilege taxicab ranks. This may seem a small point, but it affects not only Slough but many other towns in the country.
The Transport Commission has certain taxicab ranks associated with its railway stations. It allows licensed taxicab drivers or owners to use those ranks only oft payment of rent, and the number permitted to use the ranks is limited. At Slough, within thirty yards of the station entrance, is the privilege taxicab rank, on which three taxicabs stand. All the other drivers, who do not have this privilege, are on another rank a hundred yards away and lose the custom from the railway station.
For seven years Mr. Benn Levy and I have been urging on the Transport Commission that that is not a democratic principle. We have urged that the rank at the station should be open to all taxicab drivers and owners; we have urged that as a matter of democracy, and have suggested that as vacancies occur on the station rank they should be filled from the feeder rank nearby.
I have nearly a volume of correspondence with the Transport Commission on 1676 this subject. To my astonishment, the argument of the Chairman of the Transport Commission has been—and I am referring not to the present Chairman so much as to his predecessor—that there is no breach of democratic principle in permitting only a few privileged taxi drivers to use the ranks on the station.
I am now encouraged. There has been a Report by the Working Committee of the Home Office on the subject of hackney carriages, and although that Report has not been published, I do not think I am wrong if I say that the Working Committee has recommended the Home Office to allow all taxicab drivers to move from the feeder ranks onto the station ranks in rotation as vacancies occur.
I have been trying at Question Time to get the Home Office to agree that that simple recommendation should be put into operation immediately. I may mention that it has the support of the Transport and General Workers' Union. One of the last letters which Mr. Arthur Deakin wrote was a letter to me supporting this demand. It has the support of the National Taximen's Association. I am making an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman tonight, so far as he is responsible for the Transport Commission, to urge the Home Office to put that recommendation of the Working Committee of the Home Office into operation as soon as possible, without waiting for the implementation of the other recommendations.
This may seem to be a comparatively small matter, but it affects not only Slough but other towns throughout the country and thousands of men. The remedying of this injustice would be a vindication of the democratic principles for which we stand.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I want briefly to refer to one paragraph in Volume I of the Report of the British Transport Commission which has caused me some considerable curiosity. I find it difficult to understand its implication. In the middle of paragraph 7, which refers to the prosperity in the country during the last year or two, I find these words:When prosperity becomes sufficiently great, it may conceivably bring little or no advantage to public transport if it tends to encourage the transport user to make himself independent of 1677 the public services and to furnish himself with the greater luxury or convenience of his own private transport, either passenger or freight.It is not to be denied that there are people who, because of our greater prosperity, have invested either in their own private cars or in their own method of carrying freight, but surely the prosperity of any country, particularly that of this country in the last two or three years, must be reflected in the potential in the freight as well as in the passenger service of any public carrying organisation.
I find it very difficult to accept the justification by the Commission that its amount of transport, in particular freight transport, has not increased correspondingly to our prosperity. It seems extraordinary to believe that one is asked to agree that of all the facets of our social and economic life, the only thing that does not become better and more revenue producing, even when we have greater prosperity, is the public system of transport.
I find that impossible to believe. I should like to return to that point later and to suggest how some of this prosperity traffic might find its way to the Commission. All I want to say at this juncture is that if the Commission, or any other publicly-owned transport undertaking, expects the traffic to flow to the Commission as distinct from going out after it, the state of affairs described in this Report may well be true. What is needed in any public undertaking, as has been demonstrated in private enterprise, is a spirit of adventure to move with the times, to go out for the prosperity which everyone knows is there. I respectfully suggest to the Commission that it might have that psychological point in view.
Anyone who has travelled on our roads in the last two or three years can have no doubt about the potential that is there, especially in freight and also in passenger traffic, too. I am surprised to find that in the twelve months ended December, 1954, the Commission feels it has not had its share of that prosperity. There must be a reason for it.
British Railways have made progress in the streamlining of their undertaking in the last twelve months. There has been the decentralisation scheme, which, I understand, is working well, and tribute has been paid to the functioning of the 1678 area boards by the Chairman of the Transport Commission. I believe that that is all to the good, and to bring it more to the point I would suggest that the Commission should go out for the traffic. It is well equipped to do so.
Earlier this year we debated the new reorganisation scheme for the railways, and there has been reference to it today. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) expressed some second thoughts about the scheme. I want to express other thoughts now. The Commission is to spend £1,200 million in the next fifteen years. What the Report says is that the financial position of the Commission will improve by at least £25 million a year. I imagine that that means net revenue. I hope it does, because if it means gross revenue it represents very little.
Even if it is net revenue at £25 million on gross receipts of £435½ million it is not a very large sum, as has already been remarked during the course of this debate. It only wants some small matter not to turn out as anticipated, and the £25 million will not be there. So I do not think that the future prosperity of our railways is, in the absence of any other factor, going to rest upon the results of this modernisation scheme. Something else is going to be called for, but in the meantime I am sure that our railways should be put on a proper modernised footing.
Here, I would make reference to what the Commission, in paragraph; 264 to 268 of the Report, call "new facilities," I wish these paragraphs had been elaborated and had appeared earlier in the Report. They then might have received more attention. In these paragraphs, we are given very interesting details of what I would call private enterprise activities on the part of the Commission. There it has listed such things as the "Starlight Special," special fares for what are called "Business Travel Season Tickets," and all the rest of the facilities which show a spirit of enterprise which I should like to commend in talking about its activities.
It is along those lines that the future of the railways lies. The modernisation scheme is to cost £1,200 million, and I hope it comes off because that is too large a sum about which to make a mistake. But this modernisation and decentralisation form the background upon which the 1679 Commission will work towards that spirit of adventure and advancement which will bring the railways prosperity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) spoke about the essential flexibility of these main industries. I am not suggesting that special facilities are the only type of flexibility, or even the major kind, but I believe that special facilities will help the railways to function successfully. I said earlier that the traffic is there but that, if the Commission waits for this to flow in, it will be disappointed. The traffic must be wooed. So the railways and the other branches of the Commission must try to get on an enterprise basis the revenues necessary for its activities. The money is to be spent for modernisation and there is a new scheme of decentralisation. All that is necessary is to throw off the nationalisation complex and to take some leaves from the book of private enterprise.
In conclusion, I want to make a small but important point. During the last two or three weeks there has been in the newspapers commendation of the excursions run by the Commission during the last month or two, but there have also been comments on such petty restrictions as to where passengers may join or leave a train. Some of those restrictions may be justified, but I hope that the Commission will not put on any unnecessary restrictions but, instead, will do all it can to encourage the public to use those facilities.
There is no attempt to denationalise the railways though we have decentralised them. If the railways are to make a future for themselves they must have that flexibility to which my hon. Friend referred, and one form of it is a high degree of private enterprise thinking by which the Commission makes the facilities so attractive to the public that the public will use our railways.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
I have listened with interest to much of the debate on the Annual Report of the British Transport Commission, and I am sure it will be of great concern to all of us that in it is revealed a falling off in freight traffic conveyed by British Railways. It is all very well for some hon. Gentlemen opposite to attribute that to 1680 a general indifference and to what they are pleased to assume is inefficiency in the industry. The fact remains that hon. Gentlemen opposite, I say with respect, do not understand the essential problem as between traffic conveyed by railways and traffic conveyed by the road system.
On other occasions I have endeavoured to point out that when we try to probe beneath the surface we find that the conditions of competition are not equal as between the railways and the roads. They are not equal because, in order to establish themselves, the railways for generations had to buy at high prices stretches of land running into thousands of miles on which to lay their tracks. That expense was considerable over 120 years and, in addition, there was the cost of laying the track, which was a considerable capital item. On top of that, British Railways have had to set up throughout the system a method of control of traffic, marshalling yards, signal boxes, and so on. The railways have to maintain a very considerable maintenance staff to maintain the tracks so as to make the passage of trains safe, and consequently British Railways are today overburdened by capital costs. They are carrying an excessive capital burden.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
Is the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) suggesting to the House that this magnificent network of railways, with its buildings and signalling installations, could be built today, or could have been built when the 1947 Act was passed, at anything like the price that British Railways paid for it?
§ Mr. Sparks
No. What the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) says is quite true. That may well be, but the point is not germane to the argument which I am trying to put.
If the road hauliers had had to do precisely the same thing in order to put their vehicles into operation—if they had had to lay down tracks and establish systems of control and maintenance—they would never have been in business. If the road haulage system was saddled with the capital responsibilities with which the railways have been saddled, we should have had no problem about road and rail traffic today.
Road haulage is a comparatively modern development, and when it started—and the same applies even today— 1681 anybody could buy a lorry if he got a licence, and did not have to lay down a road on which the lorry could run. All that has been provided at public expense. The country has provided the road hauliers with roads and with a system of control by means of traffic lights and police throughout the entire network of our roadways—and all for nothing so far as the road hauliers are concerned. From the time the road hauliers get out on the road and move from point A to point B, it has cost them not a penny piece in capital costs in order to conduct their enterprise.
That is the explanation of this problem, and it is inevitable in those circumstances that, in the main, road haulage can successfully compete with the railways, because we cannot take a railway train from door to door to pick up traffic and carry it along. Most of the railway stations were sited in the time of Queen Victoria, and at places which are most inconvenient and uneconomic at the present time, but we cannot close down these railway stations and site them somewhere else without involving British Railways in enormous capital costs.
So the basis for competition between road and rail is not a fair one, and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to appreciate that fact. It is, however, a physical fact which cannot be overcome, no matter in what way we approach this problem. As if conditions are not bad enough for British Railways, the Government and the Minister will make it very much worse for them, though perhaps for the country as a whole very much better.
The Government propose to spend a lot of money on developing their road programme. It is a good thing for the country, but what does it mean? For British Railways, it is a very bad thing, because it will increase the competitive power of road haulage to take traffic off the railways and place it on the roads. The road programme will make it easier and more economic for road haulage to operate, and, if it fulfils its purpose, it will enable greater traffics to flow on to the roads. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman himself is indirectly making it much more difficult for British Railways to be rehabilitated, because of the road programme to be undertaken in the next few years. However, it is a programme which we cannot condemn, even in the interests 1682 of British Railways, because it will be in the general interest of British transport.
We are, therefore, left with the problem, what can we do? It is all very well for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to talk about closing down uneconomic lines. Several hon. Members represent Scottish constituencies. Do they want all the uneconomic railway lines in Scotland to be closed down? By no means——
§ Sir D. Robertson
As I am the author of such a scheme, may I say that the people whom I have the honour to represent have indicated by an overwhelming majority that they wish the railway line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso uplifted. It is of no service to them. They cannot afford the loss to the railways of the thousands of pounds which it takes to run it. They desire a motor roadway to take its place.
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Member was not present earlier in the debate when another hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency said that if the uneconomic railway lines in Scotland were closed down, the people would be left with no other form of transport, because there is not alternative means of transport.
Suppose the Post Office closed down its uneconomic services. Hon. Members opposite do not suggest that. British Railways are still the great arteries of our trade and commerce, and the only solution to this problem is to integrate road and rail service into a national transport organisation. Sooner or later we must face that fact. I only wish that I had the time to develop this theme, but in fact I have overrun the period allotted to me. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) is anxious to reply to the debate and to move the Opposition Amendment, and I would merely express my thanks for the opportunity I have been given to make these few remarks.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) for allowing me to speak now and, in due course, to move the Amendment on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House.
It has often been said that one of the advantages of public ownership of an industry, the welfare of which is vital to 1683 the nation, is that its affairs can be considered by Parliament. But consideration that cannot in the end be translated into action is useless. What we are attempting to do today is not only to consider but to influence the course of events in our transport services. Whether we shall succeed, I do not know. But I do know that the strong feeling existing among hon. Members on this side of the House—and among some hon. Members opposite who are in favour of a drastic change of policy—is now shared by a wide range of informed opinion outside the House, including many who supported the 1953 Act.
Of course, the decision rests with the Minister and with the Government. One knows how difficult and distasteful it is for a Government to confess the error of their ways and to reverse a policy to which they are committed. Governments rarely do so unless the Minister concerned is strong and willing to put up with the criticism of some of his supporters; or unless it is clear that failure to do so is likely to bring himself and his Government into discredit far graver than would result from a timely retreat. We believe that such a critical situation has now developed in the Government's policy of dispersing British Road Services.
Before coming to that point, I wish to say a word about a subject which has been referred to by almost every hon. Member who has spoken in this debate, namely, the losses incurred by British Railways. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said, these losses are not an isolated British phenomenon. He mentioned the railways in the United States; but railway systems the world over are in serious difficulties for the same reason that afflict ours, that is, the competition of the roads which to an increasing degree are carrying passengers and freight that previously went by rail. Of course, as the Commission's Report points out, the higher the standard of living of the people, the more they travel by car instead of by train, and the worse the financial position of the railways. In such a situation, the railways cannot match their growing costs of operation, higher wages and higher costs of raw materials by raising fares or freight rates. It is impossible to make exact comparisons 1684 with other countries because of their different accounting methods, but it is certain that nearly all their railway systems today are facing serious financial crises and that most of them are running at a loss. They are often subsidised in one form or another by the State because they are essential national services which must be kept running at a high standard of efficiency.
I put this consideration before the House, not to justify complacency about our railway losses, but to remind it that the difficulties of our railways are the result of factors common to all countries. I repeat the question put by my hon. Friend to the Minister which is, what action does he and the Government propose to take in view of the almost certain heavy deficits which will occur on British Railways during the coming years?
Now I turn to the Amendment. The debate today has centred around two aspects of our transport problem. The first, concerns the basic principle of road and rail relationship. Should it be, as we believe, integration or maximum competition, as the party opposite believes? We cannot resolve that question today, but we can discuss the other aspect of the problem, which is a practical one requiring very urgent decision. It is that as the carrying out of the 1953 Act is not following the course anticipated by the Government, is it not now desirable to call a halt and to reassess the situation in the light of existing facts?
When the Labour Party implemented its policy of integration of road and rail—which today we believe more strongly than ever is the right policy—we did so, not only in conformity with our own ideas of making our transport services effective and efficient, but in conformity with every impartial committee of inquiry—and there had been many—that had considered the problem. We believe that while the solution of integration does not by itself dispose of all the economic problems which are likely to affect our transport system, it offers a solution which is the only one that enables both road and rail to be used to the greatest national advantage, and by which the cut-throat competition, with its many evil consequences that characterised the transport services of the country between the wars, can be ended.
1685 Unfortunately, integration could never prove itself, because before the British Road Services were properly formed and before they had an opportunity of functioning properly, the Government of the day decided to break them up. I am not concerned tonight, attractive as it may be, to follow the argument put forward by some hon. Members—particularly by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—about the general principles involved and to fight that battle over again, but to trace what has happened as a result of the present Government's decision to disintegrate the transport service, to disperse the road haulage services, and to contrast their intentions with what, in fact, has happened.
It was the Government's plan to reestablish the pattern of long-distance road haulage which used to exist when road haulage was in private hands. They believed that that process could be quickly and easily carried out. Their first estimate was that it could be done by the end of 1953, and the later estimate was that it could be done by the end of 1954. But here we are, in the middle of 1955, and out of the 32,000 vehicles to be sold fewer than 16,000 have been sold.
That has not been for want of trying. Nearly half the vehicles so far put up for sale have been offered two or more times, and nearly one-third of them at least three times. Moreover, it is clear that the half which remains in the hands of the Commission will be far more difficult to dispose of than those already sold. We know by experience that there is practically no demand for the Commission's large and medium units, the lorries and depots in the British Road Service long-distance trunk network, or its "parcels and smalls" organisation.
Its recent attempt to sell vehicles with premises proved a complete failure. The facts have already been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, but I shall quote them again. Disposal List S.4, published in March this year, showed that 6,115 vehicles and 160 units with premises were put up for sale. Despite every effort which was made to find buyers, no bids at all were received for nearly half these, and tenders for most of the remainder were too low for the Board to accept. Out of these 6,115 vehicles in 160 units, only 554 in 24 units were sold.
1686 This experience proves something which has steadily been becoming more evident. It is that the former hauliers are not attracted by the idea of returning to the haulage business upon anything like the same scale as before, and their unwillingness to do so completely confounds the Government's belief that the old pattern of road haulage would be re-established. It shows that it is becoming well-nigh impossible to sell any more lorries or units except at knock-out prices, and usually to dealers who want to resell them at a profit.
Another recent example of the Government's effort to sell some of these vehicles is quoted in the Report of the Disposal Board, which illustrates the impasse which faces the Commission as a result of its efforts to dispose of its contract vehicles. Paragraphs 30 and 31 show that it is proposed to sell a large proportion of these vehicles by what must surely be felt by all hon. Members to be an improper device. Where the hirer of one of these vehicles objects to his contract being passed on to somebody else—and it is an interesting fact that this happened in very many cases—then, when the contract comes to an end, the A licence attached to that vehicle will be surrendered by the Commission and the vehicle sold as a chattel—and that means at a very much lower price—to the highest bidder.
I am surprised that the Minister, who must be regarded in this matter as the guardian of the public purse, was prepared to give his permission to such a proposal, which appears to me to be a disreputable one, and certainly one which will involve the country in very considerable losses. I should like to ask the Minister what those losses are likely to be. I hope that he will tell us, and also give us some answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend with regard to the sale of 500 meat vehicles in the Commission's chartered fleet, referred to in paragraph 26 of the Report of the Road Haulage Disposal Board. That paragraph states that there was only one bid for these 500 vehicles, and it has been suggested that that one bidder was Mr. George Dawson. When the Minister considers this matter, is he proposing to give his consent to that sale?
We should like to know further whether this type of forced sale to people who do not really want the goods, was in the 1687 mind of the Government when they passed the 1953 Transport Act? Nowadays, as the Government know, the Commission can only sell these vehicles in lots of three, two or one and only when the vehicles are unattached to any depot. Is that the sort of thing that was contemplated by the Government when they passed their Act?
Another important fact which ought to be taken into consideration today is that when the 1953 Act was passed the net revenue of British Road Services was about £2 million. That, it was alleged by a number of hon. Gentlemen who took part in that debate, was an inadequate return, after capital charges were taken into account, for this section of the Commission's activities. However, so successful has British Road Services been that its net receipts last year, as we now know from its Report, were nearly £9 million, and would have been substantially higher if it had not been forced to dispose of some of its vehicles during this period.
The economic success of British Road Services is so much better than the Government and their supporters anticipated, that by itself it is a strong argument for retaining what remains of these assets, particularly at a moment when the Commission's finances as a whole are in such a critical position.
The case for calling a halt to the disposal of the remaining assets of the road haulage services was forcibly put recently in an unexpected quarter.
I am referring to the "Economist," a paper which is usually more to the Right, or, shall we say, more extreme even than the Conservative Party, in extolling the advantages of private enterprise and free competition. Nevertheless, it made these statements last week, and if the House will forgive me I will quote a paragraph from an interesting article:Two new factors have emerged since the transport debates of 1952 (and 1946), and they put a somewhat different complexion upon discussion about haulage policy. The first is the efficient and profitable"—be it noted—trunk network that B.R.S. made out of the patchwork of trunk and tramp haulage businesses it took over. The advantage of one such organisation covering most of the country was slow to emerge but it has been proven by experience in the last two or three years. 1688 A large organisation can provide regular services with efficient loading, clearing and communications; it can afford the overheads that earn the benefits of operational research in freight handling, traffic movement, and in vehicle design and maintenance; and it is better able to budget for staff and their training. In each of the last two years B.R.S. has made a profit of nearly £9 million, amply covering its share of the Commission's capital charges. Further disposals will seriously reduce this profit.Then the "Economist" goes on to argue the case. I do not think I need read any further.
It also points out something which should be mentioned, which is that even if the remaining assets of British Road Services remain in their possession no monopoly will be established because C-licence vehicles covering long distances of over forty miles, both in tonnage and ton-mileage carry more than the total carried by the B.R.S. fleet, together with all the A- and B-licence vehicles.
Our view was further endorsed a little time ago from another unexpected source. We have heard, though there has not been much public evidence, of the disturbance being caused to industry by the dispersal of these vehicles. We read in a trade paper that in March this year a deputation from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce met the Minister to discuss these matters. According to the report which I have before me, the deputation… expressed the anxiety of chambers of commerce lest the sale of trunk service vehicles if pressed to extremes should lead to the dispersal of existing co-ordinated services, upon which industry and commerce are dependent and which, at the present time, provide satisfactory road haulage facilities.That evidence is very welcome. It says that the service is efficient—as we always said that it would be—and that its dispersal would do damage to industry and to the public. Today we have had the further interesting speech of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) who said—I think these were his exact words—"It is pointless breaking up an organisation just for the sake of breaking it up."
To sum up. The dispersal of the British Road Services has already done considerable harm to the country. It has caused great difficulties to the men engaged in that industry. There has 1689 been strong complaint by the T.U.C. that the men working in this service are having to put up with worse conditions as a result of being turned out of British Road Services and being engaged by private employers. As I say, we believe that immense harm has already been inflicted on the nation's transport services by the policies pursued by Her Majesty's Government.
Today, however, we invite the House to look, not at the past, but at the future. No one, not even the Government, can deny that a new situation has developed which the Government did not anticipate when they introduced the 1953 Act, and it is one that requires urgent attention and a speedy decision. The situation is that, contrary to expectation, private road hauliers have come to the conclusion that the purchase of the remaining British Road Service units is not an attractive proposition.
The Commission, having with the greatest difficulty sold less than one half of the vehicles which it has for disposal—and taken, be it noted, two years to do that—finds it practically impossible to sell the remaining units together with the depots to which they are attached. The Commission, however, is under statutory obligation to do so. Moreover, a growing body of spokesmen outside the ranks of this party—and the "Economist" is only one example—is saying that the advantage of having one organisation—that of British Road Services—covering most of the country has been proved by experience; thereby, incidentally, confirming at long last that our policy was right.
Under all these circumstances there is only one thing that the Government can reasonably do; that is, to stop all further disruption of the general haulage network and the dislocation of industry that it entails until they have reconsidered their position and brought an amending Bill to the House. Failure to do that would reveal a deplorable refusal on the part of Her Majesty's Government to face facts when they prove awkward and unpalatable. When the Minister replies, we hope that he will tell us that the Government at last propose to do what we have been pressing them to do for so long, and that is to act, and to act quickly, before further irreparable damage is done to our transport services.
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes, Sir. I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:but regrets the policy of Her Majesty's Government of breaking up the public transport system and deplores the estimated capital loss of twenty million pounds that will result from the forced sale of British Road Services lorries.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) and I have, it so happens, met across these Boxes in connection both with the denationalisation of road haulage and the denationalisation of steel, and I suppose, therefore, that both of us are only too familiar with the problems which arise when these great changes of ownership, whether they be by nationalisation or by denationalisation, occur.
I felt at one moment rather tempted to remind the right hon. Gentleman that all the things which he was denouncing so eloquently a moment or two ago—forced sales, the disruption of people's means of livelihood, and so on—are symptoms just as much of nationalisation as of denationalisation; that perhaps the lesson that arises from these debates and from the problems which hon. Members bring out in the course of them is that it is a very serious thing to change the fundamental basis of a great industry; that those who initiate the process by nationalisation are taking on themselves a very heavy responsibility, and that at least it does not lie in their mouths, when they have forced nationalisation Measures through this House with the aid of their majority, to complain that the processes of nationalisation and denationalisation, of course, in their movement have very considerable effects on those concerned in the industry. Perhaps the lesson which, at any rate, the country seems to have taken in the last few weeks is that the less nationalisation the better.
This debate has had a curious dualism. There has been, first, the conventional and, in the party sense, uncontroversial debate on the Motion to take note of the British Transport Commission's Report and Accounts, and secondly, there has been the very much more controversial debate on the Amendment which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall was at the 1691 last moment reminded by you, Mr. Speaker, to move. To reply to such a debate involves one making, in a way, two speeches—first of all, in reply to the points which arise on the Report, and, secondly, in dealing with the Amendment. I think it would probably be convenient to the House if, in the limited time at my disposal, I sought to deal with at least a number of the very important points relating to the future of the Transport Commission, and, in particular, its railway enterprise, and then passed to the topic which arises on the Amendment.
I was very glad that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), in the course of a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, showed the very fine spirit which exists in the railway industry, and which appealed to hon. Members on both sides of the House, drew attention to the fact that in paragraph 20 of the Commission's Report there was an item, which all hon. Members must have been very glad to see, recalling that in the year under review not a single passenger on British Railways had been killed. There are few transport systems in the world of a similar magnitude which could make such a claim, and I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East that that state of affairs reflects very great credit indeed on those at all the levels who are responsible for the administration of our railways.
The House will be glad to know, too, though I do not think it is in the Report, that the figure for staff casualties was a new low record. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East suggested that more publicity might have been given by the Commission to what it reports in paragraph 20. I understand this point of view, but I think it would be unwise. On the best regulated transport systems accidents happen from time to time, and there are many of us, perhaps, who have a superstitious feeling that it is, perhaps, not wise to tempt the Fates by boasting too loudly of what has gone well.
I think that in any industry such as this industry, which, let us remember, involves some risk in its operation every day, while it is a good thing to record the safety which efficiency has brought, it is probably as well, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East 1692 himself did, to take that good fortune quietly and not make it the centre of very great publicity.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East asked about the progress of automatic train control. I am glad to be able to tell him that the trials which, as he knows, because, I think, he saw them in operation, have been going on between Barnet and Huntingdon have been extended to Grantham. The apparatus is showing increasingly improved reliability, and the reports I have of it are increasingly good.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who opened the debate for the Opposition, made what was even by his standards a most able speech, but he did commit himself—I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will continue to congratulate him—did commit himself to an interesting but rather naive form of argument, when, having praised the Transport Commission at considerable length and attributed its good points to nationalisation, he then proceeded, with hardly a change of tone, to criticise it and attribute all the evils which he was criticising to the pre-existing private enterprise. That was a form of argument which, I think, was below the hon. Gentleman's normal standard. At least, I hope it was. I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will not compel me to withdraw that.
The hon. Gentleman then went on to say that one of the problems created for the Commission was the big roads programme which the present Government are undertaking. Surely the hon. Gentleman recalls that his right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall led hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite into the Lobby last week in a protest against, among other things, the inadequacy of the roads programme? I am very glad indeed that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East has brought him the light.
The hon. Gentleman raised a vital point about the Commission's control of its affairs, man management. I am very glad he did, because one of the reasons for the setting up of the system of area boards, and one of the reasons why, even in the few months of their existence, I believe area boards have done a good deal, is that man management is helped if the centre of authority is less remote 1693 and if the unit of administration is smaller. There is—and I do not think the hon. Gentleman will quarrel with this—an inherent difficulty in very large organisations, particularly in respect of man management. It was with that very much in mind that the decentralisation proposals now embodied in the area scheme were set in motion. I believe that they are doing good.
The hon. Gentleman asked further how the £15 million of proposed economies this year were arrived at. That £15 million was a task set to the area boards by the Commission itself. The boards have been asked to look and are looking for economies by better utilisation of both manpower and capital assets, by the pruning of uneconomic services, by a reduction in what the Commission tells me are very occasional cases of overgenerous manning, and by increased productivity generally; all this combined with the better economics of better quality services.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) made a speech which, I know, many hon. Members listened to with great sympathy. I know the hon. Member will not misunderstand me if I do not follow him into an argument about the causes and merits of the recent railway stoppage. I can well understand his feeling in the matter, bearing his position in mind, but he will appreciate that it must be my constant care to say nothing whatever on this occasion which could hinder the healing of the wounds which arose from that occasion. If I were to seek to enter into an argument with him or any other hon. Member on the different aspects of the dispute, I believe that I should not be doing a good service to the proper relations of management and men throughout the Transport Commission's affairs.
I must, however, make two comments on the attack which he made on certain personalities. As for the Government, I am happy to leave the matter at the point of the universal respect and admiration which was expressed for the devoted and untiring efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour in the settlement of the dispute. As for the Commission, I know he will not misunderstand me if I say at once that I 1694 do not for one moment accept the criticisms which he made either of the Chairman or of the senior officers of the Commission.
The high regard which I hold for Sir Brian Robertson has been heightened by seeing him at work when faced with the extraordinarily difficult problems which he has had to face during the events of the last two years. I wholeheartedly and sincerely disagree with the hon. Member in his criticisms. On the contrary, I believe we are very fortunate to have a man of Sir Brian's calibre, standing, integrity and intelligence at the head of this great nationalised organisation.
As those hon. Members who have read it will agree, the Report is a most interesting document, in particular because it records the activities and the position of the Commission during perhaps its most difficult, perhaps its most complicated and yet in many ways its most hopeful year since its inception—1954. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall that it is necessary at this stage for very clear thinking on the future position of the Commission as part and parcel of the general problem of railways throughout the world. The reason the Report is very encouraging is that it clearly indicates that those responsible for the management of the Commission have been giving clear thought to precisely that problem.
The problem, as I see it, is that the railways grew up and developed at a time when, apart from the horse, they had a monopoly of the means of transport and it was, therefore, necessary to build up a system which would serve virtually the whole countryside, with railway stations at any rate near enough to be within the capacity of a horse so that people could pass from the station to other sizeable centres of population. A system grew up based on competition with the horse, and now, against a background of a system which has to live in peaceful coexistence with the motor vehicle and the aeroplane, it is obvious that the whole structure of the railways requires review and analysis.
One thing, I think, is clear: there are certain activities—and the events of a few weeks ago demonstrated them if anybody felt they needed demonstration—which only a railway system can undertake effectively. The haulage of heavy goods and 1695 minerals, the movement of large numbers of people into and out of our great cities daily and the fast, long-distance movement of passengers and goods—these are essentially railway activities; and it seems to me that the right path of development for a railway system in the contemporary world is to concentrate on equipment and development in the directions in which those advantages of rail haulage can be fully used and to review the structure of this system which grew up in other times, especially those parts of it which now have not those advantages.
That involves, as several hon. Members have frankly said, looking at a number of our branch lines and facing from time to time the painful necessity of closing them. No one likes doing that. Agreeable stations on country lines are part and parcel of the countryside and have been for a century. No one likes closing them down, closing the track and cutting off these services, but a railway system which is to live and earn a living, and the living of those working for it, in the competitive conditions of the second-half of the twentieth century, has to face a decision of that sort from time to time.
It remains a fact, I fear, that the Commission, as stated in one paragraph of the Report, is still operating lines which can never pay. There are some lines where there are still potentialities of traffic where the diesel car is the answer, but diesels involve heavy investment and it is unrealistic to believe that that investment can be justified where the traffic potential is low. That is one of the very serious problems which face the Commission.
I think that I can claim on its behalf that it is trying to handle this disagreeable matter as agreeably as possible. The machinery of the transport users' consultative committees is used to the full, but when it appears right to withdraw railway services and substitute road services, because the railway services on that line will never be on a remunerative basis, I believe that it is the duty of the Commission to proceed to this disagreeable necessity and to get on with the job.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East quoted an American experience. May I, in this context, quote to him what was said in the United States Technical Journal, "Railway Age," for 20th June, 1955, on this subject? 1696First of all, we must realise that we are facing a profound change in the structure of passenger service as a whole. The disappearance of branch line service and a large part of local service is only a matter of years.That is the experience of the United States.
The problem of canals, which has been referred to in this and previous debates, raises somewhat similar issues. It was suggested in the debate that the Transport Commission had a kind of inherited antipathy to canals as such. I do not think that the facts bear that out. On the contrary, as was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, the Commission appointed a little time ago a Board of Survey, headed by Lord Rushholme, a member of the Commission, and two extremely distinguished people outside, Sir Rex Hodges, formerly General Manager of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, and Mr. R. D. Brown, of Sir William Halcrow and Partners, to review the canal system of the Commission. It places the canals in three categories: those worth development, those worth retaining as they are, and those not fit for future navigational use. It is an indication of the sincerity of the way the Commission has acted in this matter that it has already started work on a substantial scale in improving the facilities on the canals which it has been recommended should be retained and improved. These include the £150,000 scheme on the Trent, building on the Leeds—Liverpool Canal, and a very large installation close to Leeds, and so on, and further investment is taking place.
The canals which can never be used for navigation raise extremely difficult problems. I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East who sugested that the preservation of canals of no transport value for their amenity value, for water supply, agriculture, industry and fishing, ought not indefinitely to be the financial responsibility of a body charged with the conduct of a transport undertaking.
There is no indication that the Commission desires to rush this matter unduly; but it is a matter for consideration whether, as waterways cease to be of practical use for transport purposes, it is not right to try to see that they are transferred to bodies interested in the purposes for which these waterways could still be 1697 of some use—to county bodies, river boards, local authorities and the like.
The re-equipment of the railways, which is a counter-balance to the elimination of unremunerative lines, is going well ahead. I do not want to weary the House by reading out a long list of schemes or a long list of statistics, but it is the fact that in the year under review more railway wagons were ordered than for the previous thirty years, that new locomotives, in an increasing proportion diesel-propelled, are being ordered, and that the new diesel trains which are to be run between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Birmingham and Swansea and London and Hastings, will be coming along in the next year or two. Similarly, suburban services in many areas, will be improved, including the service running out of Manchester and serving smaller towns between that city and Crewe. There is also the electrification to the north-east of London.
Those schemes are going ahead, because it is clear that on the routes where there is a remunerative future the chances of the railways earning a proper living turn on their being properly equipped with modern and up-to-date equipment. It is for that reason that Her Majesty's Government have supported the Transport Commission in working out a great mass of details and schemes—they are bold and imaginative schemes—to bring British Railways up to date. I have no doubt at all that the placing of contracts, the commencing of work and the starting of operations in one way and another on marshalling yards and—as the Parliamentary Secretary—on the re-equipment and rebuilding of stations indicates that the work is going ahead.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and one or two other hon. Members raised the question of the financial prospects of the Commission. I think it is clear that the difficulties have been very much accentuated by the fact that the Commission's railways have been operating with out-of-date equipment and because of the cumbrous system for readjustment of its charges under which it has to suffer. In parenthesis, I might add that it is worth recalling that railway fares, even since the increase which took place on 5th June, have risen less compared with before the war, the Interim Index of Retail Prices, the index of wages or the price of coal. That is an indication 1698 of some of the difficulties with which this industry has had to contend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was quite right in his analysis of how the difference in the out-turn for 1954 had risen compared with 1953. It is true that the 1954 figure is appreciably the worse because of the adoption of a more realistic figure for maintenance costs. That figure is, I think, fully justified in the circumstances and in view of the expense of maintenance. But it is equally the fact that had that system adopted in 1954 been applied in earlier years, the figures for those earlier years would have been proportionately worse and the change, therefore, down to the 1954 level appreciably less. My hon. Friend was quite right in bringing that out and it is not without its importance in these matters.
The deficit at the end of 1954 was £39 million, which represents about 1 per cent. of our total gross receipts during the seven years' life of the Commission. If that is serious, it is not necessarily catastrophic provided that steps are taken to modernise and re-equip the railways to secure that they are put on a properly remunerative basis, to cultivate the closest co-operation and consultation with their staffs, and to ensure that the railways are pursuing a vigorous sales policy.
Subject to those conditions, I am much less pessimistic than was the hon. Gentleman about the future of the railways. They have obviously got a hard and difficult few years ahead of them but they are proceeding, I suggest to the House, in the right way by concentrating on the re-equipment of remunerative lines, by using the greater freedom of charging which they will have when the charges scheme is approved by the Tribunal, and by seeking in every possible way to secure economies in administration.
Now let me turn to the other question which arises on the Amendment. Let me first criticise, if I may, as did my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Mr. Renton) the terms of the Amendment itself. The reference to an estimated capital loss of £20 million would certainly be misleading to anybody outside this House who was not familiar with the way in which that figure was arrived at. Hon. Members in this House today, and who were in the House 1699 during the passage of the 1953 Act, know that the vehicles that have been sold have been sold at good and at fair prices, and that, in the main, this estimated capital loss arises from the loss of a large part of the goodwill of the Commission's road transport undertaking plus its incidental costs of disposal.
It is, of course, quite misleading to suggest that the Commission itself is in any way the worse off on its balance sheet for that, since it is reimbursed, and adequately reimbursed, by the payments calculated under the levy.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Well, they are better than the economics of Karl Marx. It is, therefore, in a way quite misleading to suggest, as this implies without actually stating, that a capital loss of £20 million has been imposed on the Transport Commission, because that is not the case.
The argument turned a good deal on our old friend "a co-ordinated and integrated system of transport." That may hon. Friend the Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West debunked most effectively. I need only add that what, under that somewhat wordy description, hon. Gentlemen opposite really mean is a transport monopoly, and a monopoly which determines what form of transport each transport user shall use; in other words, a system in which the choice lies with the provider of transport rather than with the customer of the transport.
That point of view we reject completely. We believe that a monopoly is less efficient than a system in which a reasonable degree of competition exists, and in which in particular the customer, the consigner of trade, the passenger—whoever he may be—is able to choose for himself which method of transport he shall use and in which the providers of transport find it necessary to compete for his services.
That is a doctrinal difference between us which I do not think we shall resolve in the minute or two that remains for this debate. However, I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to believe that we fundamentally disagree with the assumption on which their view is based and that we believe in a competitive rather than in an integrated system of transport.
1700 Now let me report how the process has gone. As has been said, 32,500 vehicles were thought in 1953 to be available for disposal. Of those, 15,668 have been sold and I understand that it is likely, in respect of a list which was closed in the last few days, that another 1,000 or so will probably be sold. Four thousand have been placed in the parcels service which will come up for sale as a company in October, and the company has already been formed, and 2,000 are in the contract hire category, to which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred. I can only say that the system has been devised—without, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East seemed to think, involving anybody in breach of contract—to permit disposal of the vehicles without breaches of contract, and as such is properly carrying out the Act of 1953.
It seems to me that the main object of the 1953 Act has, in fact, been achieved. The 25-mile limit on private hauliers has been abolished. Those who remember the debates on the 1953 Bill will recall that on this side of the House we placed great emphasis on and attached great importance to giving an opportunity to the small man—[Laughter.] Whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite like it or not, the small man has come back into the industry. Competition for long-distance road haulage has been reintroduced, and I do not think that any dispassionate critic will dispute that road haulage enterprises in this country generally, both public and private, are giving better service to their customers now than they were doing two years ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
Finally, the Commission has been subjected to the licensing system under the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1953, and placed for that purpose in the same position as anybody else. In those ways, I suggest that what in 1951 we said we would set out to do—to abolish the 25-mile limit, to give the small man a chance to come back, to place the Commission under a licensing system and to reintroduce competition—has been achieved, and, in those circumstances, a very large part of the task has, in fact, been accomplished.
The present position, on which this debate has largely turned, relates to about 8,000 vehicles. If I might put them in proportion, they are not a very large number, compared with the 171,600 A 1701 and B licence vehicles and the 700.000 C licence vehicles on the roads. After allowing for a small number of lorries which have become unsaleable for one reason or another, there remain for disposal only about 8,000 vehicles. A substantial proportion of these are at present operating on the main trunk routes of British Road Services. These have been developed in recent years, and now render an efficient service to industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) pointed out in his very interesting speech.
I believe that a large body of opinion would think it a pity if the value of the services were not to be retained. The Government are now considering the position, particularly of vehicles operating
§ trunk services, and I hope to make a statement before the House rises for the Summer Recess. [Laughter.] I hope that that statement will arouse just as much enthusiasm when I make it.
§ May I, finally, say this? The country's transport system has been under great strain over the last few years. It is now placed well on the way to recovery, and I believe that, with the policies now being applied and with the measures now being put into effect, it can have as good a future as this country deserves, and that we can provide an efficient and remunerative transport service.
§ Question put, That those words be there added:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 249, Noes 303.1705
|Division No. 23.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. w.||Delargy, H. J.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Albu, A. H.||Dodds, N. N.||Hynd, J. B. (Atteroliffe)|
|Allaun, F. (Salford, E.)||Donnelly, D. L.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Anderson, Frank||Dugdale, Rt. Hn, John (W. Brmwoh)||Irving, S. (Dartford)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Dye, S.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Awbery, S. S||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Janner, B.|
|Bacon, Miss Alioe||Edelman, M,||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.|
|Baird, J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Balfour, A.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)|
|Bartley, P.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon, F. J.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Banoe, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakeffeld)|
|Benton, G.||Fernyhough, E.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Fienburgh, W.||Jones Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)|
|Blackburn, P,||Finch, H. J.||Jones Jaok (Rotherham)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fletcher, Eric||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Forman, J. C.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Boardman, H.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Kenyon, C.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon, A. G.||Freeman, Peter||Key, Rt. Hon, C. W.|
|Bowden, H, W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Gibson, C. W.||Lawson, G. M.|
|Boyd, T. C.|
|Braddook, Mrs., Elizabeth||Coooh, E. G.||Ledger, R. J.|
|Brookway, A. F.||Greenwood, Anthony||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Grey, C, F.||Lever, Harold (Chestham)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Burke, W. A.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hale, Leslie||Logan, D. G.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||MacColl. J. E.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Molnnes, J.|
|Carmichael, J,||Hamilton, W. W.||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Champion, A. J.||Hannan, W.||McLeavey, F.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Hastings, S.||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Clunie, J.||Hayman, F. H,||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Coldrick, W.||Healey, Denis||Mahon, S.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Malnwaring, W. H.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoredith & Finsbury)||Herbison, Miss M.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield,E.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Hobson, C. R.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Craddcok, George (Bradford, S.)||Holman, P.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Cronin, J. D.||Holmes, Horace||Mason, Roy|
|Grossman, R. H. S.||Houghton, Douglas||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Daines, P.||Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hoy, J. H.||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hubbard, T. F.||Moody, A. S.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm,S.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Mort, D. L.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Moss, R.|
|Deer, G.||Hunter, A. E.||Moyle, A.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Ross, William||Usborne, H. C.|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Darby, S.)||Royle, C.||Viant, S. P.|
|O'Brien, T.||Shawoross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Warbey, W. N.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Oram, A. E.||Short, E. W.||Weitzman, D.|
|Orbach, M.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Wells, Peroy (Faversham)|
|Oswald, T.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Owen, W. J.||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||West, D. G.|
|Padley, W. E.||Skeflington, A. M.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Paget, R. T.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Slater, J. (Bedgefield)||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewtbury)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Wigg, George|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Snow, J. W.||Wilcook, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Sorensen, R. w.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Parglter, G. A.||Sparks, J. A.||Willey, Frederick|
|Parker, J.||Steele, T.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Parkin, B. T.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Paton, J.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Peart, T. F.||Stones, W. (Consett)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Straehey, Rt. Hon. J.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Strauss, Rt. Hon, George (Vauxhall)||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Probert, A. R.||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Pryde, D. J.||Swingler, S. T.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Purtey, Cmdr. H.||Sylvester, G. O.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Rankin, John||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Zilliaous, K.|
|Raid, William||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Rhodes, H.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Roberts, Rt. Hon. A.||Timmons, J.||Mr. Popplewell and|
|Roberta, Albert (Normanton)||Tomney, F.||Mr. Pearson.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Grant, W. (Woodside)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Green, A.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Anstruther-Cray, Major W. J.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hn. H. F. C.||Gurden, Harold|
|Arbuthnot, John||Crouch, R. F.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Ashton, H.||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hare, Hon. J. H.|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Crowder, Petre (Ruislli—Northwood)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Atkins, H. E.||Dance, J. C. G.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Davidson, Viscountess||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Balniel, Lord||Deedes, W. F.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)|
|Banks, Col. C.||Digby, S. Wingfield||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)|
|Barber, Anthony||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Harvey, John (Walthamttow, E.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George|
|Barter, John||Doughty, C. J. A.||Hay, John|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Drayton, G. B.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Heath, Edward|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Duthie, W. S.||Henderton, John (Cathcart)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Eden, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (Warwick&L'm'tn)||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Black, G. W.||Errington, Sir Eric||Holt, A. F.|
|Body, R. F.||Erroll, F. J.||Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Fell, A.||Horobin, Sir Ian|
|Braine, B. R.||Finlay, Graeme||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Howard, Hon, Greville (St. Ives)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Fort, R.||Howard, John (Test)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Foster, John||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)|
|Bryan, P.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)|
|Buehan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Freeth, D. K.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Gammans, L. D.||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Garner-Evans, E. H.||Hurd, A. R.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R, A. (Saffron Walden]||Glover, D.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh,W.)|
|Carr, Robert||Godber, J. B.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.|
|Channon, H.||Gough, C. F. H.||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Clarke, Brig, Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Gower, H. R.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Cole, Norman||Graham, Sir Fergus||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Molson, A. H. E.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Monokton, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Moore, Sir Thomas||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Speir, R. M.|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Kaberry, D.||Neave, Airey||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Keegan, D.||Nicholls, Harmar||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Kerr, H. W.||Nioolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Kirk, P. M.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Storey, S.|
|Lagden, G. W.||Nutting, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Osborne, C.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Page, R. G.||Teeling, W.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Legh, Hon. peter (Petersfield)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Peyton, J. W. W.||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.)|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.|
|Llewellyn, D. T.||Pitman, I. J.||Thornton-Kemsley, G. N.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G.(Sutton Coldfield)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Pott, H. P.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Powell, J. Enoch||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Luoas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Profume, J. D.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)||Ralkes, Sir Victor||Vickers, Miss J. H.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Rameden, J. E.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Macdonald, Sir Peter||Rawlinson, P. A. G.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Mackeson, Brig, Sir Harry||Redmayne, M.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Remnant, Hon. P.||Wall, Major Patrick|
|McLean, Nell (Inverness)||Renton, D. L. M.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Rippon, A. G. F.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Watkinson, H. A.|
|Maddan, Martin||Robertson, Sir David||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Maitland. Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith&Border)|
|Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Robson-Brown, W.||Williams, Rt. Hn. Charles (Torquay)|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Roper, Sir Harold||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Marples, A, E.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Marshall, Douglas||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Mathew, R.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Maude, Angus||Soott-Miller, Cmdr, R.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Maudling, Rt. Hon, R.||Sharples, Maj. R. C.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Mawby, R. L.||Shepherd, William||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Medlicott, Sir Frank||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Studholme and Mr. Oakshott.|
Question put and agreed to.