HC Deb 24 April 1956 vol 551 cc1621-85

3.31 p.m.

Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)

I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House views with concern the difficulties facing both British Railways and omnibus proprietors in maintaining their existing services in rural areas and invites the Government to review both the regulations and taxation affecting public transport in such areas, to encourage technical development and experimental services and to use their powers under subsection (1) of Section 17 of the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919. Although the question of rural transport was discussed recently in this House, I make no apology for raising it again today. Among public services in rural areas other than transport the recent story is one of progress, but public transport has been deteriorating slowly and may easily slip back much faster. I do not wish to go over the same ground as was covered in a recent debate, or to become involved in too many detailed figures. Most of us are not experts on this question. Instead, I shall try to state the case in general terms, to assess the position fairly, and to make some suggestions which, I hope, will commend themselves to the Minister and to the House.

As a start, I want to make it clear that I am not one who turns to the Government at the first difficulty and asks for a general subsidy. On the other hand, I do not think that the Government can stand on the position which they took up when replying to a recent debate, when the well-known difficulties were recited but when very little help was offered. In fact, it sounded as if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was speaking from a British Transport Commission brief.

"A stitch in time saves nine" is a well-known homely proverb and recognised generally as being good advice. In the realm of government, however—and all Governments are the same, it does not matter whether they spring from that side of the House or from this side—there seems to be a preference for waiting until nine or even nineteen stitches are necessary, and long delays over transport may prove extremely expensive.

It is easiest to try to deal with this problem in two parts, taking rail first and road second. Few people in the country think that the railways can be expected to keep all branch lines in being, no matter how much money is now being lost on them. Equally, there are few in rural areas who are satisfied that any really creditable effort has been made by the railways to carry all the available passengers and freight. We must admit, however, that the possible passengers are today fewer than they were and are steadily becoming fewer still, owing to competition from private cars, vans, motor bicycles, etc.

Nor do they think that the railways have tried to do the best they could to provide modern trains. We are told that the primitive, dirty steam train is expensive to run, and it is certainly unattractive to travel in, but that is the form of train still running on most of these lines. Nor are there loading facilities of modern design at most country stations. Generally, it seems true to say that little effort has been made on the part of the railways to go out and get the traffic for these lines.

When I was in America last year I noticed the contrast. There, on the regional staff of railway companies it is not unusual to have a senior member of the staff with detailed knowledge of agriculture. He is concerned not only with trying to get the farmers' traffic on to the railways, but also acts in an advisory capacity to help to increase agricultural production, because increased production means increased traffic for the railways. The story here is a very different one.

Under the new reorganisation plans which, I believe, the railways are considering, I expect that we shall soon be presented with many more proposals for closing branch lines, and no doubt convincing figures will be martialled in support of all these proposals. It may be a deviation, but I want to ask here what happens after most of the branch lines are closed? If we always accept all these figures, shall we then start on closing the main lines? I ask this because I believe that the same kind of figures can be produced to justify the closing of many of the main lines. Therefore, it is time that the Government indicated where they think this policy of contraction should stop.

On the other side of the picture, we must pay tribute to the recent improvement made by the introduction of the twin diesel engine. We have had to wait a long time for it, but it is proving a great success. But it is not the answer to traffic problems on the small branch lines. I wonder, therefore, whether the excuses by the railways about their inability to find what they call a fly-weight diesel to run on these lines is justified. Is it so difficult to develop this lighter, cheaper vehicle? I seem to remember that far more complicated transport problems were overcome in a short time during the war. The original models may not have been entirely successful, but they were soon withdrawn and modified.

I should have thought that the difficulties which were overcome at that time were far greater than that of finding what is called the fly-weight diesel. Other countries may not yet have found the complete answer, but they have gone further than we have. We need not go beyond Eire to find such a vehicle running in regular service. I am told that the wheels of this vehicle are of a special design. I wonder whether we have experimented with that form of wheel in this country. If we have not, or if we think that by further experiments we have anything more to learn, why should we not continue with the necessary experiments next week? It should not be difficult to get such a vehicle.

Next, I would like the Minister to consider whether he cannot encourage the Transport Commission to carry out the widest possible experiments and not just dismiss these various suggestions on the strength of figures that have been martialled on paper. I feel that the railways are altogether too much on the defensive. In support, I want to quote from the recent report of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, which stated that it found the Transport Commission surprisingly reluctant to conduct an experiment with battery rail cars.

Nor do I believe that this is the only body which has run into that reluctance. There must be something to be gained from more experiments. Would it not be possible for the Minister to help with finance, if such help is necessary? I should have thought that to give financial aid to worthwhile experiments was something which he might well consider and be within his powers.

Then, too, I should like to see an appropriate section of one of these difficult branch lines run under what might be called light railway conditions, and with unattended halts. We have been told several times that this is not as easy as it sounds, nor likely to save as much money as some of us may think. It may well be so, but it would be much more convincing if some such experiment were, in fact, carried out so that everyone could judge the results. I believe that an Act called the Light Railways Act reached the Statute Book in 1896. Under that Act such a railway may be aided by public money, if it is needed for agriculture or fisheries, or is an adjunct to an essential industry.

I should also like to see one of these difficult lines offered for sale or lease. I do not see that we could lose anything thereby, if it is the object of the Transport Commission to close down a line. Certain advantages might emerge. I believe that bus companies have been approached to try such an experimental service, but no public advertisement has been made. I hope that it is not prejudice which is holding back the railways from advertising such a line, when an appropriate case for sale or lease arises.

We see today an increasing amount of traffic carried on country roads, but I doubt whether the railways are making a proper effort to get more carried by their trains. The collection and delivery of parcels in country districts is generally uncertain. Public relations between the railways and rural industries is almost non-existent and in many districts there is no continuing contact between the local railway authorities and the local Press. I know that in my home district of Penrith the local station master has no authority to keep in constant touch with the local Press. The nearest official with that authority is at Barrow-in-Furness and although, as the crow flies, Barrow-in-Furness is not far, it is over the hills and virtually in another country.

Yesterday, the Chairman of British Railways visited Carlisle to meet representatives of local industry and trade. Carlisle is a railway town and to a great many of the local people all railway news is general news. By last Saturday the local Press had not been told that this particular visit was to take place. I mention that as evidence of the fact that public relations are often very weak indeed. I appreciate the difficulties with which railways are faced and the difficulty of competition which they are having to meet from road traffic, but I am far from convinced that everything which can be done is, in fact, now being done.

Turning now to road transport, in some ways the problems of road transport are very different from those facing the railways, but both road and rail equally are struggling for their lives against the private car, which has taken so much of their traffic, and we can see that difficulty to an even greater extent in America. I am told that today few rural bus services in this country pay. I am told that to run a bus in a country district may cost about 2s. per mile and that the traffic receipts may often be not more than 1s., and even less in some cases. That leaves a very wide gap.

I do not want to suggest that so big a gap is by any means the general rule, but I do believe that it is not infrequent. It is often smaller, but not so small that the abolition of the petrol tax alone would bridge it. I say that to put the question of fuel tax into its proper cash perspective. Its abolition would not alone solve the problem. On the other hand, it seems to be too rough justice that buses should pay the tax when using diesel fuel and that railways, when using the same fuel, should not, even when both services may be running in very close competition and serving the same district. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to discuss that with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and see whether a formula cannot be found to give at least some measure of relief.

My researches have led me to believe that many rural services are continued only because of a tacit understanding with licensing authorities whereby profitable and unprofitable services are somehow apportioned. That is hardly a very good permanent basis for important public services. There seem to be conflicting views about the best types of buses to use on rural routes. The bigger companies appear to favour bigger vehicles and claim that they are necessary when peak loads have to be carried. The smaller companies and the very small family firms have stressed to me the need for lighter diesel engined vehicles which can be operated by one man, and they say that on some of the routes in their areas there are no peak loads to carry.

They also told me that until very recently British manufacturers have not been offering such vehicles to the market—I am thinking of something costing about £2,500 as against a vehicle costing more than £4,000, which, I believe, is the cost of what is called a luxury coach. On most country services, passengers would be happy to do without chromium and plush; such buses should have low fuel consumption, plenty of room for luggage space and no unnecessary fittings. Will the Minister see that the small operator is not squeezed out, just because he cannot get the right type of vehicle?

Admittedly, the big operator is the manufacturer's best customer. There cannot be the same demand for smaller vehicles, but it would be wrong to lose services in rural areas simply because it is not attractive to manufacturers to produce the sort of vehicle that would give a rural service a new lease of life. The small operators may not be able to provide all their services more cheaply than can the bigger companies, but there must be some places in the countryside where they can.

I want, here, to deal with what may be a small point in the bigger framework, but which is none the less important. I understand that in order to buy a bus under the new hire-purchase regulations, one has to put down a 50 per cent. deposit. Some types of vehicles are exempt from that increase. They include ambulances, invalid carriages, and London taxi-cabs. It seems to be wrong that the hire-purchase terms for someone wanting to run a bus in a country district should be more arduous than for someone wanting to buy a London taxicab. That is too much like one law for the rich and another for the poor. If it is the case, I hope that my right hon. Friend will see that the next regulations contain a proper amendment.

Take the word "regulations". It is clear that there must be strict regulations governing vehicles which are run as buses. I appreciate that those regulations are drafted in the interests of both the safety and comfort of passengers, but I sometimes wonder whether some of the conditions are not just copied from one version to the next, without much thought. Some of them may be more appropriate to olden days than to today, and I suspect that some of them may, in fact, carry more burdens than benefits.

I should like my right hon. Friend to look at them, particularly since I am told that the majority of light vehicles with twenty and fewer seats which are now on the market, fail to pass these regulations. I have in mind something rather lighter than the ordinary bus, but none the less a vehicle which may have a place on some roads and which can be purchased reasonably cheaply. My right hon. Friend will understand that if the standard body does not pass the regulations, and a special body has to be built, the price of the vehicle is greatly increased, when it may become useless for the purpose I have in mind.

In this country it is not permitted, I understand, for a passenger-carrying vehicle to tow a trailer. In Switzerland and Austria, as many of us will know, it is quite normal for passenger-carrying buses to pull trailers on much more difficult roads than we have over most of this country. Here again, I should have thought there was a case for reconsidering that regulation. A very light vehicle with a trailer might be able to do useful work on some remote routes.

It is not only in the matter of trailers that we see a difference between Switzerland and ourselves. It is quite common in many parts of Switzerland for much of the mails to be carried by local buses. Some, though not all, of the vehicles are, in fact, owned by the postal service. I wonder whether it might be possible in this country for the Post Office to make rather more use of the country buses.

I am not suggesting it could be done everywhere, but it is done in some places already and I would like to think it could be done in more, when it would mean a small regular source of revenue for operators on what might otherwise be not very attractive routes. It cannot be cheap to run special mail vehicles in all districts as now happens, and I should have thought there might be means of securing an economy here. If it did happen that some of the letters were delivered a little later in the day, I think that most people would prefer to have their letters a little late and have some transport as well, rather than have their letters at the old times and have no public transport.

In olden days, the old carriers' carts delivered the great bulk of the parcels which came to country towns by rail. Now the majority of them are delivered by railway vehicles perhaps twice a week. Would it not be possible to try to deliver more of the parcels traffic by the existing country bus services? It is quite understandable that each service wants to run its own transport, but it must often be unnecessarily expensive, considering how many vehicles belonging to one public authority or another are to be seen in country districts, few of them full and none of them carrying passengers.

There may be some districts where the roads travelled by Post Office vehicles have no buses. For these I wonder whether it would be possible to design a vehicle which would carry a few passengers as well. That is not such a revolutionary idea, for, in the old mail coach days, the mails and passengers were always carried together; and I can remember from my childhood days a dogcart running up a valley in the North of England with the postman carrying the mail, and two or three vacant places. It was the only public transport in the district—and very much valued.

I have said enough to indicate how precarious is the state of public transport in many rural areas today. I have made a few suggestions which I hope my right hon. Friend will accept as put forward with sincerity if not with expert knowledge. I admit that the private car, the van and the motor cycle are really at the root of the trouble. The numbers of possible passengers for country services, both road and rail, are smaller than they were. These people are probably among the least well off section of the community, but they are just as important as any other. Furthermore, in many families having a car, it is really only one member who gets the benefit, the man perhaps taking it for his work and leaving his wife and other members of the family to depend on such public transport as there may be for their shopping and other journeys.

Without some public transport, our countryside would not long remain a happy and flourishing place. Many people would seek work and a home elsewhere, and, among other results of this, would be a drop in agricultural production which, as a country, we simply cannot allow. We cannot afford to have the social and economic life of the countryside crumble in that way. The problem does not seem to me to be one which either the railways or the bus operators can solve alone. The Government's initiative and help is clearly needed, and I hope that it will be freely given.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

Did the hon. Gentleman, in an earlier part of his speech, mean to suggest that British railways did not seek to attract farm traffic? If he made inquiries in Cornwall he would find that British railways make very great efforts and keep in close consultation with the agricultural industries so as to bring to the markets flowers, potatoes and all manner of agricultural produce.

Mr. Vane

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thought I was casting aspersions on Cornwall. I did not have Cornwall in mind at all. If one takes the country as a whole, I think that the general statement I made is correct, that in rural areas there is no very alert salesmanship on the part of the railways to attract agricultural traffic—sugar beet and agricultural produce of all kinds, lime, too, and other bulky loads, for example.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) has provided us with an opportunity of discussing rural transport. I am absolutely certain that it is a most important factor in the basic problem facing our countryside, and especially the isolated areas, at the present time. It might be thought on the face of it that in supporting him this afternoon I am planning with him some form of concerted attack from the North-West; but the true answer would lie, I think, in the fact that we both represent large rural constituencies which have within them many isolated districts and a very scattered population.

It is surely agreed that in the interests of the nation as a whole a high level of agricultural production must be maintained and that our rural way of life should be preserved. I am quite convinced that these aims can be achieved only if highly skilled men and their families can be persuaded to live in the country and work on the land. That end will be achieved only if modern amenities of life are provided in the country districts as soon as possible, and undoubtedly one of the basic requirements is reasonable transport facilities to the nearest shopping and entertainment centres.

There are people still who cling, somewhat nostalgically, I feel, to the old idea that country dwellers should not want to go to the towns, that they live in the country, that they have many assets there, and that there they should remain. To those people I would only say that that line of thought is completely out of touch with the feelings of modern families in our country districts, and, in particular, out of touch with the feelings of the wives and mothers who, naturally, wish to go to the towns; and I, for one, certainly can see no reason why they should not do so. If anyone doubts this feeling, then there is clear evidence in the fact that those isolated districts which have infrequent or, indeed, no transport facilities always suffer most from a shortage of labour. Therefore, I believe that reasonable public transport must be provided in these country districts.

This presents a very particular difficulty for both road operators and railways, because the distances involved are great and the potential passengers few. There is always a danger that rural services will be uneconomic to run. Today, the problem is further aggravated because, on the one hand, the costs of running buses and trains are always mounting, and, on the other, the increasing use of cars and motor cycles inevitably decreases the number of passengers on public transport.

So much, then, for the problem. I am convinced that some Government action is essential if the situation is not to deteriorate further, but I recognise that there is no simple, magical or clear-cut solution.

My hon. Friend has dealt very fully with the rail side of the problem. I do not intend to weary the House by repeating his arguments on that subject. I merely want to say that I support what he has said. For the rest, I wish to confine myself to a few suggestions about road transport.

Surely any solution must be based on a sound knowledge of the economic facts if it is to have any hope of success. Therefore, I believe that it would help if the large nationalised bus undertakings were to publish a full report of their operations in the rural areas, for such a statement of fact would probably show that a reduction in the tax on petrol or diesel oil would give material assistance. However, like my hon. Friend, I am perfectly aware that this is not in itself the complete solution.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that this evidence would prove the need to consider the alternative to the large bus companies, namely, the small bus operators with one or two buses. I believe that the small men should be given every encouragement because they can provide the more personal type of service which I believe our country districts require. Furthermore, they often drive the buses themselves and are, therefore, not tied down to strict schedules.

For one thing, I should like to see more school bus contracts given to such people. A change should be made in the present regulations so that the school buses might be allowed to carry adults if the school children do not fill them. The present position is a little absurd. School buses in my constituency run half empty from many of the isolated villages to the towns. In some cases, the school bus may be the only bus from a village during the day. There are many adults who would wish to travel on those buses, but are not allowed to do so.

I would support the suggestion made, by my hon. Friend that the Post Office might give contracts for the carrying of mail to many of the outlying villages. Switzerland seems to have combined very successfully passenger and post functions and adds into the bargain a very musical and pleasant horn in the process. I do not see why we should not follow Switzerland's example in all those respects. Again, the British Transport Commission could help if it were to give contracts to the carrier-cart type of work. I believe that this might, at the same time, improve the delivery of goods in many of our country districts.

I remain quite unconvinced that the small bus owners are today using the right type of vehicle. One often sees them with buses carrying thirty-two passengers or more. There must surely be a case for a smaller vehicle which is more easily adaptable to different uses and is far more economical to run. I suggest that the Government might well spend some money on research into this subject. I believe that there is scope for it.

In putting forward these few suggestions, I appreciate only too well that the whole problem of rural transport is beset by many practical difficulties. Nor do I pretend for one moment that they can be solved by some magic action on the part of any Government. I merely hope that the debate will serve to impress upon my right hon. Friend, and upon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, whom we are all very pleased to see here listening to the debate, that there is a very real need for better transport services in the rural areas and a necessity for Government consideration and action if they are to be provided in the near future.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

May I, first, congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) both upon his speech and upon selecting this subject for debate. The problems in my area are very similar to those in his. The hon. Member showed evidence of his knowledge of the subject and of his sympathy with dwellers in rural areas. I entirely agree with him that the small operator may have an important part to play in the pattern of things, and I hope that the Minister will pay heed to his plea on their behalf, and particularly with regard to the provision of a smaller type vehicle, about which I hope to say a few words later.

It is common ground in all parts of the House that the drift of the population from the rural areas during the past few years has been causing increasing concern. Hon. Members will appreciate that nowhere has the drift caused more acute concern than in rural Wales. A number of official inquiries into the problem have been conducted during the past few years, inquiries which have looked for the causes of depopulation and sought to find solution, but, despite all that the drift continues and I observe that even last year about 32,000 farm workers left the land. Surely this does not augur well either for the countryside or for the agricultural industry.

I should be going very wide of the Amendment if I attempted to discuss the causes of the drift from the rural areas, but in all the reports which have been published one factor has emerged, namely, that what is needed most of all in the countryside is improved amenities. These include better housing conditions, rural electrification, sanitation, piped water supplies, and improved roads. Important amongst all these amenities is the question of improved transport and road communications.

The Second Memorandum of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, published in 1953, based on investigations in a selected area in mid-Wales, had this to say: … the bus and other transport services … are inadequate to the needs and convenience of the inhabitants. Inevitably this is a matter causing much dissatisfaction, especially to the rural workers' wives and families, and the view was strongly represented by the local authorities that improvement of these facilities was one of the essential requirements. Hon. Members will, I am certain, agree that the housewife in the countryside, has a right to the same standard of life in all respects as her counterpart in the towns and cities. It seems clear that the younger generation in the countryside is protesting and that its protest is taking the form of emigration away from the countryside to the towns and cities.

Following the Memorandum of which I have spoken, the Government in November, 1953, issued a White Paper entitled "Rural Wales", containing the observations, criticisms and recommendations of the Government upon the Memorandum. I must say that the White Paper was very disappointing; it made no recommendations whatever about rural transport. In its 1951 Election Manifesto, the Conservative Party made a specific promise that if it was returned to power, measures would be introduced by the Government to improve rural communications and road transport, but, so far, nothing has been done. I feel sure that the mover and seconder of the Amendment will feel disillusioned and disappointed with their own leadership in this matter.

No one would deny as, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who seconded the Amendment, said, that the question is fraught with great difficulty. The main question which we all ask when considering bus services in the rural areas is, up to what limit must operators run a service at a loss? Surely the point is that it is up to an operator to devise every possible means to provide a service wherever people need it. If we begin to talk of granting amenities to rural areas purely in terms of profit and loss, the rural areas will never get amenities. If we discussed the provisions of electricity, water and transport facilities to rural areas on the basis of a balance sheet which showed a profit, the more remote areas would get none of these amenities. Certainly, there would have been no rural electrification or rural roads if that had been the criterion. It is the paramount duty of operators to devise the most economical means of transport in the more remote areas.

The mover and seconder of the Amendment dealt with the suggestion of the small one-man operated bus. We are fortified in this by experts, for in the Spectator, on 13th January this year, I read a letter from Mr. R. M. Robbins, Chief Public Relations Officer of London Transport Executive, in which he said that the driver-conductor bus helps considerably to reduce the loss on un-remunerative services, so that clearly this type of vehicle has a contribution to make to the problem in our remote areas. It seems to me that the operators are very slow in putting this suggestion into operation.

We are told that the bigger bus companies are considering it and are undertaking research, but the small vehicle is very slow in making an appearance. I hope that the Minister will listen to the appeal of his hon. Friends and will treat the matter as one of urgency and see that this research is encouraged so that we may soon see this kind of bus plying the roads of our rural areas.

The position in my constituency is extremely serious and something will have to be done very soon. There, Crosville Motor Services, Limited, has an almost complete monopoly. It recently applied to the licensing authority to increase fares. The local authorities objected to the increase on the ground that the existing services did not meet the reasonable requirements of the people. The county council, seven district councils and 37 parish councils said that the present services were completely inadequate. In the whole area, only three parish councils expressed satisfaction with the existing services.

The licensing authority approved the increase in fares on the ground, presumably, that they had to be increased to meet mounting costs. Therefore, in Anglesey we have high fares, unsatisfactory services, and, in addition, we have poor roads. For we cannot consider this problem objectively unless, at the same time, we consider the roads, and particularly the Class II and Class III roads. In these rural areas we have a high proportion of Class III roads. Today, the poorer highway authorities are unable to maintain and repair their Class III roads properly.

I should like to quote again from the Memorandum of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, which states: Many of the roads in such districts are not of suitable width or condition for use by buses, and in these circumstances extension of transport services in the more rural areas cannot be expected. The local authorities … were definitely of the opinion that unless better roads were available transport facilities were not likely to improve. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that a method must be devised by the Government of providing additional help to highway authorities to improve their Class III roads.

At present, grants are made on a percentage basis and I suggest that the only proper way of dealing with the problem is to give the grants not on a percentage basis, but on a mileage basis. Hon. Members who consider this suggestion carefully will realise that it is far more equitable and would benefit the poorer areas in which there is a high percentage of Class III and unclassified roads.

To sum up, what is needed is, first, experimentation with a small conductor-driver bus, and secondly, the "dieselization" existing branch lines. One cannot hope for the reopening of an appreciable number of branch lines that have already been closed, but I think that if existing branch lines were dieselised they could be kept open and run economically. There is also the question of the improvement of Class III roads and, fourthly, better co-ordination between road and rail transport. Here again, the Government must be criticised for destroying the integration of road and rail transport. I cannot think that we shall ever find a permanent solution to this problem of rural transport until both road and rail transport are again in public hands. It seems that his party's policy of denationalisation of road transport has militated against what the hon. Member is seeking to achieve.

All these suggestions are, I think, reasonable and not over ambitious. They would help to put a stop to this unhappy drift from the land—something that we are all anxious to stop—and also to encourage the agricultural industry which is so vital to our economy. The tourist industry, which, in so many areas, makes an important contribution to our employment position, would also benefit. These are some suggestions which I hope the Minister will reflect and act upon.

4.22 p.m.

Captain L. A. L. Duncan (South Angus)

I should like to start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on having the luck in the draw, as we are talking in terms of draws nowadays, and also on his choice of subject. I come from Scotland, and the Scottish problem in the rural areas is just as important as the problem in England or, as has been demonstrated by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), the problem in Wales.

The problem is twofold; it is partly a social problem and partly an agricultural one. Unless it is solved it will not only have social repercussions but it will have, what is more important, very great agricultural repercussions, to the disadvantage of agricultural production in this country.

I am glad to note, in passing, that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, who deals with agriculture in Scotland, is here, because the subject will be of vital interest to him in securing a continually expanding agricultural production, particularly in the hill areas of Scotland.

After calling attention to the problems of transport in rural areas, the Amendment deals with three points. It asks the Government to review the regulations and taxation affecting public transport; then it asks the Government to encourage technical development and experimental services; and, finally, it asks the Government to use their powers under … the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919". It is a very comprehensive Amendment, but is none the worse for that.

What I have to say is roughly on the same lines as the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland. I do not want to go into the old controversy that we had earlier on on the subject of the closing of the Arboath—Forfar branch railway line, but we cannot discuss this subject without raising the closing of branch lines. All that I want to say on that today is this. If the British Transport Commission decides to close a branch line for passengers or for goods it is necessary for it to consider other methods of dealing with its traffic, both goods and passenger, before closing it, not solely with the object of saving money but to see how the life of that rural area will be affected and how it could be continued under alternative methods of locomotion.

One is the use of diesel rail cars. Wherever double-diesel rail cars have been tried—admittedly, they cannot be effective in all areas—they have been most successful. I understand that their cost of running is roughly one-third the cost of running equivalent steam trains. That is something. For us in the deep rural areas it is surely not beyond the wit of man to devise a single-diesel rail car which will operate, may be, at one-third of the cost of the double-diesel rail car and thereby become an economic proposition. If after carrying out "technical development and experimental services," as suggested in the Amendment, nothing can be done with the branch line, something should be done with the line, either by selling it or offering it on lease to private enterprise and trying to get someone else to take on the job.

Here, there comes in the question of the Light Railways Act, 1896, under which someone might quite well run it as a tram line. Let us not be too careful of the people's comfort. Anyone travelling on some of the existing S.M.T. or Alexander's buses knows how uncomfortable they are. I do not think that we want so high a standard of chromium and plush, which has been referred to, as the Transport Commission seems to think. Cannot we have something much less elaborate but, none the less, something that will give service?

Then there is the further question of battery rail cars. In the Report of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, 1955, there is a suggestion that agreement has been reached with the railways to conduct an experiment with a battery rail car in an area in Scotland. I would ask my right hon. Friend where this is to be done. Has a battery rail car been produced? Has it been ordered? On what lines is it suggested that the experiment should be conducted? It would at least show, if we could get an answer to those questions, that the Transport Commission was in earnest, because I believe that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has offered very generous terms for battery cars and is itself very anxious to get this experiment launched with a view, perhaps, to extending it in other areas and selling more current at off peak hours to charge the batteries in the night time. This would be a good business proposition and, if successful, would also suit the travelling public.

I have the feeling that there is no real, positive drive to do something by the railways. They seem to be on the defensive against possible losses the whole time. We should try to make the Commission realise that it will go on making losses until it adopts a better attitude towards the public in the matter of the service it provides. Even if it loses a little money upon experiments which may come to a bad end, that money will have been well spent. If enough experiments are made, some, at least, will be successful. The double-diesel experiment has already proved to be extremely successful.

A very difficult situation exists on the roads, partly due to the fact that so many private vehicles are now owned by farmers, forestry workers, and other country people. These vehicles are not necessarily available to the wives of their owners for shopping trips to the local town, or for journeys to the cinema. The problem is to some extent caused by the rising standard of living in the countryside. These two factors are making the effective and economical running of omnibus transport more and more difficult. The restriction in working hours and the higher pay for drivers and conductors are making it necessary to charge higher fares, and that in itself makes it more difficult for even the small bus entrepreneurs to make ends meet.

I strongly support the suggestions made for greater co-operation between the Post Office, the education authorities and the bus operators. In many areas, the Post Office takes the view that its sole duty is to get its letters to its customers at the earliest moment, and that nothing else matters. If people living in some of these sparsely populated areas were told that if they would not mind receiving their letters an hour or two later they could have a reasonable bus service, they would certainly agree to the suggestion and have their letters an hour or two later.

I believe that any child living more than three miles from his school is entitled to transport, and any child who goes to a senior school now is almost bound to be more than three miles away unless he happens to live in the town in which that school is situated. This transport bill falls upon the local education authority, and it must be a very heavy one. I should have thought that these education authorities could have been consulted in order to see whether they could save some of their ratepayers' money by helping to set up a privately operated transport organisation which would provide a regular bus service, so that contract prices could be lowered' and rate payers' money saved.

If an authority has to run a special school bus and nobody else is allowed on it except school children, the education authority must be paying much more for that service than would be the case if it ran one in co-operation with the Post Office, and with the bus operator being allowed to take other passengers as well. I hope that this idea of co-operation between the various interests concerned in the organisation of transport in rural areas will be taken seriously into consideration by the Government.

I also hope that the regulations governing the construction of these vehicles will be considered. I am very glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) with regard to driver-conductor buses. The trouble is that in so many cases the roads are too narrow. It is no good the hon. Member complaining about the roads; the roads are there. We want the transport, and we want it years before the roads can be widened. We want the bus fitted to the roads, rather than the roads fitted to the bus. We want a small, 20-seater bus, with a narrower wheel base, which can run on the small roads. If regulations exist which make it impossible for the licensing authorities to license this type of bus I hope that the Minister of Transport will review those regulations and make it possible to construct a bus which can be used in these deep rural areas.

Although the Amendment refers to the need for certain matters to be investigated, I believe that my right hon. Friend should review the whole question of rural transport. Rural transport should be improved as the other amenities of the countryside—such as electricity and water supplies, and housing—have been improved. Transport is the one thing that is letting us down. I hope that my right hon. Friend will regard this Amendment as a demand from hon. Members on both sides of the House for a real review of the whole question of rural transport, in an endeavour to master this problem one way or another in the very near future, in the interests of agriculture and the social amenities of the countryside.

4.37 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on his luck in the Ballot and choosing for debate today the problem of rural transport. Those who have already spoken have been dealing with the problems in the more remote rural areas, but my constituency, although mainly industrial, also contains places which can be described only as rural, although they may not be a very great distance from a town. Residents in those areas sometimes suffer hardship because they have no adequate transport system. Some have no transport system at all.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may already know that the District Councils' Association for Scotland has been giving attention to this matter as it applies to the whole of Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) has asked for something which I regard as of the greatest importance to the people living in these areas. He has asked the Minister of Transport—and I hope that he wants the Secretary of State for Scotland to assist his right hon. Friend—to carry out a review of existing transport facilities in rural areas as quickly as possible. If they carry out that review I am sure that both Ministers will find that the standard of transport facilities for most people living in rural areas is very much below that which any hon. Member would like to see.

During the last six weeks or so I have had brought to my attention two urgent problems in my constituency on the question of proper transport facilities. In the first instance, I took the matter up with the Scottish Motor Traction Company and I received the reply that I had rather expected to get, that is was quite impossible to provide transport facilities for the small rural area of Greenhill, near Cleland, in Lanarkshire. I have been in that area many times and it seems to me that the problem of the womenfolk in such areas, a problem touched upon by the hon. Member for Westmorland, is made much more difficult owing to the lack of transport facilities.

The women in that hamlet—for that is about all that one can call it—have a long distance to walk before they can board a bus to take them to the town where they do their main shopping. It is true that in that area, as in most other rural areas, the important household needs are supplied by visiting vans, but, in many instances, the womenfolk find it essential to go to the towns to do some of their shopping.

In the winter, particularly, these people find the greatest difficulty through not having what I think we all regard as something perfectly natural, decent transport facilities for shopping purposes. These women, who have to walk quite a distance to board a bus, are sometimes soaked to the skin before they reach the bus. They have their shopping to do and then have the journey back with the long walk at the end of it. In these modern days that seems to me very wrong indeed.

It is not surprising that in an area such as that, and more so in the remote rural areas, wives are continually asking their husbands to find jobs in the town. That is bad from the national economic point of view. Therefore, whether we are examining this problem from the point of view of facilities and amenities for the housewife or from the national economic point of view, it seems to me that where the Minister or the Government can help it is of the greatest importance that they should give all the help they possibly can.

At the beginning of last week, I received a petition signed by quite a number of my constituents in another part of North Lanark, an area including Whiterigg and Airdriehill. They live in an area from which many people have been moved by the county council to one of the bigger villages. Up to that time, the people who are left in the area had enjoyed quite a good bus service, but now they are told by the bus company that it is no longer economic to run the service which they had enjoyed for so long and which has now been taken from them. The petition asked that this service should be returned to them.

Both the hon. Member for Westmorland and the hon. and gallant Member for South Angus spoke about the lack of imagination on the part of the railway company. I think that there is also a lack of imagination on the part of the bus companies and that they ought to operate not only the profitable runs, but also the unprofitable runs.

Mr. Vane

I think that in England that does happen. If one approaches the licensing authorities for permission to operate a profitable run, one is most unlikely to get it unless unprofitable runs are also being operated. Therefore, I do not think that bus companies in England can be charged with that.

Miss Herbison

That may be the case, but there is no onus on the company which may be operating many profitable runs to take on an uneconomic run. It does not work both ways. I feel that what might be called a negative advisory power, if one can talk about an advisory power, ought to operate the other way, and that if it did it would help all the areas which have so far been discussed in this debate.

Captain Duncan

Is the bus company S.M.T. or Alexander's?

Miss Herbison

In the one instance it is the Central S.M.T. and in the other, I understand, it is the S.M.T. I know that in the first instance it is the Central S.M.T., but I am not so sure about the second one.

I am not concerned whether the companies are nationalised or not; I am concerned about the comfort and the facilities available to my constituents. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport to examine the matter to see whether they can in any way help whatever company it may be to provide facilities not only for the people in the two rural areas which I have mentioned, but in rural areas generally throughout the country.

I feel that a smaller type of bus such as I have seen many times in rural areas on the Continent would very adequately serve the needs particularly of the two places I have mentioned, and of many other rural areas. I appeal to all the bus companies affected to give serious consideration to the question of providing smaller buses which would be more economic to run. I believe that if a smaller type of bus was supplied it would meet the needs of the people in whom I am interested and could, perhaps, be profitably run.

I support the suggestion that in rural areas there is no necessity to have both a bus driver and a bus conductor. I know that we have to take into account the question of safety and that that is one of the reasons advanced against operating without a conductor. But in Continental countries I have seen one man acting both as driver and conductor. It may be that we must consider very seriously this question of safety in the closely built-up areas, but I do not think that such strong reasons could be adduced for not dispensing with the conductor in rural areas.

Mr. Vane

Would the hon. Lady agree that, apart from safety, there is the question of speed of turn-round, which discourages certain bus companies from running with one man, but that, in the rural areas, there seems to be far more to be gained than lost, and that instead of losing money in the long run there would be a saving? If the hon. Lady knows New York, she will know what is lost as well as gained when trying to run one-man buses in big towns.

Miss Herbison

I do know New York. I have been on a bus in New York, but what applies to a city the size of New York certainly does not apply, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees, either to the two rural areas of which I spoke or to all the rural areas to which he referred. I am in complete agreement with the hon. Gentleman when he suggests that what might be lost would be gained in other ways. These are the very considerations to which I think the bus companies ought to pay the greatest attention.

There is only one further point with which I should like to deal. It may be that I am out of order in bringing it up, but I suggest that the amenities of rural transport should take into account the provision of shelter for people who are waiting for buses. This, again, is a question which the District Councils' Association of Scotland has raised on a number of occasions, and it is a matter which I have also raised with the Secretary of State for Scotland. There was a Private Bill on this subject dealing with England and Wales which was passed by this House, but which we could not have applied to Scotland because I understand that the local authorities in Scotland were not willing to undertake the additional expense.

I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—and I understand that this is a matter for him, and not so much for the Minister of Transport—will give some consideration to this matter, because it is a question of giving what may be termed a minimum of facilities to our people who live in the rural areas, facilities that are taken completely for granted by those who live in our built-up areas.

I hope that, as a result of this debate and the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Westmorland, there will be a real attempt by the Ministers concerned to do something at once for the benefit of the people who live in rural areas.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I am glad to have the opportunity of taking part in this debate, which follows upon one which I myself initiated a short time ago. First, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on raising the matter. I only hope that as a result of this debate which, as usual in these debates, has produced almost unanimous support from both sides of the House, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, who has recently taken on this job and has brought a fresh and vigorous mind to the task, will take up this very important problem and give it his personal attention.

When my right hon. Friend considers the views expressed on this occasion, and those expressed on three previous Adjournment debates, on two previous Motions and on a Bill, I hope that he will remember that on each occasion, although we were not quite unanimous about the methods to be adopted to surmount the difficulties, we have all been agreed that this problem of rural transport is one of great importance to this country.

I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been here listening to a great deal of this debate, because I think he realises that if we are to get the increased agricultural production which, in my opinion, is essential for the survival of the country in order to close the trade gap, we have to maintain our rural population; and we shall not maintain that rural population unless they are provided with the facilities to reach the towns or where-ever they want to go.

After all, when one is engaging a man for work in a remote district, one knows perfectly well that the deciding factor with him is not the amount of the wage that he will receive, but the desire and opinion of his wife as to whether he should go into that area to work. Therefore, I hope that as a result of this debate, we shall now get some action, and I suggest an inquiry at which evidence can be given, and at which those who give that evidence can be cross-examined on the figures which they put forward, because in these debates we have had such an extraordinary difference of opinion about the costings of running branch lines that I think it is time we had some investigation.

Let me give one instance to show the extraordinary divergence of opinion among different people who are working on figures and not on facts. My right hon. Friend will find in his office a letter from the British Transport Commission to the Parliamentary Secretary in reply to some figures which I put forward, which were given to me by an expert on this matter, about the running of a 10-mile branch line in my own constituency. The cost of the track maintenance was given by the expert who advised me as £600, but the figure given in the letter to the Parliamentary Secretary was £3,000. When I looked up that letter to remind myself of its contents for this debate, I saw that it stated this line would require four men for track maintenance at a cost of £3,000. I do not know that the Transport Commission is quite so generous in the payment of its railwaymen as to give them £750 a year. When I was challenged about the accuracy of my statement, the report of the Transport Commission said that that figure included materials as well, but, when I read the next paragraph, I found that it stated this this figure excluded any materials that were necessary. When one finds this divergence of opinion on costings, I hope that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is about time that we made an attempt to investigate these figures.

I have often been asked whether I should agree that branch lines should be run at a loss. I do not think they should be run at a great loss, but, when we remember that the omnibus companies today are running portions of their services at a loss, we cannot think why the Transport Commission, with its main line traffic and all the best traffic, should not also run some of its branch lines even if that involves a slight loss. I do not think that that loss can be anything like as great as they try to make out. The Commission must realise that the closing of these branch lines is having a very serious effect. They close one of these branch lines, and it has an immediate effect on the next section.

I have in mind the 30 miles of line running from the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) to Worcester. The portion in the constituency of the hon. Gentleman opposite is completely closed, and the next portion, running from Leominster, is closed to passengers, but still runs a goods service. The next portion has been closed for three years, and the result of all this closing is that the last section from Bromyard to Worcester now has a curtailed service. It is quite obvious that in this matter of closing branch lines, one thing leads to another. If the bus companies were to close down a few miles of route in the middle stretch of the country because they were unremunerative, I do not know where we should get, but that is what is happening at present in the railway system. I do not think that sufficient experiments are being made in the running of branch lines by people who know their job and who make sure that the costings are indeed accurate.

The argument which has been put against the introduction of railcars will not stand up to investigation. In the report of the Railway Organisation Committee, there is still talk of railway stations being placed at the wrong places because of landowners not being willing to allow stations to be built on their land. That was the 19th century problem, but we now realise that on these branch lines railway stations need not necessarily be provided, because all that is wanted are places at which passengers may be picked up or set down.

Another problem is that the railway crossing keeper is out of date. In times when we have traffic running on the main roads at 50 or 60 miles an hour, controlled by traffic lights, such lights could be operated at points where the railway crosses the road, and could be brought into action by the railbus approaching the crossing and put out of action again after the bus has passed the crossing. That would not involve a great deal of expense in the running of small branch lines.

The Transport Commission continually talks about the cost of big diesel units. We are not referring to big diesel units. We desire something to replace the old carrier's cart which used to take the women and their goods and chattels to market. We consider that there exists a rail car which would meet that requirement. I have had sent to me by the Railway Development Association particulars of a rail bus which is operated on the Sligo railway, in Ireland. It is operated on a steel-rubber wheel. In fact, it is a bus which is being converted at the cost of £100. The wheel is known as a Howden Meredith wheel, and is a combination of steel and rubber which will stand up to wear. Rubber on steel will not stand up to wear, but this combination has been in operation for about twenty years. If they can do that in Ireland, I should hope that something similar might be done in this country.

It has been said that this is not operated on the Continent, but only last week I had a letter from a man serving in Germany who says that out there the railways seem to be flourishing. Branch lines abound and on most are rail cars which are run very efficiently. That is what is being done in Germany, and they are doing the same in France and Sweden. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that an investigation should be made to discover what may be done here. We desire something between the old carriers' cart and the very fine diesel cars which are fitted up with all sorts of comforts. Such cars are not wanted in the country districts, or at least they are not necessary. The people in those areas require something to get them from one point to another in reasonable comfort.

At present, in some remote districts women have to walk two or three miles to a bus stop in all weathers, and often they have to wear their wet clothes all day while they are in the town. Then they are faced with the same walk home, and after such a journey I imagine that their husbands hear something about it. They may suggest that it was time their husbands found a job somewhere else, where transport facilities are better. In view of the unanimity which exists among all hon. Members about this problem, I ask my right hon. Friend to see whether something can be done to meet it.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)

I am glad of the opportunity to support this Amendment. If the Government do not face this problem of rural transport now, they will eventually be forced by necessity to do something about it. I come from a constituency which covers 262 square miles. The County of Durham is usually looked upon as entirely a mining community, but I can assure hon. Members that in Durham we have some of the loveliest scenery in the country.

In my constituency, there are two rural areas and in one this problem has been troubling my constituents for a number of years. Two or three years ago the British Transport Commission, after protracted negotiation and heated arguments, decided that the Weardale branch railway line should be closed. One argument advanced in favour of that operation was that a reasonable and adequate bus service existed. I concede that people today are inclined to use the bus service rather than the rail service, because it may be more convenient to walk to a bus stop than to the railway station. But, today, bus proprietors are finding great difficulty in maintaining an adequate service.

In my opinion, the only solution would be to have a uniformed method of rail and road transport. I say to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that when they felt it advisable to denationalise road transport, that aggravated the position. With the increased cost of petrol and oil, higher maintenance charges and increased wages, it is becoming an uneconomic proposition so far as private bus companies are concerned.

Mr. Baldwin

Would not the hon. Member agree that at present many bus companies are under the control of the Transport Commission, but no better service is given?

Mr. Ainsley

In Durham, some years ago, the chairman of the county council wished to promote a Bill to provide municipal transport for the whole county, and it was hon. Members opposite who prevented that from being done. It would have proved a solution to our problem in Durham.

The bus services operating in Wear-dale are privately owned. I am not complaining about these people if they are running at a loss, but we have a responsibility to see that a social service is maintained in the rural areas, and that presents a problem. For many years I served on the county council and before becoming a Member of this House I had the honour of being chairman of that council. When dealing with the question of transport at a meeting at Newcastle, we found that monopoly firms running services in the highly industrial urban areas were seeking to lop off the unremunerative runs.

It was stated yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) that one of these firms had accumulated huge profits year after year. But these firms are not anxious to maintain rural passenger services, though they wish to keep the more remunerative runs and that is a problem which arises because private monopolistic firms do not realise that they should provide a social service.

As one who has served on a county education committee, I realise the statutory obligation upon an education authority to convey children to school when they live over three miles from their school. In my constituency, we cannot obtain tenders for this work. Usually, we have to go to a farmer and ask him to convey the children to school. That is done at a price which he fixes, and it must be done, because we have a statutory obligation to see that the children are educated. The divisional education officer is going round remote areas and begging people to help to convey children so that they can have the education that we all desire them to have.

Recently, I was asked to attend a meeting in Newcastle, which had been called to deal with the question of rural transport. Unfortunately, I was not able to be present, but I notice from the report that I have here that the meeting was attended by representatives of the county councils, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, parish councils, rural community councils, the Rural District Councils' Association, the Transport and General Workers Union, and women's institutes.

That meeting passed this resolution: The following organisations having fully considered the present circumstances of transport in the rural areas of the North-East of England are convinced that the recent deterioration in transport services is likely to continue to the detriment of the social and economic conditions of the area, and that there must also be, if there is not already, an adverse effect on agricultural production. I was talking to an executive officer of the Ministry of Agriculture some time ago, and he astounded me by stating that in this country well over 1 million acres of agricultural land had gone out of cultivation since 1870. Can we wonder that the whole of our economy is upset when we allow the rural areas to deteriorate?

I have here a letter which I received last week from a lady living in the rural area to which I have referred. She is a school teacher, and she has to find her way to a school in the urban area. Here, we are threatened with the withdrawal of the early bus service, which means that this lady will not be able to get to school. That is the problem that we are facing in the whole of Weardale. Business people who want to make contact with the main line at Darlington in order to get to London have to travel almost all night before so that they can contact the main line, or else hire private taxis.

Therefore, we have a drift away of the population from the rural areas. Between the two General Elections, from 1951 to 1955, over 2,000 electors have left my constituency. They have gone to swell the problem which is now being faced in Birmingham, Coventry and Greater London. Some time ago I asked that I might have a conversation with the Chairman of the London County Council because I realised that Durham and London were facing the same problems, but in reverse.

I am glad that hon. Members opposite are now talking of planning. We must plan. That is where the present Government have gone astray. They have talked of freedom at the expense of planning when dealing with the economic conditions of the country.

There is a tremendous responsibility upon the Government to bring to the rural areas the social amenities that are now being enjoyed in the towns, cities and urban areas. I shall never be happy until the same facilities that are afforded to the children in the urban areas are given to the boys and girls in rural areas, in order that they may develop the talents that are theirs. I therefore have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley) who comes from a neighbouring constituency to mine, because the problems he faces are the same as those in Northumberland.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in emphasising the danger to the countryside arising from this continual drift from the land, which is now assuming very large proportions indeed. I find from the latest figures that in the last five years more than 100,000 regular farm-workers, male and female, have left the land. That is a very serious problem for the future of agriculture, because not only have these workers left the land but those who remain are an ageing population; the young men are just not coming into the industry.

From what has been said already, it is clear that it is much easier to state this problem than to find a solution to it. Nevertheless, there is a true saying that "where there's a will there's a way", and I hope that my right hon. Friend when he replies will show that in this respect the Government have the will to do something. We in Britain are always apt to do too little and to do it too late; and certainly in the post-war years we have done far too little with public transport in the rural areas. If we do not look out we shall be too late again, because the drift from the land will have become an absolute spate.

The problem of rural transport is common not only to Britain but to many countries in Europe as well as to Canada and the United States. Paradoxically enough, the problem has largely arisen since the advent of the internal combustion engine. It is the private motor car which is the main enemy of public transport. It is the private motor car which is making public transport, be it rail or road, unremunerative at the present time. We must face the fact that as more private cars come on to the road, so the problem of public transport will become still more difficult to solve Despite the private car, public transport is just as vital to life in the rural areas as housing, electricity, telephones and all the other amenities. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) has already pointed out, we have in these post-war years made considerable progress in providing amenities in the rural areas. It is only public transport which has not improved; indeed, it is deteriorating. I do not suppose that any of these services, be they electricity, telephones, banks or post offices, are paying propositions in the rural areas, but the organisations concerned run them, nevertheless, because they realise that they are providing an essential service for these areas. They take a broad view—they take the rough with the smooth and the unremunerative services are carried by the remunerative services.

If that happens in other services, I cannot see why it should not also happen in transport. I would add that in housing, or in water and sewerage schemes, the Government are prepared to give financial grants, of 50 per cent. or more, in order to help to provide these services. I do not see why some financial assistance should not also be given by the Treasury to provide adequate public transport facilities, since it will be useless to spend large sums of public money in taking public services to the rural areas if, when they arrive there, we find that the population of the area has largely disappeared and we are left with a few ageing people who have been stranded there. Such a policy does not make sense, nor is it a paying proposition from the national point of view.

On the contrary, I believe that a small Exchequer subsidy could make the whole difference between maintaining some of these services in being and, on the other hand, seeing them disappear. Many transport services, both by rail and by bus, have been withdrawn in recent years, and many more are in danger of withdrawal in the near future, unless some financial assistance can be provided. In my view, very slight assistance would make the difference between maintaining these services and losing them.

The people who are operating these services, whether they are employees of the British Transport Commission or employees of private operators, are extremely anxious to see them maintained. They do not want to see them disappear. Nor do I believe that the operators, who, in these remote rural areas, are often small men, want to make big profits. All they want to do is, by one means or another, to keep their heads above water.

Several hon. Members have already emphasised that we in the country areas are not asking for luxury services, either in the equipment provided or in the frequency of the services. We are asking simply for any kind of service to be maintained so that the people in these rural areas may have some link with the outside world. In my view a large part of this problem is the psychological question as to whether people feel cut off or not.

British Railways are continually talking about the wonderful new twin diesel units which they are at long last providing on branch lines. These units are certainly good. Indeed, they are far too good, because they are costing £25,000 a piece. What we want in the remote areas is not a unit costing £25,000 but some kind of bus or rail car costing £2,000 or £3,000—and I am quite convinced that such a car could be provided.

I believe that British Railways have not the remotest idea of what is really required by the rural population. When they talk about the rural population they muddle them up with the suburban population. With a little more imagination and enterprise British Railways could provide small or light-weight diesel cars to cater for the really remote rural areas.

Since nationalisation in 1948, British Railways have closed down 1,500 miles of branch line railways. They tell us that by doing so they are saving just over £1 million a year. That sounds all very well, but what has been the cost to the countryside of the removal of those vital services? What has been the cost to country folk? It is my belief that if British Railways had acted in an enterprising way they could probably have saved £500,000, even though they had kept those branch lines open, if they had reduced their staffs and cut out some of the unnecessary extravagance. I say that if the other £500,000 had been provided by the Treasury, it would have been money well spent from the national point of view.

I readily admit that public transport in the remote rural areas will never pay. To use a vulgarism, used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech, there is not a cat in hell's chance of public transport facilities paying in the rural areas. But I believe that by imagination and by enterprise and initiative the losses might be greatly reduced, and I am convinced that it is in the national interest that the Government should devise some means by which the services in those areas can be retained, even if that should mean that the Treasury must make up the balance.

I commend this Amendment to the House and would say to the Minister, in the words of an old Chinese proverb: Hasten, the hour is later than you think.

5.26 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who moved the Amendment, can be satisfied with its reception this afternoon. I hope that the Minister will have something to say about the several suggestions which have been made. Personally, I was much taken up with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) about subsidising transport in the rural areas. Provided that subsidy is given for the sake of transport in the rural areas, I would raise no objection to it.

The Amendment views with concern the difficulties facing both British Railways and omnibus proprietors. While I agree with that comment, I am concerned with the difficulty of my constituents in getting any transport at all. Recently, there was published "The Mid-Wales Investigation Report", in paragraph 106 of which it is stated that several complaints have been received about the curtailment of bus services. That is true, and I have expressed my hope that at some time we may have a debate on that Report, in which emphasis would have to be laid not only on the curtailment of transport facilities in rural districts but also on the advocacy of more transport facilities, of which there are at present none in some places, except perhaps on market days. If we want younger people and others to remain in the countryside we must provide transport facilities.

Last week, at a meeting of the South Wales Branch of the Rural District Councils' Association, great concern was expressed at the fact that these services in the countryside were diminishing to a great extent. An extraordinary resolution was passed calling attention to this and asking that special terms should be allowed to secure and maintain bus services. Imagine that coming from a conference of South Wales rural district councils! I am sure that they discussed this matter with keen advocacy of the case for better facilities at present.

One of the daily papers commented, "No bus. They leave home." That is true. Not very far from the town of Brecon, where local authority houses have been built, local authorities have found it difficult to persuade people to take these houses because there are no transport facilities to the nearest market town.

The Minister should, therefore, look at the suggestion made by hon. Members opposite for an inquiry into this problem. There are areas in my constituency with no bus facilities at all, and I know of a case in which girls have to cadge a ride about ten miles in order to get to Builth Wells to their work. We are always pleading for something to be done about these problems in the countryside.

District councils in Mid-Wales are always agitating for more services, but they cannot agitate now. All they can do is to try to stop bus operators from closing services, when applications are made for increases of fares or anything of that kind are resisted. I compliment the district councils on the fact that they will not allow services to be closed down. The tendency is for bus operators to take away the service altogether and to make the situation very much worse. I hope that the Minister will look at the situation in Mid-Wales and South Wales and find out how many licences have been withdrawn during the last twelve months. I hope that he will do what he possibly can to prevent that situation arising.

There is the gradual disappearance of the small bus operators. It is extraordinary how it is done. There has been a tendency—a good one—for local education authorities to transport children to secondary and grammar schools. The result is that in Radnorshire and Brecknockshire a large sum of money is paid out annually for transport services which can only he used for school children. I wish it were possible for the authorities to use it to take some of the parents to market as well. No one else can do it, even if the people have to stay an hour more than they should in the markets. We should use these bus services, if they are not run for the sake of profit, in order to make arrangements for people to come from these areas.

In the Mid-Wales counties some bus operators have gone out of existence when big firms have come along. The big firms cut down on the tenders until they get a monopoly of the services by squeezing out the small operators and then they increase their tender prices and make matters difficult for the local authorities. I hope that the Minister will look at these things.

I have intervened in the debate purely to support the Amendment, in the interests not only of bus operators but of constituents in the areas affected. If I make my protest it is not against nationalisation; my hon. Friends should make no mistake about that. It is because greater consideration should be given to small branch lines and every facility should be given to people in the areas before a branch line is closed down in favour of services by bus operators. It it very important that branch lines should be maintained.

I wish the Amendment every success. I believe that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) has a Bill on the stocks on this subject, to which there has been opposition from this side of the House. I can quite understand it, but I wish our people would raise no more objections so that the Bill can get its Second Reading and be discussed in Committee. Something better in rural transport would help a large number of the people whom I represent in this House.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

The problems of transport in rural areas are great and growing and, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, the principal reason why people choose one form of transport rather than another is not greater speed but cheapness or convenience. If the service is very cheap people will put up with considerable inconvenience in order to use it, but in most cases they will plump for convenience and will be prepared to pay higher prices for greater convenience.

For historical reasons, it is inevitable in present circumstances that this test of convenience should now work to the disadvantage of British Railways. About one hundred years ago when we first built our railways the Railway Bills were opposed by a number of vested interests, not only of landowners but of corporations, who did not see the advantage of railways. The result is that railways are frequently not built from one town to another, but to a point which is sometimes a mile or two outside each town. That was done deliberately when the railways were constructed to keep them away from certain places for amenity reasons.

That did not matter in early days when the cheapness of rail travel was an advantage compared with the high cost of going long distances or taking heavy loads by horse traffic. The public did not mind the extra inconvenience of going from the village to the inconveniently situated railway station at the back of beyond. Later, when motor transport came back to people's own doorsteps in the towns and villages, they then preferred road transport to going to the railway station.

Things have now gone one stage further. Convenience is now not merely a matter of starting from a particular place, but starting at a particular time. Many people in rural areas find it more convenient to have their own vehicle rather than to wait at the street corner for a bus or to get goods ready for the lorry service at a particular time. Although some of us might not think so from the complaints that we get, many rural communities have considerably improved their financial position in recent years. Good luck to them. It is now common for people to be able to afford vehicles of their own, either motor cars or vans; so—although this is not a matter for complaint—it is a serious factor in rural transport that a large proportion of the rural population now possesses transport of its own, thereby lessening the load factor both on railways and buses.

Let us, first, consider railways. I understand that about 80 million train-miles a year are run by stopping steam trains on British Railways, much of it in the rural areas. There are only about 5 million train-miles loaded moderately well with about 125 passengers per train. The balance can be divided—although the figures cannot be considered final—between 45 million train-miles poorly loaded with passengers and about 30 million miles very poorly loaded, with about 20 passengers or fewer per train. I do not put these figures forward as completely accurate, but they show that many stopping steam-trains, whether on branch or on main lines ought, from ordinary economical considerations, to be removed. They are a heavy drain on the revenue of the British Transport Commission.

To withdraw them, however, would often give rise to human problems, because although it is true that many people in rural areas have motor cars and vans, there are many who do not. There are also many for whom it is not convenient to use bus services. Those services may not have the same facilities for carrying luggage or parcels as are provided on trains, and a change in the service might put people to great inconvenience.

The old main line companies had to deal with this problem. Although they closed branch lines from time to time, it is to their credit and to that of the nationalised concern that they have been reluctant to withdraw train services on branch lines or stopping trains on main lines. Because of the human factor, they have probably been more reluctant than they should have been for strictly economic reasons. Therefore, this is a real problem and the best that can be done is to make such efforts as are possible to reduce the cost of the services.

References have been made to the twin-unit diesel, which is a considerable improvement and makes a substantial saving in cost. I am not wholly satisfied, however, that it is not possible to find a fly-weight diesel—that is a diesel car very much lighter than the twin-unit diesel—which would be very much cheaper to run. It is the actual cost of running a train that matters, because if the British Transport Commission is prepared to meet the cost of maintenance of the track and the stations, that cost in respect of stopping trains is very often covered by the through trains. Therefore, if the actual cost of running a train is reduced, it becomes a more practicable proposition to run a service.

I am not satisfied that everything that could be done has been done to find a flyweight diesel of lighter weight and cheaper construction than the diesels which are in service. Many attempts have been made in that direction on the Continent. It is said that there are unsatisfactory features to some of them, but more might be done in that direction. Nor am I satisfied that as much as possible has been done to reduce excessive maintenance on some of our branch lines, either by Light Railway Orders or otherwise. It ought to be possible to run some of these lines without a great deal of the maintenance work that now takes place. From my experience as a former railway solicitor, I cannot understand why Section 68 of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, dealing with accommodation works for adjoining owners is still law and has not been amended. I have raised this matter before in the House.

The Section has many surprising results. One is that it compels the railways to maintain an elaborate eight-wire fence to keep out the cattle of adjoining owners. No other authority has to undertake such a liability, and one still sees gangs of men winding up the wire of eight-wire fencing where nobody else ever dreams of having such a thing. If this is a question of passenger safety it is difficult to understand, because there are many other railway companies in the world which do not have to provide fencing of this elaborate nature. This is a small point, but there are others of that kind with which the railways are burdened and which should be looked into.

Whenever a branch line is closed, it is necessary to provide an alternative service, and the British Transport Commission goes to considerable lengths to see that there is an alternative service. Nearly always there is a service of some sort. The idea that a service on a branch line can be withdrawn without co-operation from a bus company is very much exaggerated. It is not a question of nationalisation or denationalisation.

One hon. Member seemed to imply that there were special difficulties in dealing with companies which were not under the control of the British Transport Commission. The vast majority of bus companies operating in the rural areas are 100 per cent. owned by the Commission. But whether it is a nationalised bus, if one may use that term, or one belonging to some other group in which the Commission has also an interest, there has not been any great difficulty in finding an alternative service. However, where there is an alternative service, it is often not so convenient because, as I have said, buses cannot carry as much luggage as can be carried by train.

The buses also are in difficulties, whether nationalised or not nationalised. Although it is quite true that some bus services are run at a loss—and all bus companies have done that at one time or another—the margin of loss today is very much greater than it used to be. Before the war, the margin of loss was about 1d. to 2d. a mile on an unremunerative service and, on a 1,000-mile week, that represented a loss of £200 a year on a bus. That was not too serious a loss for a substantial company to carry, but now the loss may be anything from 6d. to 1s. a mile. On a 1,000-mile week the loss on a bus may be up to £1,300 a year, which is a much more serious proposition for a bus company.

It is not correct to say that a smaller bus is the solution to the problem. It may be in a few places, but only a very few. I cannot speak for Westmorland or the North of Scotland, although I have been in both, but throughout the West Country, and particularly Cornwall, which I have the honour to represent, there is still a substantial number of people who want to travel at particular times on a Saturday or a market day or in the morning or the evening. It is not right to complain that a large bus is running half empty for the greater part of the day, because at peak periods a smaller bus would be useless. A second bus would have to be run which would make it more expensive than running a big bus more or less empty half the time.

Nor is a postal bus or van the solution. I remember travelling, I think in 1931, in a post van from the village of Reay, which is very near the site of the atomic reactor at Dounreay, to Melvech. It was the ordinary form of transport at that time. There were two or three seats at the front of the van and people used that mode of travel, but in the majority of cases that would be unsuitable. Most people want their mail delivered as early as possible and they are not prepared to wait several hours until a bus is ready to run for the convenience of passengers. What is more, the Post Office has to think about security. It is all very well to carry a few mail bags at the back of a bus, but if there are large quantities of mail and parcels the Post Office would be worried about theft. Incidentally, mail travels at a cheap rate, so the bus companies do not make much out of it.

The best thing would be to have a reduction in the tax on fuel, especially on Derv, which is taxed at the rate of 250 per cent., much higher than any Purchase Tax. I appreciate that this is not the appropriate debate in which to discuss that matter, but it would help if some such reduction could be made.

I do not like the last two lines of this Amendment. They seem to imply that subsidies should be paid for the improvement of services. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) suggested that the proposals should be limited to experiments for improving services, but some other hon. Members seemed to take that to mean a general subsidy for transport.

That could not be accepted. There must be a limit to the number of general subsidies, and the mere fact that some localities are finding it difficult to obtain adequate transport is insufficient reason for handing out a general subsidy to provide facilities which people do not happen to have. It would be better to concentrate on seeing what we can do to improve the existing facilities. If this matter is tackled with vigour and imagination, and if everything possible is done to maintain and to improve the transport of rural areas, I think it will be found that an efficient service can be provided.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford. East)

I join with other hon. Members on both sides in congratulating the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on giving us an opportunity today to discuss the important matter of rural transport. We do not discuss that question here as often as we should, but at the same time we must not get it out of proportion. Transport for rural areas has been a problem for many years. It is aggravated today largely because many more farmers, owing to the prosperity of the agricultural industry, have been able to provide their own forms of transport. It has also been aggravated by the economic problems confronting the transport industry.

I should not like to feel that anything we say here today would be a reflection upon the work being done by British Railways, which I think have done a fine job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It is true that branch lines have had to be closed, but that was inevitable as a result of the problems confronting British transport today. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said rightly that before a branch line is closed British Railways satisfy themselves that there will be reasonably adequate alternative bus services for the passengers concerned. Indeed, Ministers of Transport have taken care that the British Transport Commission, and British Railways in particular, have found alternative transport facilities to the branch lines that have been closed in certain areas as a result of the cost of transport.

Suggestions have been made about the use of the postal mail. I agree with the hon. Member for Truro that postal mail would not reduce the financial problems of rural transport. There have been suggestions about using smaller types of vehicles, but there again the problem is not as simple as some hon. Members appear to think. The hon. Member for Truro said quite rightly that there are vehicles available which are required for peak traffic. If, however, we had a series of small vehicles for off-peak hours not only would the operator need reserve vehicles for use in case of breakdown, but would then have to replace the small vehicles by larger ones at periods of peak traffic. I doubt very much, therefore, whether there would be any saving in the long run.

There was another suggestion that school buses should be used more extensively. We all know that the education authority has responsibility under certain circumstances for transporting children from their homes to school. They do this in two ways. First, where a transport service is available the education authority issues vouchers. Secondly, where there is not, it tries to arrange for private contract. I know a little about the problems of the rural education authorities, and I agree with the hon. Member who said that it is difficult to get people to tender for the transportation of children because this is regarded as uneconomic. Hon. Members who have suggested using the school service facilities for the alleviation of the problem of rural transport have forgotten that the vehicles only run at given times, when the schools are open. So I do not believe that the school transport service can make a substantial contribution to the solution of this serious problem.

Frankly, we are up against a problem of unremunerative services and how they can be provided. It is as simple as that—if it is simple at all. The question is, who is to provide unremunerative services? Reference has been made to the licensing authorities. All those interested in, and associated with public transport, know that for many years the licensing authorities have been urging and insisting that transport undertakings should not only provide services for the remunerative areas but should also provide a certain amount of service for the country areas and the uneconomic routes. Licensing authorities throughout the country have insisted that transport undertakings should take a reasonable share of unremunerative services.

The problem today is that the cost of transport has become so heavy and we have so largely come to the end of increases in fares that something has to be done to meet the industry's economic difficulties and to put it on the basis of being able to provide reasonable services. I support any hon. Member who urges that the countryside should be provided with the best possible services which it is economical for transport undertakings to provide.

Reference has been made to the improved social conditions and the better facilities of the countryside. The Post Office is providing telephones for farm houses at a cost which is largely borne by the more thickly populated areas. That is right and proper. The cost of electrification of the countryside is met in a similar way and, as hon. Members will agree, it is proceeding by leaps and bounds.

Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)

Is the hon. Member not aware that in the scattered rural districts consumers either have to make a capital contribution towards the cost of the installation of electricity, or have to pay an annual line rent to meet the extra cost?

Mr. McLeavy

I agree that there are certain additional charges, but what I was saying was substantially true. There is a loss even when farmers have paid the extra cost, and that loss has to be borne by people in more thickly populated areas.

I know that this problem of the cost of transport has been a matter which previous Chancellors of the Exchequer have had under review, and I want to recall a speech made by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Lord Privy Seal, in a broadcast last summer. He said: The reduction of taxation on petrol and diesel oil occupies a high priority in my thoughts. I know that over the past three or four years passenger transport undertakings have been strongly representing to the Treasury that the incidence of the fuel oil tax should he reduced.

As the hon. Member for Truro said, the cost of the tax on Derv is 2s. 6d. per gallon, which represents about 240 per cent. of the basic price. That has a tremendous effect upon the running costs of transport. The remarkable thing is that only transport pays the tax. Farmers who use fuel oil in their vehicles, industry and the railways do not pay the tax. As a matter of fact, the transport industry uses only about one-sixth of the total production of Derv.

So that the House may appreciate the importance of this fact, I should like to quote the example of the City of Bradford, where fuel oil costs represent 3.89d. for every mile operated. I am sure that that figure could be much higher in rural areas. The problem is whether the Government will abolish fuel oil taxation—

Mr. Vane

In rural areas the incidence of fuel tax, although important, is slightly less, because the assumption is that more miles per gallon are obtained there than where vehicles are starting and stopping. I should have thought that 2½d. would have been a fairer figure.

Mr. McLeavy

It depends on the type of rural area. If the countryside is flat, the cost per mile may be lower than the figures I have given; if it is hilly, the cost may be higher and even as much as 4d. a mile. The point is that if we are to help passenger transport in rural areas, we must review the incidence of fuel oil taxation.

I can understand private enterprise omnibus companies, which obviously have to pay dividends to shareholders, saying, "We cannot continue this or that service in the rural areas because we find that not only is it uneconomic but that it is too great a strain upon our undertaking." It is very difficult for licensing authorities to insist upon an undertaking doing something which will push its finances into the red. I appeal to the Minister of Transport to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look at this problem again.

If by some relief of taxation we can get improved services in rural areas, that will be advantageous all round, but I should not like to make the rash claim that if the tax on petrol and fuel for buses is abolished it will mean a substantial reduction in the cost of transport. It would not, but it would assist in meeting the ever-increasing problems of the industry. I beg the Government, in order to make some contribution to the solution of these problems in the agricultural areas, to think again and to give transport a chance of giving to rural areas the services which it is anxious to provide, if its financial position will allow it so to do.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. H. R. Spence (Aberdeenshire, West)

I am sure that the Minister of Transport must have been impressed today by the collective voice of the House on this most important subject of rural transport. I am grateful to have a chance towards the end of this debate of saying a word or two from the very north-east of Scotland on how the problem faces us there.

I cannot follow the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) on one or two of the recommendations which he made to the Minister. He suggested that the Minister should disregard the appeal made to him for the use of smaller buses, saying that a small bus would be inconvenient for peak load periods and would mean running two buses in place of one. I would urge upon the Minister that he should look at areas where there is no bus at all and areas which had bus services up to a year or two ago, but are now entirely without such services owing to the cost of operating them. I beg him to consider what can be done by encouraging the giving of a reasonable service with a small bus in that kind of locality at the present time.

There is no doubt that the problem is very rapidly becoming more acute, owing to developments in transport and the modern way of social life in the countryside. The drift away from the land of those who actually work on it has been stressed this afternoon, but I want to make an appeal—and this is something which has not been stressed sufficiently so far—on behalf of the families of those who work upon the land. In and near our medium-sized towns and cities there are always opportunities for employment. Where there is no rural bus service those opportunities cannot be taken, and the members of the family drift out of the area. For that to happen is a very bad thing from every point of view, and I would particularly ask the Minister to bear it in mind.

I cannot agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bradford, East that the postal services have little to offer the bus companies in economy of running. In my view, we ought to take the most practical possible view of what the local bus services can do, whether it be in carrying children to school, providing a parcels service or carrying the post, and carrying passengers on all occasions and on all routes which they cover. There are today far too many watertight compartments controlling the vehicles using our roads, and there is far too much watertight thinking. I ask the Minister to apply the same common sense approach to this problem of road transport as we see in Switzerland, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), who moved the Amendment.

If we take proper account of all means of sustaining a bus service, I believe that the loss in running such a service will be greatly minimised. That could be helped by there being a direction to education authorities to work in conjunction with the Transport Commission so that contracts for taking children to school could be let to the same operators who are to run buses on a particular route. I have in mind instances of all these examples which have occurred recently in my own constituency, and I can therefore speak from experience.

Finally, I want to refer to the operation of closed-down branch lines. We have heard that the chief problem is the running of the actual train. I wonder whether the Minister has considered blocking these lines off into twenty-mile stretches and operating upon each such stretch a single vehicle up and down in a shuttle service, with no overtaking or passing. Each block of twenty miles could be considered separately; there would be no signalling and none of the oncosts which must arise where a number of vehicles operate on one stretch of line.

I should be very glad if the Minister will tell us in his reply that something will be done, and give us some hope of improvement in the North. In my own area there are two villages, Lumsden and Rhynie, which are now virtually without a public transport service. On one side of both of them are trunk roads and railways, but there is no connecting link by road with either. That is surely wrong, and I hope the Minister will be able to give us some hope that there will in the near future be a resumption of services in places such as those I have quoted.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

Even if it means that I have to cut down my speech, I am glad that we have had the opportunity of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Spence). In a very short time he has contributed a great deal to this debate. That quite often does happen when we have to shorten our speeches; I hope that having to compress my own will have the same effect.

I say at once that I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on his good luck in the Ballot which gave him the opportunity of introducing this Amendment. I only hope he will have the same luck with his first Premium Bond—and if he does, I should like to share the winnings with him. I am sure that both he and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Penrith and the Border (Mr. Whitelaw), who seconded the Amendment, are well qualified to speak on this problem of rural transport.

The present situation of rural transport does indeed present a problem. It is true, as has been said, that this debate covers very much the same ground as the debate that we had on 9th December on the Bill which did not then get a Second Reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) called attention to the fact that there was some opposition on this side of the House to that Bill, but I would for myself say that we were not hostile to the purpose of the Bill but rather to the methods by which the Bill sought to give effect to the desire to improve rural transport. In my view, the Bill was mistaken in that. I could not say the same about this Amendment, which I consider to be well founded.

Certain it is that we on this side of the House want to see our countryside remaining populated with contented people whose lives are soundly based on the soil. To achieve that end, we must bring to the people who live in the countryside, and particularly to workers' families, as the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire reminded us, a chance of participating in urban industry. That can only be possible if we provide farm workers and their families with reasonable access to the towns and the amenities which only the towns can provide.

What is the real problem of rural transport? Surely it arises from the fact that so many branch lines are running at a loss and so many omnibus undertakings, quite understandably, are not prepared to provide an unprofitable service. It is understandable that a bus undertaking, whose purpose it is, of course, to make a profit for its owners, will not long continue a service which loses money, despite the fact that that service does provide a considerable amenity for the people who use it.

The British Transport Commission is now mainly a railway undertaking charged with the task of securing 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. I agree with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) that the Commission cannot continue to operate at a loss as long as it has that duty placed upon it by the House. We did it deliberately with our eyes wide open, the Committee has to accept the obligation contained in that Section of the 1947 Act. If it is accepted, both as to the position of the omnibus undertakings and as to the position of the B.T.C., then I think the House must accept that we must find some other way of trying to ensure that we provide reasonable transport facilities for the countryside.

The hon. Member for Westmorland divided the subject into two parts, and said that he would deal with railways first. I will follow his example. While I accept that the B.T.C. must not continue to run a little-used branch line on the backs, as it were, of the transport employees or the other users of transport, I do not accept the point of view—and I emphasise this—that everything possible has yet been tried in the way of making branch lines self-supporting. Last Saturday night, for example, I was on Gloucester Station, and I asked the guard of a train what was the object standing at the platform and where it was going. He told me, "That train has been running to Cinderford since 1907". Whether he meant the timing of the train or the actual engine and coach set I do not know, but it might well have been the latter, since it appeared to be contemporaneous with George Hudson if not George Stephenson.

That was on Saturday night, when it might have been expected that that engine and coach set would be carrying a lot of people back from Gloucester. It appeared to me, even at that time of night, to be carrying something less than an ordinary small bus load—but it was carrying that ordinary small bus load with a train crew the same as that which would have been carried by an eight or twelve coach set with anything up to 500 passengers in it.

That aspect is undoubtedly one of the problems. The problem of the branch lines has not been considered only in the House and by the B.T.C. By some strange chance I read in "Today's Arrangements" in The Times of 25th February, 1956, this notice: Society for the Re-invigoration of Unremunerative Branch Lines in the United Kingdom: Public meeting on 'The Place of the Branch Line in Britain Today'. St. Saviour's Church Hall, St. George's Square, Pimlico. 2.45. I regret that I was unable to attend this meeting of the Society for the Reinvigoration of Branch Lines, but I looked in The Times the following day for a report of that meeting. Unfortunately, no such report appeared. Had one done so, I should, of course, have drawn the Minister's attention to it. All I can suggest in this connection—because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman wants to see these unremunerative branch lines reinvigorated—is that he should join this society and get his information from it. We certainly want a little reinvigoration.

Mr. Speir

Is the hon. Member aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) is a member of that society.

Mr. Champion

I must ask my hon. Friend what happened on that occasion; it might be helpful.

We must remember that the problem of branch lines is one of capital investment. I agree with very much which has been said about the possibility of the development of a light rail car, and I believe that we ought to be conducting a lot of research into that matter. To some extent the diesel car appears to be the answer, but, as we know, a diesel car is an expensive item of equipment, and unless we can develop something much lighter and cheaper I cannot see that it will be the whole answer to this problem.

I agree that something must be done about the whole problem of signalling on the branch lines. We are keeping to methods which were developed in the last century in entirely different circumstances, and we ought to be looking at the problem afresh in the light of modern transport developments. How right was the hon. Member for Truro when he called attention to the standard of fencing which has been maintained along the railways. It is preposterous that railways should be saddled with these charges for fencing in circumstances which are no longer the same as when that decision was taken by Parliament.

Then there is the provision of station amenities and staffs. Are the amenities provided at these stations necessary? The bus companies do not even provide shelters; that is left to the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Shelters ought to be provided, but not as a charge on the railway undertaking to provide them in circumstances in which the bus companies have them provided by the taxpayer and ratepayer. I am bound to say that the last time I heard this whole problem discussed by Sir Reginald Wilson it seemed to me that he had some ideas in this connection which were worth while, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will discuss these points with him, if he has not already done so.

But all the ideas in the world will have little effect if capital is not available to carry them out. In this connection, I must say that I fear the Chancellor's move in relation to the capital required for this industry, particularly—and I stress this—if the remark which he made last night about the nationalised industries is an indication of his approach to the problem of finding capital for them. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, the hon. Member for Westmorland will have to whistle for an improvement in rural transport. He is not likely to get it, because capital is the essence of the problem.

It must be remembered that the railways are an industry which have been starved of capital for forty years. The industry has been starved of capital since before the First World War, partly because of war circumstances and partly because of what happened in the interwar years. It has been said that the Minister has brought a fresh and vigorous mind to this problem, and I hope that the Minister will impress this fact about starvation of capital upon the Chancellor in any consideration which he gives to the question of the capital necessary to the industry. If it does not get the capital it cannot improve the branch lines, keep them open and do what needs to be done. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will bring that forcefully to the Chancellor's notice, and I hope the Chancellor will pay some attention to him.

There is also the problem of the omnibus undertakings in rural areas. There cannot be any compulsion on an undertaker to continue to run an unremunerative service; I do not see how the Minister of Transport can possibly apply such compulsion with the legislation and powers which he has at present. It is true that licensing authorities manage in some cases, by tactful handling of applicants, to ensure that unremunerative routes are partially covered—we know that that happens—but the very fact that they cannot wholly succeed in that matter has caused the hon. Member for Westmorland to move his Amendment today. The fact that the licensing authorities cannot achieve that by the use of that sort of persuasion confronts us with the problem about rural transport which we have been discussing.

The Amendment suggests that ways and means might be provided, if the Government will review, among other things, taxation as it applies to this industry. Year after year the omnibus industry makes its approaches to the Chancellor. Year after year we, as Members of Parliament, are bombarded with postcards and letters from bus users asking us to press upon the Chancellor the need for a reduction in the fuel tax which is imposed on that industry. There is something to be said for that pressure which is brought to bear upon us annually. I imagine that the hon. Member had that point in mind when he framed that section of his Amendment.

Would it not be possible for the Chancellor and the Government, if they accept the Amendment, to consider a reduction in the fuel tax for omnibus undertakings in return for some increase in rural services? I know that that would be rather difficult to work out, but it is something which might be kept in mind.

Despite the figures produced by the hon. Member for Westmorland, I believe that there must be many services which have been withdrawn but which might have just paid their way had there not been the necessity to pay that tax. Some services would still be running but for the fact of the fuel tax, and I think that the Government should examine that aspect, particularly as this Amendment has been so well received by all hon. Members. Today, the House has, as it were, turned itself into a Council of State. There has been very little of the Government and Opposition about it. We have been discussing a great industry, and we hope that some good will result from our debate.

I regard this Amendment as one which should be adopted and implemented by the Government. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) promoted a Bill, the idea of which I supported, which would have given someone a job without the tools to do it. Unlike that Measure, this Amendment contains ideas. Although, as I have said, our discussion has not been that of a Government and Opposition or one between Tory and Labour Members in the ordinary sense, I would remind the Minister that in its General Election manifesto in 1951 his party promised the country to introduce better transport facilities in the rural areas. That was a firm promise. It is true that other promises made at the same time have not been carried out—such as the "hole in the purse" promise and things of that sort—but, nevertheless, that was one of the firm promises made to the country on which hon. Members opposite were returned to power. I hope that the Government will pay some regard to that when deciding what they propose to do about the Amendment.

I agree with the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Ainsley) that without a co-ordinated road-rail system, with some degree of monopoly, as in the case of the Post Office, running as a public service and not as a private undertaking, there can be no real solution to our road transport problem. Unless we can have some such body with a job to do, as we had before the 1953 Act, and unless we give that body the means to do it, we shall not solve this problem. In the absence of such a solution as that—and I cannot expect the Government to accept that as the solution, having regard to their 1953 Act—I think we should try the methods set out in the Amendment, which, I hope, will be accepted.

6.34 p.m.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) has said, this has been a very fair, frank and practical debate, and I have listened to it with great pleasure. As for my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane), I would say, as an addition to the many tributes which have been paid to him, that in him rural transport has a very good, a very able and a very fair advocate.

It would be easy for me to produce a vast barrage of facts and statistics, as was said by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), and to knock down many of the arguments advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I do not propose to do that, because I know that these arguments have been advanced in a genuine attempt to meet this problem of rural transport, which is denied by no one and, least of all, by myself. But there are two hard facts which explain the dilemma confronting rural transport, and, indeed, transport as a whole, following the advent of the motor car and its enormous increase in numbers in recent years—an increase which we must all expect will continue.

These two facts are the only two which I propose to give in this connection, and in my opinion they make plain the sort of burden which lies on the railways. As other speakers have done, I will start with the railways. Today—and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) indicated these figures—one-third of the total passenger traffic of British Railways earns only one-third of the net cost of running them. That means that about 30 million passenger miles are earning British Railways only under one-third of the net physical cost of providing them. That is a rather heavy burden for any industry to bear.

Another guide to the somewhat ruthless methods needed to improve the situation is that in Holland, where railways are more nearly successfully run at a profit than in many other countries, no fewer than 691 stations out of a total of just under 1,000 have been closed; well over half of the stations there have been closed in order to try to get the railways on a more profitable basis. I do not wish the House to misunderstand the difficulty or to forget, as we were reminded by the hon. Member for Derbyshire South-East, that this House has laid on the British Transport Commission the duty of making itself pay, as between one year and another, and indeed of creating a reserve against future contingencies.

There is, therefore, a dilemma which the House and the country must face. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) stated frankly that his solution was a subsidy., He did not indicate its size, but I think that I should be fair if I said that that was his solution. Of course, a subsidy or a contribution to a capital asset like a water supply system is a different matter from a subsidy for a running service on road or rail. On other occasions we have debated the question of a railway subsidy and the House has decided—and it is still the view of the Government—that a general subsidy for road or rail operation is not a possible solution. I do not think that any hon. Member would recommend it, and certainly, in moving his Amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland said specifically that he did not advocate a general subsidy.

If we are to get away from a general subsidy yet have to face this heavy operating loss on the railways, we are faced with a difficult problem. Many hon. Members have suggested solutions, and I will mention what is happening regarding some of the points which have been raised. We must first accept that what I will call a sort of tram vehicle on the railways is a "non-runner"—I say that advisedly. That is the vehicle mentioned by several hon. Members which has been running in Ireland. I asked one of my officers to telephone to Ireland this morning to find out about its present state of health. I learned that it was very bad indeed, and that steam trains are having to replace it for many operations. So I am afraid that the attempt to put a bus on the railway—a very bold idea and one worth trying—has not worked.

There is much more hope for the kind of vehicle mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Angus (Captain Duncan) namely, the battery-operated light rail car; particularly in Scotland where, of course, it will have the hydro-electric power to recharge its batteries. As an example, the House might like to know that that vehicle, which weighs 25 tons, will have 12 tons of batteries in it, which is rather a difficult problem. However, I am glad to tell my hon. Friend and other hon. Members interested in the matter, that all the difficulties about design, etc., are now cleared away, and the Commission is proceeding with the design and construction of at least one experimental vehicle and perhaps more in order that this very interesting idea may be tried out. So, at least, the Commission has made some progress there, but the difficulties are very great, owing to the enormous weight of the batteries.

Captain Duncan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say where it will be tried out?

Mr. Watkinson

In Scotland.

Captain Duncan

What part of Scotland?

Mr. Watkinson

I will certainly tell my hon. and gallant Friend where it is intended first to try it out, but I think that the Commission will give it a trial in several areas under different running conditions.

I will not say much about the ordinary diesel rail car, because I think that it is well-known by hon. Members that it has greatly increased traffics. Seventy per cent. to 100 per cent. increase in passenger traffics is not exceptional with a diesel rail-car. Of course, it is purchased to increase running, but the cost of a two unit car is very high, about £25,000. The Commission is to build 4,600 of these cars in order to see whether they will make some branch lines an economic proposition. I understand that each has to carry about a hundred passengers to make it a profitable running unit, and that is a tall order on some branch lines.

I have been asked by several hon. Members if we accept the doctrine that British Railways has to cut away more of its unremunerative services. That I believe to be true. If the Commission is to implement the 1947 Act, the House must realise that it has to do away with some unremunerative services.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

I venture to suggest that the 1947 Act never will be implemented in that sense.

Mr. Watkinson

That is a matter which we cannot debate on this occasion, but I think that it is right to ask, where does that process stop?

My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) asked for a general inquiry into rail operations. I think that he asked for a general inquiry into rural transport altogether. I can tell the House that the British Transport Commission has called from all regions for a close investigation of branch lines and all stopping services. Costing investigations are now in progress. The Chairman and I will take a great interest in this inquiry, and it will be most carefully considered during the six months' review which, I have already told the House, is now taking place of the whole of the rail operations. This review will certainly not be all one way.

It is certainly not intended merely to see how many more services we can cut away, but rather how many services can be run on a reasonable basis. Of course, all sections of the railway cannot make a profit, in just the same way as very few bus services today can make a profit on sometimes even 50 per cent. of their services. The good has to carry the bad. I should greatly mislead the House if I led it to believe that the British Transport Commission will not have to cut away some of the unremunerative services, but it is to make a new attempt to put on an economic basis as many of its branch and stopping-line services as it can. That investigation is now in process. I think that there is only one other point concerning the railways.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

There is one question which I want to put. A number of branch lines are threatened with closure. Will they come under review before they are finally closed?

Mr. Watkinson

That depends on how far the matter has got. If it is in before the transport users' consultative committee, I am not quite sure what the position will be, but if a line has, so to speak, not been advertised for closing it will certainly come under review.

There is one other thing which I want to say about the railways. Many hon. Members have asked, "Cannot we try a light tramway and cut down signalling?" That is a good point. That could be done. I can, as hon. Members know, relieve the railways of some of their obligations of block working on some of these branch lines, but I must warn the House that I cannot do that without the concurrence of my inspecting officer. I would not dare to, because I am personally responsible.

One hon. Member suggested, "Why not have traffic lights rather than gates?" That seems to be a feasible idea until we realise that a steel wheel on a steel rail has not the stopping power of a rubber wheel on a macadam road, and we cannot put the duty on the unfortunate man who is running the train by himself to try to stop at traffic lights which he would have to see an immense distance away if he were to have any chance of stopping his train. I do not want to mislead the House on the difficulty of these matters.

If there is any hope of making a railway into a tramway, I am only too willing to co-operate with the Commission in doing that. But the Commission tried to sell its railway lines in the Isle of Wight and it could not get a single bidder. These things will be tried, subject to one consideration—that the safety of the passengers must not be prejudiced. That is my responsibility.

I now come to the question of buses. Here, there is a rather more hopeful tale to tell. Perhaps I should preface what I have to say by giving this one set of figures. An hon. Member asked, "Can a general statement be made on the proportion of bus services that are uneconomic?" I have some figures here, and I think that it is only fair to those responsible for the bus services to give one or two of them because, whether nationalised or not, they are running an enormous proportion of unremunerative services. To give an example, the proportion of unremunerative services provided by one group of companies is 43 per cent. It ranges over a whole list of sample companies providing a large mileage. Another group provided nearly 1½ million stage miles a week and gave 59 per cent. unremunerative service. A small single company, with 124,000 stage miles a year, gave 45 per cent.

It is common to find between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the bus services today giving completely unremunerative service. That is partly the answer to those who say that taxation easement is the complete answer to this. It is not so at all. That may make a marginal difference over the country as a whole, but the solution to the problem of rural bus services is not to be found in easement of taxation. I do not say that it will not help, but it is not a cure.

There are one or two points not generally understood which may help a little more in answering hon. Members who asked, "What kind of vehicles can apply for traffic?" The first thing not generally known, perhaps among people who might do it, is that cars of any kind that carry fewer than eight passengers are outside my specifications and outside the ambit of the fitness regulations. If, for instance, one has a Land Rover or a big saloon car which does not carry more than eight passengers, my fitness regulations do not apply. Therefore, we can run a very limited bus service like that.

A number of vehicles carry eight to fourteen passengers. I have looked into this matter carefully, and I am advised they range in price from just over £1,000 to £2,000. So we can take it that the small bus, carrying up to fourteen passengers, can cost little more than £1,000, and that will be a bus which fulfils my fitness regulations. To sum up, it is possible to find fairly cheap transport vehicles, and there is an adequate range of reasonably small vehicles to fit the small country roads.

What is the view of the licensing authorities, which try to carry out the policy of the Ministry? I would point out that I do not and should not give them any direction in the matter. It may not be generally known that they have recently granted a licence to a local clergyman to run a bus service in order to take his parishioners to church, and also to private motorists who have offered to run services and are charging their passengers for doing so, in an attempt to do a little more in the way of mutual aid and self-help, which, I believe, is needed in rural districts.

So far as it is proper for me to influence the licensing authorities, I shall certainly influence them to be as helpful as they can in granting licences. They can grant a goods and passenger licence at the same time. Although, technically, one has to apply to a different licensing authority, in effect he is the same man. It is now possible to start up in these areas the old idea of the common carrier who can carry both passengers and goods.

I am having the question of trailers for use with buses and small vehicles examined. I cannot tell the House the answer, but it might be a help, and if the use of the trailer does not raise any very great safety problems we shall try to authorise its use in those cases where people want to use it. I can give no firm commitment until the position has been looked at by the small group of officials which is now studying it. As soon as my Department's discussions are completed, I shall receive a report and will take a decision upon the issue.

On the licensing question, there are many things which people could do today but of which they are very often unaware. If hon. Members think that it will be of any assistance, I shall be quite willing to set out all these matters in a statement and try to give it some publicity, so that people may know what they can and cannot do.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Watkinson

It appears to be the sense of the House that that would be useful, and I shall try to see that it is done. Many people might then find that they can do something with their own cars, estate wagons or even a small bus, if they are willing to take the risk. There will be no subsidy in their case. It would seem that there would be some prospect of providing more self-help and mutual aid by that means, which might do something to help these very scattered populations.

I have no time to reply in detail to many other questions, such as those relating to the mail service. Incidentally, I am advised that the Post Office has 550 individual services in Scotland where buses are carrying mail. I agree that it might be possible to do more, and I certainly undertake to look into the position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) made a point about the school buses problem. I am not sure that there is much scope there, but some help might be given in certain cases. I understand the difficulty to be that although the bus appears to be empty when calling at a lonely croft, by the time it reaches the school it is practically full. I will look into that matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, and see whether we can run dual services of any kind. It is by these small alleviations that we can best make some progress, because the total numbers involved are not very great, although I am not saying for a moment that the hardship is not great.

I now turn to the terms of the Amendment. I think that I have shown that

I intend not to be huffy and stuffy about the problem, but will really try to make a little progress. In principle, the Government can accept the Amendment, but it mentions two matters which, more for technical than other reasons, cannot be accepted. I cannot accept an Amendment which mentions taxation, at a time when my right hon. Friend will soon be dealing with the matter in this House; nor can I accept a duty to use my powers under the Transport Act, 1919, because the powers mentioned are merely powers to pay a subsidy a point which my hon. Friend did not bring forward in the Amendment. I can certainly say quite firmly that I accept the general principle that we must do more to help these rural areas, but I cannot accept the Amendment as it stands, for purely technical reasons, and I must therefore ask my hon. Friend to withdraw it.

Before I sit down, I want to give a final assurance. This is not an easy problem. The solution does not lie so much upon the railway side; I believe that it is to be found more in the realm of road transport. I shall try to see that everybody knows clearly where he stands as to what he can and cannot do. I do not want to mislead the House by saying that I think that it is possible to resuscitate a great number of branch lines, although the Commission will do all that it can to do so.

I must ask my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment, purely for the technical reasons that I cannot accept the mention of the word "taxation", and that it would place upon me the duty to implement a somewhat obsolete Act which I cannot implement.

Mr. Vane

In view of what the Minister has said, and his clear desire to help, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Hon. Members


Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 214. Noes 175.

Division No. 147.] AYES [6.56 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Armstrong, C. W. Balniel, Lord
Aitken, W. T. Ashton, H. Barlow, Sir John
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Atkins, H. E. Barter, John
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Beamish, Maj. Tufton
Arbuthnot, John Baldwin, A. E. Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Nicholls, Harmar
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Harvie-Watt, Sir George Nield, Basil (Chester)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Head, Rt. Hon. A. H. Nugent, G. R. H.
Bidgood, J. C. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Henderson, John (Cathcart) Page, R. G.
Bishop, F. P. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Black, C. W. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Partridge, E.
Body, R. F. Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Peyton, J. W. W.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hirst, Geoffrey Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Braine, B. R. Holland-Martin, C. J. Pitman, I. J.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Pott, H. P.
Brooman-White, R. C. Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Powell, J. Enoch
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Bryan, P. Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hughes, Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Raikes, Sir Victor
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Redmayne, M.
Carr, Robert Hurd, A. R. Remnant, Hon. P.
Cary, Sir Robert Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W) Ridsdale, J. E.
Channon, H. Hyde, Montgomery Rippon, A. G. F.
Chichester-Clark, R. Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Robertson, Sir David
Cole, Norman Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Roper, Sir Harold
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Crouch, R. F. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Sharples, R. C.
Currie, G. B. H. Joseph, Sir Keith Shepherd, William
Dance, J. C. G. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Keegan, D. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Deedes, W. F. Kerr, H. W. Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Kershaw, J. A. Spearman, A. C. M.
Doughty, C. J. A. Kimball, M. Speir, R. M.
du Cann, E. D. L. Kirk, P. M. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Lagden, G. W. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Duncan, Capt, J. A. L. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Duthie, W. S. Leavey, J. A. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Leburn, W. G. Studholme, H. G.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Legge-Burke, Maj. E. A. H. Summers, G. S. (Aylesbury)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Errington, Sir Eric Linstead, Sir H. N. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Llewellyn, D. T. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Fell, A. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Finlay, Graeme Longden, Gilbert Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Fisher, Nigel Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Foster, John McKibbin, A. J. Touche, Sir Gordon
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Tweedsmuir, Lady
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Vane, W. M. F.
Gammans, Sir David MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley) Vosper, D. F.
George, J. C. (Pollok) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Gibson-Watt, D. Maddan, Martin Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Glover, D. Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Wall, Major Patrick
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Graham, Sir Fergus Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Grant, W. (Woodside) Markham, Major Sir Frank Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Marlowe, A. A. H. Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)
Green, A. Marshall, Douglas Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Gresham Cooke, R. Mathew, R. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Mawby, R. L. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Nabarro, G. D. N. Wood, Hon. R.
Harris, Reader (Helton) Nairn, D. L. S.
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Godber and Mr. Barber.
Ainsley, J. W. Blyton, W. R. Chetwynd, G. R.
Albu, A. H. Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Clunie, J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Bowles, F. G. Coldrick, W.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Boyd, T. C. Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Corbet, Mrs. Freda
Anderson, Frank Brockway, A. F. Cove, W. G.
Awbery, S. S. Brown, Thomas (Ince) Crossman, R. H. S.
Bacon, Miss Alice Burke, W. A. Cullen, Mrs. A.
Balfour, A. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Davies, Harold (Leek)
Benson, G. Carmichael, J. de Freitas, Geoffrey
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Castle, Mrs. B. A. Delargy, H. J.
Blackburn, F. Champion, A. J. Dodds, N. N.
Blenkinsop, A. Chapman, W. D. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)
Dye, S. Ledger, R. J. Redhead, Edward Charles
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Reid, William
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Lindgren, G. S. Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Logan, D. G. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Mahon, Dr. J. Dickson Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Finch, H. J. MacColl, J. E. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Fletcher, Eric McGhee, H. G. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Forman, J. C. McGovern, J. Ross, William
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) McInnes, J. Royle, C.
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. McKay, John (Wallsend) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Gibson, C. W. McLeavy, Frank Shurmer, P. L. E.
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Macmillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Grey, C. F. Mahon, S. Sparks, J. A.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Mann, Mrs. Jean Steele, T.
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Mason, Roy Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Hale, Leslie Messer, Sir F. Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)
Hamilton, W. W. Mitchison, G. R. Stones, W. (Consett)
Hannan, W. Moody, A. S. Sylvester, G. O.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hastings, S. Mort, D. L. Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Hayman, F. H. Moyle, A. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Healey, Denis Mulley, F. W. Thornton, E.
Herbison, Miss M. Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Timmons, J.
Hobson, C. R. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Turner-Samuels, M.
Holman, P. Oliver, G. H. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Holmes, Horace Oram, A. E. Viant, S. P.
Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Oswald, T. Watkins, T. E.
Howell, Denis (All Saints) Owen, W. J. Weitzman, D.
Hubbard, T. F. Paget, R. T. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Palmer, A. M. F. West, D. G.
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Parker, J. Wheeldon, W. E.
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Paton, J. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Irving, S. (Dartford) Pearson, A. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Peart, T. F. Wilkins, W. A.
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Plummer, Sir Leslie Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holhn & St. Pncs. S.) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Probert, A. R. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Proctor, W. T. Winterbottom, Richard
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Pryde, D. J. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Kenyon, C. Pursey, Cmdr. H. Woof, R. E.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Randall, H. E.
King, Dr. H. M. Rankin, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Short and Mr. Deer.

It being after Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.