§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The Opposition have for some time desired to debate the Government's transport policy, and the opportunity has now arisen, in view of the availability of Supply Days. We have, however, no desire or intention today to debate the wage claims in the transport industry which are pending. We do not wish, at this delicate stage, to say anything which might in any way jeopardise the critical discussions which are now taking place. The Minister of Transport has informed us that he is attending the talks this afternoon and has apologised for not being here for the opening of the debate. We quite understand that, but we trust that if he can make an encouraging statement at a later stage of the debate he will do so; it would certainly be very welcome.
As has been pointed out by my right hon. Friends during the Budget debate, it cannot be ignored that the background to the present situation in the transport industry arises directly from the policy of Her Majesty's Government, that the 782 deterioration which is responsible for the critical situation today has not suddenly set in or suddenly come upon us, but has grown out of the deliberate change of policy towards the British Transport Commission which followed the change of Government in 1951. It is from the harmful accumulation of the acts of the Government that this situation has developed. Ever since 1951, we on this side of the Committee have frequently had occasion to initiate debates attacking the Government's general transport policy and, in particular, their interference with the Transport Commission.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Government embarked upon a transport policy which was directed at wrecking the planned and balanced public service system which the Labour Governments aimed at and which the Commission was succeeding in creating. It might be useful to remind the Committee that, when we went out of office, the Commission had at last reached the stage when it was paying its way and earning a surplus. The Government's policy, on the other hand, has been characterised by a series of ill-considered, ill-advised, and sometimes incomprehensible ministerial interventions in the affairs of the Commission, which have caused the sad deterioration in its position and brought it to its present very critical state.
The Government have frequently appeared to be inspired not by the national interest but by partisan party politics in the matter of transport. From each of their ministerial interventions, each of which has harmed the Commission, the Government have in due course had to retreat; they have always had to change their course subsequently.
I do not wish to weary the Committee by going into the details of these various interferences by the Government in the work of the Commission, but I will remind hon. Members of the chief examples leading to the situation confronting us today. In the first place, in 1952, for political reasons, the Government intervened to delay increases in fares on London Transport and certain of the British Railways routes. This proved very costly to the Commission. We claimed at the time that it was a political intervention, and subsequent events proved it to be so. It coincided 783 with the London County Council elections in that year. Then, of course, the Government had later to allow the fares to go up, in spite of their previous interference. In 1953, the Transport Act became law. This attempted to scrap Labour's policy of integration and, of course, to denationalise road haulage, thereby hiving off the most profitable section of the Commission's undertakings.
It might be useful to remind the Committee that out of the peak earnings of British Road Services no less than £8¾ million surplus was contributed to the funds of the Transport Commission. But, of course following partial denationalisation, the surplus fell to 1¾ million in 1956. Here again the Government had to halt their policy because they were not able to complete the denationalisation of road transport, and fortunately, both for the Commission and the community, a very large section of road haulage remained in the hands of the Commission and continues to operate not only efficiently but profitably.
The third interference was in December, 1954, when there was a wages dispute. After a court of inquiry had reported, and following consultations with the Government, the findings of the court were accepted by the Commission. But that followed Government intervention, and the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, stated at that time that where the money was coming from was no concern of his. That was a most unusual statement for the chairman of a public corporation to make, but it was generally interpreted at the time as meaning that the Government had given an undertaking to assist the Commission financially. Of course, at that time, the Government did not attempt to do so. Again, the Government had to retreat from their policy and, later, to come to the financial assistance of the Commission.
The fourth major interference was in 1956, when the Government again interfered over charges. Despite the full knowledge that the Commission faced a growing deficit at that time and after the Government had accepted the Cameron Report on another wages dispute—which had stated that, "having willed the end, the nation must will the means"—the Government set aside the 784 Transport Tribunal's advice, that the application of the Commission for higher charges should be granted in full. The Minister cut down by more than half the increased charges which the Tribunal, a statutory body, had recommended.
Then the Commission was persuaded, we were told, to freeze its charges. It was stated that it did so voluntarily. But subsequently, in the following report of the Transport Commission, it was made clear that that action was by no means taken voluntarily; the freezing of charges was in response to the Government's policy of price restraint. That proved fatal and cost the Commission many millions of pounds. Here again, in spite of that freeze, charges had to go up later, and in the meantime the losses accumulated and could not be caught up.
Last autumn came the latest and, perhaps, worst of all these interferences by the Minister with the Transport Commission. It was announced that there would be a restriction on the amount to be spent on the railway modernisation plan. That cut in expenditure was accompanied by the announcement that no additional money would be provided to the Commission to meet any increased costs.
What a shocking list of disastrous interventions by the Government in the affairs of the Transport Commission this is, each bringing worse results than the last and each adding to the accumulated deficits of the Commission. It is a sorry story and one which has been tragic to the transport industry.
I should like to deal with the capital cuts which the Commission is suffering as a result of the restriction to £145 million for modernisation during this year and next year. The Committee will recall that we debated on more than one occasion the contents of the White Paper and the modernisation plan which was prepared in 1955 and presented to the House in 1956. It was made clear during all our discussions that the only hope of solvency for British Railways was that this modernisation scheme should proceed as speedily as possible. Even so, it would not be possible for the Commission to balance its accounts until 1961 or 1962, and the possibility of fulfilling the estimate of reaching solvency after the modernisation plan had got well under way was based on the assumption that 785 the necessary resources, including capital resources, would be available to carry the plan through.
I remember that during our debates my right hon. Friends and I asked the Government for assurances that there would be no capital cuts. While categorical assurances would not be given by the Minister, there was every intention of conveying to us that only in the most unexpected circumstances would there be any interference with the capital development programme. Satisfied, presumably, with the assurances given, the Commission proceeded to give orders that the scheme should be proceeded with as quickly as possible. The order was given to the regions to go full steam ahead. It was found possible to accelerate the scheme and to plan for greater expenditure than was proposed in the White Paper and, therefore, to bring nearer, if possible, the day when the Commission would balance its account.
The plan is proceeding, and is proceeding in certain directions very satisfactorily. Hon. Members will have seen for themselves much of the modernisation which is in progress, and the staff, which has approached this task with great enthusiasm and worked long hours in many cases, deserves credit for the hard work that they have put into it. It is understandable that there should be discouragement when this work is interfered with and the plans which have been made have to be revised and doubts arise whether they will be fulfilled in full.
Both the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Transport have attempted to minimise the effects of these cuts on the Transport Commission. Also, initially, when the cuts took place, it was stated right up to the end of last year that the Commission would not be materially affected and that the plan would still be fulfilled on time and the estimates of balancing the Commission's accounts by 1962 would be fulfilled. Subsequently, it has been made clear that the Commission is suffering and that the estimates are now in grave jeopardy. Sir Brian Robertson, as recently as 11th April, made a statement on the present dispute in which he said:I have deplored that the pace of modernisation has been checked recently by the cut in our investment programme.I have tried to work out the figures of the extent of these cuts, but it is very 786 difficult to be accurate, because the Government have not been very forthcoming, as emerged at Question Time today, when the Chancellor would not break down the figures which are included in the Financial Statement about the advances which it is estimated will be made to the nationalised industries during the current financial year. In the White Paper the original estimated expenditure was £135 million for 1958 and £140 million for 1959, and under the planned acceleration the Commission was able to enter into engagements for increasing expenditure to £151 million and £148 million in those two years. However, the Government decided to put a ceiling on expenditure, and to cut those figures down to £145 million for each of those two years, making a reduction of £6 million for 1958 and £3 million for 1959 a total of £9 million.
That may not appear to be a substantial cut on such a large expenditure, but it is by no means the whole story. Figures have been given in the House which show that the total cost of the £1,200 million capital and investment programme has risen, through rising costs and revision of the plan itself, by 25 per cent., to £1,500 million. If, therefore, we increase the White Paper estimates by 25 per cent., as we are entitled to do, the result is that the work which was originally planned to cost £135 million this year will now be costing 25 per cent. more, that is, £170 million. In other words, the cut is not on the original estimate of £135 million, but on the increased cost, which is now £170 million. This represents a cut of £25 million and the figures for the following year result in a cut of £30 million.
I claim, therefore, that the total of the cuts from which the Commission today is suffering is about £55 million, or about 15 per cent.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Is the hon. Member telling the Committee that at the time when the modernisation programme was agreed upon, and the finance was arranged, the Government entered into an undertaking to make good any increases due to the increased cost of goods and services?
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly not. It is not a question of the Government making good, but of the Commission carrying 787 out the work from its own finances or on borrowed money.
As I was saying, there has been, in effect, a cut of over one-sixth in the capital for the modernisation programme. That means that unless there is an acceleration later and a recovery of the time and work which is now being lost, which would be very difficult, there will be an extension of the period during which the plan comes into effect and, therefore, a delay of at least two years, or probably, which is more likely, three to five years, before the Commission, other things being equal, is in a position to balance its accounts. It puts off by several years the day when the Commission becomes solvent again.
The interference with the modernisation plan is even greater than appears at first sight. When schemes of this magnitude, major electrification schemes and the like, are entered into, they cannot be chopped and changed overnight. Long-term commitments are entered into and plans are worked out on a basis of phasing so that the work is done and the rolling stock is delivered in accordance with plan, so that it comes into effect all at one time. What I understand now is that because of the sudden cuts the phasing of the scheme has been severely upset and there will be a considerable disturbance in the bringing into effect of parts of the modernisation scheme.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is it not a fact that before any alteration was recently made the progress was rather ahead of the stages envisaged when the House debated the White Paper some time ago?
§ Mr. Davies
Of course it was. I have been trying to explain that the plan was accelerated. Once it is accelerated and the orders are placed, the phasing is similarly advanced. My argument, three-fore, is perfectly valid.
The Minister's behaviour over these cuts has been remarkable. Not only has he prejudiced the chances of the Commission from earning sufficient revenue to fulfil the estimates contained in the White Paper, but, at the same time, he has imposed upon the Commission a new 788 limitation on the amounts which the Government are willing to advance to make up its deficits.
I do not suggest that at this stage there should be any increase in the £250 million which it has been agreed shall be advanced up to 1962, but a new situation has arisen in that the Minister, in a letter to the Commission on 22nd October, 1957, of which the House was unaware until he referred to it in a speech last month, stated that he was freezing the amount of advance required to meet the deficit which was estimated as likely to be incurred when the estimates for the year the White Paper was prepared. The White Paper itself did not include those estimates and the Committee has no knowledge of the estimate made by the Commission of its deficits year by year.
It was, however, always assumed in our debates that the £250 million would be advanced to the Commission as it was required year by year to meet the Commission's deficits. It was never explained that there would be a ceiling for any one year. This, again has put the Commission in a more difficult position and it will result in crazy book-keeping.
If the Commission makes a deficit this year in excess of the £60 million for which the Chancellor has budgeted in his Financial Statement—and I regret that that is not impossible—presumably, the difference between the £60 million and the total of the deficit will have to be carried forward in the Commission's accounts. The purpose of the financial arrangements made with the Commission was to put it in the position that its deficits would be put aside and dealt with later, so that the Commission would start off with a clean balance sheet for revenue and expenditure, with the prospect that it would pay its way when the modernisation programme was in operation. What will happen now, however, is that when the modernisation takes effect the Commission may well have not only the accumulated deficits which it has borrowed, but also an accumulated deficit on its current account. That is crazy book-keeping and it is not good for the morale of those employed in the Commission.
That is the story, as I see it, of the cuts which have been imposed. They have come at a time when the Commission was already in a serious financial 789 position. Freight, which represents the bulk of the Commission's traffic, has been falling to an alarming extent. For example, the latest figures for the four weeks to the end of March show that freight traffic brought in only £27 million, as against £29 million in the corresponding period in 1957.
It is true that last year's figures might have been affected by the Suez crisis, when there was not the same amount of traffic on the roads and there was more on the railways, but if a comparison is made with two years ago it is found that the freight traffics of the Commission have been just about the same this year as they were two years ago, despite the fact that during those two years there have been at least two increases in charges. In other words, the volume of the Commission's traffic has been declining to a very serious extent.
One of the main reasons for that decline in the Commission's traffic is the denationalisation of road haulage, for which the Government are responsible. The effects of denationalisation have been far greater than the actual sale of 16,000 vehicles. The atomisation of the industry which followed denationalisation has brought chaotic conditions to the roads. [HON. MEMBERS:"Nonsense."] If hon. Members opposite regard that as nonsense, I suggest that they take a night off and visit some of the transport cafes along the Great North Road, or the A.5.
If hon. Members opposite talk to the men who drive the vehicles and see the condition of some of those men, they will withdraw the suggestion that that is nonsense. It requires only a handful of private hauliers, particularly small men, to infringe the statutory regulations governing working conditions to undermine the orderly operation of the road haulage industry.
There are important statutory requirements regarding hours of work, the keeping of records and the rest, of which hon. Members are aware. During the debate on the Motion for the Easter Adjournment I raised the question of the infringement of the Statutes and the failure to enforce them. I regret that in his reply the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was inclined to be complacent. He refused to admit the extent of offences 790 and stated that the number of prosecutions was less than pre-war. Of course it was less than pre-war. In those days there was no British Road Services. There was not 16,000 vehicles operated by one undertaking, one which was abiding by the law.
The hon. Gentleman also denied that the situation had deteriorated since 1953, that is since denationalisation. Yet the figures he has given to me in the House of the offences and the prosecutions that have taken place have shown a steady increase since denationalisation. Under Section 19 of the Act, which fixes the continuous hours that drivers can work at 11 a day, convictions rose from 924 in 1954, when denationalisation was getting under way, to 3,336 in 1956. In other words they have increased well over three times. Those are the offences which are known, where there have been prosecutions, and where convictions have been obtained. For every single prosecution there are a large number of offences committed which go undetected.
The reason for this is that there are only 100 enforcement officers employed on this work by the Ministry. Today, there are well over 1¼ million goods vehicles on the road, over 1 million of which have C licences. How can 100 officers possibly check a fair proportion of over 1¼ million vehicles? It is not possible, particularly in view of the difficulty of getting evidence. Often the vehicles have to be checked at the starting and terminal points as well as en route, so it is not easy to get evidence. Although the Minister has stated that he is proposing to increase these officers—but only by a few—I do not see much indication of that intention in the Estimates that we are discussing today.
Even so, not only is there need for a considerable increase in the number of enforcement officers, but there is need for much more severe penalties. It is no use fining an operator a few pounds for each offence, amounting to £10 or £20, for a series of offences, for instance, because he gets that back with one journey, having committed offences on several, and without having been found out in many other cases. The only deterrent to infringing the statutory requirements, which, after all, are for the safety of those on the roads, is to have more severe penalties. This means that licences will 791 have to be suspended or revoked. Take away the operator's licence and he will think more seriously about whether he breaks the law or not.
Our position over the denationalisation of road haulage is well known. Time and time again during the debates in the House we made our position clear, that we would renationalise the industry on coming back into office. However, in view of the strange, and certainly ill-informed, statements that appeared in some of the Press at the weekend, it seems to me desirable to restate our position. I would dislike very much the hauliers getting any false idea that there has been a change of heart on our part.
From the introduction of Government policy we have made it clear, and repeated it subsequently in policy statements, that it is our intention to re-nationalise road haulage. I will read a brief extract from the policy statement adopted by the Labour Party at the Brighton Conference in 1957, which appears in "Industry and Society". Referring to steel and road haulage, it states:The case for the nationalisation of these industries is as powerful today as it was when our programmes were first drafted.
§ Mr. Davies
We shall, therefore, restore public ownership of long-distance road haulage and iron and steel.In the case of steel and long-distance road haulage industries which were brought Into public ownership by the Labour Government and subsequently denationalised by the Tories the case for public ownership remains as strong as ever. We shall accordingly restore public ownership in these industries.That is the policy statement of the Labour Party and we stand by it.
§ Mr. Cooper
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to inform the Committee about the policy of the Labour Party for C licence holders?
§ Mr. Davies
I am just coming to C licences, but I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits not only now but until the next Government come into office.
One further reason why there has been a decline in freights on the railways and the diversion of traffic to roads is the 792 great growth that has taken place in the number of C licences. I am glad that a census is now being taken of road transport operations generally, but a more comprehensive review is required to discover whether we can any longer permit the great increase in the volume of traffic on the roads, when much of it could go by public transport instead of cluttering up the roads.
I would remind the Committee of the Salter Conference which took place in the 'thirties on which the present licensing system was based. Although C licences were exempted from the necessity to prove need, that Conference foresaw that a review of its exemption of the ancillary user might be necessary. I suggest that as that took place well over twenty years ago, and there has been a great increase in the number of C licences which was not foreseen at the time, and which is having such a severe effect not only on the railways but also on the public sector of road haulage, the time has come for a review.
§ Mr. Cooper
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that the reason why industry uses its own lorries is because it gets better service than public transport has ever been able to provide.
§ Mr. Davies
At the time of nationalisation, the great increase in the number of C licences was blamed on nationalisation. I was told that all those C licences were being taken out because industry was scared of a nationalised industry and did not think it could give the service required.
§ Mr. Davies
Is that the reason why the numbers of C licences are increasing today—because private enterprise, which owns the largest sector of road haulage, is not able to provide the service?
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Davies
No, I have given way enough and there are other hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. I do not want to delay the Committee much longer. I will touch on the roads programme, which is related to the question of the great increase in traffic. I am sure many of my hon. Friends will deal with that programme more fully.
It cannot be denied that an impressive amount of work is being done today. It 793 is visible when one drives around the country but it is still, I regret, too much on an ad hoc basis. In other words, while many bottlenecks are being removed, others are being created. It seems to me that the time has come for a better planned and co-ordinated development of the roads programme; not just granting permission for one scheme to go ahead here and another there, but an overall roads programme is needed.
That is even more essential now because these Estimates show the very large amount of money which is in the pipeline. As it is exhausted no plans will exist to take its place and the roads programme will run down. Unless an increasing number of plans are put into the pipeline during the next year or two there will be a period when the present four-year programme comes to an end and far less work will be in progress.
I do not think that the difficulties which confront the transport industry can be surmounted without a change of policy. The Government's transport policy has failed and will continue to fail because it has been based on a complete fallacy, which is that a modern and effective transport system can develop and thrive in competitive conditions. That is their doctrinaire belief. The transport industry cannot do so because the various means of transport operate under very different conditions to meet different requirements. The competition between them can be neither free nor equal.
The only possible alternative is cooperation between them as a public service on the basis of a planned and balanced system. That is what Labour was achieving from 1945 onwards, and to that we shall have to return. That remains the policy of the Labour Party and it involves a renationalising of road haulage, to which I have already referred. The Government's transport policy stands condemned by the state of the Commission's finances and the chaotic conditions within the transport industry. The full prosperity of the Commission can be restored and order brought back to road transport only with a change of policy following on a change of Government. Fortunately, that will not he long delayed.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I seem to smell in the air this afternoon a smell of the hustings rather than of a debate in the Committee. I thought that we were to have a serious debate on a very serious subject. Although I welcome the preface of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that we are not here to discuss the railway wages situation, about which we are all anxious, I am bound to say that a good many of his remarks could have had more value perhaps on his own hustings than here.
Simultaneously with the debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is receiving the deputation from the Transport Commission, with the Chairman and representatives of the unions, and I am sure that it is the common wish of all of us that there shall be a successful outcome. As soon as my right hon. Friend returns to the Committee from the meeting he will, with your permission, Sir Charles, make a statement so that we may know what is the course of events which has taken place. As the outcome may have some general bearing on the Commission's affairs, I feel that the Committee may wish to be informed about what has taken place.
In the meantime, I need only reiterate what has been said before. Apart from our general policy of standing by awards of a national tribunal, we see the prospect of better wages for those who work on our railways as inevitably and entirely bound up with the fortunes of the railways themselves. With those we are closely concerned, and, despite what the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, my right hon. Friend and I are making every effort to help them with their problems.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East recited lengthy charges of what he regards as unfair interference with the Commission by the Government, but I do not think they are borne out by the record over recent years and I feel that it would be more helpful to the debate this afternoon to deal with the immediate problems and particularly the history of events concerning what are called the capital cuts of last autumn. I am most anxious to give the Committee, and indeed everyone who is interested, the facts on this matter. 795 As the hon. Member for Enfield, East rightly said, the 1956 White Paper predicted that the Commission's capital expenditure on modernisation for 1958 and 1959 should be £135 million and £140 million. In the event, the Commission proposed, last autumn, an expenditure of £151 million for 1958 and of £148 million for 1959. The Commission discussed those figures with us and, despite the fact that we were by then into a very serious financial crisis, we agreed substantially to those figures by allowing £145 million for 1958 and £145 million for 1959. Despite all the other difficulties which we were facing at the time, these were no more than marginal reductions.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East has tried to deduce how the difficulty has arisen of the denial of the regional board's accelerated programme. What happened was that some three or four weeks after the Commission had agreed those figures with us and my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) had announced them, the regional boards' proposals were received with their accelerated programme. It was quite impossible for us then to reconsider the capital provisions for these two years in conditions of immense financial difficulty for the country. We took the view—and I held it most firmly—that however concerned we were with the Commission's future—and I am certainly deeply concerned with it—our first concern must be with the stability of the £.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
If the hon. Member is dealing with the inflationary situation, would he recognise that 100,000 railwaymen on £7 10s. a week are not responsible for the inflationary situation? They are in a deflationary situation, unable to buy their basic needs.
§ Mr. Nugent
When I gave way to the hon. Member I thought that I should hear something relevant to the argument.
As I was about to say, only last week we heard in the Committee from the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) a proclamation of the belief of right hon. and hon. Members opposite that their priority No.1 is the stability of the £. What I am asking is that they should be consistent about that in considering these policies.
§ Mr. Popplewell rose—
§ Mr. Nugent
I have just given way, and I do not want to give way again.
What we were concerned with then was to follow policies which in our belief would do just that—would preserve the value of the £. In the event, we did it. When right hon. and hon. Members opposite look back on their record in this matter, I suggest that they will find 'very different results, and I therefore think that there are no grounds for the story that it was by any means entirely the Government's fault and my right hon. Friend's fault that the B.T.C.'s accelerated programme did not, in the event, get all the consideration which it might have done.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I understood the Minister to say that it was some weeks after there had been discussions that the regional boards came forward with their revised programme, when the cut was made to £145 million. Is that correct? Or did not the regional boards say to the Commission—and I take it that the Commission probably intimated it to the Minister—their accelerated programme some time before the final figure was put forward? Did not the Minister therefore know of the acceleration when he agreed to the £145 million?
§ Mr. Nugent
No. I have just stated specifically the opposite. I can assure the Committee that the account which I have given is perfectly correct and that we agreed the figure of £145 million with the Chairman of the Commission and it was not until three or four weeks later that he and we heard of the accelerated programme from the regions and, therefore, had a very different picture to look at.
§ Mr. Nugent
I ask the Committee to accept that I regret as much as anyone the effect of the loss of the accelerated programme, because I am most anxious to see the programme go ahead. But there was a sequence of events which was no one's fault in particular and which cannot be laid at the Government's door as suggesting any intention whatever of a motive to handicap the Commission.
The effect of the attack of the hon. Member for Enfield, East upon the 797 Government's policy towards the Commission should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the credit for financing this vast modernisation programme is due almost entirely to the Government. Hon. Members opposite like to show themselves as friends and supporters of the Commission. They supported it with words; we have supported it with money. It is we who have brought about the great modernisation programme, which will bring about the salvation of the railways, and hon. Members will know that without that modernisation programme there would have been no prospect whatsoever for British Railways in the future. When criticisms come from hon. Members opposite let us put firmly on the record that it is we who have laid the foundations of the future prosperity of the railways, and not hon. Members opposite. Our policy is most firmly to support the Commission in bringing its services up to the top modern standards.
I want to say a few words about the trends of traffic. Perhaps we can leave these rather more political exchanges and turn to something which is of general interest to us all. Rail passenger traffic trends show a small improvement, from November, 1957, to January, 1958, over a similar period from 1955 to 1956. They are 3 per cent. up. Comparing 1957 with 1951 there is a small increase of 4 per cent.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
Do these figures relate to traffic generally—passenger, freight and the rest?
§ Mr. Nugent
I am dealing with passenger traffic alone at the moment. The figure of passenger receipts for 1957 was £138 million, as compared with £107 million for 1951. The first quarter of this year is down slightly as compared with the first quarter of last year, but the figures for the first quarter of last year were influenced to some extent by petrol rationing. There is a rising trend, and there are signs that passenger traffic is rather more than holding its own now. That is an encouragement.
There is no doubt that the diesel multiple unit passenger stock has attracted new traffics and has not only held its own in holding the old traffics. The passenger traffic programme, up to the end of last year, was for 1,000 new vehicles in this category, and 2,000 more 798 are to come this year and next year. I am glad that there has been no reduction in that programme. These are evidently a valuable boost to passenger traffics. It may be that the extra capital cost will show adversely to some extent later.
There has been a good deal of comment about the main line diesel locomotives. It is true that the programme has had to be cut over the accelerated programme that the regions put up. Nevertheless, 155 are expected to be brought into action this year and 200 next year. These will be of valuable benefit in lowering running costs and making for better time keeping, and will be generally of advantage.
There is some slowing up in station building, which we should all like to see accelerated, but electrification—which is an important part of the modernisation programme—has gone on without a check. It would obviously have been most unwise to stop these very big electrification schemes, which have no value until they are completed. They were given top priority and, in the main, are going ahead very satisfactorily. On the passenger side generally there is a great deal to do in the way of better motive power, coaches and station amenities, but there is reason for encouragement there, and we should congratulate the Commission on what it is doing.
It is when we turn to the freight side that we are bound to feel more anxiety. There is a downward trend as compared with 1951. The ton-mile figure is down by 10 per cent., although the figure for 1957 was helped to some extent by petrol rationing. This trend gives ground for anxiety. At the beginning of this year my right hon. Friend and I expressed to the Commission our anxiety about the freight trend and asked whether it would make a fresh appreciation of the freight picture. The Commission has now responded and we have had some interchanges with it. It has made a complete review of the picture and, as a result, initiated a programme of economies which will amount to approximately £l5 million this year, which is a big saving.
Its objective has been to go forward in cutting out unprofitable services—
§ Mr. Nugent
It is in respect of all services. It is a substantial figure.
I have replied to many debates about the closing down of rural lines, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will recognise that if the Commission is to he given a chance to do what we all want it to do it must be allowed to use its judgment in closing down lines which are clearly unprofitable to it. Its general policy is to go to the limit in keeping these lines open wherever possible, and hon. Members need not fear that it will close them down if there is any prospect of their serving a profitable end.
§ Mr. Popplewell
We appreciate the economy of £15 million. Will the hon. Gentleman say whether there is any easing up by the Commission in the introduction of new marshalling yards, the continuous brake, container services, and pick-a-back services? Those developments are calculated to attract traffic, as distinct from economies, which do not.
§ Mr. Nugent
I was going to say a word about that later. I want to finish this part of my speech.
This £15 million is a very substantial saving, and the Committee will probably like to know that the further savings which the Commission hope to make will arise generally from its endeavour to match its staffing more closely to fit the existing trend of traffic and the lower staffing needed for modernisation. Its general policy at present is to limit recruiting to certain grades only, in respect of which there is a shortage.
Involved in this exercise is an attempt by the Commission to assess the viable economic level of activity at which British Railways should be operated. I am sure that everyone will sympathise with the Commission in tackling that difficult and complex task, and wish it well. These economies will do no more than bring the Commission's deficit within manageable limits, in terms of the 1957 Act, that is to say, if it is to keep within the total of £250 million which we have allowed it to finance those deficits.
800 Intense though the present difficulties are they are certainly not due to the Commission not getting its accelerated programme last autumn. Whatever happened afterwards could not have been felt until the later months of this year. The situation which I am now describing to the Committee, and which is of common interest, stems from different causes altogether. It stems primarily from the fact that there is an intensification of competition in the transport world, following the slowing up of the rate of expansion of the national economy in the past year or so. Indeed, freight rates today are sometimes no more than what they were ten years ago. It is a very competitive field.
Whatever may be our embarrassment and our concern in this field, however, these highly competitive freight rates give great benefit to our manufacturers when they are fighting for trade in world markets. Unlike the hon. Member for Enfield, East, I welcome this. Our manufacturers have a difficult enough time holding their own in export markets today and anything that we can do to reduce their costs is surely in the national interest. Our solution is not to restrict the highly competitive services given by the free enterprise of road hauliers, as hon. Members opposite suggested, nor yet to restrain C licences, but to help our railways to become fully competitive so that they will be able to hold their share of transport against all-comers.
The hon. Member's solution would be exactly the opposite. His solution would be to raise costs and handicap our export trade, which must be against the national interest. In the short run, the Commission has to meet these conditions with freight services, that are beginning, but only just beginning, to feel the benefits of modernisation. The Commission is making great efforts to hold its own and is meeting with some success.
I was asked about aspects of modernisation. There are two. There is the mechanical and engineering side and there is the commercial structure, about which I want to say a few words. Both are needed for success. The first will provide fast, regular, safe services, but the second will provide—and this is vital—that those services are adjusted as far as possible to meet the needs of 801 customers and traders in order actively and effectively to sell services to them.
Our railwaymen certainly know all that is needed on the mechanical and engineering side, and the plan is comprehensive, indeed. There is no check on marshalling yards, but, of course, marshalling yards are vast undertakings, cost several millions of pounds, and usually take two or three years to construct. Although, to our credit, we have at Thornton, in Scotland, one of the most modern, fully automatic marshalling yards in the world, we still are a long way short of having all the modern marshalling yards which we plan finally to have.
However, there is no check on this aspect. The plan is proceeding and gradually the marshalling yards will be completed, although the process will take time. There has been some reduction of the accelerated programme for the fitting of the continuous brake system. The development of the container services is going ahead without check. There has been much experimenting to find the right kind of container, and there has been a great deal of work on the pick-aback system, and so on. The Commission has just about settled its mind on most of those aspects now and is ready to go into full production.
I agree that these are vital links in the chain between consignor and consignee and that only when we have that chain fully forged from start to finish shall we have a fully effective and competitive freight service. In the main, it is going ahead and it is a great credit to the Commission that by modernising its staff structure it has been able to do what it has done in making its freight services more competitive. I am thinking particularly of the Green Arrow service, which is now being extended throughout the country, and of the overnight service for any full wagon load. That is undoubtedly an attractive service and is gaining freights. The Commission is certainly doing what it can with the facilities which it has, which are far removed from the facilities which are planned for it. Continuous brake trains, with the system fitted or partially fitted, are coming into service all the time.
I want now to refer to the modernisation of the staff structure, because that 802 is fundamental to success. The old traditional staff structure was what is called a functional structure, with the individual chief officers, numbering anything from 15 to 20, responsible to the general manager and with co-ordination occurring only at general manager level Traditionally, the commercial manager was in the position of having to sell to the customer the transport services which various engineers and operating officers had provided. He had very little say about how those might be brought to meet the customer's needs. Clearly, there are great rigidities in a system like that and it is extremely difficult for the commercial manager who is selling the transport to adjust and move quickly enough to compete with his road competitors.
The Commission has invited the regions to set up their own systems of decentralisation which have pivoted on combining the three functions of operating, motive power and commercial under one traffic officer at regional level and down the line in divisions and areas and districts. It is possible for a big customer, at any rate, to meet the divisional traffic officer, who is not only able to quote him a rate for the job, but also able to have some say in loading arrangements. That, naturally, goes a very long way towards meeting the customer's needs, which must help thereby to win traffic.
It is a great credit to the Commission that it has grappled with this immensely difficult task of bringing about a reorganisation of this kind in something as well established and traditional as our railways.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I entirely agree with the theory of this reorganisation, but is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the Commission is not getting duplication in additional supervisory staffs in the regions? Is he satisfied that in this respect the Commission is keeping a close scrutiny on regional operations?
§ Mr. Nugent
I think that the Commission is completely in touch with what is happening in the regions, which have different ways of finding the best methods of suiting their localities. I believe that valuable benefits will result from this development.
What the Commission has done is to modernise its staff structure to keep in touch with the modernisation of its 803 mechanical structure. No fewer than four regions have produced freight timetables. This is quite a development and it will be attractive to traders to be able to have a freight timetable. There is no doubt that the Commission is making very great efforts, with its present facilities, to improve its quality of services to traders and thereby to hold their custom and, if it can, to increase it. From what I have been able to see of the railways in the last year or so, I am certain that this is the decisive aspect. Rates, of course, are important, but in most cases the decisive aspect in whether a trader uses rail or road is quality of transport.
I know that hon. Members opposite feel strongly about C licences, but the fact is that manufacturers do not set up C licence fleets unless they are forced to do so. It takes a good deal of investment to build up a completely new department and if manufacturers can find transport facilities, on road or rail or anywhere else, which will satisfy them, they will certainly not set up C licence fleets. They turn to those fleets only when they cannot find sufficient reliability of time and quality of service in existing transport services.
Some of us sometimes expect the railways to have more flexibility of rates. However, it has to be remembered that about 50 per cent. of the business of the railway is in the hands of 80 firms, with ramifications all over the country. It is, therefore, not so easy for the railways to quote cut rates to someone whose business they want to get, because it is natural that one of the "big boys" will complain quickly if he finds out. However, the railways are helped to some extent by flexibility.
The Commission does not consider that net receipts can be improved by any general increase in rates of either passenger fares or freight charges at present. In other words, the risk of losing volume is such that the railways would end up with a worse net result, but they are considering certain selective increases.
I have made this review because I felt that it would be of interest to the Committee to have a comment on some of the facts of the situation apart from our political views about it. The Commission is facing formidable problems and I know that officials at all levels—I have 804 been able to meet many of them—are working with great enthusiasm and confidence. They welcome the modernisation scheme as something which gives them a chance to put our railway system once again in the forefront of the railways of the world. They are doing their utmost to make a success of their great task.
Despite all the anxieties, the Chairman of the Commission tells me that he still adheres to the target of solvency by 1961–62, so that the gloomy forecast of the hon. Member for Enfield, East of several years' delay is hardly justified.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how recent is that estimate? How recently has the Chairman said that he adheres to the idea of breaking even by 1961–62? Has that estimate been made since these cuts were instituted?
§ Mr. Nugent
That estimate has been made today.
The good wishes of all of us go with Sir Brian Robertson, both in the interests of economy and the future prospects of the Transport Commission. We wish to see this effort succeed, I claim that this Government have done more to help our railways succeed in their efforts than right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite ever thought of doing.
§ Mr. Nugent
Well, the answer to that must be, "Both". The first task is to consolidate within the existing range of traffics both freight and passenger. If, with better services coming along, the railways can win fresh custom, they will do it. They are out to do so and I am sure that they will succeed in some respects.
I wish to say a word on the question of enforcement which was raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East. We debated this matter, as he said, during the Easter Adjournment debates, when I was able to say that the staffing position is not as bad as the hon. Member made out. We have a permanent staff of examiners numbering 100. At present, there are 94 in post with five vacancies in the course of being filled. In addition, we have a 805 rota system by which the driving test examiners can help, up to a total of 52. Up to the present the numbers have been small. We have not had more than a dozen or so helping in this way, but I am hopeful that before the end of the year we shall be nearer the 52.
During our Easter Adjournment debate I showed that there was no foundation for the charges made by the hon. Member for Enfield, East against the drivers and employers in the road haulage industry, particularly against manufacturers who have C licence vehicles. Let us be clear about this. Three-quarters of these commercial vehicles are C licence vehicles and only one-quarter carry A licences or B licences. The statistics quoted by the hon. Member simply do not support the conclusion which he attempts to draw from them. With 1¼ million commercial vehicles on the road, of course, there is a large number of breaches of regulations but there is no evidence of a worsening of this situation.
In fact, as I said, prosecutions are substantially lower in number than pre-war, and the hon. Member's argument that the reason for this is that the drivers of 16,000 vehicles in British Road Services are keeping the law is rather thin. The difference between the pre-war total of the commercial fleet and the present-day total is the difference between 500,000 and 1¼ million; and against 750,000 vehicles the hon. Gentleman sets 16,000. The fact is that the statistics which he quotes simply do not support his argument.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
Would not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that although there is this great increase in vehicles on the road there are only the same number of enforcement officers and there can be only the same amount of enforcement?
§ Mr. Nugent
In fact, there are many fewer prosecutions. In 1937–38, the number of prosecutions was getting on for 11,700. In 1955–56, there were 6,297.
§ Mr. Popplewell rose—
§ Mr. Nugent
I am always ready to give way, and if I may be allowed to conclude this part of my argument I will give way again to the hon. Member.
The point I wish to make to the hon. Member for Enfield, East is this. During 806 the debate before the Easter Recess he made the comment thatThe only long-term cure for this parlous state of the goods traffic part of the industry is reorganisation, but that is not the purpose of the debate.The hon. Gentleman could not go as wide then as he has done today.Only when we return to a planned transport system and abolish the excessive competition resulting from the atomisation of the industry following denationalisation will we remove the temptation for operators to employ drivers for far longer hours than the Statute permits…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April. 1958; Vol. 585. c. 1396.]The hon. Gentleman starts with that conviction. He then juggles with the statistics and ends up with that conclusion. That is not surprising. He starts with the conviction that that is the fact and does not shake himself as he juggles with the figures. He does not shake me, either. I am quite convinced that he is wrong; that if he did introduce his schemes of nationalisation, there would still be breaches of the regulations of one kind or another. Even though the hon. Gentleman managed to take control of all the C licence fleets as well, there would still be breaches of the regulations. It is human to err. Here we have a large number of people and, as is human nature, they will commit breaches of the regulations of one kind or another.
I am quite certain, on the general issue, that to persist in restricting the road haulage industry, worse still to restrict the C licence sector of it, to give greater scope—as I understand is the hon. Gentleman's argument—for the Transport Commission is the policy of Bedlam. How can it possibly help our highly competitive export markets to throttle down the transport system in order to give certain sections of it a better chance? It does not make sense. I am completely unconvinced by the arguments with which the hon. Gentleman tries to justify his own policy. I do not believe that he will find many supporters in the country; but let me encourage him to go round shouting his policy from the housetops, because the more he shouts it the more friends he will make for us.
I must say a word about vehicle testing. I wish to give the Committee as much information as possible. We are about to lay a White Paper on the subject so that right hon. and hon. Members can 807 get full information. That will be published next week. In the meantime, I will give the Committee a brief account of what we intend so that hon. Members who are interested will have a better chance to discuss our proposals.
What will be tested are the steering, brakes and lights. The standards of testing will be defined in the White Paper but, broadly speaking, they are no more than is the rule now under the 1930 Road Traffic Act and the Construction and Use Regulations. Who will do the testing? Any garage can apply for appointment. Inspection of the garage premises will be carried out by our technical officers, who will satisfy themselves about the competence of the personnel and the adequacy of equipment. I expect that most garages will apply, perhaps 15,000 to 20,000. What is the procedure? It is—
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
Will it be only garages who will be allowed to apply, and not local authorities?
§ Mr. Nugent
I am sorry if I have misled the Committee. My comments were not exhaustive, although they were meant to be as informative as possible. Municipalities will come in as well, and we shall welcome them. I understand that a number of them will do so.
The vehicle owner will take his car to the garage of his choice, an authorised one, of course, for the test. If the car passes the test, he pays a fee of 15s., or 10s. 6d. for a motor-cycle. He will then receive a certificate that his car is up to the appropriate standard, and the matter is finished.
If the car fails the test on one or more of the three points, the vehicle owner will receive a rejection notice accordingly, and he will have to pay 14s. for the inspection. He will then have the option of leaving the car at the garage, if the repair work is to be done at that garage, of taking the car to another garage of his choice for the repairs, or, if he wishes, of taking the car home and repairing it himself. In either of the first two cases of leaving the car at a garage, if the repairs have been done up to the proper standard the owner will receive from the garage that does them a certificate that the repairs had been done up to the proper standard. Upon payment of 1s. he will receive the 808 certificate, and that will complete the operation.
If the owner has taken the car home to repair it himself, provided that he completes the repairs and returns the car within two weeks, the inspecting garage will give it a further checkover. By this, I mean the garage that did the original test. If the car is satisfactory, the garage will issue a certificate on payment of 1s. fee only. In other words, in these cases the testing garage will be giving the second inspection gratis.
In view of some of the comments that have been made about garages I must record my appreciation of the generous co-operation that we have received from the motor trade, which is determined to carry out this task in a reputable and responsible way. It has really gone out of its way to meet us over the various requirements that we have put to it.
There will also be an appeal system, so that a dissatisfied vehicle owner has a right of appeal to the Minister, to be exercised within two weeks of the test. An inspection will then be carried out by one of our technical officers. If the appeal be dismissed there will be a fee of 25s. for a vehicle, or 17s.6d. for a motor-cycle. If it succeeds, there will be no charge. A further safeguard will be that all authorised garages must keep records of tests and charges made for repairs, which will be open to our inspection. Any breach or irregularity will make the proprietor liable to lose his authorisation.
The justification for the testing scheme is generally accepted on both sides of the Committee. Speaking of the testing scheme itself, that is, irrespective of who does it, I would add that we found from our records of sample tests at the Hendon Testing Station that of vehicles over ten years old no less than 34 per cent. were defective either in brakes or steering. If lighting be included the figure was 43 per cent. Of the vehicles under ten years old, the figures were 17 per cent. defective in brakes or steering and 20 per cent. defective if we include lights. We are sure that defective vehicles play a serious part in road accidents.
§ Mr. Joseph Slater (Sedgefield)
What happens to the fees that are charged? Do they go to the garage proprietors?
§ Mr. Nugent
The 1s. fee goes to us, to cover administrative expenses, records, 809 and so on, and the other 14s. goes to the garage for the cost of doing the operation, keeping the records, and so on. In fairness to the garages, I must add that we had very lengthy discussions over what the fee should be. We were satisfied, in the end, that this was a fair average charge to be made, taking the country as a whole. I believe that it is good value. We are only starting with the ten-year-old cars. It is our intention to go the whole way just as soon as we can. I am sure that will be of benefit to road safety. The spot-check scheme will also go ahead as soon as we can get it under way.
I must make this point, because I know it is very much in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, about the alternative of setting up official testing stations. We thought about it very carefully and considered just what would be involved. We estimated that to put up one official station per county would cost about £1 million for buildings alone, without equipment. It would cost much more, however, because many more stations would be needed if journeys were not to be intolerably long, and delays, too. To have an adequate network of official testing stations would involve the expenditure of a very formidable sum of money.
Apart from the cost of buildings and equipment, the demand for skilled engineers would be a serious feature. Skilled engineers are among the most scarce beings today. They could only be recruited by withdrawing them from the productive work in which they are now engaged and that would undoubtedly make a drain on the nation's reserves of skilled engineers.
We took the view that it would be more to the convenience of car owners if we used the existing garage system, with the suitable and effective safeguards that I have outlined and that it would be more to the advantage of the nation to make the best use of our resources and avoid a serious burden on public funds. I feel that I should not go further in arguing the case and that I have said enough to put the facts before the Committee and help it to discuss the matter. I have necessarily had to cover rather a wide range of subjects, but my principal concern was to answer the debate which was started by the hon. Member for Enfield, East when he outlined his party's transport policy.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the testing stations, may I ask whether any arrangement has been made about cars which have not attained the ripe old age of ten years? Can their owners have them tested for the same fees?
§ Mr. Nugent
There has not been an arrangement made, but it would be quite easy to do so. I will certainly see that that point is covered. It would cause no difficulty.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Before the Parliamentary Secretary gets to his anticipated and historic peroration, may I remind him that he has not said anything about the impact of the modernisation programme upon the factories belonging to the railways. The matter is of very great concern to thousands of workers in the country and especially in my constituency, particularly on the question of the contracting out to private firms. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman cannot cover all the points that are made, but would he ask his right hon. Friend to deal with this matter? Can he give us an assurance that this difficult problem will be dealt with?
§ Mr. Nugent
I have already talked for far too long. If I tried to cover every aspect of the very interesting and variegated subject of this debate I should be talking the whole evening. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I have not dealt with anything in which they are directly interested.
I agree that the future of railway workshops is a matter of very great importance. At present, they are extremely busy, playing their part in the modernisation scheme. I am not in a position to tell the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) the long-term future position for them. I think that it is the general policy of the Commission to try to ensure that its equipment needs, such as rolling stock and motive power, are divided between its own workshops and those of private enterprise. I am sure that that is right, because we hope to see private enterprise selling successfully in export markets, and unless it can have a reasonable share of the home market it is obviously handicapped.
811 I cannot comment in detail beyond saying that the railway workshops play an essentially valuable part and that I hope to see them busily at work. The hon. Member's constituency plays a valuable part in this work, and we are very grateful to it for what it is doing. If the hon. Member is fortunate in catching the eye of the Chair and, in his speech, deals with other aspects, I shall certainly look at them and give a reply.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East made a strong attack on my right hon. Friend, myself and the Government generally. He charged us with interfering with and handicapping the affairs of the Commission and, therefore, with having a responsibility for its difficulties today. The facts really do not stand that charge. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh".] It is open to hon. Members on either side of the Committee to have their own views, but I say roundly to the Committee that the facts do not support them.
To the credit of this Government is the promotion of this great modernisation scheme, the greatest single operation that our railways have ever undertaken since they were built. The degree of capital cuts that took place last autumn is marginal in this picture. I have explained that it was accidental, but, in the circumstances, regrettable. This is certainly not to be laid just at the doors of the Government.
I ask the Committee as a whole to take note of the solid help and support which we as a Government have given to the railways, and are giving, and our firm intention to see that they have every opportunity and support from us to make a fine, modern economic railway system.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I am very disappointed that the hon. Gentleman did not mention automatic train control. He should realise that that is a pet subject of mine and of other hon. Members. In view of the fact that today, very unfortunately, a driver is standing trial at the Old Bailey and that automatic train control might have obviated the grave accident in which he was involved, will the hon. Gentleman say what real progress has been made in recent months towards the introduction or further extension of automatic train control?
§ Mr. Nugent
The hon. Member is quite indefatigable. He must have made 812 as much of my speech as I made myself. The answer to his query is that automatic train control is going ahead rapidly. I have not the figures to give off the cuff, but I can give him the assurance that not only has the automatic train control programme not been cut but that it has been deliberately accelerated, because we realise the general anxiety of hon. Members and the people as a whole that it should be so. It is going ahead just as fast as it can.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The Committee would agree that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was very much happier when giving interesting facts about the railway modernisation programme and testing of road vehicles, and so on, than when he indulged in political flights of fancy. If he is going to claim for his party the railway modernisation programme, he must also claim for his party the appalling neglect of the railways between the wars, when his party was in power. That programme is largely needed to put right that period of neglect. It is very doubtful whether the attitude his party now adopts to this programme would have been adopted if we had not proceeded to public ownership when we did, because all this arose out of public ownership.
§ Mr. Nugent
I apologise for intervening in the speech of the hon. Member, but if he is condemning us for neglect over the years I trust that he will also give us credit for the days when the railways were actually built.
§ Mr. Darling
As I was born and brought up in the railway town of Crewe and started my working life in the railways works there, I could reply to the hon. Gentleman by giving him an account of the appalling history of the way in which the railways were built. Anyone who wants to take credit for that is surely in a sorry state.
With one or two points the hon. Gentleman made about the railways we on this side of the Committee thoroughly agree. For instance, there is the question of the closing of branch lines. I hope many hon. Members opposite will take note of what the hon. Gentleman said so that we do not have any repetition of what happened about the East 813 Grinstead line, or wherever it was. It was kept going as a result of certain pressures. As we know, the losses of the railways have to be made good by keeping down the workers' wages, and I believe £30,000 was taken out of the railway workers' wage bill to keep that line open.
When we have discussed railway modernisation on former occasions, I have been fortunate enough to get into those debates. I expressed the view that it would not be lack of capital which would hold back railway modernisation, but lack of steel. I regret to say that the Government have proved me completely wrong. It is now the Government who are holding back the necessary cash, while we have a surplus of steel for railway modernisation and other purposes. Steel furnaces and mills are working short time. In those circumstances, in spite of all the arguments brought forward by financiers and economists—with which I thoroughly disagree—it would be surely in the national interest to speed up the modernisation programme in order to keep up the high level of industrial productivity we need for the prosperity of the country. That is something we can deal with on another occasion.
A point with which the hon. Gentleman dealt, and to which I wish to refer, is the big expansion of C licences. I do not think that the dispute which took place between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) a little time ago takes us to the roots of this situation. There are tax considerations in firms acquiring vehicles of their own. I do not think we have enough information about relative costs of firms operating their own transport, hiring public transport, or engaging private firms in the haulage business to do the job.
Then there is "Parkinson's Law" to be taken into consideration. Many firms which have had small transport departments have wanted to see those departments grow, and they have grown. Whether the economic considerations justified that growth or not, it has taken place. A thorough inquiry is now needed in to the reasons for this expansion in C licences, particularly an inquiry into the relative costs of transport. I am not convinced that the cost of transport 814 provided by firms themselves, particularly when vehicles have to return empty, is lower than when they use public transport.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Is the hon. Member aware that the tendency for firms to use their own lorries is world-wide and that the figures of the increase in the equivalent of C licence vehicles all over the world are going up in about the same percentage as in our country?
§ Mr. Darling
I should not be at all surprised, but I am asking for an inquiry into the situation in this country. I hope we shall have it, because we face an appalling situation. We have more than reached congestion on our roads. The road modernisation programme is certainly not keeping pace, and will not keep pace, with the continual growth in the number of vehicles on the roads. I was shocked by the complacency shown by the hon. Gentleman on the question of the number and conditions of vehicles on the roads. He said that the Acts we pass in this House in order that there shall be road safety and proper rules and regulations are bound to be broken and we may as well accept that situation. I was greatly shocked to hear him say that. The Ministry is also charged with looking after road safety in this country. I should have expected a different approach to this problem by the Parliamentary Secretary. He has some interest and some responsibility here, and, if I may say so, his rather complacent approach did not show a great deal of responsibility.
We have to make our roads much safer. It is really astonishing how quite indifferent the public seem to be to the rising figures of road accidents. We have failed in our publicity, in our attempts to bring home the facts to those using the roads, so I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at the grants we make to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. According to the Estimates, the grant this year is to be £100,000. I do not know what we get for that. I do not see any activities, any posters, any effective publicity to justify that expenditure.
Some time ago we were told that there were to be posters throughout the country drawing attention to the danger of motorists drinking before driving. I drive throughout the country but I have 815 never seen those posters, nor, as an ordinary motorist, have I seen any evidence as to how that £100,000 is spent. That should be inquired into. We should have a lot more publicity, and, if the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents cannot do the job effectively, we might ask the Ministry to do more in this direction.
On the question of the testing of vehicles, we must obviously wait until we see the White Paper before going into detailed discussion, but I reluctantly accept the idea of the garages that are to do the repairs being licensed, approved and authorised to do the testing. I do not want to make any wild and general charges against the integrity of garage proprietors. That would be manifestly unfair. Most of them are honourable and do a very decent job. But, as the Parliamentary Secretary admitted a little while ago, there is a possible chance that some will not be as honest as they should be in this respect—I do not know—but if we are to get the testing of these old vehicles done, as it must be, we cannot wait for public stations to be set up. I have, therefore, reluctantly come to the view that we must use the trade.
I am not satisfied, however, that the start that the Government are making is ambitious enough. We have to start with the cars over ten years old. It is true that the testers have to look, in particular, for defects in steering, brakes and lights, but the test should be made more thorough, as it can be. I do not know whether it is in the White Paper, but I should like to see something that would bring the newer cars under test more quickly than the Government's programme seems to envisage. At the moment, I am not quite happy—but I do not see any way out of the difficulty—about repairs being done at the garage that rejects the car on test. How to get out of that difficulty I do not know, but perhaps we can have a chance to look at the problem again when the White Paper is discussed.
We should draw the attention of the public to the figures given by the hon. Gentleman; to the fact that one-third of the old cars tested at Hendon had faults and defects which really made them unroadworthy. That is an astonish- 816 ing figure. It really is criminal that these cars should be on the roads, causing accidents and, in many cases, death. However, we must go further. Apart from the cars, there are far too many drivers who ought not to be allowed to drive. We must have more testing of car drivers.
It is partly a question of age. We are starting the programme by testing cars over ten years old, but anyone who held a driving licence before a certain date has had no need to pass any driving test. I have never had to pass a driving test simply because I have been driving for 30 years. I have had a voluntary test, however, because the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and I are very interested in this voluntary advanced test. The fact remains that had I not shown that voluntary desire I would not have been tested.
We do not know whether or not thousands and thousands of drivers should be in charge of vehicles, and we should consider making every driver take a test. Whether or not they have been driving for years is another matter. They may have just been lucky not to have had accidents—
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Do the figures and facts given by my hon. Friend prove that it is the old men and women drivers who are responsible for the major portion of accidents, as it is mainly the old cars that are found to be not fit for the roads?
§ Mr. Darling
I do not know the age distribution of people involved in accidents. All I know is that people who started to drive after 1934 had to pass a test and those who were driving before that date have not had to be tested. I think that everyone should have to pass a test before driving—
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I think that my hon. Friend is making much too heavy weather of this. The pre-1934 people who got away without a driving test and who are, presumably, still driving would be the people who have not been accident prone all those years because, normally speaking, I find that the tendency among magistrates is to lay on tests for those who have offended in some way or other. Generally speaking, I think that the statistics show that the pre-1934 vintage are not a bad lot.
§ Mr. Darling
I would not deny that at all. The fact that we are still alive and hearty proves that we must have been good drivers, and still are. However, with advancing age one runs into eyesight difficulties, hearing defects, and so on, and the attention of those responsible for drawing up the form of driving tests should be drawn to such factors. I do not want to carry that further. I am just worried because there are so many drivers today who have not been tested in any way, and anything that we can do to reduce the appalling total of road accidents we must do.
I do not want to go over the whole range of road safety, but there is one aspect which I should like to mention. Quite frankly, I do not think we can enforce the Road Traffic Act and all the other road safety regulations with our present police set-up. We have not enough policemen on the roads to keep the traffic moving and to deal with the difficulties and accidents that arise. The police who are on road duties teem to be there for the purpose of catching drivers, getting convictions, looking for motorists who break the law, dealing with parking offences, and the rest.
What is needed is a highway patrol system with men going up and down each stretch of road helping people in difficulties, noting car numbers of drivers who are driving dangerously, stopping and warning those who misbehave and reporting the serious offences to the police for action to be taken.
I do not want to see highway patrols with police powers, but I do seriously think that until we have highway patrols to deal with the traffic problems on the roads and not merely catching drivers out for breaking the law and trying to get convictions, we shall never deal with our road problems in the way they ought to be dealt with. One of the jobs which highway patrols of this kind should have is that of spot checking faulty vehicles and looking at the log sheets of commercial vehicle drivers.
I am astonished when, in his complacent fashion, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says, "Well, 100 inspectors; of course, they may not be enough, but if we bring in another dozen or so from the driving testing side, perhaps we might have 150". That means one inspector for every 10,000 commercial vehicles. This is an impossible inspectorate. We 818 cannot have a proper inspection of commercial vehicles if one man has to look after 10,000 vehicles in the course of a year. The arithmetic is completely impossible. We have to remember that on the railways every locomotive and every coach is tested every day, and some of them on long-distance running are tested two or three times during the course of the run by properly qualified inspectors. Why should our road services have a lower standard?
Anybody who drives regularly can see commercial vehicles which ought never to be on the roads. They are overladen on one side, their springing is bad, the tyres are very thin and worn, and the headlights often merely hanging on. That is not an exaggerated picture. Anybody who drives down Western Avenue and the other main approaches to London can see some of these lorries. They ought not to be on the road; they are unsafe, but they are on the road because there is no proper system of inspection.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who was thoroughly complacent about this matter, says that with 150 inspectors everything will be all right. Of course, it will not be all right. These lorries will still be there, causing accidents and perhaps death and disaster. We have to have a far more responsible attitude to these figures than the Joint Parliamentary Secretary seems to give to them, because one inspector for 10,000 vehicles is completely and utterly inadequate.
It is criminally unfair, in fact, to allow some of these things to happen. It is unfair to allow drivers to drive for more hours a day than the laws we have passed in this Parliament permit. It is criminally unfair to allow little firms to quote cheap rates for freight traffic by breaking the law and causing their workers to work longer hours than our laws permit. We cannot stop these things unless we have a proper system of inspection, and I therefore suggest that one of the things to which we ought seriously to turn our attention is the expansion of the Ministry's inspectorate in all these matters.
Certainly, if we had a look at the system of highway patrols which I have suggested and which other people have suggested, so that the two can be blended together, we might have a system of patrols that will keep traffic moving, look out for faulty vehicles and at the same 819 time help people on the roads, and also be in a position, on behalf of the Ministry, to check the logs of these drivers to make sure that they are not being overworked, as so many are now.
Above all, unless we do develop this responsible attitude, instead of joking about matters of road safety, I am confident that we shall go on wasting life. There will be literally millions of people injured on the roads of this country in the next few years quite unnecessarily, because we have failed to deal with the problem as we ought to deal with it.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
It is so long since I had the opportunity of addressing the Committee that I feel almost as if I were making my maiden speech and ought to ask the indulgence of hon. Members. In one sense, however, I am now better qualified to talk about transport matters than I was before, at least on the question of road safety, in consequence of my experience when I was involved in a road accident which resulted in no less than five people being detained in hospital.
I was the driver of neither of the cars involved, but as a passenger I can at least say how quickly these things happen and what a narrow margin there is both of time and space between safety and disaster. Neither of the cars in the accident in which I was involved was old; in fact, one was a brand new car. But in so far as the inspection of old cars will prevent accidents such as happened in my case, I think we all ought to welcome inspection, and that the motoring public ought to be prepared to put up with the inconvenience and expense which inspection will involve.
We must look upon the question of inspection from the practical point of view and not from the theoretical one. In theory, it would be desirable that the Ministry should supply sufficient premises from which all vehicles can be inspected, but on the figures we have been given it is quite clear that the Ministry of Transport has neither the manpower nor the money to provide an adequate number of inspecting premises, so that the choice is really between little or no inspection and inspection by somebody other than the Ministry's staff.
820 Local authorities have powers to provide facilities for inspection, but I have not heard of any urgent desire on the part of local authorities to take advantage of that provision. One hopes that perhaps they will, but I have not had brought to my attention any evidence that that is the fact. Therefore, we are driven back to the position that the inspection will have to be done by the private enterprise garage, and why on earth should we on this side of the Committee object to that? We do not believe that those who work for profit are less honest than those who work for the State. I suggest that, apart from theory altogether, the objection to the private garage carrying out inspection is not one that can be sustained.
There were in 1956 practically 7 million vehicles of one sort or another on the roads, and there are probably many more now. In nearly every case the drivers of these vehicles were dependent on some person other than themselves for the maintenance of their vehicles, and, therefore, their lives were dependent on the inspection and maintenance carried out by somebody else. In most cases, the maintenance was carried out by the ordinary garage. If these people in the ordinary garages are capable of maintaining vehicles of one sort or another in such a condition that it is safe for some person to take them out on the road, there is no reason why they should not undertake a special inspection of old cars on the three aspects to which they are asked to pay particular attention.
Apart altogether from the safeguards which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary mentioned, I suggest that there is another safeguard, an ordinary commercial one, which would influence quite a lot any firm which had applied to come on the inspectorate. After all, nowadays, a very large proportion of the population is brought up from childhood to have considerable knowledge of motor cars, and any firm which made a practice of trying to fiddle inspection and demand that unnecessary repairs should be undertaken would be very likely to run up against somebody familiar with their own vehicle who knew that they were being fraudulently treated. This could lead to very serious difficulties, and might cause the firm to be struck off the list. Thus, from commercial caution, the 821 owners of the firm are likely to take considerable care to see that their employees do not make unreasonable demands for repairs to be undertaken unnecessarily.
I was interested to note that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) did not go very deeply into the road programme for very good reasons, I think. It is extremely easy to become confused about the figures in connection with the road programme, because there are so many different sets of figures which can be used. One can take the cost in £s of works authorised over various periods. One can take the cost of works actually done at a particular time. One can take the cost of major improvements on old roads, or the mileage of new roads and by-passes actually built. One can vary the figures in such a way that any speaker can so confuse himself or his audience that he can make out almost any case he feels inclined to put forward.
For the purposes of this debate, I think that all that it is necessary for us here to do is to think of what one sees on a drive round the country. Anyone who goes round the country is bound to admit that there is a great deal more activity in road construction today than there has been for many years. I feel sure that, as the months go by, and the new bridges, by-passes, double-tracking of old roads and the new motor ways are completed, both hon. Members of this Committee and members of the general public will be bound to concede that the Minister of Transport has here a success story to tell of considerable magnitude and one on which we should congratulate him.
I would only add one further observation with regard to the road programme. About eighteen months or two years ago, on several occasions, both in the House and elsewhere, I drew attention to the fact that land acquisition for the purpose of road building is much slower in this country than it is in Europe or America. It is slower for reasons which are inevitable so long as the British public insists upon its right, to which it is accustomed, of making representations, insisting upon public inquiries and that sort of thing, before anything is done. But, if we concede that when a road is planned it takes longer to acquire land and go through the preliminaries in this country than it does in either Europe or the United States, the Ministry should, I feel, take considerable care to keep the 822 pipe-line full of future construction plans over and beyond the existing programme.
There is a great number of things which could be done about the future programme, at comparatively little expense, which would get rid of some of the time-lag Which inevitably occurs between the first planning of a road and the time when the construction actually begins. I have no doubt that this is being done now, but I should like to have an assurance to that effect. It will make a considerable difference, as time goes by, even if it is necessary to divert some of the money and effort at present being spent on the existing road programme to future road programmes which are still only at the planning stage if as many of the preliminaries as possible of the next programme are carried out while the existing programme is under construction.
Turning to railway organization, I shall not go into the arguments we have had so far about integration and whether or not the Socialist plan embodied in the 1947 Act was a possibility having regard to the fact that only a small portion of the road transport of the country was nationalised. I do not think that we need go into all that. It would merely mean thrashing over old arguments. We are in this debate, however, in danger of trying to play "Hamlet" without the Prince of Denmark.
Very properly, the hon. Member for Enfield, East said that he would not deal with the question of wage claims on the railways, and the subject has, quite rightly, been avoided. But we are, on the one hand, bound to appreciate that the success of the modernisation plan will be dependent, to a very large extent, on the co-operation of the workers in the industry concerned, and, on the other hand, that the general confidence of the travelling public will be severely shaken if there is any large increase in fares and charges, or if people feel that taxpayers' money is being spent to subsidise things of which they do not approve. I will not discuss whether such arguments are right or wrong, but I wish merely to remark in passing that they do exist and have a bearing on the subject of modernisation.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will, at least, avoid the dangerous delusion which, I suspect, misleads some 823 of them from time to time, that public transport is a social service. Really, the railways are not that. It could be argued that we must have a Post Office and a method of transmitting communications. It could be said that we must have a National Health Service. Certainly, it could be argued that we must have an education service. All those things could be argued, but one cannot argue that, wherever a person happens to live, there must be a railway train on a branch line and there must always be a railway service.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
It could very well be argued that, wherever one lived in this country, one should at least be entitled to some provision, to some form of transport being made available.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not know that I would even concede that. I will elaborate the argument by saying that the public must choose for itself what sort of transport it wants. If people are not satisfied with the particular form of transport provided, then, short of forcing them by dictatorial means to use it, there is no way of making them do so. As I see it, the proper method to adopt is the one which has been adopted, that is, to provide services of a cheapness and convenience which will attract people to use them. I believe that the measures which have been taken by this Government since they came into office have tended to that end. I refer not merely to the modernisation plan. We are criticised for taking credit for that, although it has taken place under our Government. I have in mind also the altered charges scheme which was introduced under the provisions of our Act.
There have been some references to the charges scheme in this debate which implied that it might not increase traffic. I should like to quote just a sentence or two from a letter I received from the transport officer of a large manufacturing firm in the West Country, whose goods are sold all over the country. He begins by saying:I know that you will be interested to hear that British Railways are now using their discretionary powers to obtain traffic by the reduction of rates, and I have in the past fortnight sent three consignments by rail which a couple of months ago would have gone by road, purely on grounds of economy. There is no doubt in my mind that the country's traffic is in a very interesting stage of transition, and I am inclined 824 to think that the Railway people are using their in powers in the right way, that is to say, they are quoting competitive rates for traffic which, in a well-regulated world, they ought to carry, that traffic being consignments of eight tons and over carried for distances exceeding 100 miles.Here is a letter from a trader in a substantial way of business actually saying that he has diverted traffic from road to rail because of the variation in the charging scheme. I cannot resist going on to the next sentence, although I will make no comment on it. It would not be well, perhaps, to develop the matter in this debate:The whole of this development is being jeopardised by the threatened railway strike. If this strike takes place, we shall all lose confidence"—and so on and so forth. Whether one likes that or not, I shall not—
§ Mr. C. Pannell
He will lose confidence in the Government. That is what he means. The hon. Gentleman did not end the quotation.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not think that that is what he had in mind; but I will not argue that.
The manner in which traffic is consigned is largely a question of confidence. If traders believe that they are likely to get good service by rail, they will tend to use the railways. The whole modernisation scheme will lead towards that end. I feel that it is a pity that we have not had a fuller report on the actual progress made in modernisation. The figures have been given for the amount of the accelerated programme, and we have been told that the full amount for the accelerated programme has not been permitted to be used. What we have not been told is exactly how far the programme has progressed and how far it is ahead of schedule. My understanding is that certain sections of it are well ahead of schedule—for instance, electrification, particularly in the London-Midland Region. British Railways seem to have received a large proportion of the diesel shunting locomotives that they expected to receive when the full programme was in being.
There has also been very great progress with regard to the multiple unit diesel trains. We all know what a success they have been in certain areas, particularly in the North, where there have been startling increases in rail traffic.
825 I expect to see in the House shortly a circular issued to all hon. Members complaining about the unfair competition of the railways with the buses, since the railways have certainly done very well in certain areas.
Great progress has also been made with the braking of freight wagons. One knows that this work has been to some extent delayed. However, I believe that a great many more express freight trains are running at present, and the sooner we get a larger number running the sooner we shall have a greatly improved service which will yield financial results. I do not suppose that there have been any great financial results from the modernisation programme so far, but it is at the turning point. Here again, I believe that the Ministry of Transport could tell a great success story.
Far from criticising the Government for their transport policy, I believe that the Committee ought to congratulate them on the progress that has been made and thank them for the results that have already been achieved.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I am sure that, although most hon. Members, at least those on this side of the Committee, will not agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said, we are all glad that he is in such obviously excellent health after his very unfortunate accident. If it had been a matter of declaring an interest in transport because of accidents, I should have to confess that it was not very many months ago that I successfully broke my jaw in rather similar circumstances. That, of course, gave rise to a great number of witticisms, as may be imagined, about the predicament in which, I as a politician, found myself through being unable to speak for several weeks.
I want to go from road transport to something about which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to say a word or two at the end of his speech. As a preface, I should like to say that I hope he and the Committee will not think that all my remarks apply specifically to my own constituency or to the British Railways region in which Swindon is placed. Naturally, I am very anxious to preserve friendly and satisfactory relations both with the management and with 826 the workpeople in the British Railways factory at Swindon—relations at least as satisfactory as I now enjoy with the majority of employers and employees and their elected representatives in private firms in my constituency.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary—or the Minister when he replies to the debate—if he can say a little more about the impact of the modernisation programme on the factories and workshops throughout the country which are now owned and run by British Railways. As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, there is a good deal of apprehension among the workpeople about the effects of dieselisation and electrification on the men who now build locomotives, carriages and wagons.
All of us who know anything about the industry realise that inevitably there will be some contraction in many railway workshops. There will be contraction partly because, with the speeding up of trains, there will not only be fewer locomotives but fewer carriages and wagons in use, which will mean a reduction in the amount of building and maintenance of those carriages and wagons. More important, there will be, of course, a considerable reduction in the amount of locomotive building and maintenance, as the last of the steam locomotives complete their working lives. That will be partly because the new locomotives will require less maintenance in any case, and partly because it appears that it will be the policy of the British Transport Commission that the power units in the new locomotives, whether electric or diesel, will largely be built by private enterprise firms outside the control of British Railways. That is a point about which, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows very well, there is a great deal of apprehension among the workpeople.
It is natural that men who are sometimes members of families whose fathers and grandfathers have spent their working lives in the service of the railway, being accustomed to the steam locomotive and affected to some extent by the glamour of the steam locomotive and dependent for their livelihood upon building various components and parts for it, are apprehensive about the disappearance of their work. If the policy of the Transport Commission is to farm out the construction of the power units of these 827 locomotives, or at any rate a high proportion of them; and if, as the Parliamentary Secretary was claiming—and certainly a number of people in the industry have their doubts about this—the economics of our situation require that this work should be done outside British Railway factories, it is vitally important that all the implications of that decision should be explained to the men in the workshops.
That brings me to the second point that I want to make. The general position in the railway industry at the moment, particularly in the workshops to which I am referring—
§ Mr. Nugent
I should like to be corrected on the record on this point. What I said was that there would be a fair sharing of the work of construction. It happens that the power units are being made by firms outside the railway shops because, of course, they are better equipped and skilled to do it. The making of diesel engines and, indeed, the electrical units is a highly expert job. With regard to most of the other work, particularly where the cuts have fallen, the railway workshops have been left with their entire orders and the private firms have taken all the cuts.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for making that point; but handsome dividends would be paid if the hon. Gentleman and the Minister and members of the British Transport Commission, and, indeed, the general managers and senior officials of the various regions, were to discuss this matter fully with the men who are doing the work at present. It will take a good deal of persuasion to convince many of these men that their workshops could not be as well equipped to do this work as private enterprise firms. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to ensure that this matter is discussed in detail with the men on the floor in these factories and workshops.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
Will the hon. Gentleman bear this point in mind, because it has a bearing on the comment of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) about the building of diesel locomotives? The railway companies were building their own diesel locomotives fifteen years ago. Many of the diesel locomotives that are running today were built many years ago in 828 the railway companies' own workshops. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would appreciate that position. The railway workshops are quite capable of doing this work.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose great experience and knowledge in all these matters is a byword in the railway industry. He reinforces the point I was trying to make that we on this side would be grateful if the Commission would look carefully at the position once again before coming to final decisions in this matter and that there should be the fullest consultation with the men who are actually doing the job of locomotive building.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is not the hon. Member overstating the incidence of construction in these works? Is not it only of the order of about 6 per cent. of the total work involved?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The difficulty concerns not only the work which is taking place. The fact that the Commission's future intentions are not entirely clear—in fact, they have not yet been decided—causes anxiety to the men.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am sorry that I did not make myself clear. I intended to say that maintenance accounts for about 94 per cent. of the work and the new construction an average of only about 6 per cent.
§ Mr. Nugent
May I intervene again? I have been making myself better informed, because I wanted to be quite sure that I was right. The power units in the diesel locomotives to which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) referred were not built in the Commission's workshops. They never have been built there. What were built in the Commission's workshops were the locomotives themselves, particularly the light shunting diesel, but the power units were always built outside. None of the Commission's workshops is geared up for building the diesel motors.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Nevertheless, it would not be difficult, at least in the workshops in Swindon, to find a great number of men who believe that they would be capable of doing this work and that if their workshops were retooled and re-equipped, they would be in a position to compete with private enterprise. 829 If that is not the fact and the economic requirements of the country demand that part of the work goes outside, I beg the Minister to see that it is gone into thoroughly with the men before final decisions are taken. It will require some persuasion to convince them that vested interests are not playing an undesirable part in this matter. That is not my opinion, but one which frequently is heard in workshops in various parts of the country.
Arising from the question of the building of locomotives comes the much more general question of consultation between management and workers in the railway industry. The Parliamentary Secretary is, no doubt, aware of difficulties that we had in the great workshops in my constituency last autumn, when there was a difference of opinion between the men's representatives on the works committee and the management of Western Region and the British Transport Commission, about the number of Class 9 locomotives that the factory was capable of producing, and various other related matters. It was unfortunate that a strike took place which paralysed the Swindon workshops—fortunately, for not more than a few hours—as a result of which many men in the workshops believe that there was a reversal of the decisions taken by the management.
I have no desire to go into the details of that unfortunate period or to try to apportion blame, but looking to the future I beg the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister to use all their influence with the Commission and the management of the various regions to ensure that that sort of situation does not arise again. I am convinced that if, in that instance—and I know of a number of other similar instances in other parts of the country—there had been rather fuller consultation, if the men had had a complete picture of the situation and the management had been able to appreciate their views and opinions, the strike might never have taken place.
I have had the opportunity during the last few weeks of talking to representatives of both the Commission and of the men. The interesting fact is that all the claims made at that time by the men that they were in a position to complete the work have been proved by events. As the 830 Parliamentary Secretary knows, the production situation on the locomotive side at the Swindon factory is now thoroughly satisfactory. What I am begging the hon. Gentleman to do is to ensure that every possible opportunity is taken for improving not only the machinery of consultation, but the technique of consultation between management and workers in the industry, and to watch very carefully any tendencies by the management to isolate itself and to carry on, perhaps, with traditions inherited from the past and which are out of keeping with the present needs of the industry.
There is no doubt that the workers in the factories and workshops now run by British Railways have a fine tradition and a patriotic interest in their work. They are perfectly open to reasonable argument, whether about the economic facts of their industry or the ways in which jobs should be done on the workshop floor. It would be a tragedy if because of misunderstandings of the kind that happened at Swindon—luckily, it was only a small one—the situation was allowed to deteriorate.
I should like to mention one other small point. It is important that not only at the time when consultation takes place between management and the workers or their representatives, but at all times, the workers in the industry should be able to feel confidence in the people who are above them. Any tendency by the higher ranks of management towards isolation from the men in the workshop is very much resented.
When the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister travel around the country visiting railway workshops and other installations, I do not know in what way they travel. I have been present on only one occasion when the Minister came to my constituency, but I know that within the next few days there is to be a visit by Members of Parliament to the railway workshops at Swindon. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to use his influence to ensure that when that party of Members of the House of Commons comes down to Swindon, they travel and are shown round in the same way as other ordinary human beings. I hope that he will not lay on special trains with large numbers of special coaches, with dining cars and attendants put on to look after them, or engines to shunt 831 the special trains a few hundred yards from the railway station to the workshops, when a walk of only a few minutes is involved.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am certain that hon. Members would prefer to be treated in the way that any other casual but interested visitor expects to be treated. There has been a good deal of criticism among people in my constituency about the way in which visits by high-ups to the works have been conducted in recent times.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am not referring to past visits by Members of Parliament. I am expressing the hope that the kind of thing which has given rise to criticism in the past will not happen on the occasion of this visit by Members of Parliament. I notice merriment on the benches opposite and I dare say that some hon. Member is preparing a debating point to prove that this is one of the results of nationalisation and that private industries do not behave in this way.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I will let the hon. Member into the secret. We were saying that if he made the trip more and more disagreeable, he would end up by having no Members of Parliament there at all.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I do not think there is any reason why it should be made disagreeable. However this is a serious point in that sometimes a lot of resentment is caused to men in the workshops and the stations concerned when they see what they think are very lavish arrangements being made for visits which they think should be conducted on a much more simple scale. I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will look at this problem, because it is important as regards morale. I hope that he will use what influence he thinks is necessary.
I come back to my principal point. I hope that at the end of this debate the Minister will say a few more words than the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was able to say at the end of his speech on the question of the impact of the modern- 832 isation programme on factories and workshops owned by British Railways and also about Consultation in the transport industry.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
As one of the Members of the House of Commons who hopes to make the trip to Swindon on Monday, I hope that the words of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) will not lead to us having to travel third class with a buffet car. We look forward to being treated with the ordinary dignity which one would expect to be accorded to a Member of Parliament on such an occasion.
The hon. Member for Swindon will not expect me to follow him in the details of the difficulties facing the Swindon railway workshops at this stage, except to say that we live in a changing world and that there may have to be a certain amount of mobility of labour, possibly in that district. For his consolation, however, may I say that I have always regarded Swindon as one of the most advanced towns in this country from the point of view of industrial development. It has the new Pressed Steel Company works going ahead; it has the Garrard Engineering Works, and others of like calibre. So there should be no difficulty over employment in such a prosperous town.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to Swindon, which I am sure everyone will hear with pleasure. When, however, he and his hon. Friends talk about the mobility of labour in that tone of voice, it sends a cold shiver down the spines of a large number of people. Whilst we all appreciate that there will probably have to be some contraction in this side of the railway industry in the future, we hope it will be watched carefully by the Government and by the British Transport Commission.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
The hon. Gentleman has no right to say that there will be dismissals from carriage workshops. There is no truth in the suggestion that the programme of railway carriage building will be diminished.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I think some of the hon. Gentleman's constituents might 833 welcome the opportunity of going into the works of such a progressive company as the Pressed Steel Company in Swindon.
I shall confine my remarks mainly to the question of vehicle testing, because it is causing a certain amount of perturbation throughout the country and is of the greatest interest. I must at once declare an interest. As is known to every hon. Member here, I am connected with the motor industry but not specifically with the garage trade, which is the one affected at present. I trust that my few remarks will be as objective as I can make them, and I will give my experience to the Committee for what it is worth.
There are many people who have read about our proposals for the testing of vehicles and have taken considerable alarm that these are now to be put into effect. Over the last week-end or two I have been meeting people in the countryside who have said that it is disgraceful that they are to be taxed in order to have their vehicles tested.1 was a member of the Committee which discussed the Road Traffic Bill, and I want to put on record two or three things that impressed me as making vehicle testing necessary for this country, because I was no particular friend of it at the beginning of the debates.
The first was that in the United States of America those States which have introduced vehicle testing have managed to reduce accidents and deaths on the road by about 20 per cent. as compared with States that had not got vehicle testing. The second factor that influenced me was that the Road Research Board thought that about 20 per cent. of accidents in this country were due to faulty maintenance. It may be that this is rather a high figure, and I thought it considerably lower than that. At the same time, my own experience leads me to think that there are many more deaths due to the faulty maintenance of motor cars than one gives credit for.
Amongst my own friends, a young Army officer in a 25-year-old car the other day ran into a telegraph post, due to faulty steering, and has died subsequently. In my local paper I read that a man driving an estate wagon, fully loaded with his family, ran head-on at a corner into another vehicle. He killed himself, injured most of his family and, 834 when the inquest was held, it was found that the steering box of his motor vehicle had probably not been greased for many years and had given way at that corner. My wife happens to be a magistrate and, therefore, I take an interest in the cases in which she takes part. There is no doubt that a fair proportion of accident cases coming before magistrates courts are due to some extent to lack of maintenance. So I am convinced that vehicle inspection is desirable, and I look forward to the day when it applies to all cars, both old and new.
The only question before us today, one which has been raised already and, no doubt, will be raised again by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is who is to carry out the testing of vehicles? Is it to be done by garages or by State testing stations? I am sure the Opposition will put forward the view that State testing stations or local authorities would be preferable to garages.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I have learned in the House of Commons that one gains little attention by making merely a sensible speech—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
One sometimes has to utter a sentence or two that is slightly above the odds as it were.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
If one says that something is a monstrous social injustice, one receives very strict attention in the House. Well, it would be a monstrous social injustice for motorists to have to put themselves under State testing stations. Having said that, I will try to give sensible reasons why I think that would be so.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said today that to set up a chain of testing stations, one for every county, would cost £1 million. His predecessor in office said that the running cost of 60 stations would be £900,000 a year. Would one station per county in any way be adequate for what is required? I think the answer is "No." Take a county like Norfolk, which I happen to know rather well. Hon. Members will remember its 835 shape on the map. It is a well-defined county of a rectangular shape, with the county city in the middle. If the testing station were in Norwich, as presumably it would be, many motorists would have to drive twenty-five miles to have their cars tested.
Let us take a typical case of an agricultural labourer with a 25 or 20-year old car. If he lives on the outskirts of the county he would have to take a day off or at least a morning off. He would have to use two gallons of petrol to go in and out of Norwich. He might then find that his motor car failed the test. In that case he would have to take it back to a garage, have it repaired, and then take it into Norwich a week or later to have it re-tested, when he would use another two gallons of petrol. I can imagine his remarks on the Government at the end of that exercise, and we would say that it was in any event a scheme of the Labour Party, not one of ours. Sixty testing stations, or one for each county, is inadequate.
The next stage might be to have one for each constituency, which would be 630 testing stations. When we consider a constituency with a population of about 80,000 and of the same size as the City of Oxford, we see that one station per constituency is none too many, yet the capital cost of 630 such testing stations would be about £l0 million and the running costs would be about the same each year. We should be asking the taxpayer for a considerable amount of money to run a series of stations such as that.
The ordinary country constituency is perhaps fifteen to twenty miles long and ten miles across, so that hon. Members will see that one station per constituency is nothing like enough. We are therefore driven back to realise that we must have a very large number of these stations throughout the country. When we look at it as a practical proposition, I venture to suggest that the only people who can provide such an extensive service are the garages as we know them at present.
Of the 17,000 or 20,000 garages who might apply to become authorised testing stations, it seems to me that about 10,000 would probably be appointed. They would have to deal with 2 million vehicles, including 1½ million cars and light vans. On average that means that they would be testing about four cars a week, which 836 is an easy number to handle, convenient for the customer and convenient for the garage.
These garages have both the staff and the equipment to carry out the work and they would be under the control and inspection of the Minister. I should like to make a further point at which my hon. Friend hinted—that I understand that the Ministry of Transport will not necessarily authorise the proprietor but will authorise a nominated skilled mechanic as the man to carry out the tests. I believe that that will go a long way to satisfy the public that a responsible person will carry out the work.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Does not the hon. Member appreciate that if the skilled mechanic is an employee of a certain garage and is the designated person, he may find himself at odds with the man who employs him?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I admit that that is a possibility, but my experience is that, having delegated the job to the man, the garage proprietor will let him get on with it and support him in any difficulties.
We know only too well that complaints are made against local garages, and no doubt they will be made in these cases in the future, but the general complaint by the public is that the garages try to persuade them to spend more money on their cars than they wish. That is a fault in the right direction. [Laughter.] It is a fault in the right direction from the point of view of maintenance. It means that in many cases the garage proprietor knows that the car is not in an adequate condition to go on to the road and is, therefore, trying to persuade the customer to have the car made completely reliable. In any event, if the customer is dissatisfied with that, he has the appeal to the Ministry or he can go to another garage.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I do not think that many of the people owning ten-year-old cars which they bring for inspection under the scheme will be able to afford a new car. They can possibly afford only another second-hand car.
I am convinced that good will be done and that certain people who, at present, do not know that they are driving dangerous vehicles on the road will perhaps 837 be glad to have the faults of the vehicle pointed out to them. I am further convinced that this is the only practical scheme, by bringing in the garages, and that any other scheme would involve the taxpayer in large amounts of money.
I will return briefly to one other point on road safety. I and the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) have been interesting ourselves in recent months in the Institute of Advanced Motorists which is giving people an opportunity to take a test which is more advanced than the Government test. By the work in that Institute we have learned a great deal about the common driving faults and I think that both of us admit that we have been surprised to find that, generally, driving by the public is not as good as it ought to be or as good as we imagined it to be.
As I said recently outside these walls, there are too many folk on the road suffering from M.S.U.—the Malady of Supposed Urgency—when they go about their driving. There are a large number of common faults to which we are all prone when driving motorcars. One which has been disclosed by this test is that a number of people, when giving a signal and changing gear at the same time, take their hands completely off the steering wheel for a few seconds, and the car is out of control. That is the kind of thing which has been revealed by some of these tests. On the other hand, it is only fair to say that 60 per cent. of the people who have presented themselves for this advanced test have passed it.
§ Mr. J. Harrison
What happens to the other 40 per cent.? Do they cease driving their cars until they have taken the ordinary public test?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am speaking of an advanced test—more advanced than the ordinary public test. The other 40 per cent. are perfectly entitled to continue to drive on the roads. All we are trying to do is to encourage people to take a higher test of a more skilful nature than the ordinary test.
Another Institute which is doing good work at present is the R.A.C./Auto-Cycle Union, which has a training scheme for motor cyclists; for 36s. the Institute gives twenty-four lessons to 838 junior motor cyclists in motor cycling. It has 60 schools dotted throughout the country giving this kind of training. The suggestion which I make to my hon. Friend, with a view to his passing it to the Minister, is that he might do much worse than make a grant to some of the bodies like the R.A.C./A.C.U. and the Institute of Advanced Motorists who are trying to bring about a higher standard among motor cyclists and motorists. In Committee on the Road Traffic Bill, as far as I can remember, the then Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that under Clause 5 it was possible for the Government to make grants to approved societies which are attempting to improve road safety. I put forward the suggestion that the time has arrived for grants to be made to these estimable bodies.
I am afraid that there is a long way to go before we have achieved complete road safety in this country. It is horrifying to mention that we kill one person every one-and-a-half hours right round the clock every day of the year on the roads of this country and one person is injured every two minutes. I am certain that the testing of vehicles will help to reduce accidents. The various bodies who are trying to encourage a better standard of driving will also help. The British public must pay more attention to the question of driving generally. The driver is in charge of a potentially dangerous vehicle. We must do everything we can to encourage a higher standard of skill, care and responsibility on our roads so as to avoid this serious carnage of death and injury.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
We have not had the pleasure of seeing the Minister here today. If we are rather thin on the ground it is because many hon. Members who are connected with the railway industry are interested in the same sort of thing as the Minister at this moment. Consequently, if the debate takes on a road transport bias and gets away from the usual railway bias, it will be a welcome change.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) seemed to be unduly nervous about interruptions in his speech, but I intended to rise only to agree with something that he said.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Member should not look a gift horse in the month. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) said that he thought that Members of Parliament should be shown round nationalised workshops as any casual body of chaps might be shown round. I hope that the nationalised industries will not fall below private industry in their treatment of Members of Parliament, as experienced by some hon. Members who were shown round the testing grounds outside Nuneaton, and on another visit they had to the Longbridge Works at Birmingham. Members of Parliament are respectable people, and I do not agree that Members of Parliament should suffer from this sort of misery-mongering philosophy, that anything done nationally must be done on the cheap. I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), that if we have much of that sort of thing Members of Parliament will find other things to do.
I want to say a few words about the railways, because mine is very much a railway constituency. I want to express my appreciation and pleasure with the diesel trains which are now running between Leeds and Bradford. It is possible to run a train almost every quarter of an hour, instead of having only one train per hour. It is a highly efficient service. I believe that similar trains are also running to Harrogate, but I have not yet made that journey. It certainly cuts out the very nagging road journey, and a development in this direction will commend itself to the public.
Travelling in America, one becomes more and more impressed with the fact that motorists can go to the railhead and be taken on a railway journey. It takes away all the anxiety that one often has in driving on the roads. We know that it is no pleasure to go to the coast, especially the South Coast, at the week-end. It is far better to keep off the roads then. I hope that we shall see more diesel trains. I have never seen why we should have long trains, with carriages passing almost beyond the horizon, and with only two or three people in them. The development of the diesel coach is a most promising activity.
The hon. Member for Twickenham spoke about accidents, but I do not think that anybody has yet referred to the question of the drink factor in accidents. We 840 must remember this. One of the most depressing things that I see as I go about the country are the cars parked outside public houses. It so happens that I have an interest in this matter, since I have had a lifetime of service in the road transport industry, and I once had charge of many drivers. It was a well-regulated rule that no one was allowed to be seen near a public house with his lorry until his day was over. That rule still applies in many firms now.
But it does not apply to the private motorist, who is the most irresponsible person on the road. He is allowed to have his "one for the road". We want to see a greater sense of responsibility in this matter. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), who said that he had looked forward to this great propaganda campaign about drink and driving but had seen no evidence of it. We cannot laugh this off simply by saying that it is a social posture to have a drink, or that we are convivial by nature. Anybody who has seen the results of accidents—and I have been an expert witness in motoring cases—will know the element of danger that there is, and a great responsibility rests on the shoulders of people driving cars. especially at the end of the day when they are tired, and when they sometimes have their families with them, to see that they do not queue up outside public houses.
The hon. Member for Twickenham said that when a Member of Parliament makes a commonsense and straightforward speech he is not reported. I am not sure what he meant. I should have thought that it would be far better to have a policeman outside every public house that has a car park so that he can stop people getting into their cars after they have come out of the public house. This would be far better than having the police chasing up and down the roads, as I saw them doing on the Rochester bypass today, when they pulled up a competent driver who was speeding along that road, which was derestricted until a week ago and now has a 40 m.p.h. speed limit.
Only a week or two ago I had some experience of the question of car testing. I was travelling along a road that I know very well when a lorry pulled to the offside of the road, in front of me. The 841 lorry had a winking light on its rear offside, and I went to go past it on its nearside, which was reasonable, because it was on the crown of the road. It then turned to the nearside of the road. That leads me to make the point that the bye-laws should require that these winking lights should not be connected to rear lights. I used to have the job of inspecting cars, and I inspected this lorry. I found that it had a short-circuit on one side, and the rear lamp was shorting all the time when the brakelights came on. The winking rear indicator lights should be on a completely different circuit from the rear lights. I could understand the point of view of the driver, who was a professional, but looking back on the incident I can also understand my own reaction at the time. At any rate, it stopped my no-claim bonus, which had stood for many years.
I have never had any doubts about the question of the Government testing of cars. I made a speech when this matter was first raised, saying that even if we took into account the element of skilled personnel required to do the job, it could he found only in private industry at present. I doubt whether the Government would pay skilled engineers the money that they would require. Their driving test examiners used to be scandalously underpaid in spite of the fact that they have a rather onerous responsibility.
I got mixed up in some Press agitation on this matter some time ago. We give these examiners the right to decide, and to be judge and jury, saying whether a man should receive a licence or be able to carry on his living. At the time when we were considering the Road Traffic Bill the driving test examiners were rather understaffed and their trade union considered that they were underpaid. I should think that they were, bearing in mind the responsibility that they carry, and the fact that a fitter could earn much more in the workshop. This is a fitter's job; it is not a public school or old school tie job. Those people were scandalously underpaid and, bearing in mind that example, I wonder what sort of salary will be fixed for those who are to make vehicle tests.
The Civil Service mind tends to play down the manual worker and seems to take the attitude that people who have 842 not graduated through the clerical and administrative grades are lesser breeds within the law. We may get more skilled people in the private garages. I have always supported the view that the private garages should undertake this work. I know that they are vulnerable to public scandal. One argument which can be put to the opponents of the Government's scheme is that there will be a certain amount of prestige in being a Government testing station. The Minister ought to treat it as such and ought not to give this job to everybody who applies. In the same way that the A.A. lists hotels and gives standards of up to five stars, there should be a list of garages which should include not only the great chain organisations, but the small, reputable, local garages.
If there were any abuse, the Minister should publicly remove the offending garages from his list. The loss of prestige for a local garage would be terrific if, once having been a testing station, it was removed from the list for abuse of trust. If that action were sternly taken in the first cases, which the Minister and I know will occur, I am fairly sure that the rest of the garages would fall into line.
§ Mr. Pannell
I have never seen any practical possibility outside this suggestion. If a local authority attempted to set up a testing station, even though it brought in all the plant under the sun, it would not necessarily have the know-how and it would take rather longer to do the work than would a garage where skilled men could take the work in their stride. No one can grumble at the fee. Even if a battery goes flat nowadays, or if there is any reason to bring out a towing wagon, the charge is £1 almost before the garage vehicle leaves the garage. A charge of 14s. for testing is not exorbitant and if it errs at all, the error is on the reasonable side.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough referred to C licences. I have never agreed with the view that we ought to have wholesale elimination of C licences. Even from a Socialist point of view, I have always argued that the transport of an undertaking is an integral part of that undertaking, in exactly the same 843 way as the dispatch and accounting departments. For instance, if an industry is nationalised, its transport will also be nationalised. It seems ridiculous to tear its transport from a particular industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough asked why most firms wanted C licences. The answer is perfectly simple—the absence of pilferage and damage. When a firm operates C licence vehicles, its losses on pilferage and breakages are staggeringly low. The answer to that is to increase public confidence in public road transport, and that confidence will be built by the progress of the British road transport industry which we have been witnessing recently.
Some firms have gone over to public transport and, to the extent that public transport becomes increasingly efficient, people will not have to bother with C licences. People do not take out C licences merely for empire building purposes within a firm. There is far too much trouble with road transport for them to do that. It is not a simple job and the wheels have to be kept turning all the time, but with the figures for pilferage and breakages and with the need for special types of bodies for special types of load, there are many advantages in the use of C licence vehicles.
The Minister will remember that when the Road Traffic Act, 1956, was in Committee, many of us went to much trouble to have a provision inserted to give local authorities the right to make byelaws for the control of dogs. I return to this subject, because I was staggered some years ago when the Chief Constable of Leeds told me that in 1951 one quarter of the road accidents in Leeds had a dog element. I was astonished to find that that figure largely applied to the whole country.
Local authorities now have the right to insist that on certain highways dogs must be kept under control, but that power is not used nearly enough. The Ministry of Transport still tends to regard dogs as the sacred cow of the British people. However, I received a great deal of publicity when I raised the matter some years ago, and when I received a spate of mail, I found that all the letters followed my view. The dog nuisance has now become widely understood.
844 Some years ago, I took out some figures which showed that the dog population had grown by a million since before the war. I suppose that that is a by-product of full employment, that people are now able to afford to keep not only themselves but a dog. People buy sporting dogs to present to little girls for having passed the 11-plus examination, and that sort of nonsense. Consequently, such dogs are brought into urban areas and the low walls built around the houses of most housing estates are just the right height for those dogs. We allow a degree of dirtiness in our housing estates which is intolerable and which is largely due to dogs not being on a leash. The number of dogs is increasing and it ought to be diminished.
Most people do not know how to look after a dog. Not sufficient respect is given to the dog. Dogs like setters should not be brought into urban areas where they cannot be allowed to run around properly. If they are not kept in control, dogs can run about in droves. The Minister must take some action to bring down the number of accidents which are caused through dogs not being on leads. If a dog dashes on to the roadway and there is an accident, nobody knows who is at fault.
I notice the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) looking rather kindly towards me. I suppose that he is thinking of his motor-cycle experience and is bearing in mind that dogs are a greater menace even than motor-cyclists—or perhaps, that dogs are a greater menace to motor cyclists than to motor car drivers.
We are all pleased with the expansion of the road programme and I do not withhold my mede of praise from the Government; but, all these years after the war, surely we are entitled to say that more progress should have been made. If the Conservative Party had been in power in 1945–51, as we were, I believe that it would have recognised the same priorities which we adopted.
I refer to that only because there always seems to be such a long time between the decision to lay a road and the time when the road is put down. I have always said that if navvies were as great layabouts as lawyers are on this sort of thing, then we would never have any roads. It usually takes about four 845 years for the lawyers to prepare the way and about three years for the navvies to do the work.
If we argue that the road engineers say that in London there is a great deal of equipment underneath the road—gas mains and electricity cables and that sort of thing—it can also be said that there are stretches of road throughout the country where they can employ their skill without these impediments. But there still seem to be unnecessary bottlenecks and delays caused by gentlemen engaged in administration. We should probably find that more money is spent on solicitors and lawyers than on the construction of the roads.
This decision to have tests for vehicles over ten years old is the first step in the right direction. Gradually we shall have to bring the period down to nine years and eight years and eventually, probably, to five years. It is a shocking thing that the Minister can give a figure of 43 per cent. as the proportion of vehicles passing through the Government road-testing station which were not up to a proper standard of road worthiness.
Commercial vehicles have been subject to tests for years. We are particularly anxious about public service vehicles. I sometimes think that my friends who are interested in railways tend to ignore that aspect of road transport. Those vehicles are driven by the most skilful drivers in the country, and so it follows that if we achieve that degree of excellence for vehicles which are controlled by the best types of drivers, naturally the older vehicles—vehicles such as the one referred to by the hon. Member for Twickenham, with steering gear ungreased for so long that it snapped off—should be subjected to tests.
There is no single real answer to the problem of road safety—not one answer alone—that we can give. There are many complementary answers. The Minister is dealing with the question of the roadworthiness of vehicles, and I suggest that there are two other factors which he must face with far more courage and resolution. They are the "drunks" and the dogs. Up to now, we have done precious little about either of them.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
The Committee will, I hope, forgive me if I bring the debate away from the 846 question of roads and road safety and back to the subject of the railways. I am sorry that I shall not be accompanying the delegation which is to visit the railway works at Swindon on Monday. The reason is that I am one of the delegation to Strasbourg to attend the meetings of the Council of Europe, which means that I shall be going to Strasbourg instead of to Swindon. That is also the reason why I wish to say something today on the subject of railways.
During the past year I have visited several different parts of Europe and I have been impressed by the standard of modernisation of certain foreign railways; which leads me to think that in this country we are a long way behind, particularly in the matter of electrification. I am not complaining about the speed of our programme. Indeed, as has been made clear, the solvency of the country is essential before we can afford to speed up the modernisation of our rail transport. But it is worth stressing that we are miles behind in electrification compared with countries like Sweden, Switzerland. Holland, France, West Germany, Austria and Belgium, which means that at least seven European countries are ahead of us. There may be others.
There are good reasons for this. Two or three of these countries were neutral during both world wars. In other countries the railway systems were destroyed during the last war and it has been possible to modernise them with advantages and assistance of a type not available in this country. But after taking account of the progress made here since the war, one finds, when travelling abroad, that the progress there has been greater.
For example, I was pleased when the Eastern Region introduced "The Talisman" express between Kings Cross and Edinburgh a year or two ago. I regarded that as at least a step towards the return of the pre-war "Coronation" days. But on going to Bordeaux, a few months ago, I found that there is an electric train called the "Sud Express". which runs from Paris to Bordeaux, non-stop, at an average speed of about 70 miles an hour. That beats the efforts of "The Talisman", and shows how far we have to go to catch up with Continental railway modernisation.
847 In this country we are worried whether the Transport Commission will break even financially in, say, 1961. There is one nationalised railway system on the Continent which has broken even at least every year since the war, and in every year except two has made a profit. That is the nationalised railway system of Holland. I should like to refer to the way in which this system is run, because it is something that we may have to think about if we do not succeed in putting the Transport Commission on its feet in the years that lie ahead.
As I understand the Dutch system, the State owns the capital and the company operating the railways confines its activities almost entirely to railway operations. Everything else is decentralised, being undertaken either by subsidiary companies, responsible for their own finances and maintenance, or by private contractors. For example, the porters at every station are provided by private contracts. Most of the repair work is done by subsidiary companies. The maintenance of track and the provision of staff is the responsibility either of a subsidiary company, or is carried out under contract. The refreshment rooms are run under a private contract.
I do not profess to know anything about the conditions or the labour relations of the people working on the Dutch railways, and it may be that other hon. Members know something about that; but I emphasise that this is a system under which a nationalised railway has succeeded in paying its way. As I say, the Dutch railway system has not only avoided making a loss, but has made a profit every year since the war except for two years.
This is despite the fact, also, that Holland has a road traffic density which is the third highest in the world, and, in Europe, is second only to ourselves in the number of vehicles per road mile. In this country the figure is 20.8 vehicles per road mile—or it was in 1954. In the United States the figure is 16.9; and in Holland it is 15.9. From an examination of the figures I gather that the Dutch have no less a proportion—perhaps even a higher proportion—of commercial vehicles compared with ours; and so, presumably, the road transport of goods is the same.
848 In other words, the Dutch railways have managed to avoid making a loss against as much competition from the roads as our own railways have to face. I put forward the Dutch scheme as something which we may have to consider if, under present arrangements, British Railways do not succeed in paying their way in the next year or two.
I turn to the road problem and I entirely agree with all hon. Members who have emphasised the vast amount of road work that is being done. Credit is due to the present Minister of Transport and his predecessor, and particularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for granting the money to make all this work possible. We have a long way to go. We are hardly keeping pace with the great increase in the flow of traffic. Most of the programme is rightly being concentrated on the important roads between our cities.
What worries most of us is how to decrease the congestion inside the cities. That is why I would ask my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Transport what plans we have for speeding up the building of new roads inside cities and helping to relieve congestion. An experiment in parking meters will start in London very shortly in one area. Let us hope that it will be a success. What progress is being made with the plan which my right hon. Friend has been encouraging for persuading motorists who are coming into London to park their cars at suburban underground or railway stations and to come in by rail? That plan is of great importance in overcoming congestion. One can see a large number of railway stations and car parks that are only half occupied.
I was passing a National Car Park yesterday at the corner of Portland Square and it appeared to me to be only half full while the streets around it were lined with parked cars. We must be far more drastic about cars being parked in the streets while car parks are not being used to their fullest extent. Bombed-site car parks can be made use of by private motorists who want to leave their cars all day. Streets could be used by people who want to park for only a few minutes.
In the provision of multi-storey garages we are far behind the United States and possibly some other European countries.
849 We could also do more to persuade local authorities to tackle the problem of providing more off-street parking places. Meanwhile, we are all very appreciative of what is being done to speed up the road programme and to relieve congestion. Let us press on with even more speed to rid the country of its appalling loss of life.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I want to make only one point, very briefly, about road traffic signs. The Ministry ought to do a lot more to stabilise these signs and to line them up with the internationalised signs in continental countries. I believe that a suggestion has been put forward on many occasions, but for some reason we seem to prefer to have our separate system of road signs. As we want to encourage continental motorists to come here, surely it would be helpful to adopt the standardised system of signs which they would recognise. I cannot see the reason for our having a separate system or road traffic signs.
A committee on traffic signs was set up by the Minister in November of last year, under the chairmanship of Sir Colin Anderson. At that time, I am informed, a request was made by a trade body known as the Association of Road Traffic Sign manufacturers to be allowed representation on the committee. The request was refused. I would ask the Minister why a body of that kind is not represented on a committee where its experience would obviously be useful both to the committee and to the Minister? I do not believe that any satisfactory answer has been given why such a body should not have representation on the committee.
The Minister should look very closely indeed at the possibility of bringing our road traffic signs into line with those of the Continent. There are signs that are well known on the Continent which are not to be found in this country at all. I hope that the Minister will pay special attention to the point which I have made.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I, too, want to make a point, very briefly on this occasion, about the testing of old vehicles. From the point of view of the public, this is like taking a very large hammer to crack a very small nut. We 850 have not yet been told the size of the problem.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that about 43 per cent. of the vehicles which passed through the Government testing station proved to be defective to some extent, but the important figure is how many accidents have taken place because of defective cars. I do not believe that figure is known, but I suggest that it is about 3 per cent. This is the percentage of accidents brought about by mechanical defects on vehicles ten years old or over.
If that figure is correct, is it worth setting up all this apparatus and to superimpose it upon the present law? The law says to the motorist, "The car is yours and if it goes wrong you must look after it." Is it worth going to all this trouble for what may be only 3 per cent.?
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
How many human lives does the hon. Member consider would justify a vehicle-testing system?
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am glad that the hon. Member has mentioned that. We do not really know the size of the problem and there do not seem to be any statistics available. The hon. Member makes the valid point that rather than one person should lose his life we should have the complete testing of all vehicles, but from that point of view testing becomes absurd and unnecessary.
Just where are we? How many accidents have been caused by defective vehicles and what is the amount of accident we shall prevent by the procedure which the Minister proposes? I am not saying this by way of criticism, because I am certain that some sort of testing is necessary, but because the public is mystified about the matter. I suggest that when the 15s. has been paid by the owner of a ten-year-old vehicle which has been tested the insurance premium exacted from him should be reduced by at least 15s. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it is a valid hope, because the insurance company can now have a bit of paper, saying in black and white, that the vehicle is a better insurance risk than it was before. It is reasonable to ask a company to reduce its charges.
I hope that the garages used as Government testing stations will be checked in the same way as the Automobile Association checks its hotels. Once a garage 851 becomes a Government testing station it should not have a right to occupy that position for ever. Many people are not looking forward to paying the 15s. and repair charges. Their only pleasure, in many cases, is to use their car at weekends and these charges will fall heavily on them. I hope that my hon. Friend will give the reason why these charges have to be made.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
I apologise to the Committee for being absent from the debate for this length of time, but I think that hon. Members know the reason. I have been accompanying the Prime Minister at his meeting at No. 10, Downing Street, which has now concluded. I have been trying to ascertain whether the communiqué has yet been finalised and I am not sure whether it has. If not, it will shortly be issued. If it is agreeable to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who is to wind up for the Opposition, I shall be glad to reply to points at the end of the debate.
I believe that the unions and Sir Brian Robertson are meeting tomorrow. Therefore, I should not wish to enter into the issues, but I am entirely at the service of the Committee. I am sure that the communiqué will be available before the right hon. Member for Vauxhall rises to make his speech. If there are any points raised on it I shall endeavour to answer them, but, as there is to be a meeting tomorrow, I should not wish to enter into details on the matter.
§ Mr. G.R. Strauss
We appreciate the fact that the Minister has intervened in the debate to make that statement and we look forward to reading the communiqué. I can assure him that we would not wish to question the communiqué, or enter in any way into debate of the discussions which are going on.
§ Sir F. Markham
In view of the helpfulness of his statement, could my right hon. Friend help us more by saying what the general line of the communiqué might be?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I do not think that that would be appropriate. I cannot even say whether the communiqué is being finally issued, but I shall know 852 before the debate is wound up and then it will be open to hon. Members to ask questions if they wish to do so.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I think I ought to declare an interest in this debate, as I am a railwayman, but I do not intend to refer tonight to the railways except to take up some points raised by the hon. Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell). He gave the Committee some very interesting information about the Dutch railways. He told us that they probably were the only railways paying their way, or which have paid their way, with the exception of two years, since the war.
§ Mr. Russell
I did not mean to convey the impression that they were the only railways to have done so, but gave that as an example of a nationalised railway system which paid its way.
§ Mr. Howell
I was very interested to learn that there was even one railway system which had done so, but I accept the point.
The hon. Member did not tell us whether the Dutch railways have a rates tribunal which fixes rates to be charged from which they can get their income, or whether they have a Minister of Transport who prohibits them from increasing fares when recommended by such a rates tribunal to do so. If they have the same handicaps as we have in Britain, the fact that they are making a profit is more laudable than ever.
As a railwayman, I am convinced that railways could pay if they were allowed to make an economic charge for the services they can give. I am convinced that railway rates and fares today are less in money values than they were before the war. A creditable performance has been put up by British Railways. However, if I were to go into that question, and into what the Minister said about the railways a few moments ago, I should be out of order. In 1953, I had the pleasure of meeting the Minister's predecessor in negotiations with the National Union of Railwaymen. I had a little to do with the strike action which was proposed on that occasion and a little to do with the amelioration which went on afterwards. But I should not like to pursue that matter tonight, or I should be quickly ruled out of order.
853 I wish to go on to the question of the examination of road vehicles. I had the very interesting pleasure of sitting on the Committee which dealt with that subject. I asked a question about the stopping of traffic in order to carry out a test. We were given an assurance that vehicles would not be stopped on the road for examination. They would be examined in lay-bys, and not when standing at railway crossings. They could be examined only when standing and, if they had to he stopped, one of the 100 inspectors would need to have at least one policeman with him to stop the traffic. That was the explanation given to the committee. I suppose that there is an easy way of avoiding that difficulty.
The Law Officers might give different advice, but I believe that if these inspectors are to be servants of the Crown there is no reason why they should not be sworn in as special constables. One of my hon. Friends mentioned the Highway Patrol, in America. I would not pursue that too far because, obviously, we are not going to get many Dan Matthews' in this country; and not many would be needed. Probably "courtesy cops" do as much good in this country as the Highway Patrol does in America. Instead of allowing each police force to have its own mobile section we ought to have a mobile police force, centralised either for counties or other areas. I do not think that it would be policy for a county borough, or even a non-county borough, to have separate mobile police forces. That would cause confusion, but I see no reason, particularly in the larger counties, why there should not be separate mobile police forces dealing entirely with road traffic matters.
I should not like us to go so far as Spain, where there are four sections of police, only one of which deals with point duty and traffic work. It has no connection with the ordinary police, whose job is the prevention or detection of crime. I should like to see mobile police forces on a county basis doing the work as "courtesy cops." I had a classic example of this on Sunday night, when travelling home by car from my constituency. As hon. Members will recall, that was supposed to be the warmest day we have had this year. It was the first day of Summer Time. Many motorists had apparently come out for the first time—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Godfrey Nicholson)
The hon. Member is going beyond the bounds of order. The Ministry of Transport has no responsibility in this connection.
§ Mr. Howell
I was trying to refer to the traffic problem on the roads. I hope that I am in order, Sir Godfrey.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Mobile police are certainly not under the control of the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mr. Howell
I shall leave that matter and go back to the question of the examination of vehicles on the roads.
The type of traffic we get on the roads today, particularly at weekends includes considerable numbers of very old vehicles. Although an hon. Member opposite suggested that some people thought the Minister was taking a sledge hammer to crack a small nut, I should like to see some of the rusting nuts, and rods which are rusted through, eliminated.
It is quite easy for a brake rod to be rusted almost through without even a reasonably careful motorist knowing about it. Many garages do not have an inspection pit, and unless the motorist is the do-it-yourself type, and jacks up his car to put on a wheel, he does not see what is underneath. I have heard of a number of cases where someone has had to stop in an emergency and the amount of pressure applied to the footbrake has broken the rod. Once I helped a man to jack up his car to take off a broken brake rod that was dragging on the road.
It is only when a motorist pays a professional garage to do the oiling and greasing on a hydraulic lift that the underside of the car is seen. Even so, If had a shock when I looked under my own car and found that my garage had certainly not been doing my oiling and greasing as it should have been done. It is because the average motorist does not see those danger points that I whole-heartedly support the examination of vehicles.
Like one of my hon. Friends who said that we would have to start with the ten-year-old cars and then come down to the nine-year-old and eight-year-old ones, I think that it is essential that the work should be done as quickly as possible, and I support the argument, advanced from both sides of the Committee, that 100 or 150 inspectors will 855 not be enough. I do not know what value there is in the Minister's view that we can take inspectors away from the driving tests. As it is, from what I have heard, if a man is only five weeks down the waiting list for a driving test he is lucky. I do not know how the Minister will get those men to turn to vehicle testing.
The results of the Hendon testing station must have convinced the Minister of the need for these examinations, though even there it was mainly those with well-maintained cars who volunteered. They are not, therefore, a really true picture of what one could expect of vehicles throughout the country, but even so they revealed a large number of cars with such things as bad brakes and bad alignment of lamps. The whole question of vehicle testing should be looked at again by the Minister, but I do not think that 200, or even 300 inspectors would be too many. In fact, I should say that the number should be even higher.
One of the Minister's right hon. Friends recently told us that as we are turning to nuclear instead of conventional missiles, there is to be a cut in the Armed Forces. It may well be that if suitably-qualified people from the forces were encouraged to pass examinations they could be recruited as vehicle testers.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at both the recruitment of inspectors and the need for inspectors to be able to stop vehicles which they think need examination. I am keen on that latter power, because sometimes one travels behind a car the wheels of which are wobbling terribly. Obviously, the crown pins have almost "gone for a burton." At present, if an inspector was travelling behind such a vehicle he could not stop it, unless he had a police constable with him. He would have to follow it to a lay-by. If an examiner feels that a car needs inspection he should be able to stop it. I hope that the Minister will look at my suggestion that these men should be sworn in as special constables.
There would also have to be identification of the inspector's car. Police cars have a bell, and can also switch on a back screen showing the word "Police" or "Stop", or something or that nature. Further, the public must be told that 856 the Ministry of Transport's examiners have this power and that their vehicles are identifiable. This whole question is of importance not only to the driver of an unsafe car or lorry, but to the careful motorist who might be endangered by a lorry in bad condition. The only way to do it is by examination, which I completely support.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Perry Bar (Mr. C. Howell) will forgive me if I do not follow him, but I want to revert to our railways, as this is one of the very rare occasions here when we can say almost anything we like about them. Even so, I would not have asked permission to speak had it not been for the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), who, I think, entered into very grave error. Indeed, if he is right, then many of us in the House are wrong.
The hon. Member said that there would be reductions in the volume of work and in the staffs of railway carriage workshops. I believe that statement to be totally untrue and that, instead, the policy of the British Transport Commission, and certainly of the Ministry, is to do everything that can be done to catch up the tremendous lag in railway carriage building, and that, at a modest estimate, there is at least ten years' work for such railway workshops as those at Wolverton, Swindon and Derby. I hope that when the hon. Member has made further inquiries he will withdraw a statement that must create some alarm and despondency in railway centres.
Many of us who travel by rail know only too well that even with the improvements that have taken place in the last few years there is still very great need for better railway carriages. I very often use the London-Northampton line. It is significant that, of the trains that serve, for example, Euston-Leighton Buzzard - Wolverton - Castlethorpe - Roade and Northampton, one-third have no first-class accommodation at all. A single first-class carriage, or even compartment, should be provided for those who have bought first-class tickets and expect the railways to live up to their contracts.
One-third of the trains between London and these stations have no lavatory accommodation at all. They 857 are antiquated stock, on the average, I should say, 25 to 30 years old, and this on the best permanent way in t he country and on a line that is popular and that pays extremely well. I think it would be difficult to find any other area in the world with such deplorable carriage accommodation as is the case on the train service between London, Leighton Buzzard, Bletchley, Wolverton, Castlethorpe, Roade and on to Northampton. If any hon. Member on either side of the Committee suggests that the time has come for a halt in carriage building of any kind on the railways, I think he should be condemned to go round the railways of this country on the slow lines to see how he responds to it.
I am speaking again of the speech of the hon. Member for Swindon, which, though it was delivered over an hour and a quarter ago, was the real reason for my rising in this debate. I welcomed his comments about the visits of Members of Parliament to railway workshops, and I also welcome this change on the part of the British Transport Commission. I remember that when I returned to the House after a long interval in 1951, the one thing that I wanted to do was to have a look at the Wolverton railway workshops. I wrote to the superintendent, expecting quite reasonably that he would welcome me and that I should be shown round the place on a normal working day and so see the works under normal working conditions.
Nothing of the sort. Mr. Peters, the Superintendent, could not give me permission; the matter would have to go right up to the top of the British Transport Commission, and it did. It went up to Lord Hurcomb, and Lord Hurcomb turned it down. He gave me the impression that under no circumstances did he want Members of Parliament visiting works of any kind at any time.
This was a very extraordinary attitude. As hon. Members may know, my interest in railways is not only political, but also in a minor degree quite technical. I was astonished at this attitude of Lord Hurcomb, and it was only after the most acute argument with the Minister of Transport and the pressure brought by the Ministry on the British Transport Commission at the time that I was allowed to visit these great railway workshops in my own constituency. Even then it was laid down that I must not go round the 858 works on a working day, but must go one Sunday morning, when nobody else was there. Those were the conditions. [Laughter.] I know that hon. Members are laughing, and it is absolutely astonishing that these conditions could prevail in a nationalised service. I have not mentioned this point before, but the facts are there. I thought it was humiliating to begin with, and a reflection on the competence of certain officers of the British Transport Commission, and I for one thought that silence was the better of the two policies.
Now, however, I heartily welcome the new attitude, and I should like to say how much we welcome Sir Brian Robertson's dealings with Members of Parliament. He is not only the soul of courtesy, but does give the impression that he is interested in the problems we raise on behalf of our constituents. Never in the years that I have been a Member of Parliament have I known a Chairman of the Transport Commission or his officers show greater kindness, sympathy and interest than Sir Brian and his staff have done in the last few years.
I also welcome the visit of some Members of Parliament last week to one of the Southern Region workshops, and I understand that some others are going to Swindon on Monday next. It is a twin tribute to our own Transport Committee in the House of Commons and to the Parliamentary advisers to the British Transport Commission and their officials. The difference in the railways' public relations between 1951 or 1952 and 1958 is really amazing, and I think that every word of credit that we can give to Sir Brian Robertson and his colleagues should be given.
I should have liked to have had the opportunity this evening of saying something on the railwaymen's wages and about the capital programme for railway expansion, but in view of the Minister's intervention and the fact that a communiqué is coming later, I think I shall have to reserve comments on these two points to a further opportunity. I would say, by the way, that there is a strong case for an improvement in the conditions of railwaymen, and that there is an equally strong case for the improvement of capital investment in the railways, but I will be tactful and leave it at that.
859 My final point is also on the subject of roads. The Minister has shown a tremendous zeal and thrustfulness in getting the London—Yorkshire motorway started. There is no doubt that this will be a tremendous boon to the whole country. As I think hon. Members know, this roadway cuts right through my constituency, and some of our loveliest farming land is now in a state which is almost reminiscent of the gold diggings in Australia, or something of that kind. We do not disapprove of this, but what we would ask the Minister is whether these enormous machines of fantastic dimensions and noisiness cannot maintain an interval of silence during the night.
They are operating in three shifts in a 24-hour day, but when these great machines are working near towns or villages, surely there could be an interval of silence during the night. An interval of six or seven hours would be appreciated. I know that we have created these machines for the job, and that the job is being done. I would not minimise the value of the job or the speed at which it is being carried through, but, in the interests of elderly people, children and working men themselves, I think there should be a period of silence or semi-silence during the night so that those living in my constituency alongside the route can get a little sleep.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) will excuse me if I do not follow the lines of the speech which he has just made, though I agree with his remarks about the courtesy which a Member of Parliament always receives when he addresses communications to the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson. I, too, would like to pay my tribute to him.
I want to raise a matter connected with road safety. I attempted to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to it, and I am very pleased indeed that the Minister himself is now present. I hope that if he cannot give me a reply tonight he will at least make some inquiries. My constituents in Cranford, which lies alongside the Bath Road leading to London Airport, are alarmed by an accident which occurred quite recently.
860 I want to ask the Minister whether foreign-owned cars carrying ambassadors for foreign countries with foreign drivers, are above our own speed and safety regulations. I raise this point because one of my constituents, living in Berkeley Avenue, Cranford, was unfortunately, killed early one morning recently by a Netherlands motor car driven by a foreign chauffeur. When the matter was taken to court the plea of diplomatic immunity was put forward.
If such pleas can be put in the police courts, a very serious situation will arise, particularly in my constituency. The Bath Road leads to London Airport. The Minister has been concerned about the Bath Road, as I know. Recently, we had the 40 m.p.h. speed limit introduced in place of the old 30 m.p.h. limit. This has worried people living in the area. It is a built-up residential area, with many children living there, and motor cars speed along so that their passengers can catch aircraft at the airport.
In the light of the accident resulting in the death of my constituent, and the plea of diplomatic immunity that was subsequently put forward, I ask the Minister to inquire into the regulations governing this aspect of road travel.
§ Mr. Watkinson
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not entirely my ministerial responsibility, but I will certainly undertake to do that.
§ Mr. Hunter
I quite appreciate what the Minister says, but it seems to me that it is a matter which comes under road transport. It is a matter of public importance.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I should tell the hon. Gentleman that if it is the responsibility of the Home Office, it does not come under the subject of roads. I hope that he will deal with the matter with that in mind.
§ Mr. Hunter
But, surely, Sir Godfrey, the Minister has some responsibility if a motor car travels at 50, 60, or 80 miles an hour along a road. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consult either the Home Office or the Foreign Office about these foreign diplomats' cars, for so many travel the Bath Road to London Airport. I will leave the point there and come now to the subject of road safety campaigns.
861 I believe that we now need a big road safety campaign. From his replies to my Questions, I know that the Minister is very much interested in the subject. Last year, the number of casualties went up by 21¼ per cent. Over 5,000 people were killed on the roads. There were, I think, 62,000 seriously injured and 60,000 injured not so seriously. When we take with those figures, the fact that there was petrol rationing for three or four months of 1957, we can readily see that last year was a bad year for road casualties.
In built-up, residential areas, with children going to and from school and people going to and from work, the whole question of road safety should receive particular attention. I ask the Minister to do all he can to initiate a renewed road safety campaign this year and to make our roads safe for people to use
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
Returning to the subject of railways, I wish, first, to say that I share the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F Markham) about the good relations existing between the British Transport Commission and Members of the House of Commons. I was somewhat shocked by the story he had to tell of earlier circumstances. If I may mention one individual by name, the work of Mr. Henderson in these good relations has been very significant indeed. Many of us are grateful to him for the qualities he devotes to his job.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) spoke about apprehension in Swindon at the Transport Commission placing orders for locomotives with outside firms. I realise that this causes some anxiety. Coming from a railway town myself, I, too, know something of the historical problem. At the time when the railways were grouped together, the four sections vied with each other in trying to introduce the best locomotive. Coming as I do from the North-Western area, I would not agree that Swindon "had the edge". Many people, of course, would take a contrary view.
Competition to build a new type of locomotive and win some degree of sovereignty is something which dies very hard in the locomotive building centres, and we have a historical problem on our 862 hands. We have also an economic problem. I agree that we should not denude the railway locomotive works of orders to the extent that we seriously jeopardise the work of individuals in those centres, but, apart from that, there are other considerations which we, as a Committee, must bear in mind. One of the most important, of course, is the existence and prosperity of our locomotive building industry.
The industry has had an extraordinary career in that it has managed since the days of the amalgamations largely to keep going, in fits and starts, almost by export orders alone. Hon. Members on both sides will realise that, in modern conditions, when orders are cut off very often by Government decree because of lack of import licences and when locomotives are often sold on credit rather than because of the intrinsic merits of the job, for an industry to attempt to exist entirely on export orders would be exceedingly difficult. Indeed, it would jeopardise the efficiency, size and structure of the industry. I hope, therefore, that those who represent railway interests will try to bear in mind that, while we must naturally concern ourselves with railway workers employed in the locomotive building works, there is that wider issue to be taken into account.
It is important also that we bear in mind that railway locomotive construction represents only a small percentage of the work in locomotive workshops. The figures are in dispute, but I think that they range between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the total work involved. Maintenance accounts for the rest. We are not, therefore, dealing here with a problem which seriously affects employment in locomotive works.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Although he says that the locomotive industry dealt largely with exports, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate also that prior to the modernisation the railways built many of their own locomotives and also took in many steam locomotives built by outside firms. There is a general desire that the locomotive building shops should be allowed to build some, not all, of the new diesel-electric locomotives, as they were previously. That is all that is being asked.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I think the hon. Gentleman is not stating the case as I put it.
863 I agree that what he urges should be done. I said that we had an historical problem on our hands and we should not denude the railway works of orders for new locomotives. On the other hand, I ask hon. Gentlemen to bear in mind that there is the wider issue. We need a prosperous independent locomotive building industry in this country, and we are not likely to keep it if it has to depend, in present-day conditions, entirely on export orders. If we approach the matter in that light, I think we shall find a happy solution acceptable to both sides.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) made excessive play of the cuts which the Government have enforced. These cuts are not of any great consequence whatever.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Gentleman may disagree, but I assure him that they are not of any great consequence in the way they affect the efficiency of railway operations. It is quite possible to confine the cuts, if cuts they can be called, which I very much doubt, to such aspects of the modernisation programme as will not seriously impede progress towards a more efficient railway service. I hope that it will not be argued that disaster will overtake the modernisation programme because of these changes in the phasing. We have, indeed, allowed the programme to go ahead faster than was intended. On the whole, I doubt very much whether the overall speed of the programme, even with these slight cuts back, will be below that originally intended.
The Committee ought to realise that speed costs money. That is a physical law, and it certainly applies to the modernisation programme of the Transport Commission. I do not know how much it has cost to speed up the modernisation programme as much as has been done, but I guarantee that it is many millions of £s. The more one speeds up a thing the bigger one's mistakes and the more costly they become. I do not want to go into detail, but it is true that technical development has already overtaken some of the projects that the British Transport Commission had in mind and upon which it 864 had already started. Certain lines of modernisation had to be abandoned because something superior came along to take its place.
Let me take, for example, the hydraulic buffer. I do not want to go into detail, because individual firms are concerned and I am not anxious to intrude in such matters. Technical developments in certain cases have invalidated some of the work which has been done. Without attempting to decry modernisation in any way, I think that it is possible to go at too fast a speed. If one speeds up a modernisation programme, it will cost a lot of money. On the whole, the balance that we now have between what the Commission would like to see and what the Government are able to afford is perhaps the one that best serves the national interest.
I certainly hope that we shall not hear the argument that this industry or that industry can contract out of the need to save capital resources. It can always be said that industry's case is exceptional. This is certainly so with regard to the railways. I am satisfied that the present pace of modernisation represents, on the whole, the right sort of balance.
The railways are at the moment in a pretty serious position. Coming from a railway town, I am grieved to see the state into which the railways have got. The British railway system, before the war, was without doubt the best in the world, and I think we can say without boasting that the average railway worker before the war was a man of whom the country could be proud. There is still today in railway service a lot of good men. They are not all old men, as some of the older railway workers like to make out. The railways are getting good men, but on the whole the spirit in the service is not as good as it ought to be.
It is no good saying that only modernisation will put this matter right. There are many unsatisfactory things on the railways today. Let me take one example. The hon. Member for Enfield, East said that he was very much concerned about the fall-off in freight traffic. So am I. Is it not true that British Railways today can give nothing like as good a freight service as before the war?
§ Mr. Shepherd
The hon. Member shakes his head, but the Green Arrow service, before the war, applied to a lot of main line stations and was highly thought of by industry. For half-a-crown a consignment one could get the next day delivery on all items collected before midday the previous day. I have sent many hundreds of consignments which have collected in London one day and delivered in Edinburgh and Glasgow a day later. That service no longer obtains except in isolated instances. I have frequently had complaints by people in industry that it takes an inordinately long time to deliver goods by the railway freight service. People do not want long delays in deliveries, and the British Railways ought to do better than they are doing now in providing a freight service which will attract customers.
I am not one of those who believes that goods should go by road. On the whole, the trend of taking goods off the railways and putting them on road transport is wholly bad. I want to see that trend arrested, and the British Transport Commission ought to do something to arrest it. We have at present a volume of goods which is much greater than we have ever had before. Yet the amount of goods dealt with by the railways is much less than before the war.
The same applies on the passenger transport side. Despite full employment, a bigger population, holidays with pay, and things of that sort, the number of passengers carried by the railways is fewer than before the war. Clearly, the Transport Commission has a duty to get on with the job.
I believe that the railways can have a bright future. After all, if one cannot run a successful railway in Britain, where can one do so? We have 50 million people herded together on a small island which has good geographical conditions for running a railway. We have excellent technicians, first-class engineers, and a high standard of living. Where in the world can one find better conditions under which to run a railway than the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Hunter
Surely the hon. Gentleman would agree that the decrease in the number of passengers in 1958 is caused by the advent of the motor car and the aeroplane, which carry millions of people on their holidays.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Yes. But I still think it is a remarkable thing that this position should prevail when we consider our much larger population, full employment, holidays with pay and the other things which go to make up transport. When one increases one's standard of living the thing that probably benefits more than anything else is services. Services stand to gain more than anything else from an increase in the standard of living. It is surprising to me, and also regrettable, even if it is not to the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), that at a time when all these increases have taken place we have a fewer number of passengers on the railways than before the war.
The Transport Commission ought to do something about the position. What is it to do? I hope that it will make itself efficient in a number of ways, and I hope that hon. Members will help the Transport Commission. I get very annoyed with some of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite when we are discussing these matters. It is said that we must have an efficient railway system that pays its way. As soon as one word is mentioned about closing down a branch line there are howls of rage. This is intolerable. Either we must say to the Commission, "You must run an aged branch line for occasional passengers," or "You must run an efficient railway system". We have been telling the Commission two things: first, that it must run an efficient system that pays its way; and. secondly, that it must not put its hands on a single branch line.
The same considerations apply to canals. A few years ago the British Transport Commission wanted to close down a lot of canals, and the howl that was raised was dreadful to hear.
§ Mr. Shepherd
My hon. Friend says, "Quite right", but he took a leading part in it. Despite the fact that there are about 120 locks from here to Birmingham on a narrow canal, he believed that it was possible to run a transport system from here to Birmingham in the same way that is done on the Continent, where the physical conditions are so different. We can do nothing of the kind, unless my hon. Friend is prepared to finance the system, and I gather that he is not.
867 I am making a plea for no constituency pressure for branch lines when the Transport Commission wants to close them down. Times have changed and the advent of the motor bus and the private car, as has been said, has made unnecessary a number of branch lines. I hope that we shall be ruthless in this matter. If the service is to be made to pay, if we are to demand efficiency from railway workers and from the Commission, we must ensure that they are not impeded and that every bit of unnecessary railway line is scrapped and supplanted by something more consistent with present conditions.
I hope that what we do in the way of modernisation and other activities will be sufficient to make the railways an efficient body, but I have great doubts. I have great doubts as to whether the system inherent in the B.T.C. is the right one. I hope I may be proved wrong, but I have an uneasy feeling that the structure of the Transport Commission and the way in which it has been set up is not likely to give us the results that we want.
I believe that ultimately the railways, as with the Post Office, will have to come into a Government Department and have a Minister responsible for them in the House. If we are to have nationalisation—and there appears to be little dispute about the nationalisation of the railways—it is much better for us to have direct responsibility here. If we had a man in charge of the railways who was no good we could get rid of him here overnight, but if we had him in some other form of set-up he might linger on for an inordinate length of time.
In what we have done in the way of the Transport Commission organisation—this applies to our other nationalised industries also—we have aimed at getting the best of both worlds and have finished up, perhaps, with the advantages of neither. I very much doubt whether ultimately we shall be able to see this form of organisation which we now have as the permanent form of organisation for the nationalised railways.
I have made these somewhat diffuse remarks on British Railways. I hope sincerely that the modernisation programme will have an effect. I want to see our industry once more efficient. I want to see the men once more interested in their job. I want to see them have 868 the right tools, because I am convinced that with our country and our men we ought to have a railway service better than we have now.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). He made a thoughtful speech which was of great interest to the Committee as a whole. I particularly liked his remarks about the closing of uneconomic branch lines. I was very glad to hear him support the earlier remarks of his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. Having criticised the railways, as we do from time to time, we ought to support the Commission in any action that it might take to streamline its services and its general organisation.
As every hon. Member knows, immediately the Commission sets about closing an uneconomic branch line or shutting down little-used passenger services, there is a howl. Immediately Members of Parliament are approached and pressure is brought to bear both upon the Commission and upon the Minister. One well understands Members succumbing to constituency pressure of this nature, but they certainly ought not to succumb to that sort of pressure and then come to the Committee and say that the Commission must provide the country with an efficient organisation. To me, it is quite wrong to do anything of that sort.
We must recognise that in some respects railways are quite unable to compete with road services—for example, certain door-to-door passenger services on the roads as against station-to-station services on the railways. In the last century many railway stations were built what seem to me to have been miles from the population they were intended to serve. I know of some places where one has to walk out in the country for at least a mile before getting to the station which is named after the town which it is supposed to serve. It is inevitable and right that in those cases people should use road transport and that the railway service should die. We must face that simple fact.
The Transport Commission itself must recognise that fact of transport life and 869 act accordingly. It must do so in the interests of all, including the interests of the staff who work on the railways. It is not in their interests that uneconomic lines should be kept open. Understandably, however, in the same way as Members of Parliament often press for the retention of uneconomic branch lines in their constituencies, members of the staff will always press for precisely the same thing, although it is not, of course, in the interests of the railway staff as a whole that this should happen.
To me, the only hope for the railway staffs to get reasonable wages and conditions lies in the acceptance of the facts and an acceptance of the consequences of the actions that flow from them. All these things must be recognised by people who, like myself, are in close contact with the railway staffs and who must not be afraid to tell them of the facts when they begin to bring pressure upon us because of the closing of particular signal boxes, branch lines and all the rest.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
My hon. Friend's words certainly bring home to me my own experience in my constituency. Is he aware that railways have been closed by the Commission because of the Commission's failure to do anything to bring the services on them into line with modern life?
§ Mr. Champion
This is always a difference of opinion. It is the point of view that is always expressed by Members who are under pressure from their constituencies about the closing of branch lines. I know that the Transport Commission is extremely reluctant to close down a line that offers the slightest chance of becoming a paying proposition. It is true that something has happened recently which has enabled certain branch lines, perhaps, to become economic again as a result of the diesel trains, but I am fairly confident that in the past the Commission has never suggested the closure of a line which appears to have a reasonable possibility of being a paying proposition. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, although I know his constituency interest in the matter and the pressure that he has brought to bear in connection with it.
§ Mr. Champion
I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle that the relationship generally between the Commission and Members of Parliament has for some time been a very happy one. I was disturbed at the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), who criticised the Commission. I was amazed to hear of his experience. It was entirely contrary to anything I have ever experienced concerning the relationship of a Member of Parliament with the Commission.
Following the point made by the hon. Member for Cheadle, we have to recognise that in the building of locomotives there must be some division between railway building and building by outside firms. The hon. Member was quite right in saying that if we are to retain the export market in this as in other directions we need to build an export market on a fairly strong home market. Without a reasonable home market, our chance of doing that is very slim indeed.
As a railwayman, I want to see the existing railway shops reasonably fully employed. I want to see them turning over from building steam locomotives to building the new type of locomotive that we must have in our modernisation plan. The change from steam to electricity is a fairly difficult one. The use of the existing railway staffs, boilersmiths and the like, in the new job which will have to be done on electric and other locomotives calls for training, the acceptance of new skills, and an effort to become craftsmen in a new technique.
It so happens that a number of Members of Parliament, of whom I was one, went to France to look at the modernisation going on there. At Dijon we saw a great railway works, designed originally for the maintenance of steam locomotives, which have been turned over entirely to the maintenance of electric locomotives. There, we found men who had been trained in the craft of boiler-smiths and who were now employed as skilled electrical mechanics. After a reasonable period of training they had become really satisfactory craftsmen. The 871 manager of that great works said that he was completely satisfied with the men he had who had turned over from steam locomotives to electric ones as a result of this training. In this connection, I wonder if the B.T.C. might learn something from the experience of those who have conducted the experiment at Dijon so successfully?
I turn to the point of powerful criticism which was mounted by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and the partial reply by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. One has to go back a little into history to trace the events and to show where mistakes have occurred. During the last war railway charges were deliberately kept below price levels. That was understandable in the circumstances of the time. Since the war the gap between railway charges and railway costs has continued to increase, as has the gap between railway charges and the price level of other commodities.
We recognise the difficulty caused by losing more and more traffic to the roads, which has to be borne in mind in all we do in this connection. There has been the disruption of the Commission's undertaking by the Tory Government, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East mentioned. Also, throughout the period since the end of the war, to say nothing of the period in between the wars, there has been an under-investment in railways caused by a direction of capital towards other undertakings during a difficult reconstruction period. The Labour Government certainly prevented capital investment in the railways because they thought that the capital, the materials and the skills available should be used in other directions. Whether that was right or not is arguable, but the fact is that the Labour Government took this step consciously and deliberately.
There has also been interference by the Tory Government in respect of charges increases authorised by the Transport Tribunal between 1938 and July, 1957. Railway passenger fares were up by 110 per cent. in comparison with a retail price rise of 165 per cent. Rail freight charges, although up by 175 per cent. were still below wholesale prices by about 70 per cent. Again, the cost of labour and materials has just about trebled over the pre-war level. For 872 example, the prices of steel rails increased by 330 per cent. over pre-war, steel plates by 275 per cent., and timber sleepers—which are used extensively on the railways—by about 550 per cent. It is certain, therefore, that railway charges do not in any way reflect those increased costs.
In February, 1956, the Commission, on account of cost rises against it, felt obliged to apply for an increase in freight, dock and canal charges. In March, 1956, the Minister indicated to the House a possible deficit of £30 million for 1955 and a prospective deficit of £55 million for 1956. At the same time he intimated to the House that he would allow only a 5 per cent. increase on general freight as against the 10 per cent. proposed by the B.T.C.
The position was worsened by reason of the Minister's persuasion of the British Transport Commission to accept a further restraint on increased charges at the power level until the end of 1956. So, in addition to cutting down the amount by which the Commission could increase charges, the Minister also staved off the day until the end of 1956. The Government's decision in these matters caused the Financial Times of 28th July, 1956, to say:It is said to be an independent decision of the Commission. Independence can be an ambiguous word. There is indirect pressure and there is direct pressure. Beyond any question the Government has employed both.The truth is, of course, that this decision has not been taken on its merits as it affects the finances of the Transport Commission. It has been taken as a result of the Government's policy of price stabilisation. Whereas, however, the other State Boards have been able to combine price stability with balanced accounts—the Transport Commission has been forced to fly in the face of all commercial reason.I believe that the Financial Times stated the truth of the matter and that it was a just criticism of the Government's action at that time in connection with charges.
Having criticised the Government so far, I praise the Government for their acceptance of the modernisation plan. It is certainly a bold one and it was designed to put right a period of deliberate under-investment. I praise the Government for having taken this decision.
I have mentioned before the fact that over the entire post-war period the railways have been allowed only a steadily 873 falling share of the total capital available for investment. This was to be put right to some extent by the modernisation plan. I understand that the cost of the original plan has now increased from £1,200 million to £1,500 million. However I do not like the steps the Government have taken to slow the process. Despite everything the Parliamentary Secretary has said in this connection, I believe that the Government are slowing this process and will postpone the day when the railways will be able to make their income meet their expenses and so overcome the difficulties they are now facing. This has been exceptionally well put in an article by Andrew Shonfield, in last Sunday's Observer, in which he said:The case of the railways is indeed a shining example of how to get into a muddle by being doctrinaire. The trouble really goes back to the investment cuts imposed on the nationalised industries under the Thorneycroft measures last autumn. Before the cuts were made, the railways had high hopes of speeding up the modernisation plan, and perhaps managing to break even by 1961, i.e., a year in advance of the target date.In any case, they were confident that the railways' operating deficit would be coming down fairly sharply from about 1960 onwards, because the heaviest basic spending, showing little immediate return, was concentrated in the first part of the plan. The sooner this was completed, the easier the railways would find it to attract traffic from the road, and the more rapidly they would earn revenueThe original modernisation programme, before the 1957 autumn cuts, envisaged a rise in capital expenditure to £151 million in 1958, followed by a slight decline to £148 million in 1959. The cuts meant a return to the earlier, more modest, plan—£135 million in 1958, rising to £140 million in 1959. The result was that the main weight of the cut (£16 million) was concentrated in this year, and, further, that the prospect of getting early to the revenue-earning stage was destroyed.I believe that that is a strong indictment of the Government's actions. I supported them in their original modernisation plan and I praised them for having embarked upon it, but I think that they have made a serious mistake in having cut back and having made it more difficult for the Commission to pay those who are engaged in its service reasonable wages and to give them reasonable conditions of employment.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) and 874 my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and to say a few words on the subject of branch lines. On that, I certainly agree with a great deal of what they said.
In my constituency a fairly important branch line has been closed—important as a branch line, in that it is a double line and carried a certain amount of local traffic between Whitchurch and Chester. When it was proposed to close this line there was a great deal of trouble. Indeed, I interviewed a number of people about it at different times, but I am bound to say that nobody seemed to make out what I considered to be an adequate case that it should be kept open.
What I am much more concerned about is that satisfactory alternative arrangements should be made to carry the people, few as they may be, previously carried by the railways, and here I am not altogether satisfied that the B.T.C. always ensures that this state of affairs comes about.
For instance, there are occasions when a farm worker and his family wish to go to the seaside for the day and they want to take with them a perambulator and perhaps a certain amount of impedimenta. The branch lines—especially that about which I am speaking, and there must be many more in the same position—catered for that requirement very well. The branch line having been closed, it is not as easy to find room for a perambulator in a bus. A great many large parcels which were carried by these branch lines cannot be so easily accommodated by road and often cannot be carried except with considerable delay. That is a point to which the British Transport Commission ought to pay greater attention than they do. They ought to try to see that suitable and adequate alternative arrangements are always made when a branch line has to be closed.
I think that much of the feeling about branch lines is an understandable nostalgia; a branch line is an attraction and we grow accustomed to it. I live in Gloucestershire, and there is a delightful little branch line which I am sure cannot last much longer. The train which runs on it is known as the "Tetbury Typhoon" and the line runs between Kemble and Tetbury. It runs through a 875 choice bit of hunting country. Drivers are always careful to stop whenever the Duke of Beaufort's hounds are about on the line, and many times we have slipped a driver 5s. for his kindness in that respect.
I do not think that it would be altogether out of place if I were publicly to thank all those engine drivers all over the country who, whenever they find hounds milling about on the track, always slow up the train out of humanitarian instincts or kindness. This often happens, because there are several hundred packs in the country. These drivers should be thanked. We very much appreciate what they do in that respect.
May I turn from branch lines to the road programme and ask my right hon. Friend one or two questions to which he may be able to reply when he winds up the debate. I want to know how the scheme is working out on the roads between Esher and Ripley, where there are lines instructing drivers what to do about passing and not passing. Can he give us any information to show that the scheme as he has formulated it is likely to be a success?
Another very important problem to which I think none of us has given sufficient time and thought is that of our code of driving when the new motor roads are opened. If these roads are not to bring with them a large additional toll of accidents, and if they are to facilitate the passage of traffic upon them, we must look very seriously at the way in which we conduct ourselves on the roads today.
I had the interesting, stimulating and somewhat frightening experience of driving a car in what is supposed to be the most dangerous part of the United States from the traffic point of view—the Los Angeles area—last year. As soon as I started on the road it was quite evident to me that my whole conception of how to drive in traffic had to be revised. There, it is a crime to leave the track upon which one is driving without making absolutely sure that no one is coming up behind on either side, if one is in the middle track. If one changes track and causes an accident, it is the man behind who is to blame. I believe that that is a very good idea indeed.
The kind of thing which might happen unless we are very careful is that which happens now on part of the Great West 876 Road, which has been made into a double motorway. One sees a covey of lorries all trying to pass each other and occupying a great deal of the road, thus preventing the fast traffic, which wants to pass and could pass, from doing so. We must pay great attention to that and to the general code of conduct. Is it proposed to police these motorways to the same extent as or anything like the extent with which the American motorways are policed? Will it be illegal to stop a car on the roadway? Will a driver be bound to pull off on the lay-by which, I understand, will be continuous the whole length of the road? If a car is in distress, will its owner have to raise its bonnet or, as they call it in America, its hood? That seems to be a good system.
Those are only a few points in connection with driving on the roads. There are many more. I feel that the Highway Code, as applied to the new motorways, will have to be very drastically reconsidered—and that reconsideration should take place in the very near future, so that we have a cut-and-dried system and people can begin to learn it in good time, before they begin driving.
I would like to join with other hon. Members in thanking Sir Brian Robertson and his staff for the most courteous way in which they attend to our correspondence, and the promptness with which we get answers from them. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and I do not always see eye to eye upon the subject of transport on the inland waterways. I have had a great deal of correspondence with the Commission in that respect and I can say that I get the utmost consideration—and I should like that to be understood by all.
I am sure that the Committee and the country owe a great deal to my right hon. Friend for the drive, shrewdness, foresight and determination with which he carries out his work as Minister of Transport. He is doing a splendid job, which we ought to recognise.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I cannot help but follow the hon. Member for Nantwich (Mr. Grant-Ferris) to some extent, especially in his closing remarks, when he commended his right hon. Friend for what he is doing for transport. I cannot 877 help comparing that remark with his earlier plea in respect of branch lines, and his statement that engine drivers slow up to allow the hounds to pass by.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris
If I conveyed that impression I am sorry; I was merely illustrating the nostalgic idea which some of us have about branch lines. I entirely agree with him, but we do tend to regard them as part of the landscape. In future, when, perhaps, the electricity pylons are taken down because man has discovered how to transmit electricity over the ether, there will be just as bad feelings.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I am glad that the hon. Member has explained what he meant. I thought that it was one of the most peculiar reasons that I have ever heard for the retention of branch line traffic, notwithstanding the various reasons that we have been given before.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) is not here at the moment. He complained very strongly, and rightly, that many of his hon. Friends had attacked the Commission for closing down branch lines, and pointed out how difficult it was to keep them going, because of their unremunerative nature. I thought it strange that he should condemn his hon. Friends for attacking the Commission in that respect and, at the same time, say that the cut now imposed in the modernisation plan was not of any great consequence.
On the Parliamentary Secretary's own admission big cuts have been made in the development of the continuous brake. The hon. Member for Cheadle was pressing for the return of the Green Arrow traffic to the state in which it was before the war. I venture to suggest that the Green Arrow traffic today more than equals what it was in pre-war days. This cutting down of the modernisation programme, and the development of the continuous brake, will not give the hon. Member for Cheadle the earlier and quicker delivery of goods that he desires. On that part of the programme the Minister is very ill-advised to insist upon the Commission making a curtailment.
The Minister admitted that there will be no curtailment in the building of new marshalling yards, but what is the use of new marshalling yards if the majority of wagons are not fitted with the continuous brake? We know that marshalling yards take a long time to build, and that the 878 fitting of the continuous brake to all types of traffic, which is an urgent necessity if railways are to be competitive with road traffic, also takes a long time. In the matter of service the fitting of the continuous brake has meant the running of regular goods freight services from the North of England, Scotland, the North-West and elsewhere to London, with an almost overnight delivery. We want to see that process expedited, and I hope that the Minister will re-examine that phase of his cutting back of the modernisation programme, because we want the railways to be competitive.
I give credit to the Minister for this modernisation programme. It was inevitable, but it came into operation under the present Administration and they are entitled to some credit. They get very little elsewhere at present, so we can be a little generous. The Minister having agreed to this programme, there was an attempt by the Commission to make up for the backlog caused by the retrograde measures which he had adopted in regard to the transport system. How right was my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) when he quoted chapter and verse of interference by the Government which prevented the railways making themselves paying propositions.
In spite of all the war-time difficulties, and even in spite of our inability to grant railways capital in order that they could repair their tracks and modernise their equipment, with nationalisation we had managed to get the Commission breaking even by 1951–52. As a matter of fact, it was showing a small profit. That was a very creditable performance, especially taking into account transport history through the years.
But when this Government took over in 1951, instead of the Commission being able to go on building up its profits and making itself pay, taking one year with another, the Government stepped in and tried to break up the integrated transport service which was being built up.
The Government did that in spite of the fact that their supporters, the chambers of trade and commerce, condemned their action. They continued in this doctrinaire policy although they were not able to sell the vehicles which they put on the market for disposal. In spite of all these things, they continue the 879 type of policy which prevents the Commission making a real go of the transport undertaking. The officers in control of the Commission, the former Chairman, Lord Hurcomb, and the present Chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, and the members of the Commission themselves have done a tremendous job of work in spite of the sabotaging of transport by the present Government.
Taking, for instance, the railways, by every possible known method of measuring efficiency—whether by engine miles per hour or loaded ton miles per hour, or by any other yardstick which it is possible to apply in transport—there has been a tremendous improvement in all-round efficiency. This is something that we should note. Had the Government followed a reasonable policy for a comprehensive transport scheme we should not be in the deplorable mess we are now when the Prime Minister has to meet the trade unions to see whether it is possible to overcome some railway difficulties. Transport could have been made a paying, thriving proposition.
Let us look at what is taking place in respect of the regional boards and so on. There has been a certain amount of decentralisation in the railways since the Government took office. The Labour Government established the first publicly-owned transport system, and we knew that it would have many birth pangs. When we left office we were thinking about some type of decentralisation.
The area boards were set up, and I have never been able to find any justification for them except to give jobs to the boys. Part-time appointments are made. We cannot ascertain the rate of pay of these people, but when we review the type of interests that they have in business circles it is difficult to find any justification for their appointment to the railway area boards. When the Labour Government left office in 1951 the Commission itself was in the process of decentralisation, and I am sure that decentralisation could have gone on without this doctrinaire policy of providing jobs for the boys.
I will not dwell too much on the serious difficulties of the railway undertaking in staff relations at present. We all know the difficulties. I desire, however, to emphasise a plea which I had previously 880 made to the Minister, which is that the Commission should insist that its lower grades of management should follow the same consultative policy which the Commission itself has with the headquarters of the respective trade unions. I am sure that if at the lower grades of the railway machine there was the same give-and-take by management as there is at the higher level, the esprit de corps about which we hear so much could very quickly be regained.
I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle that it is not only the elderly railway men who have esprit de corps. There are many young railwaymen, conscientiously trying to ensure that the undertaking gives efficient service, and they are only too willing, if given the opportunity by the lower grades of management, to build up the service of which their forebears were so very proud.
It is not only the railways. As I said earlier, we must have a comprehensive transport system. Where is the Minister driving in this respect? We know that he has a programme for road service developments costing £245 million, which shows some vision, but it does not show the vision that we expect of a Minister of Transport today. The Minister has a negative attitude towards road vehicles, allowing unlimited scope in respect of private motor vehicles and the development of C licences, to the extent of well over 1 million now, allowing them to swamp the roads. He must be more active and more virile, and he needs an improved road policy vision.
What is happening? Consider the Great North Road. We see tinkering with bits here and tinkering with bits there, straightening a corner here and building another bridge there, perhaps instituting a dual carriageway of very limited dimensions indeed. Yet we allow the heavy motor lorries, all the A, B and C licence vehicles, to continue to block the roadways and so prevent the speedier movement of traffic, even when those minor alterations are made.
We are indebted to the Minister for at least giving us our Tyne Tunnel, for which we have long pressed. We are to get some alterations in the Tyne area to ease the traffic problem there, but the Minister is still dragging his feet over the great Severn project, a highway equally necessary. In all these schemes one wonders, where is 881 the vision? Where are the flyovers, the bridges, all those things which are most necessary if we want to speed up the traffic and utilise our roads to the full? In the new road construction why has traffic still to turn to the right and cross oncoming traffic instead of having flyovers, so that the speed on the highways is not interfered with?
These are the matters which the Minister ought to be considering. I know they are expensive. I know there is a credit squeeze and that there is curtailment of investment. It is the Government's responsibility that they have brought them about. The Government are entirely responsible for slowing up the solution of this urgent transport problem which is besetting us as a nation. I urge the Minister, then, to have another look at these things to see if he can bring a broader vision to bear upon them and to get a thoroughly integrated transport system.
Let him drop his doctrinaire policy for road haulage. Let us have again that wonderful road haulage service which was being built up until 1951. In those days, we could come down to London here and find 75, 80 or 90 vehicles going out at night time on a scheduled service, as it were, with a similar number leaving the North-West or leaving Newcastle, and all working in a thoroughly integrated system. Let us put an end to the present nonsensical arrangements.
These are the sorts of things on which the Minister should be concentrating, to see whether it is possible for speedy delivery by door-to-door traffic like that, to speed up the heavier loads, to ensure they do not hinder other traffic, to speed up the container service and the pickaback service which has been experimented with abroad, so that we can give our people quicker delivery of goods and utilise to the full and to the best advantage the services available to us in this country.
We must, all of us, be seriously disturbed at the constantly rising death rate on the roads. What is the Ministry doing about this? At one time we used to have a pretty active road safety programme. There used to be frequent drives to improve safety conditions. Just what real directive is the Minister now giving to bring this urgent matter constantly before the people? Just how far is he pressing the Ministry of Education to continue to 882 develop road safety classes among the young children? Just how far is he pressing local authorities to see that adequate protection is given for schoolchildren at dangerous crossings? In some of its road programmes, the Ministry is removing footpaths and compelling people to walk on roads which are used by vehicles travelling at 50 or 60 miles per hour. That is not the sort of venture which will help road safety.
I urge the Minister to concentrate a little more on awakening the public conscience to the need to keep death off the roads. All Members of Parliament have received a little black card in the last few days. Some of us may have laughed at it. Members of Parliament get a lot of things which are thrown into the waste paper basket and some Members may have regarded this little black card as being in that category saying, "Here is another fanatic writing to us." However, there is a wealth of meaning in this little card.
The road accident death rate today is higher than it ought to be. I end with a plea to the Minister that, in addition to his many other problems in transport—and there are many and he has tremendous headaches and we sympathise with him about those things—this is another headache which he must bear. He must give more guidance to local authorities and to those people of goodwill to help to build up a greater road safety campaign.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
Railways have always aroused party feelings and have always been involved in party politics, but, on the whole, we have managed to discuss roads in a non-partisan atmosphere. Although at times he sounded as though he was belabouring the Minister, I am sure that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) approached the matter in that way, too.
Hitherto, we have managed to keep roads out of party politics. I remember that in the Committee on the Road Traffic Act, 1956, we sat for many months dealing with the first major road traffic Bill for twenty-five years. All its stages were conducted as though it was a Private Member's Bill, perhaps rather to the astonishment of my right hon. Friend. At any rate, he did not protest and we 883 managed to have a free vote on every Division. I believe that I actually voted against the Government as often as for them. No doubt the reason for that is that we all feel that we are experts in road traffic and that we know as much as any Government—and possibly we do.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West was rather worried about hounds stopping railway trains. Some of the trains on some of the branch lines which I have known probably proceed no more rapidly than the hounds and it would be easier for the trains to stop than for the hounds to stop.
Dogs were mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). It is hopeless to raise this subject, because in this country nobody will do anything effective about dogs. However, the fact is that dogs are responsible for a disgraceful number of road accidents and cause infinitely more than drunkenness causes. Drunkenness on the roads makes us feel very angry, because it is avoidable and seems criminal negligence, but although 15, 20 or 30 times as many accidents every year are caused by dogs as by drunkenness, nobody seems to worry. It is said to be all right, because in this country whatever a dog does is all right. I do not know whether the Ministry of Transport can do very much about it.
Although we granted them powers under the Road Traffic Act, we recognised at the time that local authorities would find it extremely difficult administratively to implement those powers for dealing with dogs. However, I think it right that in a debate of this kind hon. Members should mention the somewhat unpopular subject of the loss of life and limb occasioned every year by the presence of dogs on roads, which is the cause of more accidents than are caused by alcohol.
I hope that in making the regulations for vehicle testing—I do not think that they have yet been laid—the Minister will bear in mind the thought that was with most of the hon. Members who were on the Standing Committee which dealt with the Road Traffic Bill when they inserted the appropriate Clause in the Bill. There is, above all, the question of dazzle caused by headlights. What convinced me of the necessity for tests, and changed my mind about them—because I had been opposed to them 884 previously—was discovering from the Road Research Laboratory, at Langley, that all the methods which I had fondly imagined might help to reduce headlamp dazzle were impracticable; and that the only way to deal with this problem was by ensuring that the lighting equipment on every car was in proper order. It is necessary to ensure that the dipping mechanism works, if the driver wants it to, and that the lights are correctly focused.
Every winter, as we know from experience, the problem of headlamp dazzle is a major contributory factor to road accidents. That may not appear to be so from the statistics, but it is so, nevertheless. I have always believed that in nine out of every 10 cars, where the offside headlamp bulb has been removed and the nearside headlamp is shining undimmed, it would be discovered that the dipping mechanism was not working. When the dipping mechanism goes wrong often a car owner removes the offside headlamp bulb and drives with an undipped nearside headlamp, under the impression that he has done all that is reasonable in the circumstances, and that state of affairs goes on for years.
There are a number of headlamps which still dazzle when they are dipped and others so badly focused that they blind an oncoming driver. There is no way of dealing with such things except by vehicle testing. I hope that the Minister has not forgotten the reasons which prompted many of us to agree to vehicle testing. I hope that there will not be too much concentration on testing the steering and the brakes to the exclusion of the lights. Any competent mechanic can test the brakes and steering, but special gear is required to ensure that lights are focused properly, and that the dipping mechanism works.
I hope that that will be insisted on either in the regulations, or when the garages are selected where testing can be carried out. I do not know whether the Minister has heard all that I have said. I know that he has other important matters on his mind, but no doubt if he has not heard it he will read it and, I trust, will give it some attention when he drafts the regulations.
My right hon. Friend is responsible for trunk roads and I wish to refer to certain considerations regarding them. 885 The first I raised at Question Time a short while ago. It is something which I feel sure is responsible for many accidents. When we build dual carriageways, in the centre island—the central reserve as it is called—we leave gaps about every 200 yards through which vehicles may turn to the right. That is a murderous practice and must be responsible for many collisions.
I would like to see dual carriageways run uninterrupted, so that if a motorist wants to turn right or change direction he must go to the next roundabout to do so. I am glad that the Minister of Transport is now paying attention to this point. A lot ought to be done about it, but we are still building roads with intercommunications about every 600 ft. The length of road already constructed with gaps will present him with considerable problems. I would mention, in particular, the large lorry which begins to turn and leaves its back end sticking out at the overtaking and, especially at night.
Parking of vehicles on trunk roads, and especially upon dual carriageways, is a very prevalent bad habit. It slows down traffic and causes accidents. Dreadful accidents can take place through the parking of lorries on main roads at night. One of our primary reactions to it should be to stiffen up the law against the practice. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should also look at the American system of lighting up lorries and goods vehicles. I forget its proper name, but I believe that it is called "contour lighting".
When a large vehicle turns sideways we often cannot see any glimmer of light at all, especially on a dark and wet night. Even in ordinary lighting conditions a lorry parked on the side of the road is deceptive. Not until we get very near do we know whether the lorry is actually stationary, or is moving at about 20 miles an hour. I do not know why that should be so, but every motorist with whom I have raised this point has agreed that that is the case. Perhaps we might make compulsory what many owners of goods vehicles are now doing voluntarily, putting lights all round the contour of the lorry. I believe that is the law in the United States. It would make a great contribution to our road safety and might prevent dreadful accidents.
886 I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at some of the access points on our trunk roads. Some of them should be completely blocked up, especially near London, where there are continuous entrances and exits. In one case which I have in mind, on the A.40 road, there are two entrances on both sides of the road, within 300 yards of each other. It would be quite easy to block up one of them and to insist upon traffic going on to the other one.
I also wish my right hon. Friend would look at the traffic light arrangements on trunk roads. A good many of the traffic lights stay on all night and not all of them are pad operated. An example on the A.40 is the stretch of road that goes westwards past the White City. My right hon. Friend will find the junction of five roads, the A.40 accounting for two of them. The traffic-light pads on either side are so placed that if a bicycle comes up one of the side roads and wants to turn back on to the other side road, without ever going on to the A.40, it can stop all the traffic on the trunk road for about 50 seconds. That is annoying and it brings the law into disrepute.
Motorists on the A.40 see what has happened. They watch the lights turn to red and see the cyclist turn to the right. They are made fools of, but, because they are law-abiding, they sit there solemnly until the lights change again. A thing like that should never happen. It is bad for the respect in which the law is held. The same happens on trunk roads at night, when there is no traffic on the side roads but the lights still operate.
I wish to add to what the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West said about right hand turns. They should be avoided whenever possible not merely by blocking up the central reservation, but, if necessary, by explicit prohibition and making people turn round the block, as they do in the United States. If these things could be done I am sure traffic on trunk roads would be greatly speeded up and that we could make a valuable contribution to road safety, which I know my right hon. Friend is most anxious to do.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) said, this debate has 887 nothing whatsoever to do with the important discussions concerning railway matters which are being carried on today. In fact, it was a pure coincidence, in some ways perhaps an unfortunate coincidence, that the debate should take place on the same day as those discussions. During its course, the subject matter has ranged wide. All sorts of important points have been put forward by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee concerning every aspect of transport; railway matters, road matters, safety matters and everything else.
I want to follow up that part of the speech of my hon. Friend in which he strongly criticised Her Majesty's Government, and, in particular, the Minister of Transport, for the conduct of affairs in his Department. The indictment of my hon. Friend, a formidable one, was answered by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
In short, the answer was a denial of the detailed points put forward by my hon. Friend. He said that it is wrong to suggest that the Minister of Transport is not a good friend of the railways, or that he has in any way impeded the railways in their development, and the hon. Gentleman quoted as conclusive evidence the support given by the Minister of Transport to the railway modernisation plan. He turned to us and said we had no plan of that sort and asked: how can a Government which supports that plan be accused in any way of undermining the British Transport Commission?
I hope I am not misrepresenting him. I think that that is the case he put forward. If he requires the praise and thanks of this Committee for doing what plainly was unavoidable, he can have that praise and those thanks. It was inevitable that the British transport system, after thirty years of neglect of capital equipment, should have reached such a stage when a very large and expensive modernisation plan had to be put into force.
It was impossible during those thirty years, or most of them, even to replace those assets that were deteriorating. It was impossible to do so during the early years after the war, and impossible to do so, of course, during the war. And in the period prior to that when, under the influences of private capitalist enterprise 888 and all the troubles with road transport of which we are well aware, the railways had no money and were unable to raise the capital for the necesesary developments and improvements.
It was, therefore, unavoidable that, now, there had to be some big modernisation scheme. I accept that the Government did not turn down that scheme. They supported it, and they agreed to lend the Commission a substantial sum of money to tide it over the four years before the scheme could become profitable. One accepts all that—nobody could deny it—but our complaint is that the Ministry of Transport has been eroding that scheme by petty and pointless restrictions and, in particular, by the recent cut in the capital available for modernisation. In our view and, I think, in the view of anybody who studies the matter disinterestedly, that cut did grave damage both to the morale of those carrying out that plan and to its good economic phasing.
It seems to us that the first mistake that the Government made in this respect was when they introduced the Bill which enabled them to provide money for the Commission in the form of a loan to tide it over the years before the railways would become viable. The Government came forward with a proposal to lend to the Commission up to £250 million divided over the four years in question. We said then that it was folly to limit the amount to £250 million by Act of Parliament.
The Government told us that the estimate of the amount required by the Commission was £240 million, but we maintained—and I have looked up the speeches of my hon. Friends and myself—that in this very uncertain world it was foolish for the Government to limit themselves in this way. We said that during this period costs might go up, the amount of freight carried might fall, the loss might easily become more than was estimated by the Commission, and that the Minister should provide himself with a comfortable margin. We suggested an additional £25 million.
That was turned down. The Minister was adamant. The Commission was to have no more than this amount, and in no circumstances would it be increased. That was a mistake, and some of the Minister's present problems might have 889 been more easily solved had he listened to our advice on that occasion and had not adopted such a strict, such a restrictive, attitude to those proposals.
On top of that, and, in our opinion, far more important, is the cut in capital expenditure over the next two years upon which the Ministry insisted last autumn. That has meant, in fact, that many of the projects in the modernisation plan will be put out of phase, and others will be slowed down—and to no good purpose whatsoever. Indeed, the effect might be serious, not only for the railways, but for the national interests as a whole.
I understand that one of the cuts likely to be made as a result of the reduction in capital expenditure insisted upon by the Government is in the provision of diesel engines. The Commission had expected to order quite a number of additional engines, perhaps this year or next. Now it will be impossible for the Commission to order many of the new engines that it requires. Although it will not be necessary to cancel any of the existing orders, some of the new orders that the Commission hoped to give, and that the manufacturers were expecting to get, will not be given.
What is the result? There is nothing which brings about greater economy in railway working than the provision of diesel engines. That has been the ex perience so far. Yet the diesel engine programme will be curtailed—not the original programme—to below that figure which the British Transport Commission hoped to be able to put into operation. That is a serious situation, and we think it was a grave mistake on the part of the Government to come to a decision of that sort.
Why did they say that these cuts would have to be made? We are told by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the cuts were really quite small, amounting only to £9 million for the two years below the figure which the British Transport Commission required—a cut of about 6 per cent. But in a phased programme of development, a small cut may put the whole thing out of gear, and that is now likely to happen. Why did the Government insist on these cuts? Because, I suppose, they thought that the railways should bear their share of the cuts in capital expenditure designed to prevent inflation. I do not think that 890 that argument holds water for the moment.
To start with, other and similar Government services have received no cuts at all. The roads programme had none, I think rightly, because we were very backward in providing badly wanted roads and it would have been folly to make any reduction there. It was surely equal folly to make any cut in our railways programme because the modernisation of our railway system is also essential to the prosperity of the country, and the quicker we can say goodbye to our out-of-date and inefficient railway system, which is unable to pay proper wages, the better.
A wise Government would have said that investment cuts should be confined to where, in the national interest, they do no damage, and should not be placed on those services, where they will do substantial damage. Plainly, in the railway service they are doing, and if continued will do, very substantial damage. I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary agreed, maybe unintentionally, in the course of his remarks that some damage will be done. He said that if the cuts had not been made, the benefits would have accrued later in the year. If we are not to have benefits, we shall be damaged, and it is for this reason more than any other, that we criticise the Government today.
I put this further point. In making these capital cuts, the Minister of Trans port seems to be at odds with the Chan cellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor recently produced a Budget in which he increased initial allowances with the purpose of encouraging people to indulge in more capital expenditure than before. There could be no other purpose; indeed, he said so. If he increases the initial allowances in order to encourage—presumably, he had private enterprise in mind—firms to undertake re-equipment and capital expenditure of various kinds, which is his policy today, though it may not have been his policy six months ago—then it is wholly illogical that, at the same time, cuts should be made in essential capital expenditure on the railway system of this country.
It appears to us, and I believe that it appears to many people on both sides of the Committee, that far greater damage will be done to the national 891 interest as a whole by reducing the new investment in the railways for the next two years than by any problematical and anyhow insignificant inflationary effect which might result from allowing the investment in the railways to proceed according to plan. I will finish this part of my speech by quoting someone who is not, as far as I know, a member of this party, the economic adviser of the Observer. He summed up the situation in a way which will probably have the support of many people on both sides of this Committee. Last Sunday, he said thatit is political as well as economic nonsense to insist, at the present time, on an investment cut which delays one of those rare harvests of increased productivity in a service industry.I hope that after further consideration the Government will also take that view.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East said in his opening speech, it is not only the cut in capital investment alone which we complain about. That is the culmination of a series of decisions by the Government over many years, all of which have done grave damage to our national transport industry. I shall not go over all the points again in detail; they are well known to all hon. Members. Most important, of course, was the break-up of the profitable and developing road haulage organisation, which has resulted in very large losses to the British Transport Commission over many years. Another was the Government's deliberate interference with the proposals to raise freight rates for the purpose of stabilising costs and prices, although the proposals had the support of the Transport Tribunal.
Apart from whether those interferences were right or wrong—I maintain that the Minister of Transport is entitled to interfere when he thinks it desirable in the national interest—the fact is that those interferences deprived the Transport Commission of many millions of £s which would have been very useful today. For those losses, of course, the Commission has had no compensation whatever. If a private industry had lost substantial sums of money through direct Government interference, it would have been able to claim money from the Government and would have received it. But the British Transport Commission, being a public body, is unable to do so, 892 and has had no compensation whatever for the decisions imposed upon it by the Government.
We do not consider the recent action of the Government in regard to the railway system of the country and the modernisation plan as anything new. It is not an isolated act but a chapter, the final chapter, we hope, in the Government's record in impeding the transport services of the country from becoming efficient and prosperous.
In saying a word or two now about road developments and the road plans which the Minister is now carrying out, I am glad to be able to turn for a moment from criticism to praise, even though it be qualified praise. I shall say in a moment why my praise is qualified. As hon. Members on all sides have said, there seems to be no doubt that the Government's road plan is proceeding apace. All credit is due to the Ministry and all those concerned, the local highway authorities and everybody else, for the speed with which the plans are getting under way. I understand that the authorisations this year will be over £100 million and that over £40 million will be paid from the Exchequer this year in respect of new schemes. That is all to the good. It is more than has been paid out, and the authorisations are greater than al any time since the war.
My qualification is that the Government started their road programme too late, or later than they should have done, and I still regard it as far too small. Sometimes, when we have made these criticisms, the Minister has tried to criticise us by saying that our road schemes in the years after the war were practically nil. Of course, they were practically nil. That is really not a worth-while argument. No country in Europe at that time was able to develop road schemes on an effective scale. But, in the early 'fifties, almost everywhere in Europe road schemes were being developed on a substantial scale, while nothing was happening here. The British Government started much later than almost every other European Government in their post-war road planning.
Moreover, big as the roads plan is, we do not believe that it is adequate for the needs of the country. Our roads are probably as badly congested as those of any country in the world. In eight years' 893 time, unless there is a change in the curve of acquisition of cars and vehicles, the number of vehicles on our roads will double. That means that congestion will not be doubled but trebled or quadrupled. In view of that prospect unless much more than the present Government plan is done to improve our road system, we shall be in a terrible state a long time before 1965.
These figures have been given before, but we know that for every mile per hour decrease or increase in the speed of transport there is a national gain or loss of £30 million a year. That means that in eight years' time, in 1965, when our transport has doubled in numbers, if as a result of our inadequate roads, there is a fall in the speed of vehicles of five miles per hour over the country as a whole—and I am talking only of commercial vehicles, not of pleasure traffic—there would be a national loss of about £450 million a year.
Up to now we have been handicapped by the failure to appreciate that investing money in roads pays a dividend, just like investing money in any industry or productive concern. The trouble is that it is not visible. Money may be spent on the roads, but there is no return in cash which anybody can see or calculate. In fact, as a result of recent inquiries and research we know that a handsome dividend results from the saving in oil and petrol, both of which are imported, and wear and tear of vehicles. There is no investment today which is more profitable from the national point of view than the building of good motorways in the areas where they are required.
Therefore, big as the present scheme is compared with anything that we have had in the past, and quickly as it is proceeding, I hope that the Government will shortly look at the whole matter again and tell us what their next scheme will be. We hope that it will be on a much bigger scale than the one now in operation, and that no mistakes will be made in the future, as has happened with regard to many of the roads which have been recently built, in not making dual-carriageways or not making the most up-to-date lay-out in every case. I have in mind—and I have raised it before—the ridiculous Gatwick by-pass, a road two or three miles long on practically virgin territory. In a space of two or 894 three miles the road changes several times from a dual carriageway into a single carriageway, which is exceedingly confusing and dangerous. I think that the Minister has agreed that a mistake was made.
§ Mr. Watkinson
In fact, it is double traffic now under the airport building, which is where it should be.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not referring to that, but to the entire length of the road for several miles. The Minister will find on consideration that it is ridiculous, and I am asking only that such a mistake should not be made in future.
Lastly, I want to deal with the Government's proposals to carry out the 1956 Act in respect of compulsory vehicle inspection. Much has been said about that in the debate, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has been good enough to give us a forecast of what the White Paper will contain. We are grateful to him for what he said. We consider the method of procedure which the Government have decided upon as highly objectionable, and we believe that that view will be shared by the bulk of the motoring population.
It is regrettable, first, that the launching of this scheme has been so long delayed. It is now two years since the Act was passed. The scheme has not yet started, and I suppose that it is unlikely to do so before the end of the year at the earliest. I have not the slightest doubt that if the Minister had been determined he could have got it going within a year or eighteen months, at the outside, of the passage of the Act.
It has been generally admitted by all those who have studied the matter that when the scheme of vehicle inspection is in full operation it is likely to save something like 10 per cent. of the accidents which now occur. That evidence is based on experience in the United States, and it is supported by the research made by the Road Research Laboratory. Ten per cent. is probably an underestimate, but a reduction of 10 per cent. of the accidents a year would mean that 500 fewer people would be killed than are killed at the moment and that 25,000 fewer people would be injured.
In view of those facts, it is regrettable—although "regrettable" is by no 895 means a strong enough word—that the launching of the scheme has been delayed for such a long time. I cannot believe that this delay has been necessary. In view of the terrible figures of road casualties and the enormous number of lives which might have been saved and accidents which might have been avoided, the delay in launching the scheme is wholly inexcusable and deserves the strong censure of the House of Commons.
Broadly, the scheme that the Minister has had all this time to think about and to negotiate with the garage interests is that the vehicles are to be tested wholly, or mostly, by private garages—that is, by interested parties who will derive direct benefit by declaring that certain repairs must be carried out before a car is safe for the roads. Subject to an appeal system, which obviously will be long and tiresome, the decision of these private testers in these private garages will have statutory force. It seems to me that such a proposal is contrary to natural justice. It is as if magistrates were to receive a percentage of the fines which they impose. The proposal has been attacked on all sides, and the point which I am making has been put in other language by The Times, which, in a recent leading article, said:It is a bad principle of legislation to place statutory authority to determine questions of fact in the hands of those who have an interest in the matter to be decided.That view will be shared by many people, both inside and outside the House of Commons.
The private garages will, of course, be inspected by ministerial inspectors, and I have no doubt that in many—it may be in most—cases the decisions of the testers in these private garages will be objective and honest. But will the private motorist believe it? If he goes with his car, which he believes to be in good condition, to a garage and is told that he must have certain repairs carried out costing so much money, he will naturally be suspicious that his car has been condemned, because it will be to the benefit of the garage that it should be. In this matter, as in any other, it is important not only that justice shall be done, but that it shall appear to be done.
It is no argument to say that this system operates in some parts of the United 896 States. That is true, but where this system of private garages exists in the United States there is this very same criticism by the motoring public, who feel that very often the garages are prejudiced in making adverse decisions in the hope of getting the job of doing the repairs.
What is the excuse given by the Government for agreeing to this system instead of the other one, which is also common in the United States, of having testing done by State garages? First, they say it will cost a lot of money to erect the necessary buildings if the Government do it. Is it really necessary to erect new buildings? I cannot think so. There must be a large number of existing buildings or parts of garages which could well be adapted for this purpose, so I cannot believe that an expenditure of £1 million or more is necessary.
There would, of course, be no charge on the Government if they or the local authorities carried out such tests, because the payment by the motorist would cover any cost incurred. Then it is suggested that there would not be enough skilled men, or that it would cause a drain on the number of skilled men available for industry if they were diverted to this purpose. My answer to that argument is simply that, except for one man in charge of the operation, skilled men are not needed for this purpose. It is an automatic operation if the proper equipment is there. It was done admirably at Hendon under the Government testing scheme, and it plainly was not essential that all the men there should be highly skilled.
We say that if this testing is to be done, and there is general agreement that it should be, the right way to do it would be to put the whole matter in the hands of wholly disinterested and impartial people, and that the stations should either be run by the Government or by local authorities. It is clear from a letter which appeared recently in The Times from the Town Clerk of Barrow-in-Furness that some local authorities, at any rate, are anxious to do this job.
I make this concession to the Minister. In some remote parts where it may be very inconvenient or expensive to have a publicly-owned testing station, I would accept the need in those exceptional cases for letting a private garage do the 897 work; but in the general run, these garages should be conducted by public, not private, enterprise.
The first result of agreeing to private enterprise doing this job is that the cost will be 15s. a car, on the ground that it will take three-quarters of an hour to test each car. How long does it take at Hendon? About a quarter of an hour, not more. According to the account which I read in a recent article by the motoring correspondent of The Times on testing in the United States, in Washington, where testing is done by the Government, the total time taken from the moment the car goes into the testing line until it comes out, including putting on the label, is three minutes.
If the garage interests claim that three-quarters of an hour is necessary for the testing of a car, I do not believe it, I do not think the Minister believes it and I do not think that anybody believes it. This appears to be a "try on" by the garages, who are demanding far more than is necessary. The cost in the United States of the compulsory testing of cars by State concerns is less than fifteen shillings. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will reconsider his decision and will not carry out the plan which he has announced.
I have dealt with only a few of the subjects which arise on this wide question of transport. My hon. Friends have raised many other points and I have tried not to cover the same ground as they have done. Altogether there has been advanced in the Committee this afternoon strong and effective criticism of the Government for their attitude to transport, and their responsibility for bringing the British Transport Commission, particularly the railway section, to its present difficult position, which could have been avoided if the Government had taken a different line.
We feel strongly that the Government are to blame for this situation, that their decisions and policy in the past have been often, and indeed usually, mistaken, and that they have been very much prejudiced in their decisions by their general opposition to public enterprise and publicly-owned concerns.
For those reasons, and in light of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, we think it is right to take the matter to its logical conclusion, and to move an 898 Amendment for a reduction of £5 in one of the Votes which are down for discussion today.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)
Three main matters have been raised in the debate. I understand that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) wants to deprive my Department of a small amount. [HON. MEMBERS: "Deprive the Minister."] I understand that it is to be from my salary, but we need not go into the technicalities.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the three main topics which have concerned the Committee throughout a very broad debate. First, there is the general issue of railway modernisation and of Government policy towards the British Transport Commission. Secondly, there is the proposed scheme for vehicle inspection. Thirdly, there is the general road policy of my Ministry.
The debate has ranged widely. Perhaps I need not apologise again for saying that I did not hear all of it, for reasons which are generally known, but if I do not answer all hon. Members' questions, which would be difficult in the time available—because these debates customarily, and I think rightly, range widely—I will consider every point raised with great care and do what I can to meet them.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee for the sense of restraint which they have shown about matters which have been discussed elsewhere today. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman that he has not raised the particular matters which have appeared in the communiqué which is now public knowledge. I do not propose to go into them myself. It is right that the Committee has exercised restraint about them and has left the parties concerned to get on with the difficult job in which I am sure we all hope that they will have some success.
That does not mean that I must not deal with the various charges which have been made, first by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), subsequently by other hon. Members and finally by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, about the general railway modernisation plan. There is a very good answer to them, and I think that the Committee should know it.
899 No one wants to make a success of this great scheme of railway modernisation more than the Government and myself. Perhaps Sir Brian Robertson would say that that statement is hardly correct, because I think that he would probably yield to no one in his desire to see this great enterprise through. I was very glad to hear my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham), my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) and hon. Members opposite pay tribute to Sir Brian. In my view he is a first-class Chairman of the British Transport Commission and he leads his team extremely well. He has a very difficult job at the moment and I am sure that we all wish him well in it.
Equally, I am sure that the trade union leaders in this industry are just as determined as everyone else that modernisation and all this great scheme which means so much to the future of their members should succeed. This is the only general remark I want to make on the present issue: because the Government feel and have felt previously that in the railway industry there is a determination to try to make a success of it, they obviously feel that they must do what they can to help from time to time
The point at which we differ from the Opposition is that our determination is to try to make a success of it in a practical way, not to fob off problems but to face them, Whatever political view we may take about nationalisation—and I shall have more to say about that before I sit down, because the Opposition intend to divide the Committee—these great nationally-owned industries are part of our industrial machine. They are part of our export effort, because they contribute to it in transport and in other ways. They cannot live completely divorced from the burdens and disciplines which rest upon industries today when they have to fight for their lives against our foreign competitors.
It is absolutely right, therefore, that although they are not asked to make profits they are asked to pay their way and to avoid being subsidised in one way or another by the taxpayer, and it is only by being efficient and highly productive that they can fill this rôle. This fact—and it is a fact, whatever political views one takes—places a great burden 900 on management and unions and the Ministers responsible to Parliament for these industries.
The Committee will probably agree that these industries are part of our industrial machine. If things went wrong and we were to fail to halt inflation, or to defend the value of the £, they could not be isolated or insulated from the effects which would fall upon us all. The Government have always tried to take that view of the nationalised industries. They say that they are not separate kept creatures of the Government but part of our industrial machine, and that they are required to make themselves efficient and prosperous. The Government's help will be entirely devoted to that end.
If that is so I do not think that the policies which my predecessors and I have adopted towards the Commission can be challenged. I listened with great interest to the very thoughtful and expert speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) which contained much food for thought. He said that it was his own Government, perhaps for logical reasons, which held back the railway modernisation plan. All I can say is that we have backed that plan; we will commit to it about £1,500 million of the country's money. That seems to me to be not a bad kind of backing for a single industry.
We have gone further; we have said that until modernisation pays off we will support the Commission and underwrite its losses to the tune of no less than another £250 million of the taxpayers' money. But there is a point which I should like to be clear about. My hon. Friend has told me that the hon. Member for Enfield, East said that he agreed that it was right that the Government should not increase that sum of £250 million, whereas the right hon. Member for Vauxhall went rather further, and said that he thought the amount should be a fluid one. I am not criticising that view, but I want to make the Government's position plain. We have advanced this £250 million; it is being drawn on by the Commission under the terms laid down by the White Paper, and we do not propose to increase it. We do not think it is right to increase it. We think that the Commission ought to have the normal discipline of working within the amount that it asked for and has been granted.
901 This figure is not the Government's figure but the Commission's own estimate of the sum it would require to tide it over until modernisation paid off. The Commission has had that sum, and the discipline of keeping within it should apply to the Commission. This is an immense sum of the taxpayers' money. The Government give it willingly, and I do not think that we can be charged with not backing up the Commission when we have committed these sums to its future.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The Minister has said that the Government have given this money. Is that correct? It should go on record that this is not a gift to the industry; it is a loan upon which the Commission has to pay interest. For the sake of the record I sincerely hope that the Minister will make it clear that this is not a gift or a subsidy, but is purely a loan, in respect of which the Commission must pay interest charges.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for that intervention, because I am glad to say that the Government take the view—as I hope the Opposition do—that to apply a subsidy to the railways would be utter and complete disaster, and that all discipline and hope would be lost.[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]. If the Opposition feel that the railways should be subsidised I hope that they will say so.
§ Mr. Watkinson
As to the question of the interest charges, what has been said is quite right, but I am equally right in saying that at the moment the Commission is not paying interest on these sums. It is borrowing the money to cover both the principal and the interest.
I do not intend to deal with general charges about interference with the Commission. All Governments have interfered to some extent with the Commission. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said he thought it was right that Governments should intervene from time to time. As long as an industry is nationalised and there is someone responsible to Parliament for it, that person, whether he thinks it right or wrong, must find it very difficult at times not to make his views known to the Commission. All I would say is that if one could avoid 902 having nationalised industries, one could equally avoid the difficult and sometimes almost impossible situations in which both Ministers and the chairmen of nationalised industries are put. My view is that that is yet another reason why we should do away as far as we can with at least the doctrinaire aspect of nationalisation which results in interference in the industry from time to time by Ministers.
Coming to the issue of charging—this is a point which many hon. Members have raised—the Commission has complete freedom today to make what charges it likes, a freedom which was given to it by a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
There are definite limitations within this flexibility. There are maximum charges in respect of both passengers and freights.
§ Mr. Watkinson
And the Commission has its common carrier liability as well. None the less, at the moment the Commission, if it wished to do so, could raise its charges without any reference to me. The old situation in which these things had to be put to the Minister of the day, as it obtained when we had a Socialist Government, no longer obtains because a much greater degree of freedom and flexibility has been given to the Commission by a Conservative Government. If the Commission does not wish to use that freedom today except in certain limited ways, it is because—this is the view of the Chairman, as he has often stated it in public—it feels that in present conditions to raise its charges in a general sense would probably only lose it even more business.
Therefore, on the general issue of charging, the position is that—I listened very carefully to the case put by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, that probably the country was getting its transport at too low a price, and I think a very good case for that can be made out—the Commission is master in its own house in the sense that if it feels that its customers either cannot afford or will not pay more for its services and it would lose traffics by making larger increases, that is a matter for its own decision and not for me or the Government.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
The Minister says that the Commission is free to change 903 its charges if it so wishes. Why did the Minister make a statement at Seven-oaks last month in which he said that if there were increased costs the Commission could not raise its charges?
§ Mr. Watkinson
The statement that I made at Sevenoaks referred to the London Transport Executive, and I merely said that I could not defend any increases in charges which were passed on to the public by way of increased fares. If the Opposition wish to take the line that it is right to burden the London travelling public with more increases in fares, I hope they will say so. All I can say is that I do not take that view, nor does the London Transport Executive, as it stated before the court. It clearly stated that it could not afford to face the further loss in traffics which would arise from further increases in charges. All I said was that I supported that view, as I do.
I now come to the question of modernisation. A great many hon. Members have referred to this. It is a most important matter, and I should like to put the facts in front of the Committee. I know my hon. Friend gave a lot of the figures and dealt with the details very clearly, and, therefore, I certainly do not propose to go over that ground again. What I want to say is this.
When the Chairman of the Commission and I discussed the original programme of cuts to keep the Commission's capital investment programme within the Government's designed figure for the next two years, the Chairman of the Commission was not then aware of the detailed plans which the regions were bringing forward. Nor, of course, was I. Therefore, the Chairman, with reluctance, accepted cuts which would have amounted roughly to about £10 million each year. That might have been a burden on the Commission, but not in any way an intolerable one. What, of course, we were both unaware of—and, I think, naturally so—was that the regions, who run their affairs extremely well, and have been getting on in a business-like way with modernisation, were able to bring forward plans to show that they could accelerate the modernisation plans far more quickly than even the Commission had thought was possible.
904 That is the difference between the original agreed cuts, which were small and tolerable, and the later position which certainly made it clear that the Commission was facing cuts of very large sums indeed Those cuts are purely on a notional figure of what it could now spend owing to quite changed conditions. All these matters were being discussed with my Department long before any present issues or arguments about modernisation arose.
The only reference I would make to present-day events is to refer to part of the communiqué issued from 10, Downing Street, which states that the Government, if they are asked by the Commission—by Sir Brian Robertson in his capacity both as Chairman of the Commission and Chairman of the Joint Committee of the unions and Commission—are willing to re-examine the capital investment programme at once with a view to seeing whether some of the more immediately remunerative projects could be restored to the programme. The Government are perfectly willing to do that.
If the Committee would like an example of some of the things we might look at I would mention the diesel programme, which the right hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned. It is a part of the programme which pays off as soon as we put locomotives in services. Nothing pays off more quickly in railway service than dieselisation. The Government were right to impose fairly heavy cuts upon it because it must not retard electrification, which is the Commission's longterm solution, but there may be hope in looking at all these aspects of the programme, of which I give the diesel locomotive as an example of what would bring the Commission the promise of much earlier revenue from some part of the modernisation plan.
That offer has been made today and if the Commission wants to bring forward proposals I shall be only too happy to look at them. That is the position there.
I should like to add to that the very sensible plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, that coupled with all this there has got to be a very rigorous pruning of services. It really is no good for this Committee to call for an efficient modern railway system and then to have 905 examples like that of the Bluebell line, known to most hon. Members, which drag on for years and impede the Commission and stop the necessary economies. So, as there is no party matter in this, and we are all involved in our constituencies, and I know how difficult it is when there is a constituency problem which runs against a policy which in general is felt to be right, I ask hon. Members to give all the help they can to the Commission when it comes forward with these quite necessary economies—and it will have to come forward with a great many more in the next few months—and not impede the Commission. That is one way in which they can help in this task.
To conclude my remarks on this question of the railways, it is in my view—and I have never changed my view since I had the honour to take this office—that the railway service is a kind of partnership in which the Government have to play a part—partly as banker; partly as the responsible Minister—in which the Commission has to play a part, and in which the unions have to play a part.
I am an optimist about the future. Perhaps I can see more clearly than some hon. Members what a lot has been done already. I can see what is going on behind the scenes in work study and incentive schemes, in the diesel manning agreement which I have many times publicly congratulated the unions and the Commission on achieving. This is something which will net immense sums of money to the Commission in due course and it is quite a change in operations in manning on the locomotive side.
Seeing these things, I hope and believe that this sort of work will continue and that if the Government will play their part, as they will, in helping the Commission so far as we think proper, the Commission and the unions will bring off this great task which means so much to them and to the country. We ought to conclude this part of the debate by wishing them well in that great task. If they do not succeed, then the outlook for the country, not only the railways, will be dim indeed.
I add some words which I uttered some time ago before this issue arose and which were printed in one of the railway staff magazines. I said them when I was opening a maintenance depôt in 906 Stratford in East London. I ventured to say:Our aims"—that is, the Government's aims—should be that the railways provide better service at lower cost in a much more efficient manner so that as well as doing those things they can also reward all those who work for them in a much more generous manner than is possible today. That is the Government's policy.I went on to say:We have had to slow things down a little on the railways in modernisation as we have done elsewhere, but we have no intention of enforcing a rigid curtailment of effort and expansion that in the long run would be just as damaging in the fight to beat inflation as to allow everything to rush forward unchecked.That was a clear statement of how we regard this railway problem. I sincerely wish the Commission and the unions well in this great task. As I have said, I think that they will pull it off and that if they do, there will be a bright future for every railwayman and for the country.
I like the story of the old railwayman who said, "The trouble with the modernisation scheme is that I was born too adjectivally soon." That shows that on the whole railwaymen themselves are beginning to see a changing world and can look to the time when the modernisation scheme will have been completed.
I do not want to deal with vehicle testing in any great detail, because I know that my hon. Friend gave the Committee a resume of the White Paper. On the whole, it would be better if the Committee waited until it had the White Paper before it when it will be seen that there are perfectly adequate safeguards. The whole Committee wishes to get on with this work, and I certainly support the right hon. Member for Vauxhall in saying that it will save lives. I ask him to accept from me that I am doing it this way because this is the quickest way to do it and because it is the right way.
I do not think that the private garage owner is such a wicked man as he is sometimes made out to be. I am very grateful to the garage authorities for being willing to do this work. They would have got just the same amount of business if we had set up Government testing stations, because these stations would certainly not have undertaken repairs which would still have been done 907 in private garages. This is, therefore, an extra task which the private garages have undertaken and which will bring them little advantage. I am grateful to them for considering it. I do not believe that private enterprise is so wicked or improper that it cannot undertake this job.
I want to refer to the roads programme and I can sum up what I feel about the Government's roads programme in one sentence. In terms of work started, in the twelve months ending on 31st March, 1958, 1,380 schemes, estimated to cost more than £56 million, began in England and Wales alone. That is more road work than this country has ever known and it is certainly a great deal more road work than the Opposition ever thought of, let alone did.
To sum up, I understand that the Opposition propose to divide the Committee. I am delighted, because there could not be more difference in our general approach to transport problems. We believe in a free, progressive economy in transport as elsewhere. The Opposition believe in more nationalisation. If that is an issue which they want to raise in the country, I shall be very happy to deal with it.
On one thing I think we must be clear. The Opposition are very uncertain about the sectors of the road haulage industry which they say they will renationalise. I think it only fair to those concerned that this should be made clear. It is my view—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that it is their intention to renationalise the private enterprise sector, which must include the C licence holders as well. I do not hear any firm disavowal of this from the Opposition, so we know
§ where we stand. The choice for the country is to go ahead—
§ Mr. Watkinson
—with a streamlined, modern railway system, with free competition, or with a wholesale programme of nationalisation on the road haulage front. I am very glad that we have that choice clear because it is one which is of immense importance to trade and industry in this country. As I have said before, I do not think there is much difficulty in seeing where the national advantage lies. Obviously, it lies with a system of reasonably free competition, free choice, and an efficient, streamlined decentralised railway system.
I know that I must sit down in time for the right hon. Member for Vauxhall to try to divest me of £5 of my salary, but I want to add that we have had a broad and interesting debate covering the whole of the immense field controlled by my Ministry. If this debate on the vote is intended to be an indictment of the work of my Ministry, I am happy to accept it because in my view the Government's record in transport is first-class. progressive and far ahead of anything the Opposition ever thought of, much less put into operation. Therefore, if we are to be challenged on our transport policy, I am very happy to be judged by the result.
§ Mr. Strauss
I beg to move. That Item Class IX, Vote 1 (Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation), be reduced by £5.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 196, Noes 246.909
|Division No. 86.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Albu, A. H.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Deer, G.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Callaghan, L. J.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Carmichael, J.||Diamond, John|
|Awbery, S. S.||Champion, A. J.||Dye, S.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Chetwynd, G. R.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Baird, J.||Clunie, J.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Balfour, A.||Coldrick, W.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Ballanger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)|
|Beswick, Frank||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Cove, W. G.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)|
|Boardman, H.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Finch, H. J.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Fletcher, Eric|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Cullen, Mrs. A.||Foot, D. M.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Forman, J. c.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Gibson, C. W.||MacColl, J. E.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacDermot, Niall||Ross, William|
|Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||McGhee, H. G.||Short, E. W.|
|Grey, C. F.||McGovern, J.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||McInnes, J.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Snow, J. W.|
|Hale, Leslie||McLeavy, Frank||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Mahon, Simon||Sparks, J. A.|
|Hannan, W.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Steele, T,|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Stonehouse, John|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mason, Roy||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Healey, Denis||Mitchison, G. R.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Monslow, W.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Moody, A. S.||Stress, Dr. Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Swingler, S. T.|
|Holman, P.||Morrison,Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Holmes, Horace||Mort, D. L.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Moss, R.||Taylor, John (West Loth[...]an)|
|Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Moyle, A.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Howell, Denis (All Saints)||Mulley, F. W.||Thornton, E.|
|Hoy, J. H.||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Tomney, F.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Orbach, M.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Hunter, A. E.||Oswald, T.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Owen, W. J.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Padley, W. E.||West, D. G.|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Janner, B.||Palmer, A. M. F.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Wigg, George|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Paton, John||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Pentland, N.||Willey, Frederick|
|Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Popplewell, E.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Prentice, R. E.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tlllery)|
|Kenyon, C.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Lawson, G. M.||Probert, A. R.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Proctor, W. T.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Pryde, D. J.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Randall, H. E.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Lewis, Arthur||Redhead, E. C.||Woof, R. E.|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Reeves, J.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Reid, William||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Logan, D. G.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Mahon, Dr. J. Dickson||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|McAlister, Mrs. Mary||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.|
|McCann, J.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Browne, J, Nixon (Craigton)||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Bryan, P.||Elliott,R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne,N.)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat(Tiverton)||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Burden, F. F. A.||Farey-Jones, F. W.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Finlay, Graeme|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Butler, Rt. Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Fisher, Nigel|
|Ashton, H.||Campbell, Sir David||Fletcher-Cooke, C.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Carr, Robert||Fort, R.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Channon, Sir Henry||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Chichester-Clark, R.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Balniel, Lord||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Gammans, Lady|
|Barber, Anthony||Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Garner-Evans, E. H.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cooke, Robert||George, J. C. (Pollok)|
|Barter, John||Cooper, A. E.||Gibson-Watt, D.|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Glyn, Col. Richard H.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Godber, J. B.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Gough, C. F. H.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Gower, H. R.|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Cunningham, Knox||Graham, Sir Fergus|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Currie, G. B. H.||Grant, W. (Woodside)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Dance, J. C. G.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Davidson, Viscountess||Green, A.|
|Body, R. F.||D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Deedes, W. F.||Grimond, J.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Braine, B. R.||Drayson, G. B.||Gurden, Harold|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Duncan, Sir James||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Duthie, W. S.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Hay, John||Longden, Gilbert||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Russell, R. S.|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||McAdden, S. J.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Sharpies, R. C.|
|Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||McKibbin, Alan||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Holt, A. F.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)|
|Hope, Lord John||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Hornby, R. P.||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Storey, S.|
|Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Maddan, Martin||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Hurd, A. R.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Mathew, R.||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Hutchison, Sir James (Sco[...]stoun)||Mawby, R. L.||Teeling, W.|
|Hyde, Montgomery||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr, S. L. C.||Temple, John M.|
|Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Milligan, Rt. Hon. w. R.||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Thompson, Kenneth (Wal.[...]on)|
|Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Jennings, Sir Roland (Haltam)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Oakshott, H. D.||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Joseph, Sir Keith||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelor||Osborne, C.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Kaberry, D.||Page, R. G.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Panned, N. A. (Kirkdale)||Wade, D. W.|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Partridge, E.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Kershaw, J. A.||Peel, W. J.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (S[...]. M'lebone)|
|Kimball, M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Kirk, P. M.||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wall, Patrick|
|Lagden, G. W.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Powell, J. Enoch||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Ramsden, J, E.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Leavey, J. A.||Rawlinson, Peter||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Redmayne, M.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Remnant, Hon. P.||Woollam, John Victor|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Renton, D. L. M.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Linstead, Sir H. N.||Robertson, Sir David||Mr. Wills and|
|Colonel J. H. Harrison.|
|Original Question again proposed.|
|It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.|
|Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.|