§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I beg to move,That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to make further provision for the health, welfare and safety of railway and allied workers, in the light of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee; and to ensure that their interests, as well as those of railway users, are fully considered while modernisation is taking place.This Motion follows a series of Motions put on the Order Paper by some of my hon. Friends for which, unfortunately, time has not yet been found. The latest of them, sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones), was on the Order Paper only a few weeks ago.
[That this House regrets that, despite the assurance given by the then Prime Minister on 9th June, 1955, in regard to legislation for dealing with the recommendations of the Gowers Committee for dealing with health, safety and welfare provisions on railways, the Government have not yet seen fit to give any firm indication of their intention to implement this firm promise, and therefore calls upon Her Majesty's Government to implement immediately the assurance given by Sir Anthony Eden in June, 1955.]
I have deliberately framed my Motion rather wider than the previous Motions dealing with the implementation by legislation of the recommendations of the Gowers Report relating to railways in order to enable us to go a little more widely into general questions affecting the working conditions of men on the railways and also the effects upon them of the modernisation programme.
I am well aware that at this very moment public attention is principally focussed on the question of pay for railwaymen. Indeed, vital consultations are going on at the present time. We on this 1568 side of the House do not wish to refer specifically to that matter, but I think that all railwaymen and all of my hon. Friends feel that although pay, particularly for these workers, who are suffering a lamentable position of inferiority compared with almost all other workers in industry at present, is a major factor, almost equally important are the questions of working conditions and the sense of security of men employed on railways. Indeed, I think that industrial psychologists and labour relations experts, as well as the men themselves, would agree that a sense of security of employment and decent working conditions are sometimes at least as important as rates of pay to stability and co-operation in industry. That is why we drew the Motion rather more widely than the other Motions which have recently appeared on the Order Paper.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will see that the Motion falls into two parts, one dealing specifically with the implementation of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee and the other dealing with the effects of modernisation. I propose to deal first with the second aspect.
Before doing so, I should like to ask him whether he can clarify one matter which has confused me slightly. I am aware that when the Government were making arrangements for a reply to be made to the debate, there was some discussion between his Ministry and the Ministry of Labour as to whether he or his hon. Friend the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour should reply to the debate. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour may be here later this morning. Can the hon. Gentleman say where the line of demarcation falls and what significance there is in the fact that this morning he is to reply and not the Minister of Labour? It has been of some interest and concern to us to follow what Government Departments are responsible for this matter, even though we fear that any question of the implementation of the Gowers Report during the lifetime of the present Government has now become an academic question. That is a matter which we very much regret, and with which I shall deal in a moment.
I turn now to the second part of the Motion—the effects of modernisation on 1569 the railway workers—and I should like to preface what I have to say on that by making it perfectly plain that we on this side and, I think, the great majority of railwaymen, wholeheartedly accept and support the modernisation programme adopted by the British Transport Commission. Our only regret is that, because of the Government's economic policy, the Commission has had to hold up that programme. Incidentally, we regret very much the way in which the cuts were thrown at the Commission some months ago, without adequate discussion or proper notice being given to it.
We realise that modernisation is vitally necessary because, compared with the railway systems of almost every other modern industrial country, ours is lamentably old-fashioned and inefficient. There are many reasons for that, including the last world war. Others go back to the fact that we were the first industrial nation to build a wide railway system, and we are still paying the penalty for being pioneers in this direction by having so much inadequate and ramshackle equipment and installations.
We on this side of the House, and, I think, railwaymen and their representatives in the trade unions, accept the necessity for the modernisation programme, and realise that among its effects will be am inevitable reduction of employment in some parts of the industry, and the contraction of the establishments owned and operated by the railways. This will apply on the operating side, where faster and more efficient trains and methods of handling will mean a reduction in staff, and also to the railway workshops, where locomotives, carriages, wagons and other materials, equipment and components are at present produced.
I am confident that the great majority of men in the industry understand and accept this as inevitable, and are ready to give their fullest co-operation in order that the changes that must be made are made smoothly, and that the modernisation programme is a success. It is perfectly true that, in some ways, the railway industry is a conservative and traditionalist institution, and that does not apply, perhaps, exclusively to the managements concerned.
1570 It is natural and not unreasonable that men who have spent the whole of their working lives, and who, in some cases, remember that their fathers and grandfathers also spent their working lives on the railways, should not very much relish the idea of having to go outside the industry to find other work; more particularly at a time when, because of the Government's economic policies, as we believe, jobs outside the railways are not very easy to find. They are naturally apprehensive, therefore, and their apprehensions are increased by recent developments all over the country.
I should like now to cite one or two examples of the first impact of modernisation on railway workshops. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be aware that the Brighton locomotive works in April last year employed 600 men, and that those men were then told that the works were to be closed down by 31st December of this year. Those men face a particularly difficult problem, as there is no comparable employment in the area, and if they want to stay in the railway service they may be forced to take jobs as porters, or similar occupations, which is, of course, very unfortunate for them and a shocking waste of their skills and experience.
At the Ashford locomotive works, about 1,300 are now employed, and it is proposed that that establishment should be closed down altogether by 1965. There is a small ironfoundry at Gorton, employing 80 men—mostly skilled foundry workers. That is to be closed down and the work transferred elsewhere. There is the locomotive works at Newton Abbot which, partly because of the decision very soon to discontinue the use of steam locomotives west of Exeter, is to close down. Even though a new diesel maintenance unit may eventually be set up at Laira, near Plymouth, the difficulties of these men, meantime, will be very severe.
In the North-Eastern Region, about 60 men have very recently been discharged from the Shildon wagon works, and in a moment I shall refer to the feeling there is amongst British Railways employees building carriages and wagons. They cannot understand why they should be made redundant at a time when the majority of carriages and wagons being 1571 delivered to the railways, as the Commission's statistics show, are being made outside by private firms. However, I shall come back to that point, if I may, in a moment.
In the London Midland Region 100 skilled men have recently been declared redundant at Crewe, and a lesser number at Horwich. At Darlington and Gateshead, in the North-Eastern Region it was announced only, I think, on Wednesday, that a total of 170 men are to become redundant.
I could, of course, also elaborate a good deal on the position in the great locomotive and carriage works in my constituency of Swindon, and on the apprehensions of the men employed there, but I am very anxious that neither my hon. Friends nor the Parliamentary Secretary should think that my purpose this morning is to make a constituency speech. Therefore, I shall be very careful indeed to keep this matter as general as I can.
The first major point that I want to make, and with which I would ask the hon. Gentleman to deal as carefully as possible is this. In this state of contraction, when there will inevitably be some redundancy, and when, in due course, establishments all over our railway system will disappear, it is vitally important that there should be really adequate consultation with the men—and, by "consultation," we do not mean taking decisions and then telling the men about them afterwards.
Here, I cannot help having in mind a very lamentable incident that occurred last November in my own constituency, when, in my opinion, serious trouble could certainly have been averted if the management had been slightly more flexible, and slightly more familiar with the technique of modern consultation. It is not always that the people concerned do not want to take the men into their confidence, but that labour relations have become a skilled matter, and not all the people in the upper strata of the railways structure are very skilled in that particular task.
In passing, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, if possible, what steps are being taken in respect of training, not only those in senior management positions but—and this is a matter that concerns us on this side very much—those in the lower grades 1572 for higher jobs in the railway management. I know that many of my hon. Friends share the view that the full benefits of railway nationalisation will not be apparent to very many of the men until they have the feeling that they are able to rise to posts of responsibility, even though they may have started their working lives in a very low grade. I should be very grateful if the hon. Gentleman could tell us something about the present position of training in the railway industry.
I now turn to the second subject connected with the effects of modernisation, and it is a matter that is causing the very greatest concern to men in the railway workshops. I refer to the contracting of work to private firms outside the railway establishments. It is only natural that with the threat of redundancy, with fewer jobs to be found in industry outside, railway shop men are anxious about work which they believe they could do themselves going outside their shops on contract to private firms.
The British Transport Commission at the beginning of 1956 announced the general principles on which it proposed to approach this matter. It explained that as a general rule maintenance work on rolling stock and locomotives would be carried out in British Railways workshops in co-operation with the manufacturers to make sure that the standard of maintenance was as high as possible. The British Transport Commission added thatThe railway workshops should be used to the full economic extent of their capacity for the manufacture of equipment and components for which they are today laid out and equipped.The statement added:The Commission may, however, purchase the equipment and components from industry at any time, either for special reasons or because it is more economic to do so.In general, I think that the railwaymen accept that statement by the British Transport Commission, but I am bound to say that many of them query the statement that the railway workshops should be used only for work for which they are today laid out and equipped. We do not understand why, with changes taking place in the nature of locomotives, carriages and wagons, the railway workshops should not, if necessary, be adapted and re-equipped to take on this new type of work. I was going round the railway 1573 workshops in Swindon a few days ago with some of my hon. Friends, and in one locomotive shop we could see the beginning of the process of steam going out and diesel work moving in. We saw the layout of a workshop in which diesel work would expand as steam went out.
When these workshops are having to be laid out afresh and re-equipped, why should they not be re-equipped to do work which at present has to be done by private firms? Why, for that matter, we ask, should not the nationally-owned railway workshops be put in a position to compete, if necessary, with private firms in the cheapness and quality of their products?
The second point I should like to make on the Transport Commission's statement of 1956 is to ask what may be the special reasons for ordering equipment and components outside the railway workshops. We quite understand that an economic case can be made in respect of certain components. I, personally, am convinced that the power units for diesel locomotives can be made more cheaply and more efficiently by private firms which are competing in the export market. In fact, even when that happens there is plenty of work left for the building of the complete locomotive in the railway workshops.
The other day we were looking at the new 2,000 horsepower diesel locomotive in Swindon. The whole of the construction of the framework of that locomotive and assembly work is carried out in the railway workshops. Railwaymen generally accept that some components must be supplied from outside, but they do not accept that work should go outside which they themselves are capable of doing in their own establishments.
I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary would say that there is a difficulty here, in that immediately after the war, when the productive capacity of the railway workshops was being used to the full, contracts had to be placed outside; that to call off those contracts would involve the Commission in very large sums of compensation, and that, after all, if one goes to private firms for assistance when times are difficult it is a little hard to take the work back again when times are easier. Nevertheless, we on these benches, and the railwaymen, are disturbed by the amount of work that is going outside the railway workshops, and 1574 I think that the Parliamentary Secretary would be wise to deal as fully as possible with these anxieties when he replies to the debate.
I mentioned the British Transport Commission's statistics. The ones to which I was referring were published for the four weeks ending at the end of December last year. They showed that of all coaching vehicles and freight vehicles built for the railways, 1,318 freight vehicles were built in the railway workshops and 2,694—twice as many—were purchased from contractors, and that 109 coaching vehicles were built in the railway workshops and 110 outside. At a time of growing redundancy, when men are being asked to co-operate in the change-over, and when people are gradually being eased out into other jobs, it upsets the men to see a large proportion of the work which they are capable of doing being sent outside. I hope very much that the Minister will deal carefully and sympathetically with these points both in this House and in his dealings with the British Transport Commission.
The right hon. Gentleman may say that the men are being unduly suspicious of his intentions. All I can say is that the men are suspicious of his intentions, and so are we on these benches. When I listened to the peroration of the Minister of Transport in the last transport debate, I must say that my own suspicions were very much magnified. He was claiming a certain amount of credit, the object of which was, I believe, to get a little applause from his own back benches. He said that his whole approach to the transport industry was totally different from ours, and we found ourselves wondering what was the Government's real attitude to nationalisation.
When men are facing the kind of conditions which I have described, when they hear the Minister make it plain that he and his colleagues never did think very much of nationalisation and hoped that it would not be extended, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, how natural it is for them to suspect that vested interests and political prejudice are playing a part in deciding where the railway work should be placed. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that that is all nonsense but, believe me, he will have to prove it if he is going to 1575 convince the men in the railway workshops themselves. I appeal to him to make it plain that no political prejudice and no vested interests will be permitted to interfere with the fullest possible economic use of the productive capacity of British Railways workshops.
I turn to the first part of my Motion, which is, in some respects, the most puzzling and the most important. I propose to run briefly through the history of the work of the Gowers Committee and its proposals relating to the railways, and to discuss briefly the Government's intentions with regard to implementation, and ask why it is that the Government have reversed their original intention to introduce legislation and have buried the question till after the next General Election when, of course, we on this side of the House will be in office and when, I think, I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that we shall give high priority to the implementation by legislation of the Gowers recommendations with regard not only to railways but to shops and offices as well.
May I say in parenthesis that if the Parliamentary Secretary intends later in the debate to quote the opinions of the British Transport Commission as one of the reasons for not introducing implementing legislation—I will go into that in more detail in a moment—I hope he will not overdo it, because it would be undesirable for the British Transport Commission—which, after all, has to be the servant, or at any rate the partner, of whatever Government is in office—to become involved in what is fundamentally a political argument.
I do not believe that the view of the British Transport Commission against the implementation of the Gowers Report is nearly as strong as the Parliamentary Secretary may suggest. At all events, whatever its views are, it is going to be told to implement the recommendations when the next Government come into office. I think that ought to be made clear, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), if he happens to catch your eye towards the end of the debate, Mr. Speaker, will endorse what I have said about the intentions of the Labour Party when they come into office.
The Gowers Committee was set up less than six months after the coming into 1576 office of the first post-war Labour Government. It was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was then Home Secretary, and its terms of reference required itto enquire into and make recommendations as to extending, strengthening or modifying the statutory provisions relating to the health, welfare and safety of employed persons at places of employment other than those regulated under the Factories or Mines and Quarries Acts, and, the statutory regulation of the hours of employment of young persons.The Committee reported on 5th March, 1949. The Report was unanimous.
A great deal of evidence had been sifted and investigated, evidence from the unions, representatives of employees, from the British Transport Commission, and other interested parties. The Gowers Committee discovered that, at the time it was working, more than half a million employees were working on the railways outside the scope of the Factories Act. It heard complaints that, even after allowance had been made for the difficulties of the past ten years of war, buildings, accommodation and equipment fell far short of what they ought to be and were below the standards required for industrial workers under the Factories Act.
I do not propose, in my speech, to go into great detail about the kind of conditions in which railway workers are now expected to work. That comes more naturally to my hon. Friends who have spent many more years in the railway industry than I have been associated with it. I would merely say, from my own contacts with railway men in my constituency and elsewhere, that I am constantly horrified by the mediaeval conditions in offices, signal cabins, marshalling yards, and other railway installations in which men are expected to work. It is certain that no other industrial workers in the country would put up with these conditions for a moment, and no railway worker in any modern industrial nation would put up with them either. The Gowers Committee unanimously recommended legislation and the enforcement of a new statutory code by an independent body.
The Gowers Committee discussed the question whether or not such legislation was still necessary in view of the fact that the railways were under public 1577 ownership. It made its point in these words, in paragraph 112:It would certainly have been our duty, if the railways had not been nationalized, to recommend a statutory code of welfare and safety for them, and we cannot accept the argument that this has become unnecessary because they are now nationalised and special machinery has been provided for consultation between management and workers on these matters. No one suggests that industries previously subject to protective legislation such as the Factories Acts should be exempted from it on nationalisation—the witnesses from the National Coal Board emphatically disclaimed any such idea—and we see no case for treating the Transport Commission differently.I would emphasise those words:No one suggests that industries previously subject to protective legislation … should be exempted … on nationalisation.I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not take the line that, because this is a publicly owned industry, it should not be subject to the minimum statutory provisions ensuring decent working conditions for the workers. After all, it would be rather curious if a Conservative Government, which held views on nationalisation which are only too well known, which were re-emphasised last night in no uncertain terms by the Prime Minister, were to take the line that, of course, private industry must be regulated by legislation but they would let the nationalised industries get away with conditions which would not be tolerated in private employment. This, of course, applies to many of the arguments which the Parliamentary Secretary may use in his reply later.
The Parliamentary Secretary may say that, whatever legislation there may be or ought to be, the British Transport Commission cannot spend more than £15 million over the next ten years and, therefore, it really does not make any difference whether we legislate or not because the B.T.C. and the railways are not in a position to do better. That is definitely an argument which would never be accepted from any private factory. If the directors of Pressed Steel, Vickers, or Garrards in my constituency came to the Government and said, "We are sorry; we are going bust owing to the credit squeeze and we cannot comply with the Factories Acts. Will you let us off for the next ten years?", the Minister would close them down straight away. We cannot see, and the 1578 men in the industry cannot see, why he should take a different line in dealing with the railways.
The Gowers Report, in paragraph 302, re-emphasised this point:.. if an undertaking, when in private ownership, was one for which legal minimum standards ought to be prescribed, the need for them did not disappear upon its being brought under the control of a public corporation.These findings were unanimously acclaimed on both sides of the House at the time they were announced in 1949. The Labour Government then in office intimated at once that they accepted the recommendations in principle and that they intended to legislate as soon as they could. The House will remember very well the conditions in which the Labour Government of those days were working. Shortly afterwards, there was a General Election. We came back with a majority of only six Members, and it was obviously impossible to introduce legislation of the complexity required during that period.
The Parliamentary Secretary cannot make a debating point about our failure to implement the Gowers Report. If he has it in his notes, I recommend him to take it out. One of the things he will say, no doubt, is that there has not been Parliamentary time for the present Government to implement the Gowers recommendations, but, after all, they have been in office since 1951, and there is really no case at all for that argument. The fact is that, had the Labour Government been operating in ordinary Parliamentary conditions, with a little freedom in legislative time, we would certainly have implemented those recommendations by legislation. If the Parliamentary Secretary does not believe me when I say that, I can only advise him to wait until after the next General Election and see what high priority the Bill we want and the Shops Bill which was abandoned by the Government will have at the top of our legislative programme.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is making the point that the Gowers Committee recommendations could not be implemented by the Government in 1950–51 by reason of their small majority.
§ Mr. McAdden
So I understood. By reason of the complexity of the legislation, it could not be carried through with a majority of six. Does not the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) recognise that, if these difficulties are so grave and the conditions are as bad as he suggests—I do not doubt that they are bad—that must have been obvious to those who nationalised the railways, even without the Gowers recommendations, and there is no excuse whatever for not having done something about it in the years 1945–50?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
In the first place, I was making the point that there was not time for the legislation between the Report of the Gowers Committee and the General Election. I think that that is generally accepted. As to whether or not we did anything about it, the reasons for nationalisation of the railways were, of course, very much wider: that it was in the interests of the national economy to have the railways under public ownership. The whole system would have broken down if it had not been done. I think that that is generally accepted now. But, of course, bad conditions on the railways was one of the reasons for nationalisation. The British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive and the Regions have been doing their best ever since to improve working conditions. I accept that the British Transport Commission has been doing what it can during the last few years.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
We should have this right. On 3rd October, 1953, Lord Kilmuir Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, as he then was—wrote to the Trades Union Congress saying thatConsultations on the Gowers Report are not yet complete, and the economic position of the country is not favourable for the requisite expenditure".
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has a great mass of documentation on the subject and, no doubt, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, we shall hear more from him during the course of the debate. I was trying to make the point that the Labour Government really were not in a position to legislate after the Gowers Committee first reported. The fact is, however, that its recommendations were generally accepted.
1580 When the present Government first took office after 1951, they made it perfectly plain that they accepted these recommendations and intended to introduce legislation. On 1st August, 1952, the then Home Secretary said that theGovernment have considered the Report … and are in sympathy with the general tenor of the Committee's recommendations ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1952; Vol. 504. c. 208.]He added that legislation could not be expected very quickly. Previously, in February, 1952, the Home Secretary had already referred to tentative proposals for legislation based on the whole of the Gowers Committee proposals. He had explained that a list of organisations had been circularised with tentative proposals for legislation, adding that the list included the British Transport Commission, the Railway Shopmen's National Council, and the Trades Union Congress.
In fact, what was happening was that, from 1952 onwards, preparations were being made to introduce the Bill; but nothing had been stated publicly about this in the House, and in February, 1954, one of my hon. Friends introduced his Safety in Employment (Inspection and Safety Organisation) Bill, which was one of a number of attempts to help the Government to implement by legislation the recommendation of the Gowers Committee. It failed to get a Second Reading, and in the course of the debate the present Minister of Transport, who was then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, said:… we are considering very closely proposals for legislation to give effect to the Gowers Committee recommendations on safety, health and welfare, in such places as shops, offices, catering establishments, indoor entertainment, railways"—and I emphasise "railways"—agriculture and forestry".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 759.]So that there was no doubt at that time—and the present Minister of Transport was the man who made it plain—that the Government intended to legislate. The House continued to wait, but by March, 1955, nothing had happened.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) then introduced another Private Member's Bill. Likewise, this was designed to give effect to the Gowers Committee recommendations. During the course of the discussion on 1581 this Measure, the then Minister of Agriculture said:In the Government's considered opinion, this subject is much too wide and complex to be dealt with properly by a Private Member's Bill. This Bill affects the rights and interests, and even the livelihood, of very large numbers of employees and of owners and occupiers of premises, including very many in a small way of business.The Minister was referring, of course, particularly to shops and offices. The recommendations in the Gower Committee's Report concerned shops and offices. But he added:We feel that any Government is in duty bound to assume direct responsibility for such a Measure as we are talking about today."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 750–51.]In effect, the Government were saying to private Members on this side of the House who were trying to help them by introducing a Private Member's Bill. "No; this is a matter of Government responsibility and it must be left to the Government to take legislative action".
When the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek reached Standing Committee B, the then Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gave an even more specific undertaking. He said:I can, of course, give the Committee the assurance that a Bill will be drafted—that is the Government's intention—and will be introduced in due course, but by no stretch of imagination can that be before 6th May, when this Parliament comes to an end."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 26th April, 1955, c. 4.]At that moment the country was on the verge of a General Election. Following that General Election, there was a reference to the implementation of the Gowers Report in the Gracious Speech, which included a phrase which read:Legislation will be introduced to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry.No mention was made of the railways.
My noble Friend, who was then Mr. Attlee, Leader of the Opposition, questioned the Government on the omission on 9th June. He said that the Government's reference in the Gracious Speech to the Gowers Report seemed to bean extraordinarily meager instalment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 53.]1582 He pressed the Prime Minister to explain the position, which the Prime Minister proceeded to do later in the debate. He said:In fact, we carefully considered whether proposals for the railways might be included in this Session, but, as we could not be sure that it would be possible to get the necessary separate Bill in time, we thought it wiser not to put it in the Gracious Speech. If opportunity offers, it will certainly be included. With other Measures, it will be examined and put in in due course. We have made a start with the industry where we thought the problems most immediate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th June, 1955; Vol. 542, c. 62.]In 1955, after the General Election, the Government gave a specific undertaking that legislation affecting railways to implement the Gowers Committee's recommendation would be introduced. When one of my hon. Friends followed this up on 14th July, 1955, the then Minister of Labour, now Lord Monckton said:This legislation will be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time is available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 193.]These were not simply promises given to the House of Commons. Behind the scenes a good deal of detailed work was going on.
I should like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether it is a fact that on 29th November, 1955, a draft Bill of twelve Clauses was produced and discussed very thoroughly with the interests concerned. I should like to know what has happened to that Bill. The House of Commons heard nothing about it.
On 7th June, 1956, my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools put a Question to the Leader of the House asking whether he had noticed a Motion on the Order Paper about the implementation of the Gowers Report recommendations. It is plain that by the summer of 1956 the Government had started to retreat from their previous position. Instead of talking about the intention to introduce legislation, the Leader of the House simply said:While I can give no undertaking for this Session"—although a whole series of undertakings had been given by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Labour and other people—I can say that this is a matter of great interest to Her Majesty's Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th June, 1956; Vol. 553, c. 1282.]1583 Then not many months ago, on 27th November, 1957, another of my hon. Friends put a Question to the Minister of Transport. He was asking then not about a Bill, but whether the Government would give a general direction to implement the Gowers Report. The reply was:No. The British Transport Commission is already making considerable progress in the improvement of working conditions on the railways. A direction would not help them to do more."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November, 1957; Vol. 578, c. 123.]Since that time the prospect of legislation has disappeared. The Bill on which so much careful work was done was scuttled and I now understand that even the proposal of an enabling Bill, which was canvassed not long ago, has gone as well and that there is no prospect whatever of legislation.
I hope I have not gone into too much detail in describing the history of the Gowers Committee recommendations in respect of the railways. I did so because I wanted the Parliamentary Secretary to correct me if I have been wrong in any particular and to tell me if this is an accurate account of what happened or not.
What I am about to say is on the assumption that I am right in what I have said so far. I have taken some pains to verify my facts. If it is an accurate account of what happened, it means that the Government originally intended to introduce a Bill, worked out a draft, had the draft printed, consulted the interests concerned, promised the House to introduce it, and then started to plead that there was not sufficient Parliamentary time, then began to stall and finally said that they proposed not only to introduce a Bill of that complexity but not even to introduce an enabling Bill and not to give a general direction to the B.T.C.
This is an extraordinary situation from a Parliamentary point of view. I do not know what precendents there are for undertakings of this sort being given, for Bills being drafted and printed and then being quietly dropped without any explanation about what happened. Of course, we on this side of the House cannot help wondering whether the explanation is not a sordid political explanation, and whether the Government started with the Act to implement 1584 the recommendations about agriculture, intending next to deal with shops and then to deal with railways.
There was, however, a rumpus over the Shops Act and behind the scenes the vested interests and reactionary forces connected with the Conservative Party got to work on the Government and the Government had to drop the Shops Act. Having dropped it, they felt that they could not decently go ahead with implementing the Gowers recommendations on the railways. Now they take the line that those recommendations are in any case unnecessary. If they are unnecessary now, why where they not unnecessary in November, 1955, when the draft Bill was printed?
Obviously the Parliamentary Secretary is to some extent bound to speak from a brief prepared for him by the B.T.C., but I hope that he will not overdo the B.T.C. objections to implementing the Gowers recommendations by legislation. That would put the B.T.C. in a very unfortunate position vis-à-vis the next Government of this country and it would also be rather unfair. I have already pointed out that no private employer and no other nationalised industry has been allowed to get away with the position which the B.T.C. wishes to maintain.
As I understand the argument, it is that in any event £15 million will be spent on welfare as part of the modernisation plan; that £3 million was spent last year; that, whether or not there is legislation, more money is not available, and that if legislation were introduced it might hamper and slow up the improvements which are being made.
We on this side of the House do not in the least underestimate the tremendous difficulties with which the B.T.C. is contending, some of them because of legacies from the past—the old decrepit installations, workshops, offices and running sheds inherited from the old railway companies—and some of them because of difficulties put in the way by constant Government interference. There are, of course, also the wider difficulties resulting from the Government's economic policy.
With or without legislation, and with the best will in the world, we do not 1585 expect that all the black spots of the railway system can be put right overnight. We know that it will take a long time. We do not expect legislation to go into great detail and to tie down exactly what is to happen in a particular block of offices or a particular signal cabin.
If the Minister's case is to be that legislation would obstruct and hold up the B.T.C., I can only say that we cannot understand it and we do not accept it. In the first place, it is obvious that legislation would be based on the assumption that it will take many years to put the whole matter right. Indeed, as the Gowers Report said, there is no reason why there should not be the possibility of exemption from the application of the statutory requirements for a period of years, perhaps renewable for another period of years, in cases where the legislation cannot be complied with immediately.
For all those reasons, we think that legislation would be not a hindrance but a help to the British Transport Commission. To have a framework providing minimum standards would be a positive help to them, as it has been to private employers and to the National Coal Board. It would also have a very considerable psychological as well as practical effect on the men working in the industry.
I have spoken at some length and I have given the Parliamentary Secretary a number of points with which I hope he will deal as carefully as he can. I will not go into detail, especially at this stage of my speech, in describing the kind of conditions which railwaymen are being required to tolerate. My hon. Friends will do that. I beg the Minister to understand that over the repercussions of the modernisation programme on the men there are very grave and very reasonable anxieties which can be met only by giving the men in the industry the facts and taking them into the management's confidence wherever that is possible. There is also grave apprehension about the way in which the Government have dropped the proposed legislation to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. I hope that the debate will give the Minister and my hon. Friends an opportunity to put many fears at rest.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I beg to second the Motion.
I want to begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for giving the House an opportunity once again to raise this matter, which in some respects may have come to be regarded as a hardy annual. As my hon. Friend made clear, it is now in danger of becoming something quite different. Whereas up to now we have had promise after promise by members of the Government, from the Prime Minister down, over the years which have elapsed since 1949–51, and whereas we have at least had assurances that legislation would be introduced to deal with the Gowers Report, we are now faced with an apparently different situation in which it is not clear whether the Government in tend to drop the whole thing. That is the main point we should like to raise in the debate.
The terms of the Motion go much wider, for the reason that the situation on the railways today is such that everywhere it is recognised that there are two main factors which will decide whether our railway industry will be a viable industry making an effective contribution to the nation's economy. These factors are investment, including development schemes, and the confidence and the morale of the railwaymen. In some matters affecting the confidence and morale of the railwaymen legislation can play no part. For that reason, the Motion leaves it open to any hon. Member to raise any matter he likes about this situation on the railways.
I should like to concentrate on, if not confine myself to, the aspect of the Gowers Report and the legislation which it recommended. I recall that as long ago as 1951, when this matter was first raised as a major debate in the House for the purpose of trying to clarify the Government's intentions at that time about implementing the Report, my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones), some of my other hon. Friends and myself took part in the debate and we began to have the assurances that legislation would be introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon has given the history—and he asked the Minister to confirm that history. I do not think that many hon. Members who have been in the House since 1949 1587 have any doubts at all about the history; the records are available. It will be interesting to see whether the Minister denies the firm promises given by his predecessors.
My hon. Friend's history is far from complete, but it is a long one and as this debate is taking place on a Friday, time does not permit us to complete it. The fact is that throughout the years there have been Motions on the Order Paper, debates in the House, Private Members' Bills and promises from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agiculture, one after another—firm promises—that legislation would be introduced within the "current session" or "as soon as Parliamentary time permitted," or, as on the last occasion, "within the lifetime of the present Government."
That is the history, and we are now asking the Government for a definite statement whether they are departing from all these pledges. We know the attitude of the British Transport Commission. The Commission is certainly a good employer, and it prides itself on that. By and large, I think the unions and the railwaymen would agree. Since the establishment of the British Transport Commission and the railway executive, there have been revolutionary changes in industrial relations on the railways. Those of us in this House who represent the railwaymen have fully recognised and appreciated that.
We also appreciate that the British Transport Commission is faced with very special difficulties which do not face other industries, certainly not on the same scale. We know that the Commission took over large quantities and numbers of dilapidated rolling stock, premises and equipment, and that it had to repair these and try to bring them up to date. Moreover, it took over an industry which before nationalisation and for many years before the war was already largely bankrupt and which, during the war, suffered much more war damage and dilapidation than most other industries, and certainly more than the other great national industries.
The Commission has also been hampered—and this is one of the most important points—by the effect of the policies of the present Government and 1588 their predecessors since 1951. We do not need now to go through the history of the steel shortages and the arguments put forward in this House about the unfair allocation which was given to the railways although the reconstruction of the railways was always regarded on both sides of the House as constituting one of the most important necessities in the restoration of our national economy after the war. The cuts in the development programme are matters of Government policy for which no industry, private or nationalised, could be entirely responsible, and they have, of course, hampered the best efforts put forward in the industry.
We recognise, therefore, that the B.T.C. is doing its best. Therefore the question may be asked, as it has been asked, why the need for legislation? The reply to that is, why not legislation for the railways when it is necessary for all other comparable industries—the railway industry, too, has factories and workshops and running-in sheds and the rest?
However good the intentions of the employers, the men have no remedies if these employers, having set up standards with the best intentions in the world, are let down by sections of the management at lower levels in this vast industry, who may fail to implement the standards laid down by the British Transport Commission or fail to maintain them. That danger exists, of course, not only on the railways but in other comparable industries, and it is the basic reason why we had the factories legislation. We do not have factories legislation, we do not have the Mines and Quarries Act and other protective Measures, because we think that all managers in the mining industry or factory owners are bad employers, but because we know that here and there faults occur which are overlooked.
We know that it is not always possible for the men at the top of these vast organisations to know precisely what is going on in every part of them. We know there are human failings. Therefore, we legislate to provide an incentive to the men in management lower down the scale, men responsible for some little corner of the business, to do the job, or, if they fail, to be answerable not only to the courts but to their employers for letting them down. That is the reason why our legislation is necessary for those other industries, and that 1589 is the reason why it is also necessary on the railways, and the Gowers Committee admitted it and the Government have always admitted it up to now.
I would ask the Government to note this. The setting up of the Committee in 1946 was, of course, an early admission of this fact, that it was clearly necessary something should be done to ensure legal control of the conditions on the railways and elsewhere, and the recommendations of the Gowers Committee were further confirmations of the need for this. It would be as well if I were to quote some of the recommendations.
Having dealt with the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend about the obvious need for such legislation and drawn the comparison between the railways and the shops and factories and the need for similarly providing for all of them, the Commission said:The minimum legal standards that we have in mind are, broadly speaking, those based on the Shops and Factories Acts that we have recommended elsewhere in this report. Thus at stations, in goods depots, sidings, and other places where more than six people are employed, sanitary accommodation, washing facilities, lighting, first-aid equipment and accommodation for clothing and the taking of meals should be provided on the scales that we suggested for shops and offices … provide for sanitary conveniences suitably lighted, cleansed and maintained on the basis of one for every 25 employees or less of each sex; for washbasins adequately supplied with soap, hot and cold water, and clean towels: for suitable and sufficient lighting: for readily accessible and properly maintained first-aid boxes—and so on. I ask hon. Members to note that these things are in the Report which was made in 1949. If I have time I shall take the liberty of referring to some of the conditions which still pertain and ought to be dealt with under those headings.
The argument may be used, almost inevitably will be used by the Minister or someone on the other side of the House, that the British Transport Commission took over old equipment and unsatisfactory conditions and that the Commission is spending more money year by year on developing and improving amenities and facilities for the railwaymen. Last year it spent no less than £3 million on some of these things mentioned in this part of the Committee's Report, and that was probably between 1590 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. more than it spent in the previous year, and that, in turn, was probably between 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. more than in the year before. The Commission is doing a tremendous job.
§ Mr. D. Jones
As my hon. Friend is quoting so extensively from the Gowers Report, may I draw his attention to the fact that on page 96 of the Report he may see that one of the signatories of the Report was the hon. Gentleman who is to reply on behalf of the Government to this debate?
§ Mr. Hynd
Of course that had not passed my notice, but this mention of that fact may at least save me half a sentence later.
We recognise that the Transport Commission is doing this, and we rocgnise that in redevelopment schemes it is now planning for new equipment, new amenities, new facilities on a modern scale. We recognise that in proceeding with building the new—as I think they are called—welfare blocks, providing such facilities as hot and cold water and first-aid equipment and the rest on a modern scale, it is doing a very fine thing; and we recognise also that it is faced with the difficulty that this work may hold up or be held up by the patching up of old holes and corners in old stations, yards and depots. We realise all that, and so did the Gowers Committee. It recognised the need for providing for carry-over difficulties, and the recognition of such difficulties is not new in our legislative provisions for factories and shops in the Factories and Shops Acts.
The Gowers Committee referred to this in that same paragraph 114, saying:The enforcement authority—that is, under such legislation as we propose—should have power to grant exemptions where difficulties of site, construction, or supply make the attainment of these standards not immediately practicable.The Committee recommended that those exemptions should be reviewed at intervals of not more than five years until they became no longer necessary.
It would, therefore, not be good enough for the Minister to argue that legislation would be too rigid and that there are wider and more desirable developments being undertaken by the Commission 1591 now. I hope, too, he will not argue that the legislation we propose is unnecessary because of the establishment of the joint welfare advisory councils, established between the railway authorities and the railway unions, and which have been functioning under the Transport Act, 1947, and have been functioning very well, within their limitations. The joint welfare advisory councils were set up following the Transport Act, 1947, before the Gowers Committee was set up. The Gowers Committee was set up in recognition of the fact that any kind of advisory activities such as these, in which one side had no power of appeal of enforcement or implementation, was not enough. That is why the Gowers Committee was appointed, and that is why, too, that Committee reported in favour of legislation. So do not let us have any argument that, because of the existence of these joint advisory councils for welfare, legislation is no longer necessary.
Therefore, it is quite clear that as long ago as 1949 there was no question about the need for legislation, in the opinion of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The ony question was as to the form which that legislation should take, and what it should cover. The Gowers Committee was set up, and its Report was received. What has happened since then has been indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon. There have been Notices of Motion and Parliamentary Questions, year after year. There have been debates, Private Members' Bills and Government promises for almost ten years, and those Government promises have been quite specific.
There were several that my hon. Friend did not mention. There was the occasion of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) in 1955, which was opposed by the Government not on principle but because they maintained that the Bill did not go wide enough and was insufficient to cover all that the Government wanted to do. The Government specifically promised to introduce a better and more comprehensive Measure. During that debate my hon. Friend the Member for Leek referred to a previous Private Member's Bill, introduced in 1954, and he quoted the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour as having then tried to rebut allegations of dilatoriness on the part of 1592 the Government. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government were not tardy, and went on:…we are considering very closely proposals for legislation to give effect to the Gowers Committee recommendations …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 759.]That was in 1954. The 1955 Bill received a Second Reading, which is evidence of the fact that in spite of the Government's attitude there was support for the Bill on both sides of the House. But the General Election intervened. The Bill did go to Committee where, again, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office put it on record, in terms, that the Government still intended to go on with legislation. Although the Government opposed the Bill, the Minister said:I can, of course, give the Committee an assurance that a Bill will be drafted—that is the Government's intention—and will be introduced in due course …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 26th April, 1955, c. 4.]That was in 1955.
That promise has been confirmed over and over again. The last occasion was in December, 1956, when the Leader of the House, in reply to more Questions upon this matter, announced that the Government were already implementing the Report by degrees. This was a reference to the Agriculture and Forestry Bill which had been previously introduced, but on this occasion the Minister gave a definite time limit. He indicated that a Bill would be brought in before a certain date. He said that the railways' position would be dealt with within the lifetime of the present Government, and that was said in December, 1956.
I ask the Minister whether that promise still stands. If it does, we will express our thanks to him for this small satisfaction, even after all the delays of the last nine years. The lifetime of the Government will be a very short one, and if the Minister can promise that that undertaking still stands we shall he comparatively happy.
I would ask the Minister, however—as my hon. Friend did—what happened to the draft Bill prepared in 1955, which was discussed with the T.U.C.? Where is the Bill? Who stopped it? Was it the Government or the British Transport Commission? Why was it stopped? Will 1593 this Bill, or some other enabling Bill, giving the Government and the Minister power to act, be brought in within the lifetime of the present Government? Or will the Minister again say that there is no longer any need for legislation; that we can leave this to the employers—the British Transport Commission? Will he say that this is a nationalised industry, quite different from a private employer? Will he say that the British Transport Commission is quite different from the National Coal Board and the rest?
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Perhaps my hon. Friend might emphasise that we do not feel that a mere enabling Bill will be adequate. It would not go far enough.
§ Mr. Hynd
Certainly. I was asking for legislation to implement the Gowers Report on the railways. I read out the scope that the Bill ought to cover. But I am asking the Minister to indicate the present position and to tell us whether he stands by the pledge given by the Leader of the House in December. 1956, that legislation would be brought in within the lifetime of this Government. If it is not to be comprehensive legislation to cover all the aspects of railway employment will the Minister in any case offer something which will give us an assurance that the Government intend to ensure that some of the conditions to which I have referred will be covered by legislation?
I have already indicated that this is no attack upon the Commission. I and many of my hon. Friends have recently gone round to railway works and have seen some of the tremendous work which has been started under the redevelopment schemes. There is general agreement on both sides of the House that these redevelopment and reorganisation schemes are vital not only to the viability of the railways as a financial undertaking, but to the very economy of the country. But these schemes have already been cut three times as a result of Government policy. I recall that only last month, in the debate on the Civil Estimates, the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the last cut of £25 million and said that it was no more than a marginal reduction. He claimed that we on this side were exaggerating when we suggested that it would have a serious impact upon the development schemes. He said, rather 1594 contemptuously, that it was only a marginal reduction.
Now, however, we find that when a storm has blown up in a few days, and the whole position of the railways is threatened, the Government come forward with a tremendous gesture and say that they will restore this marginal cut. The marginal cut suddenly assumes tremendous proportions. It is now going to save the railways. They will be made viable by it, and the railwaymen should therefore recognise this great gesture and be prepared to wait for the great benefits which will ensue therefrom.
The Commission proclaim that this concession, however marginal, is of vital importance to the carrying out of its development schemes, and those who have seen these schemes in progress, and know of some of the checks that have been made since these cuts were imposed, will recognise how important the matter is to the Commission. But for how long are the railwaymen expected to wait? It may be twelve months or two years, or five years, before we see any considerable improvements in the railways. What do the railwaymen do in the meantime?
The railways are not free to raise their capital as and when they want to, as a private concern can. They must depend upon Government policy. Why must the railwaymen wait, in such matters as capitalisation, redevelopment, wages, and the implementation of the recommendation of the Gowers Committee with regard to welfare and health, which are provided for in practically every other industry?
I want to say a word about the wages aspect of the matter. It is true that it is not covered in the Gowers Committee recommendations, but it is covered by the terms of the Motion. I do not want to go into the merits of the present dispute. I want only to mention the broad position, which concerns the interests of railwaymen, and which is playing a very important part in their attitude towards their employers, the Government and everyone else.
The minimum wage on the railways is £7 7s. The minimum wages of labourers in the gas and electricity industries, county council roadmen, local authority building labourers, coal surface workers and water supply industry 1595 labourers range from £8 4s. 1d. to £8 10s.—15s. 5d. to 22s. 7d. more. Railway shop fitters get a minimum of £8 7s. 6d.; fitters working for the National Coal Board get £9 7s. 2d., and the British Electricity Authority pays £8 14s. 2d. Railway lengthmen, after two years, get £7 19s., while London borough road sweepers get £9 13s. 2d., or nearly £2 more.
Ford's have been advertising for siding shunters at £12 8s., and Cadbury's have been offering £11 10s. for this class of employee. Railway shunters get £8 6s. 6d. Lyons' advertise for heavy motor drivers at £9 12s. 8d.; railway heavy motor drivers get £8 9s. 6d. The Gas and Electricity Boards pay their clerks £59 a year more than railway clerks get. I know that this is not a matter for legislation, but it is a matter of great interest to railwaymen, and is something that affects morale.
Another part of the Gower's Report deals with the safety of railwaymen. I am not here referring to the safety of the travelling public or of the public at large, because we are discussing now a Motion dealing with the railwaymen's conditions. The safety of railwaymen is something in which legislation could, and must, play some part. I have been interested in this subject for many years. Since, about 1932, when I was asked to submit a report on the safety on our railways to the International Labour Organisation, I have maintained a very close interest in it.
Here, again, I should like to pay tribute to the British Transport Commission, because, since 1954 there has been an annual drop in the number of accidents to railwaymen caused by movements of trains. The lowest ever figure was that in 1956. The average annual number of accidents from train movements between 1915 and 1919 was 3,770. In 1956, the last year for which we have the records, the figure was 2,110, or a drop of 44 per cent. This shows great progress. Even between 1952 and 1956 there was a reduction of 16 per cent.
In spite of old equipment, dilapidation during the war, old and weak rails and all kinds of out-of-date equipment, a great deal of progress has been made in this respect. Technical accidents, too, have dropped continuously since 1951. The 1596 1956 Report of the Inspector on accidents on the railways pays tribute to the management as well as to the staff, and says:… Better attention to examination and maintenance has also contributed.to this result. That is very good.
The highest rate of accidents to railwaymen has always been among permanent way employees, and that sector is still far and away ahead of any other. In 1956, for example, there were 447 fatal or serious accidents to men working on the permanent way, of which 69 were fatal, the nearest other sector being shunting, in which 15 employees were killed. We know that of those killed on the permanent way ten of the fatalities were due to inadequate protection, and here, perhaps, I may be allowed to read from the Inspector's 1956 Report. He says:Most of the accidents under this head—".that is, to staff working on the permanent way:were however due to errors of judgment in assessing the need for independent protection, and it is to be hoped that the recently repeated assurance—that is, of B.T.C.:that no ganger or other man in charge of work will be criticised for depleting his working strength by the appointment of a look-out man will remove any anxiety in that respect. In a few instances when a look-out man was not readily available, the man in charge was attempting to look out for the others in addition to supervising their work in places where danger was likely to arise.That is a very serious state of affairs, because there the inspector is referring to the assurance given to gangers that if they do not appoint a look-out man because they think that the occasion does not require it or because the ganger thinks that he can do the look out job as well as his own work, the Commission will not blame him if there is an accident. That is what the Commission says, and I believe that circulars have been issued to that effect by the B.T.C. The inspector says that he hopes that that will allay anxieties, yet, at the same time, he says that…most of the accidents … were due to errors of judgment in assessing the need for independent protection…on the part of the ganger or the man in charge.
For very many years the trade unions have pressed the need for legal provision 1597 to ensure that a look-out man will be appointed for every gang, because, however much the B.T.C. may be prepared to exculpate a ganger who makes a mistake that may result in the deaths of one or two or even more men, the coroner will not be so prepared, nor will the courts. A very tragic case has recently been heard in our courts concerning a railway-man who made an error of judgment. One sees the terrible consequences he has had to suffer. We should think of the wages paid to these men and, at the same time, remember that they are the only men in industry who carry such responsibility with no legal protection whatever.
The joint welfare advisory councils can make recommendations, but those recommendations need not be implemented, nor can the men themselves implement them. They can only threaten a local strike or something like that. Legislation is vital here. When the unions have pressed for this the management have said that there is really no need for a look-out man for one or two men doing a small job on the line where there might be little danger. That situation also could be covered. There is no need for legislation to be as rigid as all that.
The creation of the joint welfare advisory councils, which do very good work, is a new development since nationalisation. They can put forward proposals for discussion and make recommendations. There has lately been a wide extension of the powers of local departmental committees and sectional councils. Nevertheless, the fact remains that these advisory councils, good though they are, are still only advisory bodies. The British Transport Commission may agree about better ventilation or lighting, but if it does not implement its promises, what can the men do? Again, the B.T.C. no doubt wants the best standards of accommodation and may send out circulars to local managers saying there must be the most up-to-date staff accommodation, but if it is not done there is no way in which it can be enforced.
Just by way of illustration, I would like to give details of actual cases to show what kind of conditions exist. Hon. Members may say that these conditions have been dealt with, but I would recommend every hon. Member to look at today's Railway Review. I obtained a copy this morning and I found a lot of information about these matters. On 1598 the second page there is a report headed "Get on with the Gowers' plan!" from the Midland District Council. On page 3 I found a review of a Penguin book which deals with conditions in Wormwood Scrubs. This I will read by way of illustration of my argument. This is what the book says about one of Her Majesty's prisons:The lavatory … had been blocked for several days, and was beginning to smell. The pan overflowed, and the contents were forming a pool on the floor …" I went away. The lavatory remained blocked, standing defiantly in the middle of a brownish lake.Further on, the book says:…out into the exercise yard to squat on latrines whose plumbing system had long since frozen up, and whose seats were often an inch deep in snow … listening to the musical hollow clanking which was the only response when one pulled the chain … to the tailor's shop, to see what happened when two W.C.'s were shared by eighty men,and so on.
The railwayman, reviewing the book, however, points out that these deplorable conditions, exposed as existing in Wormwood Scrubs, can be found on the railways. He says, in this article in the Railway Review:I have visited dozens of running sheds, and have been greatly dismayed by the conditions I have found there. But, when those conditions are considered in the light of this book, it strikes one as an incongruous situation that the deplorable lavatory accommodation provided for prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs rightly condemned for their inadequacy and frightfulness, could yet be more or less duplicated at some of the running sheds of British railways.He goes on:The inch of snow on the W.C. seat at the Scrubs was matched by the thin film on the W.C. seat at the loco depot, which had gathered soot from the building on its way to the abode.He concludes:As it is in H.M. prisons, so also it is at running sheds. Though these things undoubtedly offend against men's decency, they apparently do not offend against the law. … As it is it would seem that filth and insanitation are readily accepted as natural to the conditions of engine sheds.The railwayman who signs this article is the secretary to the employees' side, Chief Mechanical Engineers' Departmental Line Committee in the Great Western Region. He can do nothing about it, yet we are asked to believe that the local departmental committees can do something about it.
1599 I would like to give another example of the conditions and the difficulties of getting them remedied in present circumstances. It is the case of the Paddington guards' messroom. This is underground, below platform level. There is a lavatory next door and the messroom is pervaded with obnoxious smells. Moisture is seeping through the lavatory walls into the messroom. Everyone agrees that the accommodation is unsuitable and unsatisfactory. It is frequently occupied because it is in use by about 100 guards, of whom 40 or 50 may be coming off duty, especially during the night.
This condition of things has been going on since at least 1948. It has been considered by the local departmental committee on numerous occasions, but nothing has been done. The matter has been before the Joint Welfare Advisory Council on several occasions. At the last meeting of the schemes sub-committee, in March, 1958, it was reported that everything possible was being done to improve the position, but no alternative accommodation was available.
As long ago as 1949, there was an inquiry into the guards' messroom at Paddington. The British Transport Commission representative agreed that the guards' accommodation was unsatisfactory, he admitted that there was dampness in the ceiling and walls, due to liquid oozing from fishboxes in the adjoining premises, and that there were offensive odours arising from the adjacent urinal and lavatories. It was also agreed that there was a polluted atmosphere, due to the offensive odour from the fish porters' room and lamp room. There was also evidence of pollution of the atmosphere from gas appliances, while the ventilating system was not operating as successfully as it should. Many of the lockers of the men were stated to show varying degrees of rust, probably because of condensation.
Those facts are on the official record, and were all agreed by the committee of inquiry. With what result? That was in 1949, when it was explained by the Commission's representative that, however bad the guards' messroom situation was, the ticket collectors' accommodation was even worse. The difficulty was that if the Commission provided alternative accommodation for the guards the ticket 1600 collectors would want something as well. The Commission was not prepared to face up to that. Nevertheless, it was agreed that some consideration should be given to the matter in 1949. There has been no change. Nothing was done up to the end of last year. The unions are continuing to press for improvement
The argument that the Commission would like to improve conditions for the guards but for the fact that the ticket collectors might want their conditions improved resembles the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in regard to legislation to implement these railway recommendations. It looks suspicious. The Government say, "We realise that there should be legislation and we have promised it over and over again, but unfortunately conditions in shops are worse than those on the railways and we know the row there would be if we started to bring in shops' legislation again". This sort of thing happens too often.
There are many other instances resembling the example I have given of the Paddington guards' lavatory. Much of this trouble is left to be dealt with by the good will of local managers and the efforts of the local departmental committees, but very little is done. There is the case of Hull warehouse being badly lighted, with old gas appliances and with gas at low pressure. The matter has been before the sectional council and the Joint Welfare Advisory Committee several times. In 1954, the British Transport Commission sent an estimate for electric lighting and said it would be carried out. In four years nothing has happened. The men threatened to strike.
There was the question of the Stratford carriage and lifting shops raised in 1955 and in 1956. It has been before the Joint Welfare Council six times. A scheme was approved in June, 1947, but nothing had been done up to the end of last year.
There is the case of the Ferryhill signal box flush lavatory which is at the bottom of the steps up to the signal cabin. Since 1954, attempts have been made to get alternative facilities. It is not a case of the signal man being too lazy to go down the steps from his box. It happens that there is occasionally only one man on duty in this box and it is not possible for him to leave it. There is no switch in the box, so if the man were to be down at the bottom of the steps and thus out of 1601 earshot of the bells anything could happen. It is not in their own interests but in the interests of public safety that the men ask for improvement. Improvement was refused by the local departmental committee in 1954, and refused again by the sectional council in 1955. The matter has been before the Welfare Council ten times. Finally, authority was given in March, 1957, to do something about it, but, so far as I am aware, nothing has been done.
There are many other cases, one of which has been before the welfare advisory council eleven times, another has been before the council nineteen times between 1947 and 1957. Plans have been worked out and improvements have been promised, but nothing has been done. There is ample evidence which I could produce, and lots of these cases are now before the unions.
In a great organisation like the British Transport Commission it is not enough to leave these matters to advisory councils and the good will of the employers or efforts of local departmental committees. Minimal standards must be laid down, as in all other branches of industry. Legislation of this character has been accepted by all parties in the House and by all Governments since 1947. We hope that the Minister will be in favour of improvement in view of the history of this matter. We hope that in 1958 we shall have the legislation which has been for so long admitted as necessary and that it will be possible for the Minister to carry out the pledge which was given by the Leader of the House only a few months ago that the Government would bring in effective legislation within the life of the present Parliament.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
The Motion asks three things. It asks the House to look at the conditions of the men working on the railways. It asks the Government to make further provision—which really means to provide money—and it asks for the interests of the railway users to be considered. It is significant that in the two long speeches to which we have listened not one word was said about the third request. Not one single word was said about the railway user. I want to try to repair that omission. Achievement of the first two objectives is not possible unless the third is considered.
1602 The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), who introduced the Motion, was extremely reasonable in the first part of his speech, although, if it is not out of place, I wish to say this to him. We back benchers often complain about Ministers being long-winded. It took him nearly an hour to state his case. I think we back benchers ought to criticise Ministers a little less if we follow their worst example.
The first part of what the hon. Member said, when he left out politics, I thought very impressive. He said that the sense of security of employment and good conditions of employment were almost as important as the wage itself. Those considerations are almost more important today than they have been in the last twenty years, for the shadow of unemployment is beginning slowly to creep over most industries—
§ Mr. Osborne
—and workers generally are feeling the lack of security which they enjoyed since 1938, because the world has changed from a seller's market to a buyer's market.
The hon. Member for Swindon said that inevitably there will be reductions of staff as a result of modernisation. That is a difficulty we have to face, no matter to which party we belong. It is a problem which faces us all, and it has to be dealt with carefully and sympathetically. It is not easy for a man if he is thrown out of the job in which he has been working for many years. He finds it terribly difficult to readapt himself in another trade. I support the hon. Member in his plea that, above all, there should be consultation with the unions at the earliest possible moment when it is known that there are to be reductions.
That is of prime importance because many of the difficulties into which we run, and seem to be running now, could be avoided if only management, both in nationalised industry and private industry, consulted with the unions to show the inevitability of changes and their willingness to meet the men's requirements. In that atmosphere inevitable reductions can take place without causing upsets.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Does the hon. Member realise that, with the co-operation which has taken place in the railway industry, there has been a reduction of approximately 100,000 men in the last ten years? That has been done smoothly with the co-operation of both sides of the industry and it is a rather remarkable performance.
§ Mr. Osborne
Yes. I want to pay tribute to both management and men on that issue. I also want to support the hon. Member for Swindon in saying that, as modernisation becomes more effective, so redundancy will be felt. Men in the railway world are on the whole moderate and temperate. They are conservative, with a small "c". I think it unfair to throw them out of work and make it necessary for them to find another job, to which they will be totally unaccustomed, if by giving them longer notice they could be given a better chance of obtaining other employment.
I wish to try to answer another point made by the hon. Member. He wondered what was the attitude of the Government to nationalisation. I cannot speak for the Government, but I can speak for myself. In a word, our job is to recognise the nationalisation which is here, make it work and make it pay. We have to make it pay from the taxpayers' point of view and make it work from the consumers' point of view and the workmen's point of view. Our job is to put capitalist efficiency into Socialist theory. That we shall do our best to accomplish. Our job, also, is to see that there is no more nationalisation if we can prevent it because we think that, without our administrative ability being pushed into it, it will never work.
The hon. Member for Swindon and the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd), who seconded the Motion, pleaded that the recommendations of the Gowers Committee should be implemented. I want to put a question to the House and to the Minister who is to reply to the debate. What will it cost? Not a word was said on that point by either of the hon. Members. What will it cost, who will have to pay for it and how is the money to be extracted?
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I covered that point quite fully. I recognised that there was a plan to spend £15 million and that £3 million was spent last year.
§ Mr. Osborne
I tried to listen very carefully to the speech of the hon. Member. If I did him an injustice, I am sorry. This is a point I want to try to drive home. Most things are desirable, but they are not permissible because of the cost. Unless we face the question of cost we shall promise the workmen things which neither side will be able to accomplish. There are only two ways in which these desirable reforms can be accomplished. Either freights have to be put up, or the taxpayer has to find the money. It is one or the other.
I should like hon. Members opposite to face the dilemma and say which they want, because there is a difficulty in both. I shall not discuss wages because I think that would be out of place in the delicate conditions of the moment, but, whether it be a matter of wages or conditions of labour, it will cost money. Either more must be charged to the public in order to find the money, or the taxpayer must foot the bill.
§ Mr. J. Hynd rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
No, I cannot give way. The hon. Member spoke for fifty minutes and I did not interrupt him at all.
§ Mr. D. Jones
What does the hon. Member do when his costs of production increase? Does he pass on the extra cost to the consumer?
§ Mr. Osborne
We have two methods in private industry. One is to pass it on if one can. In a competitive world where one has no monopoly one cannot compel the buyer to pay a higher price. The alternative is to look to the internal efficiency of one's organisation, and that is a point I want to deal with.
§ Mr. Osborne
The background to the whole position is that for the last ten or fifteen years the nation has been living beyond its income. This Government, unpopular as it may be with its own supporters as well as its opponents, is trying to make the nation live within its income because, if it does not, inflation is an inevitable consequence. The railway position is part of the national set up.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
This is important. What we want is legislation to provide certain minimum 1605 standards affecting safety and so forth to operate in the railway system, analogous to the provisions available in most types of industry under the Factories Acts. Is the hon. Gentleman arguing contrary to that proposition on pecuniary grounds?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am not arguing against it at all. I am merely putting to the House a point which I think is germane to the whole position. Who is to pay for it?
§ Mr. Irvine rose——
§ Mr. Osborne
No, I cannot give way. We have had two very long speeches. I beg hon. Members to allow me to state my case.
The problem that faces us, whichever party is in power, is that if we are not prepared to put up the rates either for passenger or goods, then the taxpayer must foot the bill, and, in either case, the effect could be inflationary. The one thing that both sides are agreed upon is that the greatest enemy to the whole economy is the increased cost of living, which both sides of the House want to conquer. Therefore, I am putting the problem that lies behind this Motion, with which I have a great deal of sympathy, for there are a number of railway workers in my own constituency, and sound, solid reliable fellows they are, too.
The controlling factor is money. I should like to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite of the background to the railway situation. When the party opposite, precipitously as I think, took over the railways after the war, the railways, which did a fine job during the war, were worn out, and, except for Government grants, were bankrupt. Sometimes, I am tempted to think that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had not been in such a hurry in 1945 to pay a big price for the railways, they could have got them almost for nothing. [Interruption.] We have to remember that, because of that, the railways, as compared with the rest of industry, were in a relatively poor position.
When the Labour Government came into power in 1945, they faced a very difficult situation and were compelled to restrict capital expenditure on the railways, because of the difficulties which 1606 the Government had to face immediately after the war. As a consequence, the amenities of the staff were allowed to run down. It was inevitable that this was part of the price and one of the penalties which the Socialist Government had to pay—I am not blaming them—following the war. What we now have to face is the fact that, if the working conditions of the railwaymen and the welfare schemes which we all regard as desirable are to be effective, somebody has to pay for them.
§ Mr. Osborne
I listened to the hon. Member and I ask him to listen to me. Even he may learn something.
The background to the position is that, at the moment, the railway authorities have an accumulated loss of £16 million, and over the last eight years there has been a fall of about 15 per cent. in the number of passengers carried. This is a falling market, and there is no easy way in which to find the money. On the other hand, I think it is fair to say that, in the second part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, he attacked my party for doing nothing, or not doing enough. It should go on record that in the last seven years, while this Administration has been in power, about £15 million has been spent in welfare schemes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am credibly informed that it is so, and the information comes from an official source.
While hon. Gentlemen opposite shake their heads on this point, strangely enough, one of the newspapers which I received yesterday, the Sheffield Telegraph, had a report of a new hostel for railwaymen which had been opened only the day before in Scunthorpe and inspected by the Mayor and Mayoress of Scunthorpe. I should like to quote one short extract from it, to show what is being done and in order that we might get the matter in proper perspective. It said this:The hostel, off Church Lane, Scunthorpe, was built five years ago for out-of-town railwaymen brought in to deal with increased railway traffic. It provides full accommodation facilities at hotel standards for 40 men, and can be extended to house 80 if the need should arise.This is what I think hon and right hon Gentlemen opposite, in fairness to the 1607 Government, ought to bear in mind. It goes on:The cost to the men is only 35s. a week for full board and three meals a day.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Let us get this correct. What is this hostel to be used for? It is for drivers, firemen and guards who have been travelling on heavy trains for 100 or 150 miles, who book off for an eight hours rest, and then have to work a sixty-wagon train back for another 100 miles. In the meantime, they take their rest in the hostel. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that they should go round the streets looking for cheap lodgings for only eight hours in between runs?
§ Mr. Osborne
No, of course not. All I am saying to hon. Gentlemen opposite is that this hostel, which is just outside my constituency, and which the Sheffield Telegraph said is up to hotel standard, is providing good beds and three meals a day for 35s. a week, which is something for which, if I were a railwayman, I should say "Thank you." At least, hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to admit that something is being done for the railwaymen.
If passenger and freight charges were put up to cover the cost of modernisation and better working conditions, what will they be? Are they likely to drive away from the railways both passengers and freight which they now carry and which they can ill afford to lose? On Tuesday, I was in my constituency at Immingham, which is a fairly big railway depot, and I looked out of a window of one of the great modern factories built at Immingham Reach, and was surprised to see two things On the old-fashioned railway that runs from Immingham to Grimsby, trucks were standing waiting to take away the products of this modern factory. In the yard were scores of motorcars owned by the workers, who are clubbing together—[Interruption.] I saw it myself on Tuesday and it is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head.
§ Mr. Osborne
The men have clubbed together to get their own motor-cars to take them in and out, rather than ride on 1608 the railway. The point I am putting to the hon. Gentleman is that, if the charges are raised to cover what we all agree is desirable, the danger is that the railways will run still further into the red.
May I give four figures to the Minister who is to reply to the debate? From 1947 to 1956, the total number of vehicles licensed on the roads went up from 3,521,000 to 6,920,000. The number of private cars increased from 1,944,000 to 3,888,000, and the number of cycles from 528,000 to 1,326,000. The number of goods vehicles increased from 674,000 to 1,179,000. Men are providing their own personal transport and transport for their goods either because they can do it cheaper or because they believe that they can do it more efficiently. I put it to hon. Members opposite, who have the railway workers' case at heart, that if they insist on putting up the cost of their services they might drive away traffic and make their position worse than it is today.
The alternative is to ask for a subsidy, but I do not think that at the moment the public is in the mood to grant a subsidy for the railways. We must bear in mind that railway accommodation varies from hundreds of little signal boxes to the great works at Swindon employing 10,000 men, and it would require vast capital expenditure to bring the conditions of working up to the standards which we have in modern factories, where all the accommodation is close together and it is much easier to provide modern conditions. To do it on the railways would cost an enormous amount. Before hon. Members opposite demand that it should be done, they ought reasonably to produce the figure of how much it will cost, and neither hon. Member has attempted to do that. It is generally agreed that, in full consultation with the unions, the Transport Commission has concentrated the money that is available on the major installations, which I think is right and proper.
The hon. Member for Swindon expressed fears about employment in the future. He asked, will there be fewer and fewer men employed? One of my hon. Friends asked a Question about a year ago, and I want the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to make some comment on it when he replies. On 18th 1609 April, 1956, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell)asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he is aware that the British Transport Commission is actively recruiting staff in the West Indies; and if he will give a general direction for this practice to cease in view of the danger of unemployment amongst West Indian immigrants already in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th April, 1956; Vol. 551, c. 86.]Are we still actively recruiting men in the West Indies? If so, may I ask my hon. Friend to have the practice stopped, because it seems to me that it would be a dreadful thing to bring men into this industry where we know that there will be redundancy. If we are not careful the country may be faced with a problem similar to that which the National Union of Mineworkers faced when we brought 4,000 Hungarian coalminers into the country, trained them, gave them £8 a a week whilst being trained and then found that the men would not allow them to work. I should hate that to be repeated on the railways. I therefore ask my hon. Friend whether this practice has ceased.
If my hon. Friend could say that he hopes that in the next year or two the economies on the railways will be such that he has money to spend in the way that the Gowers Report requested, I am certain that he would get full support from hon. Members on this side of the House as well as from hon. Members opposite.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
It is always amusing to listen to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), even if it is not very edifying. He suggested at the beginning of his speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) had not taken the passengers into consideration. It seems to me that the only consideration which he took into account was that we must not give decent conditions for the railwaymen to work under if we are to charge the travelling public any more for using the railways. When I interjected and asked him what he does in his own business, he said quite clearly that he puts on the cost of the article which he sells any increase in the cost of pro- 1610 duction which arises in his business. Apparently he wants to deny to the nationalised railway system precisely what he does in his own job.
The hon. Member then said that we must be very careful what we do in this monopoly of the railways. Later in his speech he indicated that the number of commercial vehicles on the roads of this country had increased very substantially over the past few years and that the numbers of motor-cars and bicycles had also increased. To the extent that road services, under A, B or C licences, are entitled to compete with the nationalised railway system, there does not seem to be a monopoly in transport in the hands of the British Transport Commission. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways.
I was delighted to hear him say that if the Labour Government of 1945–50 had delayed the nationalisation of the railways they would have got them for nothing. I am sure that the shareholders of the old London and North Eastern railway who live in his constituency will be delighted to know that their representative has reached the stage at which he believes that they ought not to have been compensated on a fair basis for the shares which they held in the railways.
The hon. Member forgot to indicate that one of the necessary prerequisites of a stabilised and high economy in this country is an efficient transport system. Bearing in mind the condition of the railways at the end of the war, having been almost exhausted during the war, it is obvious that if the Labour Government had allowed them still further to deteriorate before doing anything about their resuscitation, it would have been a bad day for the recovery of this country's economy. I am not at all sure whether the hon. Member for Louth would have been as successful a businessman in 1958 as in fact he is if the railways of this country had been allowed to run down and to become decrepit, as he said ought to have happened before we took them over.
He referred to a new hostel being erected in the vicinity of his constituency for train crews. I should like to remind him that when private lodgings have to be found for drivers, firemen and crews after working either passenger or goods trains for long distance on what we call 1611 double home working, the normal allowance is 7s. 6d. a day. How would it be possible for the British Transport Commission to charge any more for accommodation in the hostels which it provides than it is prepared to give to the men to recoup them for expenditure which they incur when they go into private hostels? Let me remind him that some of the people he is talking about, especially those on the zero grades, get a basic weekly wage of £7 7s. These are the people the hon. Gentleman is warning that they must be careful not to ask for decent working conditions lest the charge should be put on to somebody else, on the hon. Gentleman and his business friends, in the cost of the goods they send by rail.
In other words, the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept the conditions laid down by the Factory Acts for his own factory, but it does not matter twopence what are the conditions under which railwaymen have to work and convey the goods from the production point to the consumption point. It does not matter about the dilapidated conditions of their staff accommodation, such as the horrible lavatory conditions which were described by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe—and I will give one or two other examples later on. All these things are as nought, because if we provide decent conditions, what will it cost? If it costs more, a higher price has to be paid by the customer.
The hon. Gentleman complained about the British Transport Commission recruiting labour in the West Indies. I will tell him why. It is because the Commission could not get Britishers to accept jobs on the railways with the horrible conditions under which they are asked to work. It is to the credit of the railways and to the trade unions connected with the industry, that they have accepted the West Indians into membership of the unions.
When one travels on the Tube, one finds coloured people on the trains as guards and at the gates as ticket collectors. Very soon some of them will rise to the position of station foreman, and nobody has objected to them taking their normal promotion steps. If one goes to any number of Tube station booking offices, one finds them at work. If the hon. Gentleman will look out of the window of the first-class compart- 1612 ment of the train on which he travels home this afternoon, he will find that there are numbers of West Indians working on the tracks. And the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe of men killed on the permanent way last year probably included some West Indians. The hon. Gentleman said that we must not give the men decent conditions lest it might cost a little more.
Let me now turn to the question of safety, which is becoming increasingly important. The noise of the old-fashioned steam engines travelling along the track made it possible for one to hear their approach reasonably well. But with the dieselisation and electrification of the railway motive power the noise of a train as it speeds along at 60, 70, 80—yes, and even 90 m.p.h.—will be much less and the danger to a man working on the track, whether he is a worker on the permanent way, a signal and telegraph man or a labourer working on the side of the track, will increase considerably.
At present, the person responsible for deciding whether to have a look-out man is the ganger, and he has a limited number of men in his gang. His wage is less than £10 a week. The ganger has to decide whether to deplete his gang by one man to act as a look-out or, on a single line, by two men—one at each end and take the risk of the remaining members of his staff being able to do the job, which might be changing a rail or a sleeper or a chair. All these jobs are done while the traffic is moving. The ganger must decide whether to have a look-out man or to keep all the men on the job and run the risk of them being run down by a train moving at 70 miles an hour.
I say that that is not a responsibility which should be placed on a man getting £10 a week. It is a responsibility which should be placed fairly and squarely on the Commission. The union has suggested, and it is reasonable, that the rule of the Commission should be altered; that in every case when men are working on the running lines it should be obligatory to have a look-out man, unless the inspector in charge of the district deems it to be unnecessary.
For that purpose alone we ought to have something said and something done.
1613 The Gowers Committee was set up in 1946. It reported in March, 1949. On 8th February, 1951, a friend of mine, Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas, who then represented The Wrekin, and my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe took advantage of an opportunity to raise the question of the implementation of the Committee's Report. On that occasion, Mr. Thomas was listened to by the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks-Beach) who, I am glad to see, is present today. He also spoke, and I should like to detain the House for a moment to repeat what he said, because I think it important. He said:I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for The Wrekin for raising this very important matter tonight. I did not intend to intervene, but I was a little shocked by the dates which the hon. Gentleman gave. As I understand the position, the committee to which he referred reported in 1946.At this point, Mr. Thomas interjected to say that the Committee reported in 1949. The hon. and gallant Gentleman continued:And it did not report until 1949. I would join the hon. Member in hoping that some action can be taken on behalf of the railwaymen to cure the evils which he mentioned. I am not seeking to make any political party point. If the Report was received in 1949 and we are now in 1951, I should have thought that action could have been taken by now. I hope that action will be taken at a very early date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1951; Vol. 483, c. 2072.]I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation will recognise that that was said by one of his hon. and gallant Friends. I hope also that the presence here this afternoon of the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham is because he feels today precisely as he did in 1951 that something ought to be done to implement these provisions.
I do not want to go over ground which has already been covered, but I wish to make one further quotation from a speech of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer and who, in 1955, was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On Friday, 1st April, 1955, my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) introduced a Bill known as the Non-Industrial Employment Bill, which sought to give statutory power to the Report of the Gowers Committee. On that occasion, the present 1614 Chancellor of the Exchequer had this to sayI feel we are indebted to the hon. Member for Leek for providing us with the opportunity of debating this matter, and I want to say straight away that we are in entire agreement with the general object of the Bill. I am sure that that is not what he would regard as a kind of sugary observation from me, but a sincere affirmation of the Government's view. I feel that there is a gap in our legislation in this field, and we mean and intend to see that that gap is filled.The Minister went on to say:The views which hon. Members have expressed so far, and those that will be expressed during the remainder of the debate, will be of great value to the Government in the preparation of legislation, if this Bill is not passed. I refer to Government legislation because I am bound to say that I believe that this matter ought to be dealt with by Government legislation.Later he went on to say:The Government have already made it clear that it is their intention to introduce legislation of, broadly, the same scope.He was asked when, and he replied:As soon as Parliamentary time can be found."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1St April, 1955; Vol. 539, cc. 750–6.]I know how dilatory are the present Government in matters of importance, but I cannot really believe that with the ingenuity of the Home Secretary no Parliamentary opportunity has yet been found in three years to keep the promise made to this House by the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer. I cannot believe that is true. Therefore, something must have happened. I sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary. He was a signatory to the Gowers Committee Report when it reported in 1949 and before he came to the House. I hope that he feels his present position rather keenly.
There was a meeting at the Ministry of Labour on 21st October, 1955, presided over by Sir G. Myrddin Evans who, I gather, was at that time, if he is not still, an important official in the Ministry of Labour. There were represented at that meeting the National Union of Railwaymen, the Amalgamated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the Transport Salaried Staff Association, the Railway Shopmen's Council, the Trades Union Congress, the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Labour. Sir Myrddin Evans said that 1615 after protracted negotiations the Bill was ready and it was hoped to introduce it in that Session.
We know that between the introduction of the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek and 21st October we had an important event in our lives. We had a General Election. At that General Election a document was issued by the Conservative Party entitled "United for Peace and Progress." It declared it to be the Conservative and Unionist policy for the General Election of 1955. In that document I discovered these words:We intend to launch a vigorous drive to promote the health, welfare and safety of the working population with the aid of our new Mines and Quarries Act and of the recently established Industrial Health Advisory Committee. Legislation will be passed to promote a steady improvement of conditions for other workers, including those in transport and in farming, in offices and in shops. We shall also introduce new legislation to safeguard the employment of children.I regret that the Home Secretary is not present this afternoon because, if the whispers that I hear are correct, that right hon. Gentleman played no small part in the drafting of this document. For the past three years at least, either in the office of Lord Privy Seal or as Secretary of State for the Home Department and Leader of the House, he has had a substantial responsibility for providing the necessary Parliamentary time, and I would like him personally to tell us why after those promises by his colleagues in the Government and by this document to the electors of this country, three years have passed and still there is no sign of those promises being fulfilled.
I do not want to repeat what has already been said, but it is true that on 28th July, 1955, the Trades Union Congress sent a deputation led by Miss Florence Hancock to the then Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, expressing their grave concern at the lack of progress that was being made in the implementation of the Gowers Report. Sir Anthony Eden, in addition to making a promise to the then Mr. Attlee, now Lord Attlee, actually gave a programme to the Trades Union Congress delegation telling them precisely in what order these various Bills were to be introduced. He told them that they had already introduced the Bill for health welfare and safety in agriculture and forestry that the Bill to promote health, wealth and safety 1616 of the railways was in draft, and that the only reason why it had not been put into their programme was that it was not completed in time and there was an element of doubt whether it would be completed in time.
We now know from my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon who produced a copy of that Bill, that by November, 1955, the Bill was in draft. Sir Anthony Eden went on to say that if it was not introduced in that Session it would be introduced in the next. The next Session has gone by, and the Session after that is nearly coming to an end. Still there is no sign of legislation dealing with the Gowers Report.
When we had a debate in this House in June of last year, I believe the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and was put up to reply. He gave us a long story of how the Government had come to the conclusion that to introduce legislation into this House to place a statutory obligation upon the British Transport Commission would be to impede progress. I wondered at the time where he got his brief from, whether he got it from the Ministry of Transport or from the Ministry of Labour. It seems to me that the introduction of legislation into the two Houses of Parliament to place a statutory obligation upon the British Transport Commission to observe minimum standards of health, wealth and safety will not delay by one single day any programme which the British Transport Commission want to implement.
Are we to understand that what the British Transport Commission in effect are saying is: "If there are placed in this proposed legislation minimum standards akin to the standards already in the Factories Acts or already in the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, to observe those standards will delay our work?" Does that mean that the British Transport Commission are now putting in new installations with a lower minimum standard than those laid down in the Factories Acts? If they are not going below the existing standards, and if they get a guarantee that the minimum standards called for in the proposed railway legislation will be no higher than those contained in the Factories Acts or the Mines and Quarries Acts, it need not delay them by one single day.
1617 My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe read from the Railway Review this morning. I do not wish to repeat anything that has been said, except to say this. I would quote from the same gentleman, Mr. Albert Harris, the secretary of the employees side of the Chief Mechanical Engineers Line Committee, Western Region. After describing the standard of lavatory accommodation in the various sheds in the country—and it is impossible to work on the Western Region, as I worked, for nearly thirty years without recognising that what this gentleman says is true—he said:We need a few men in positions of authority, who will themselves insist upon the observance of at least the minimum of hygiene and cleanliness".That is precisely what the Gowers Committee recommended. In paragraph 304 of its Report, the Committee said:We are very reluctant to suggest an additional inspectorate but we are forced to the conclusion that the true analogy is with the mining industry rather than with shops and offices and that to carry out these duties effectively a centralised administration is needed. We therefore recommend that the enforcement of minimum standards of welfare and safety on all railway premises should be the responsibility of the Minister of Transport who should be empowered to establish an inspectorate for that purpose.That is what the Gowers Committee recommended in its Report, which the Parliamentary Secretary himself signed nine years ago.
No doubt, the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that, because there is a Joint Advisory Committee on Welfare on the railways, nothing more need be done. I have in my hand a copy of the minutes of the British Railways Joint Advisory Committee for Welfare, the meeting of the Scheme Sub-Committee held on 4th December, 1957. When this matter was debated at the annual conference of the National Union of Railwaymen last year Mr. Greene, now the general secretary but then assistant general secretary, was asked by a delegate how far this Joint Advisory Committee had statutory power. He had to answer that it was advisory, that it was not even negotiating, and that it had no power whatever. We shall, no doubt, be told that this committee is the body which deals with these things. It cannot, in fact, do any more than suggest. It cannot 1618 even, ask, let alone demand, that certain projects shall be given higher priority.
I do not want to waste time by repeating what has already been said, but it should be mentioned once again that, in paragraphs 111 and 112, the Gowers Committee says that the Railway Executive, in its evidence, had said that, because the railway industry was now publicly owned, there was no obligation on the Government of the day to put statutory requirements upon it. It was said that, since there was this Joint Advisory Committee on Welfare, there was no need for that sort of thing. The National Coal Board gave evidence to the contrary.
Every gas works in the country which is publicly owned is subject to the Factories Act. Every electricity power station in the country which is publicly owned is subject to the Factories Act. Every Ministry of Supply ordnance factory in the country which is owned by the State is subject to the Factories Act. All the mines of the country which are publicly owned are subject to the Mines and Quarries Act, 1954. Are we now to understand that it is the official view of the Government that the railways ought to be in an exceptional position? And why?
This morning, at 11 o'clock, a Report was circulated from the Vote Office, the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries (Reports and Accounts), which has been examining the report and accounts of the National Coal Board. In paragraph 55, speaking about manpower and management and setting out the evidence given by the chairman and vice-chairman of the National Coal Board, the Report says, quoting the chairman:This was due to a number of specially adverse factors during the year. The Mines and Quarries Act, 1954, came into force at the start of the year, and, due to its requirements, something like 1,000 more men had to be transferred to non-productive work. The minimum age of underground workers went up on 1st July from 15 to 16; as a result, a number of boys had either to be withdrawn from underground work or to be employed on the surface for longer than hitherto, so that some 2,000 of them were temporarily lost to the underground force.Are we now being told that the railwaymen of the country should be treated differently from employees of other nationalised industries? Is that what the Government say? If one follows this 1619 deplorable story that is the only conclusion to which one can come.
In the summer of last year, the Trades Union Congress issued a document entitled, "What the T.U.C. is doing". On page 19, it says:A meeting with the then Prime Minister two years ago left us with the hope that at least some of the legislation we want would he introduced during the present Parliamentary session. But recent approaches to the Home Secretary and the Minister of Labour have failed to yield any indication that the necessary Parliamentary time is to be afforded. As a consequence we have once again told the present Prime Minister how very strongly we feel about this continued delay and the effect it has upon the wellbeing of several million British workers. We ask Mr. Macmillan to meet us in the near future to discuss the whole matter.That meeting took place on 9th July, 1957. There were present at it the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, the hon. and learned Gentleman who was then the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, together with a delegation from the Trades Union Congress. I mention this meeting very particularly, because there are two paragraphs in the report of it which are pretty damning in character, and which, I think, explain why it is that we have not had legislation.
The deputation put its case fairly strongly to the Prime Minister and his colleagues. The Prime Minister said, in reply, that what had been promised in agriculture had been fulfilled. An Act was on the Statute Book and the necessary regulations were not being delayed by intention; they were, he said, bound to take some time to prepare. I come now to the specific point to which I should like a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister of Transport, supported by the Minister of Labour, spoke about the railways, and, according to the report I have of the meeting:They said that the Welfare Council, on which was represented the British Transport Commission and the railway unions, had agreed a £15 million programme to improve welfare conditions for railway workers over a three year period. The British Transport Commission had advised the Minister of Transport (and he felt bound to accept their advice), that the introduction of legislation 1620 might well delay the carrying out of this programme. He thought that the Unions would prefer to have the work already agreed to carried out as quickly as possible.The trade union view is that the introduction of legislation ought not to impede the agreed programme by one single day. I want to know why it is, in 1957, that the Minister of Transport revived this old canard which his Parliamentary Secretary repudiated in signing a document nine years ago. I should like the Minister to tell us whether in 1958 he is prepared to repudiate his own signature of nine years before. If he still feels in 1958 as he felt in 1949, he ought to do the one decent thing—get out.
Then the Minister of Transport went on to say that his Department was considering the introduction of an enabling Bill. What an enabling Bill would do, I do not know, and I do not believe that his Department knew either. However, he said that the possibility of the introduction of an enabling Bill was being examined. Let us consider this enabling Bill, because early in November, 1957, I was consulted by the National Union of Railwaymen, and I expressed the view that an enabling Bill could not do a thing either to implement or improve, and that what was required was legislation on the lines suggested in the Gowers Report.
I should like to read a letter signed by the Minister of Transport which he sent to me on 19th November:Thank you for your letter of the 7th November about the recommendations of the Gowers Report in relation to railways. As you say, in the course of the discussion when the Prime Minister received a deputation from the Trades Union Congress on 9th July, the possibility was put forward that a different kind of Bill, namely an 'enabling Bill', might help in ensuring practical progress was not impeded and it was said that this possibility would be further considered. The result of this further consideration is to make it clear that there is not really any scope for a measure of this character bearing in mind the obligations of the Transport Commission under existing legislation".On the same day, the late General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, who had written to the Prime Minister earlier, received a reply from the Prime Minister in the same language. The interesting thing is that as far as I know the T.U.C. was not told about the decision regarding an enabling Bill until the turn of the year.
1621 My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe dealt with one or two cases. I do not want to repeat what he said, but I have here six cases. One relates to the Huskisson Docks at Liverpool, the report on which reads:In 1941 this station suffered heavily through enemy action and the staff of 400 were left without quays, shed and locker accommodation. In 1945 the staff were informed that the station was to be rebuilt in modern fashion, and expected to be completed in 1947. Certain improvements were contemplated in 1948. Still outstanding were the questions of lavatory accommodation, the covering of the Fish Line, and the provision of lockers to the staff …The Joint Advisory Committee on Welfare had a meeting on 26th March, 1957, when the trade union representative complained that no progress had been made.
I do not want to read the story of the local guards' room at Paddington, except to quote this, which appeared in the Railway Review some weeks ago.The existing room is alleged to be unfit for habitation due to the unpleasant smell, especially the urine seeping through the wall from the adjoining lavatoriesThis matter was first raised at the Joint Committee on Welfare meeting on 1st September, 1949.
The concluding none is this:All constitutional means have failed to persuade the management to provide alternative accommodation and the patience of the guards is rapidly becoming exhausted.We turn to Oldham Road goods depot, Manchester. The report reads:As far back as October, 1945, the question of an improved messroom and accommodation was discussed at a meeting held at Oldham Road with the District Goods Manager.In the minutes of the welfare schemes sub-committee of 4th December, 1957, it was indicated that,plans and financial details were still awaited from the Chief Civil Engineer.The report in respect of English Street warehouse, Hull, reads:The existing lighting arrangements at this warehouse are supplied by gas and as the installations are very old the gas pressure is low. … The scheme for improved lighting was eventually authorised in 1955. Despite the fact that electricians have been working in an adjoining building nothing has yet been done to resolve the matter.Then there is the problem of heating at Stratford. This matter was pressed 1622 at the Eastern Region in 1955. Nothing has been done, except that the delivery of mechanical shutters is now awaited from the suppliers. It apparently takes three years to get a couple of mechanical shutters built to provide reasonable heating in the cold weather for the men working in the Stratford shops.
Last but not least is the case that my hon. Friend referred to, the signal box at Ferryhill. In case somebody does not realise what is involved here, Ferry-hill is situated on the Eastern main line between London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The signalman dare not leave his box without causing delay to the trains. Yet, although this matter has been on the agenda of the Joint Welfare Committee all this time, very little is being done.
Do not let us get away with the impression that all of the £15 million worth of schemes is to be spent for the comfort and benefit of the men employed. Nearly £2 million of it is for new office accommodation; £2 million of it is for lighting arrangements. Another £½ million is for improved facilities for getting the work done. In other words, it is as advantageous to the British Transport Commission as it is to the men concerned.
Finally, I want to read a letter dated 12th February from a constituent of mine:Dear Sir, I would be very pleased indeed if you would kindly draw the attention of the Minister concerned to the fact that men of the British Railways working on shifts at a yard known as the New One Plant siding have neither water nor toilet accommodation.These New One Plant sidings, which are alongside the South Durham Steel and Iron Co's works, have been built in the past three years and are manned and staffed by British Railways workers. They have neither toilet accommodation nor clean water. The letter goes on:The position has been like this for two years. Men have recently been supplied with jugs for the purpose of carrying water to their place of work, but have to cross the main line to get it. There is no toilet accommodation whatever and it is disgusting to say the least that men are compelled to do their business between lines that men have to walk over in the course of their job.That is what is happening in a marshalling yard in my constituency which has been built in the last three years. The railway officers, or whoever is responsible 1623 for the delay, cannot avoid their obligations because I have a letter dated 27th August, 1956, from a responsible officer of the railways indicating that the matter should be put in hand within a reasonable time. What is a reasonable time"? It is no use the hon. Member for Louth saying that these things happen only where the premises are old and out of date. These facilities are not being provided even in the new premises which are being built.
I end by suggesting to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that it is about time that we knew the Government's mind on this matter. Either they should be frank with the House and say that they have no intention of introducing legislation or they should do something to implement the promises that have been made so glibly in the past by leading members of the Conservative Party.
§ 1.50 p.m.
Major W. Hicks Beach (Cheltenham)
I wish to begin by expressing my thanks, for two reasons. First, the subject of this debate is a worthy and important one, and the House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for having initiated it. Secondly, I should like to thank the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) for the courteous way in which he gave me notice that he would refer to a brief speech of mine in 1951. This gives me the opportunity of saying that I stand by what I said then and I am glad of this opportunity of saying so.
A great number of railwaymen reside in the constituency which I have the honour to represent—Cheltenham—because, as the House will be aware, it is a terminus. They are a splendid body of men, and the train service to Cheltenham is unsurpassed anywhere in the country. The train which I hope to catch at 4.55, the Cheltenham Spa express, is one of the fastest on the line, and, in fact, in the country. The hon. Member for Swindon may wish that it stopped at Swindon, but it sails through Swindon at a considerable speed. We are extremely lucky on the Great Western Region in having such a good service.
The future of the railways and the conditions of the men are of vital importance. To whichever party one belongs, there is no doubt that the trans- 1624 port system is the lifeblood of the nation. We have seen how important it was in war and in a state of emergency. I fully endorse that every effort should be made at the earliest possible moment to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Report, so that conditions on the railways can be as good as they are in other similar enterprises. That is the only way that the future of the transport system can be ensured.
There are several hon. Members who are knowledgeable about the railways who wish to speak after me, and to them I pose this question. I have no expert knowledge, although I know a great number of people who work on the railways who live in my constituency. Why is it that the Great Western Region is prima facie by far the best for service in every respect? I have been a user of the railways over a great many years, and that is my opinion and the considered opinion of most people who use the railways.
Major Hicks Beach
That may be. I was, however, going on to suggest that the reason was that he started the good work some 30 years ago. The fact remains that with the possible exception of the Southern Region, the service on the Great Western Region compares very favourably indeed with the service of the other regions. I say that in no provocative sense. The fact remains that that is the case and that is what the general public think.
§ Mr. D. Jones
I accept what the hon. Member says, but I would add that the second best railway in the country is the North Eastern.
Major Hicks Beach
I do not wish to get too involved in an argument about which is the best railway. I speak as a traveller who does a considerable amount of travel on the railways and that is my considered opinion. When people know where I live, many of them say how fortunate I am to live on the Great Western Region, because it is by far the best service in the country.
Because of another engagement, I was unable to be present to hear the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Swindon, but I have listened with keen interest particularly to two other speeches from 1625 the other side of the House. Although I fully agree that the recommendations of the Gowers Report should be implemented, I was disappointed that with the vast organisations which they have behind them, neither hon. Member was able to produce figures showing exactly what the recommended improvements and alterations would cost. Perhaps we will get sonic enlightenment from the Opposition Front Bench.
I must, I am afraid, conclude on a rather controversial note. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools has spoken of the great delays that occur in undertaking improvements. I have an uneasy feeling that the real trouble on the railways arises from what I call the stagnation of nationalisation. Can it seriously be suggested that the management of any private enterprise firm would take three years to carry out a minor change in a building?
§ Mr. Jones
The deplorable condition on the railways today is due to the fact that little, if any, of this work was provided by the private railway companies, including the Great Western, before the war. The Transport Commission inherited all this back-log and is doing its best, but conditions were left in such a deplorable state by the private companies that something must be done quickly.
Major Hicks Beach
We have had a pleasant discussion and I did not wish to become too controversial. I venture, however, to suggest that if the hon. Member talked to some of the people who work the railways, he would find that fundamentally the workers—not the trade union leaders, but those who actually do the work—agree with my views. No matter what their political party, they mostly agree that one of the troubles today is what I have described as the stagnation of nationalisation.
I am sorry to have to finish on a rather controversial note, but I conclude by thanking once again the hon. Member for The Hartlepools for his courtesy in giving me notice that he would refer to me and for the opportunity he has given me of confirming that I stand by what I said in 1951.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach) has stood by his earlier observations about the Report of the Gowers Committee, particularly in view of the earlier speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), which struck me as being in conflict with the humanitarian tradition of his party in this field. The hon. and gallant Member, however, has done something to correct that.
I cannot answer the hon. and gallant Member's question why the Western Region is best, because that is not a predilection I share with the hon. and gallant Member.
I intervene in this debate for one simple reason. For more than ten years, I have had the privilege of representing a constituency with a great railway interest and connection. I venture to say, as I know is widely agreed on both sides of the House, that there is no section of the community to whom our indebtedness is greater than it is to the railwaymen. I am conscious that this may seem a trite observation, but that is what many of us believe, and I say that knowing what their services are and knowing, as a consequence of my experience in these years, something of the background of their lives.
It is with that in mind that I ask the question, what can possibly justify the differentiation between the minimal standards required affecting the conditions of work on the railways and those operating in other industries and for other classes of work? It is a thing which I believe is resented by the railwaymen, and I would on this occasion seek to voice some of the resentment which is felt that, in this respect, as in so many other respects, the railway workers are apparently regarded by those in authority and power as, as it were, the whipping boy element in our society, albeit the one on which we are most dependent of all, that is always being victimised at the behest of what are described as policies imposed by the national interest.
Let the House just consider how outrageous this anomaly is. It is characteristic of work on the railways that it is carried out at all hours of the clock and in all kinds of weather, that 1627 it involves a great degree of mobility, that it carries with it a great variety of risks. The ambit of the Factories Acts, broadly speaking, affords greater help to less mobile, more compact classes of producers working under one roof. That is how the law of the matter has developed, and one asks what is the possible justification for that, especially when one bears in mind that the operations of coaling, greasing, cleaning of boilers and boiler tubes with high-pressure steam, the working in inspection pits, and with power-operated tools, are matters involving a high degree of risk? Boiler ash and scrap metal are also sources of danger that come to mind in connection with this industry.
I ask again, what can be the justification for selecting this industry as the one to be deprived of legal minimal standards of convenience and safety under the law? I should have thought that it was an indefensible proposition. I say this in the absence of the hon. Member for Louth whose interventions in this House I often enjoy and whose outlook I respect. He surely cannot have studied his party's history in this respect. It is not as good as all that but it is better than one would expect from hearing the hon. Member for Louth.
I am bound to say that a good deal has been done in recent years. One would get the picture out of perspective if one did not mention that. In the station and yards and railway premises in my constituency in Edge Hill the conditions ten years ago were in many respects quite deplorable, and there have been a number of improvements. I have intervened in connection with some of these matters and I am glad to place it upon record that in my approaches to the British Transport Commission, to the Railway Executive, and to the regional offices I have been impressed, as a Member seeking to assist in the matter, with the promptitude and care with which my interventions have been received. I mention that as a corrective, as it were, and to avoid giving a wrong impression, because I am aware that very good work has been done.
But of course, quite plainly, that does not affect the issue we are discussing, the separate issue as to whether the Gowers Committee recommendations should be 1628 implemented and whether the wholly anomalous situation in which the railway industry is deprived of reasonable minimum statutory provisions should be corrected and put right.
That, really, is what I desire to say in this debate, but I should like to add one further comment. When it comes to implementing, as come it will, the recommendations of the Gowers Committee Report a great deal, I think, will depend upon consultation in the industry. This will affect both the implementation of the Gowers Committee Report, and additionally it will affect enormously the development of the modernisation plan on the railways. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) to that and to the necessity for consultation in that connection, and I should like entirely to endorse what he said.
But I would say upon this matter of consultation that it is a vague word, it is a word often used and often ill-used, but it is none the less an extremely important matter. I am quite satisfied from what I hear that the consultation available at the top level in the British Railways industry is pretty satisfactory. I believe that the relations between the Commission and the leaders of the unions are satisfactory. There is a good deal of mutual understanding and co-operation. There is nothing like the same degree of co-operation, give and take, and exchanging of ideas at the lower levels, however, between the lower grades and the lower officers of the administration.
The British railwaymen have—I am conscious that this is a platitude, but there are worse things one can do than utter platitudes—an enormous fund of ability and knowledge and experience in technical and administrative matters, and it is of quite first-class importance that that should be available to the whole of the industry in its modernisation proposals. I take the liberty in this connection of mentioning that in my own constituency there is no finer enterprise, no enterprise showing greater signs of business acumen and ability, than the local N.U.R. branch in the heart of my division. Plenty of ability, plenty of skill of technical, administrative and other kinds, are available there. They are also available for the community as a whole and for this key industry. I ask that this all-important element of consultation should 1629 be advanced and insisted upon in the development of transport policy.
At the present time, when the wages question is in issue and when, in addition, we are having to press for the implementation of the Gowers Committee's recommendations for minimal conditions, I desire above all to stress that we are dealing with an industry which is an essential service to the British people. That is agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
There are advantages and disadvantages about belonging to an essential national service. The advantages include the great respect one receives from the community; the self-respect that it gives one, and the importance attaching to it. But the disadvantage is that when the employees ask for minimal legitimate claims they may be so easily misrepresented and accused of holding the community up to ransom. That is an unjust, unreasonable and most improper allegation to make. I see a peril in that. I am convinced that two things are true; first, that there is no section of the community upon which we all depend more than upon the railwaymen and, secondly, that there is no section of the community which has received a harder deal.
It is entirely wrong that it should be possible to make those two propositions and claim that each is true. It is a tragic commentary upon policies that it should be so. If the work is all-important, let that fact be acknowledged by the community. That is what the railwaymen are asking, and that is what I seek to have recognised on their behalf.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I have lived a life as a soldier in barracks—before coming to this place—long enough to know that whenever the State is in any way involved in the maintenance of good living conditions it usually compares pretty unfavourably with private enterprise. I have often wondered why the Ministry of Works so often allows what could quite well have been made respectable living accommodation steadily to deteriorate over the years, simply for the lack of a pot of paint and a brush. One of the things that has come out of the debate—and I apologise to the House for having had to leave the Chamber twice during it—is that this is a question of good employership, and that the British Transport Commission, in this instance, 1630 is not coming up to all the expectations that many hoped would be the case when it was first set up.
I am not forgetting the state in which the railways found themselves at the end of the war, nor am I entirely overlooking the fact that, taken line by line and grouping by grouping, before nationalisation some concerns were very much better than others. At the moment, I happen to live in the area formerly served by the old Great Eastern Railway. In the old days, it was generally recognised among those who took an interest in railways—as I was apt to do in a rather amateur way—that the Great Eastern rolling stock and some of its amenities, both for passengers and staff, were not up to the standards of other lines.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) is fortunate in representing railwaymen in a region which still takes pride in having belonged to the old Great Western Railway Company, and I would have said that that company set an example which was not always followed as well as it might have been when the railways were under private ownership.
But this debate must be taken as a reflection upon a nationalised body, in that if we accept that the issue raised here is good employship—
§ Mr. D. Jones indicated dissent.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member denies that. I should have thought that it was ultimately the responsibility of the employer to see that Parliament's decisions are implemented, and that we are therefore essentially discussing a question of good employership. That being so, there must be some registration of disappointment in the minds of a good many who felt that nationalisation, by itself, was likely to make a great improvement in this field.
I do not think that this is entirely a matter for legislation. A great many of the complaints which have been made this morning about conditions on the railways could be put right without any further legislation. We had the example of the condition of the guards' refreshment room at Paddington Station. Legislation is not required to put that right. I am sure that if the Commission so chose it could put that right, but the Commission must decide whether the 1631 expenditure involved is more justifiable than expenditure for some other purpose would be.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Our complaint against the Government has been, and still is, that they will not provide legislation laying down statutory minimum standards. In other words, we do not believe that a nationalised industry, simply because it is nationalised, should be treated differently from a private undertaking. The British Transport Commission should not be dealt differently from the Coal Board.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
In principle, I entirely accept that view, but I am saying that a great many of the complaints which are now being made could be put right without additional legislation.
We come down to the question of good employership. Is an employer necessarily a bad employer if he decides that, in the interests of his enterprise, it would be unwise to spend money on this rather than on that? Unless we are to assume that unlimited finance is to be made available so that all the desirable projects can be carried out simultaneously, we must at least reserve to the employer—be he the British Transport Commission or a private individual—the right to decide as between several different pressing matters.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
The hon. and gallant Member will appreciate that under the Factories Acts this matter is not left to the employers in the sense that he describes. All we are asking is that the same consideration should apply to the railways.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for raising that point. I am coming to it in a moment. I agree that there should be minimum standards; I hope that nobody is under any delusion about that. But even if we lay down minimum standards the employer has to decide which of the requirements he will implement first and and which he will defer. When we have a position such as exists today, where a great deal of the outside work can be done without any additional legislation, even though minimum standards are laid down, that would not affect the issue at all. I say that we must leave the employers free to choose what work to do first. I 1632 have gained the impression from this debate that an idea exists that the laying down of minimum standards and placing compulsion on the employer will automatically put this problem right in a very short time. I do not think that is so.
In all these things, the first requirement is the spending of money. I have already referred to my experience with the Ministry of Works regarding military barracks. A great deal of the present trouble over railway property could have been avoided if proper maintenance work had been carried out on the existing buildings. I do not think any hon. Member will disagree that when a great many of the buildings of which complaint is now made were first built they were regarded as good. They have become bad only because of neglect. It may be only a question of bringing the furniture up to date or of stripping the walls and repainting them. But that would infinitely improve the conditions under which these people have to work. The longer maintenance work is left, the bigger becomes the job, and the lack of proper maintenance work creates dissatisfaction among those who have to occupy the buildings.
I cannot see how nationalisation or anything else can isolate an employer from having ultimately to take this decision. I do not see how Parliament by laying down minimum standards can isolate the transport or any other nationalised industry from the obligation which faces any employer, that of being a good employer and looking after the living conditions and amenities of the employees. The Commission would be well advised to consider putting into a good state of repair some of the buildings, offices, workrooms, canteens and so on, which have been allowed to get into an appalling state. I do not think that Parliament has the right to decide what ought to be done in this matter. That is the duty of the employer, in this case the British Transport Commission.
In the last three years I have been the Chairman of the Select Committee which considered the Private Bills promoted each year by the Commission, and I have found these Measures very interesting. I do not remember the condition of offices or working conditions coming into it very much, but the Commission was seeking new powers to spend more money. It 1633 has to raise this money in one way or another. What has become clear to me, after listening to the arguments advanced by the promoters of these Bills, is that so far ahead as one can see demands upon capital expenditure by British Railways so that they may do the job of transporting goods and passengers is unlimited. It would appear to be going on for years and years.
I remember in one Bill there was the question of a route C Tube from Victoria to Ilford to ease the strain on those going backwards and forwards to work by London Underground. We were told that no matter whether the trains on that route were full every time they ran the line could never be made to pay. There are some services which have to be provided to meet the needs of the public but cannot pay at all. The maintenance charges will always overtake the revenue. Let us at least be sympathetic with the Commission over these matters, and the fact that in order to improve the service rendered to the public it is committed to facing expenditure which in some cases can never he recovered.
I suppose that many of us have experience of the work of railway men in our own constituencies. In the middle of my constituency are the biggest marshalling yards in the country at Whitemoor in the Eastern Region, where they carry out hump shunting, with automatic switches for the various sidings, and retarders and all that. I know very well the conditions under which the men have to work. The November fenland fogs are notorious, and the accident figures given by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) reflect credit upon those concerned. If we consider the number of yards all over the country, the amount of shunting which goes on and the conditions under which that work is carried out, it seems to me a miracle that the accident figures are not live times as much. It would be a pity were the impression given that Parliament was unaware of the enormous amount of care which is taken to preserve the safety of the workers.
The workers in these yards are very skilful, whether they be the men on the ground with poles or the men in the signal boxes; and we should remember that only one in seven completes the training for this work—the others I am 1634 told go "off their heads" because it is such a complicated business. We should recognise that skill, and the men themselves must appreciate that their skill is recognised by Parliament. It would be a great pity if that were not so. During the debate in 1955 on the Nonindustrial Employment Bill, a Measure mainly concerned with agricultural workers, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer then the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—and what a good Minister he was—said:I feel that there is a gap in our legislation in this field, and we mean and intend to see that that gap is filled."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 750.]I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to say today that the Government have the same point of view about the railwaymen as regarding agricultural workers. The hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) mentioned the Factory Acts. Although no one can claim a monopoly of ideas I think the hon. Member would agree that the Conservative Party played a considerable part in the passing of the 1937 Act.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine
I acknowledge the part played by the Conservative Party in Factory Act legislation.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
As I say, we cannot claim a monopoly, because it is hard for anybody ever to claim to have a completely original idea, but the Conservative Party played a great part in the implementation of that Measure. Lord McCorquodale who, in 1955, represented the Epsom constituency, took part in that debate and said:I am very anxious, and I am sure that a great number of my hon. Friends are anxious, to see a Bill framed on the lines of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee, and I do not think that there is very much opposition to that view in the House. The Gowers Committee was an all-party Committee. The factory legislation, the mines and quarries legislation, the food and drugs legislation, which Conservative Governments have introduced in a non-party spirit, with the support of both sides of the House, needs the coping-stone of some legislation for this non-industrial employment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April, 1955; Vol. 539, c. 710.]Those views are very much mine on the subject that we are discussing today. I am all for something being done as soon as possible, but we have to face the fact that railways, which are an essential service, have a longer leeway to make up than any of the other great industries. 1635 Railways suffered as much as any industry during the war and it is obvious that the task of the British Transport Commission is very considerable.
I hope we shall realise, if we criticise too severely the present Commission, that the criticism must be modified by the recognition that the Commission has many things on which to spend its money. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Swindon for recognising at the end of his Motion the need to ensure that the interests of railway workers, as well as those of railway users,are fully considered while modernisation is taking place.The question of user interest is very closely linked with that of employees. If the services which the railways provide, particularly passenger traffic, do not keep pace with public demand it is inevitable that the railway employee will suffer. The passengers will soon not be there in sufficient number to provide the money out of which he gets his income. I do not know whether any other hon. Member travels on the 5.54 train to Cambridge from Liverpool Street. If so, he will know that the conditions on that train are atrocious. I do not blame the British Transport Commission, but I wish it could use the sort of rolling stock that it has on some of its main line trains. It would give the public much greater satisfaction.
Unless an effort is made to please the travelling public the public will find another way to get to its destination. If that happens, there will be no hope for improvement of the railways or of the conditions of railway workers.
Do we wish Parliament to dictate how the money of the British Transport Commission is to be spent and the order of priority in which it should be expended? Do we say to the British Transport Commission, "We expect you to set up standards for your employees which will ensure to the best of your ability that the amenities of your workers do not get worse and that they will be improved wherever possible. We leave it to you to decide how to spend the money"?
We have considered in this House how Parliament can keep its finger on the nationalised industries without interfering too much in the day-to-day running. Never was there a more important question than how Parliament can avoid 1636 interference with how money is being spent, so that there can be really responsible leadership in the nationalised industries.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill about minimum standards for workers. I agree also that legislation is necessary for that. Some of my remarks about nationalisation may have irritated hon. Members opposite, but I have a very considerable sympathy with the Motion. If we can pass welfare legislation for agricultural workers we can do so for the railwaymen.
We have to bear in mind one further consideration. We are now beginning a major reorganisation and modernisation of British Railways. I want every possible encouragement to be given to the modernisation programme consistent with the preservation of the £ sterling. I would take the opportunity to congratulate those trade unions who have been responsible for their agreement over the highly satisfactory manning of the diesel locomotive programme and the British Transport Commission for having got that programme into operation.
While the Commission is in the throes of the modernisation programme there is something to be said for going carefully about spending too much money on old buildings, which may have to be completely changed. Can we make the British Transport Commission do its job while remaining comparatively independent? The less we interfere in the day-to-day running of the railways, the better. We should, however, ensure—this point should appeal to the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill—if cases have to be fought in the courts in matters of this kind that the law is known and is consistent with laws that Parliament have already passed affecting other industries and covering them with the Factory Acts, including non-industrial employment as well.
I appreciate the enormous financial difficulty facing the British Transport. Commission and I appreciate the enormously run-down state of the railways as a result of the war and the enormous difference in the various regions when these were set up. I also appreciate that it is the desire of the Government to implement the Gowers Report as soon as possible. We ought not to delay much longer with the setting 1637 up of minimum standards for this industry consistent with the minimum standards of protection which Parliament, with all-party agreement, has laid down for other industries.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
We have had a vary interesting debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) made out an overwhelming case for removing some of the evils about which he spoke. The case was overwhelming and the illustrations were clear.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) in his place again. He raised points about finance and the Government's attitude to nationalisation. The hon. Member makes an interesting and informative contribution at all times, so I was astounded to hear from him that the Government's view of nationalisation was, "It is here, and we must bring capitalist efficiency into it to make it work". If ever there was an instance of capitalist inefficiency being brought into the transport industry to prevent it from working, here is one.
The hon. Member is a successful businessman. I do not hold that against him. It is a point in his favour. What would he consider his position to be if someone took the most remunerative department out of his business, handed it over to one of his friends and then said, "That is the way to run your business"? That is precisely what the Government have done in the British transport industry. Until we get back to regarding the transport industry as one and not as two industries, pool the whole resources and organise it on national lines, it will be impossible for us to put railway finance into its proper place. I see no difficulty about doing that if we accept the principle that this is one industry. I quite see that finance is the essential part of this problem in the railway industry at present.
I hope we shall find a respite and avoid the industrial troubles which seem to hover over us in various industries at present. Then we can get down to the essential basis of organising the industry to make it pay and to provide the conditions we want. I believe that it will be necessary to have the good will, not only of this House but of millions outside, if we are to accomplish that. The Government have done almost mortal injury to the 1638 transport industry. All the talk today has been about the railways, but the Transport Commission has lost the highly remunerative long distance road transport section. Instead of being able to think out how to make the industry pay, it is being compelled to dismantle the industry.
In order to put matters right, we should direct to the railways the heavy goods traffic, which is such a menace on the roads. When we consider that 500,000 people have been killed or injured on the roads in the last two years, we realise that road transport is a killer industry. It behoves the nation to look at this question and to give the railway industry the necessary finance to make these improvements. It is astonishing that anyone should suggest that minimum standards of safety and welfare should depend on profitability. That undermines the whole principle of the Factories Acts. Necessary measures should be taken to unify transport and to give the nation complete control over wages and services in order to ensure adequate standards.
One thing which is essential to industry is a good transport system. We must have that as the basis of whatever is left in private hands. I am all in favour of good, cheap services for industry. The essential thing is that they should not only he good and cheap, but efficient.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I apologise to the House for not being present to listen to earlier contributions to this debate. That was due to my attendance at the funeral of a very distinguished railwayman, who took a most important part in the work which forms the subject matter of the debate.
I refer to the lamented death of Mr. W. P. Allen, who rendered distinguished service to the industry as general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. I pay special tribute to him for the great work he rendered the nation when he became a member of the Transport Commission. His passing is a great loss to the country. He had marked ability and great integrity. In the light of the problems with which we are confronted, he was a man whom we can ill afford to lose. I am confident that I am not only expressing the views of hon. Members on this side of the House, but the views of hon. Members opposite who have known 1639 of his great services to the transport industry.
I wish to say a few words about the Motion and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) and others who have been deeply interested in the subject of the Gowers Report. I am not going to deal in a comprehensive way with that subject, as I think all relevant points have been admirably covered by preceding speakers and I have no desire to be repetitive. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) referred to conditions obtaining under the barracks system compared with private industry. I do not share his view. As one who worked in a locomotive depot some years ago, I recall the days when there was no ventilation in the mess room, no lighting and no tables for partaking of food. The mess rooms were rat-infested dens. On one occasion when I was taking a meal I had a rat up my leg. It might have been a lady rat, I do not know.
The hon. and gallant Member spoke of there being better conditions in the days of private enterprise. I do not accept that. In generalising on that theme, he must have forgotten who was responsible for the slum conditions which prevailed. I shall not go into a dissertation on that. There has been a very marked improvement under the Transport Commission. The Commission has done very great work since the advent of nationalisation. Much has been achieved, but there is still much more to be achieved.
In talking about the necessary finance to be obtained for these developments, I hope we shall not entirely disregard the human factor in relation to industry and consider only intensification of dieselisation and electrification. There are other aspects of these problems. The human aspect is infinitely greater than progressing with dieselisation and electrification. I hope the Gowers Report will be implemented ere long, either by this Government or the next Government, because there are certain aspects of the measures we have discussed today which ought to become possible within the ambit of the Factories Acts. There is the problem of the employment of young persons at night in the railway industry. I shall not go into a dissertation on that subject now, however, as other hon. Members desire to speak in the debate.
1640 I hope that ere long the Government will make a decision to implement the Report in the interests of all concerned, realising that the greatest measure of satisfaction which can be given—and which will tend to give what I regard as essential in the modern world, better industrial relations—is a standard whereby in welfare amenities men may have what is their rightful heritage.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I am trying to puzzle out whether the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was defending or attacking the Transport Commission. He seemed to be doing both at the same time.
This debate is not an attack on the Commission, but behind the Motion is a complaint that the Government have not kept their pledge to implement the Gowers Report, particularly with reference to the railways. Many points have been made by some of my hon. Friends, particularly in connection with operative staffs, and I want to say a few words about railway offices. Some remarks made by hon. Members opposite seemed to indicate that we were attacking the Transport Commission for having provided bad offices, but we are complaining about the number of offices left by the privately-owned companies which have not been brought up-to-date quickly enough. That has not always been the fault of the Commission, for it has had its hands tied by the Government's financial restrictions.
For some years I worked in a railway office. No doubt it was as a penance for sins committed in a previous existence. It was a very bad office, because it was attached to a goods station and railway goods offices are notoriously the worst offices. I visited that office the other day. It was as crowded and dirty as ever. The only difference I could see was that there was some linoleum on the floor. There were still the same old stand-up desks, and the dust was just the same; there seemed very little improvement.
In the 1920s, when I was engaged in active trade union work, time after time we brought to this House an Offices Regulation Bill which you, Mr. Speaker, may remember. This Offices Regulation Bill never got any further, and it has always seemed a most amazing thing to me that the State insists on certain 1641 standards of health, safety, cleanliness, light, heating and so on in regard to any premises used as factories or workshops, while, apparently, anything will do for an office. It is a most extraordinary thing, but there it is, and that is still the position today.
It is a very bad thing for the railways, because it is driving the best people out of the railway service. People refuse to work in these conditions when they see the very good offices provided elsewhere in which they can enjoy much better conditions. Many tributes have been paid today to the railwaymen and to the services performed by the railways, but this state of efficiency is likely to deteriorate if we are to lose the best people from the railway staff. It is most essential that we should get the best. We have read in the papers today of a shocking railway accident in Brazil in which 130 people were killed. I am glad that we have not had anything comparable recently in this country, but it does illustrate the danger of railway working, not only to the staff but to the general public, and the desirability of getting the most efficient people to operate railways.
As regards offices, I am quite certain that it is because of the bad conditions of many railway offices that we are losing efficient staff, because, as is so often said in this House—Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), who has gone to catch the train he talked about, described the transport system as the life-blood of the country, which I thought was a very good description.
I hope that when the hon. and gallant Gentleman catches the 4.45 from Paddington he will buy a copy of today's Evening News, which I picked up a few moments ago. After what he said about the railways, he might be startled to see a most extraordinary article headed "It's the Red Light for Mr. Greene," Mr. Greene being the General Secretary of the N.U.R. I do not know whether hon. Members have had the opportunity of reading this article yet, but I commend it to their attention, because they will be astonished by some of the things said in it. It illustrates some of the ignorance in the—I was going to say the public mind, but I wonder whether that would be fair. Shall I say it illustrates some 1642 of the stuff that Pressmen try to write about, perhaps with certain motives at the back of their minds?
One of the main themes of it seems to be epitomised in the headline "There's Nothing Sacred about the Railways: we are not bound to keep them as an industrial museum". It goes on to indicate that the railways are more or less out-of-date and should be shut up, and that the sooner we get rid of them the better. No responsible person would ever talk like that. The railways cannot be closed down. We need them for industry, for strategic reasons, and for many other reasons of national policy. They must be kept, and, if so, with sufficiently intelligent and well-trained staff, and that staff has to be paid.
The article goes on to say, not in so many words, but the general line of it suggests, that we cannot pay the railwaymen a proper wage unless the railways make sufficient profits. I suggest that it is time that we got away from this idea. We do not say that the firemen at a fire station have to make a profit before they can get proper conditions, or that the police must make a profit before they can have better conditions. If it has to come to a subsidy for the railways, then we shall have to pay a subsidy, if that is the only way to keep the staff that we need and in the conditions in which they ought to be kept, for the national good.
What is there so wrong about a subsidy for industry? We pay a subsidy to the shipbuilding industry, and another to the fishing industry. We pay many different kinds of subsidies to agriculture. Subsidies are paid to all kinds of industries. I never hear a cheep from hon. Gentlemen opposite about these subsidies, but when there is a suggestion that we might have to pay a subsidy to the railways there is a terrible hullabaloo. People seem to think there is something very wrong about it.
Another point in this article to which I want to refer is one suggesting that the railways might be able to pay if they could dispense with a certain amount of the staff, but that the railway unions are the people who are stopping that being done. That is just not the case. The article says:Trade unionism now has a vested interest in keeping things exactly as they are. It wants everybody to be protected in his present job, 1643 every industry to stay put, no new techniques, no mobility of labour, a universal deep freeze.As regards the railways, that is quite inaccurate, and the writer of the article, whose name is fairly well-known, ought to know that that is not the case. I hope that this article is written from ignorance, because, if not, there is only one other assumption—that it is written with malice aforethought, perhaps as part of the general attack on trade unions.
There is one other point, and a very important one, which was made by one of my hon. Friends when he emphasised that the system of joint consultation on the railways has been more successful at the top level than lower down. That was a very important statement, and is very true. Very often, in trade union work, we have had complaints from stations and depots that agents and officials in the middle range just refuse to operate the negotiating machinery in the proper spirit. We do not take action against these officials. We go straight to the top, and usually the people at the top see that the matter is put right.
There is proper consideration by headquarters, but not at the middle levels, and this is another reminder of the quotation:…but man, proud man,Drest in a little brief authority,Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,His glassy essence, like an angry ape,Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,As make the angels weep.These people—Drest in a little brief authorityin the middle range are the trouble in the negotiating machinery. On paper, it is perhaps the best system in the whole of British industry, and generally it works very well, but it is time that some of these people who have been promoted to supervisory jobs were less swelled-headed and acted in the spirit of that machinery as well as in the letter.
Having said that, I want to add my voice to the pleas that have been made to the Government, if it is not too late in their tenure of office, to keep their promise to bring in legislation to implement the Gowers Report so far as it affects the railways. It is a scandal that it has not been applied to the railways up to now, and that offices generally are still in this relatively worse position, as compared with factories and workshops.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
It is appropriate, after a discussion of the type which we have had today, that we should consider the position against the background of the very great advances which have been made in health and safety facilities during this century throughout British industry. With some experience of safety committees in some of the biggest and most difficult factories in Britain, I would say that we must achieve the right blend between conscientious service by those within the industry and a basic legislative minimum against which they can work in order to achieve satisfactory results. By general consent we have agreed that merely to put legislation on the Statute Book does not of itself mean that we automatically cease to place any requirements upon individuals in industry, but it gives them a yardstick and a target at which to aim in order to achieve better results generally than they could otherwise achieve.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) on initiating this very important debate. We have had many discussions about the Gowers Report and we on this side of the House will not cease to wish to discuss it until it has been implemented. I believe that my hon. Friend did a great service to the industry as well as to his railway constituents in using his good fortune in the Ballot again to bring to the Government's notice the fact that there is much to be done in implementing that very important Report.
I share with my hon. Friend the representation in the House of many railwaymen. In the Newton-le-Willows area there are the great viaduct works of British Railways which were used by Stephenson long ago. Some years ago we celebrated the centenary of those works and many memorable relics were found, such as the chairs which carried the rails upon which the old Rocket ran in those days. They were excavated and are now in British Railways' Museum.
The point which I wish to emphasise in referring to the background and history of the railway system is that by its very nature it is one of our oldest industries. It stems from the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of the power of steam and all that that means. We are therefore discussing an industry which 1645 has not had basic renovation and alteration for 130 to 140 years. That of itself surely means that with the passage of time and the great alterations and modernisation of industry, this is one industry to which, perhaps more than most, we should turn our attention when we think in terms of the health of the employees and the desirability of minimising accidents.
By the irony of fate, while we are discussing railways in one context, some vital discussions about railways are taking place elsewhere. We all hope for the success of those discussions because we all hope that we shall see peace and amity in the railway industry.
I would stress at this point the effect of all conditions on relationships between employers and employees, whether in a private or a nationalised industry. Speaking from some experience of this kind of work, I can assert that wherever there are bad industrial conditions and wherever employers have failed to modernise and to give facilities to their employees to enjoy modern conceptions of health treatment and accident prevention, inevitably industrial relations are far and away worse them where proper conditions are enjoyed. It has an effect upon the minds of both sides, with the result that a wage dispute, or some other dispute which could normally be settled without much bad blood, tends to become exaggerated, because bad environments have fired the minds of people and perhaps made them a little unreasonable.
I therefore suggest to the Minister that when he is listening to pleas for the implementation of the Gowers Report in the railway industry, he should bear in mind that by an affirmative answer to those pleas it is possible that he would do at least as much to bring peace and proper conditions to railway workers as anything that can happen at the Ministry of Labour this afternoon. It is a vital issue. Those who have been engaged for years in industrial discussions know how far-reaching is the issue.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and in some degree the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) 1646 discussed what effects nationalisation has had on this problem. The hon. Member for Cheltenham spoke of the "stagnation of nationalisation." It is a nice round phrase, for whatever it means. I think that he was answered in advance—perhaps by thought reading—by the hon. Member for Louth, who pointed out that if the Labour Government had delayed the nationalisation of the railways much longer, they might have got them for nothing. They were in such a bankrupt condition that it is probable that the shareholders would have sent a deputation to Lord Attlee pleading, "Please will you take them off our hands?"
I agree at once that because of the great service they did during the war and the fact that we could not then modernise them, the railways were run down very rapidly, but even before the war, because of their bad trading position even then, there was great neglect of the whole of the British Railways system.
I agree with the hon. Member for Louth, with whom I often agree on these industrial matters, that if we had not nationalised the railway system when we did, it is highly probable that today we would have had no railway system to which the Gowers Committee's recommendations could be applied. The hon. Member may be somewhat late—I think he voted against nationalisation at the time—but experience tells. It could be that after the next Election the hon. Member may be about the only Tory who can sit again on the other side of the House—with us.
We have, very properly, confined our attention to the Gowers Report, but I suggest, particularly to my hon. Friends, that merely to dedicate ourselves to the Gowers recommendations as such may be a somewhat backward attitude. A decade has passed since the Gowers Committee began its work. Many concepts which ten years ago were regarded as ultramodern are not now as modern as they were then. Therefore, merely to recite the Gowers Report as though it was the last word in perfection in these matters is not necessarily the kind of outlook to which we on this side, at least, should dedicate ourselves.
If we look at the 1937 Factories Act, which the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely told us was the inspiration of the Tory Party—although we could 1647 describe another side to that picture—its provisions were regarded in those days as a great step forward, as, indeed, they were. Today, however, the 1937 Act is looked upon as the mere minimum which is acceptable to any of us. Indeed, most industries go much further than the actual provisions of the Act.
Therefore, in the application of those recommendations to the railways, it should be remembered that we are on the threshold of a great revolution in the change-over to electrification and dieselisation and the rest. That of itself will breed the necessity for more modern conceptions of safety and of health for the railway workers.
Many of my hon. Friends have recited the fairly black chapter of procrastination, not only by the present Government, but by each of the Tory Governments since 1951. I have with me quite a number of documents to which I had intended to refer, but my hon. Friends have already given chapter and verse of the various occasions on which, in the House and in Standing Committee when the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) was considered, we have asked for the implementation of the Gowers Report so far as it relates to railways, and I have yet to find a single occasion when any Government spokesman, either of the present Administration or of their predecessors as far back as 1931, has argued against Gowers as such. On every occasion, so far as I can ascertain, it has been simply a question of the provision of Parliamentary time.
The Trades Union Congress has gone on record year after year at each of its annual conferences as having asked for the implementation in full of the Gowers Report. The T.U.C. sent delegations along to see Sir Anthony Eden when he was Prime Minister. He stressed that the only difficulty was the provision of Parliamentary time. The present Prime Minister has been visited by delegates from the T.U.C. General Council, and again the issue has been Parliamentary time. It is not good enough for people who cannot find a single argument against the implementation of the Gowers recommendations constantly to hide for seven years behind the suggestion that it is only a matter of being able to find Parliamentary time.
1648 If I had a little more time, I could describe much of the nonsense which has occupied the time of this House since 1951—issues which even the Government have found that very few people wanted. Yet for weeks and months the time of the House has been occupied with that kind of thing which is totally unnecessary, whilst at Downing Street or somewhere else the Prime Minister of the day has been saying, "We cannot find the Parliamentary time to implement the Gowers Report".
I hope the House will not be satisfied unless today the Minister gives us some specific assurance that the Bill which we know was in course of being drafted long ago is now ready to be presented to the House, or unless there is some adequate reason for not doing so other than this repeated reference to failure to find Parliamentary time. By common consent it is now essential that the railway employees should be given the facility of legislation of the type recommended in the Gowers Report. Every member of this Government is committed to it and we shall not be satisfied until either the Bill is presented or adequate reasons are given why it cannot be presented in the next Parliamentary Session.
Turning to the recommendations so far as they apply to the various types of activity in the railways, one sees that Gowers recommended that no distinction should be drawn between railway offices and other types of offices, and therefore the recommendations already made in respect of other offices should, in fact, apply to railway offices. Incidentally, we have already heard a description of the bad conditions in those offices. The recommendations included minimum standards for sanitary accommodation, ventilation, temperature, lighting, cleanliness, washing facilities and so on.
If the question of finance is involved, can the Government be satisfied to hold back the necessary funds required not only for the modernisation of the railways as such but for the improvement of such disgraceful health conditions? Those conditions suffer in the general cut-back. The very bad conditions which we have described persist, apparently, for no other reason than that the Government refuse to agree to the B.T.C. going ahead with what is contained in the Gowers Report merely because they are cutting back on capital development and so on.
1649 It was recommended that standards not lower than those prescribed by the Factories Act, 1937, plus the Regulations under the Act, should be applied to the locomotive running sheds and all ancillary premises. In addition, it was recommended that facilities for washing should include hot water, something not provided for under the Factories Acts themselves. The standards laid down in the Factories Acts covered matters included in the recommendation for offices and, indeed, a good deal more, so that even Gowers in this respect is not as far advanced as the Factories Acts, for example, in dust suppression, fume removal, floor conditions and safe means of access.
It was pointed out in the Report that 500,000 or more employees working on the railways were outside the scope of the Factories Acts themselves, including clercial workers, running, operational and permanent way staffs, most of the employees on passenger stations, goods depots, sidings, signal boxes and loco running sheds. There were strong pleas made for better lighting, heating, ventilation, washing facilities, lockers, mess rooms, and provisions for first-aid. Moreover, after allowance had been made for the difficulties of the ten years prior to the 1949 Report, buildings, accommodation and equipment fell far short of what they ought to be and were certainly well below the standards enjoyed by industrial workers whose conditions were covered by the Factories Acts.
The Committee pointed out that the locomotive running sheds more nearly resembled factories than any other premises actually reviewed. Apart from general complaints, the Committee referred specifically to evidence of danger arising from inadequate lighting, particularly where the sheds were filled with steam or smoke from engines under overhaul. The Committee said that these dangers were often aggravated by an accumulation of hot boiler ash, scrap metal, etc., on the ground in or near the buildings. Criticism was made also of first-aid facilities there.
Throughout the debate, especially from the benches opposite, there has been the suggestion that, where there is adequate co-operation between the two sides, that of itself is sufficient. Evidence on those lines was, in fact, submitted to the 1650 Gowers Committee by the British Transport Commission, which deployed its arguments about the Welfare Advisory Committee which was functioning in the industry. I am quite sure that the Commission was right in emphasising the very good work that the Committee was performing, but it went further and argued that, by that voluntary method alone, quite apart from any legislative method, the Commission could get at least the standards which were afterwards described in Gowers.
It is not my purpose to go over all that again. As I said to the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely, what we need is a combination of both methods. The fact is, however, that that argument, after being deployed by the B.T.C. to the Gowers Committee, was rejected by the Gowers Committee after it had listened to all the evidence adduced.
§ Mr. Lee
Therefore, it is no answer to the problem to say that, if we could have better co-operation, we could obtain the standards which Cowers lays down, (a) because Gowers, having listened to the argument, rejected it, and (b), if the argument were right, this debate would not be taking place today, for the parties have had since 1949 to do it and the voluntary conciliation machinery in which they have got together to discuss this matter has been there.
As my hon. Friends have said, it is not really a criticism of the British Transport Commission, which, we believe, is trying hard, along with the employees, to effect these improvements. The very fact that, in this day and age, my hon. Friends can describe the things they have referred to this morning without fear of contradiction proves that, without the legislative standards for which we are asking, co-operation, no matter how good it may be, just is not sufficient to give the results which are so necessary in this respect.
I could go through the Reports of the Commission for each year. I have here the amounts which have been expended. The hon. and gallant Member for Cheltenham raised this point. I cannot possibly tell the House how much it will 1651 cost now to implement the recommendations of the Gowers Committee. On an assessment made by the Gowers Committee ten years ago, considering the loss of values in our monetary system following eight years of Tory rule, how is it possible to be able to say what the cost would be?
Major Hicks Beach
Surely the calculation is quite simple. If the hon. Gentleman knows what the cost would have been when his party was in power, which he claims, I should have thought that it was an extremely simple calculation.
§ Mr. Osborne
Before we enter into commitments, is not it wise that we should ask ourselves two questions—how big are those commitments, and can we afford them?
§ Mr. Lee
I do not remember the question being asked.
I want to turn to another point which I do not think has yet been discussed. I understand that in 1900 the Railway Employment (Prevention of Accidents) Act was passed. This empowered the Board of Trade to make rules about dangerous railway operations. I understand that it refers to dangers and risks incidental to railway service, thus including, of course, locomotive running sheds. The Act specified twelve subjects on which rules could be made, such as the protection of permanent-way men on duty, movement of wagons, with propping and towing, and the labelling of wagons, and so on. The Act also gave a specific power to make rules where the Board of Trade considered that avoidable danger to employees might arise. If my information is right, the only rules that have ever been made were made in 1902, 1652 and they relate to items specified in the Schedule. I understand that they are extremely limited in scope, except as to the protection of permanent-way men by look-outs.
Is there any reason why this power to make rules, which is now vested in the Minister of Transport, should not be invoked to introduce for locomotive running sheds and other railway employment similar provisions on safety as are found in the Factories Act, 1957? I know that the existence of this legislation is not referred to by the Gowers Committee and it would not appear to have even considered the point. Therefore, I ask the Minister, what is the position as far as that legislation is concerned? Is not it the case that the Ministry of Transport could in fact, using the provisions of that Act, incorporate many of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee?
The Minister of Transport publishes annual reports of accidents which occur on the railways. They refer to investigations into employment accidents by inspectors appointed under the 1900 Act. I do not believe that the way in which those accidents are categorised is good enough. All that is done is to take a small cross-section from a larger number of accidents and then to give the rate proportionately. For instance, in 1953, the categorised figures relate only to 4,009 accidents, leaving 12,902 uncategorised.
The reports also deal with the general accident position and give the impression, at least to me, of a certain complacency concerning the question of prevention. At page 26, the 1953 report states:Few of these accidents could have been prevented by specific safety measures and the majority were due to want of individual care.The 1954 report states, in page 23:Many of the accidents had causes which are common to other industries and are not associated with risks peculiar to railway employment. Few of them could have been prevented by specific safety measures and the majority were due to want of individual care.The suggestion that these accidents cannot be prevented but are due to lack of individual care, flies in the face of all the experience of us on this side of what can be done when industry takes specific action designed to prevent many of the accidents.
Inadequate as the figures are, it is interesting to observe that the accident rate among railway workshop staffs who 1653 are covered already by the Factories Acts standards was one-quarter of the rate among running shop men who do similar work but are not covered by any of the statutory standards. I hope that the Minister can give an answer on this, because it is of great importance to the future of our railway service.
In October, 1956, the Government published a White Paper, Staffing and Organisation of the Factory Inspectorate. This document is of considerable importance from many angles, but it has specific reference to railway employment. In page 17, under the subhead "Legislation," it states:The principal pieces of legislation which may be enacted in the foreseeable future relate to:—In paragraph 50, "Railway premises," it states:
- (1) the hours of work of women and young persons; and
- (2) safety, health and welfare at railway premises."The coming into force of legislation implementing the recommendations of the Gowers Committee regarding safety, health and welfare at railways premises will undoubtedly increase the work of the Inspectorate. It is not practicable to make any estimate of the size of this increase before the legislation has been introduced.It is fairly clear from this somewhat unusual reference to projected Government legislative policy that at that stage at least the Government felt vulnerable to the pressure which my hon. Friends in this House and my colleagues outside were asserting to ensure adequate railway safety standards.
What has happened since? An important and interesting problem is raised by the White Paper concerning the Factory Inspectorate in dealing with railway safety legislation. The Gowers Report refers specifically to enforcement of railway safety standards by inspectors. In page 93, it stated:It is clear also that, where a statutory code exists, it must be enforced by an independent authority irrespective of whether or not an industry is publicly or privately owned. We have therefore to consider in the case of rail and road transport what body or bodies should be entrusted with the duties of enforcement.In page 94, it states:We therefore recommend that the enforcement of minimum standards of welfare and safety on all railway premises should be the responsibility of the Minister of Transport who should be empowered to establish an inspectorate for this purpose.1654 As I have pointed out, the Gowers Committee had apparently failed to notice that the Minister of Transport already has inspectors investigating railway employment accidents under the Railway Employment (Prevention of Accidents) Act, 1900.
The Gowers Committee, therefore, stressed the importance of an independent inspectorate, and for this purpose they advised one controlled by the Ministry of Transport. I should have thought myself—and I come back to one of the reasons why I do not want to get full implementation of the Gowers recommendations unless we look at one or two other things which flow from them—that the connection between the Ministry of Transport and the Transport Commission is such that there could be no real independence, if the employees' interests are to be preserved.
Consequently, the White Paper proposal by the Ministry of Labour, which envisages that railway inspection should be by the factories department, is to be preferred, I should have thought, to the Gowers suggestions on this question, first because it is logical in extending the Factories Acts standards to the railways with the same statutory inspectorate to operate, and secondly because I think the factories department would not only enable improvements in the industry in general but also avoid inter-departmental rivalries in administration.
The time has come at which I agreed to sit down and allow the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to reply. I have tried to dot the t' s and cross the t' s in what my hon. Friends have said. I finish on this note. I have asked the Government to try to observe the close connection between peace in a great industry, even on financial matters, and better working facilities and conditions inside that industry. I have stated that we have as yet not had any other reply from any Minister of the Crown than that lack of Parliamentary time is the reason for delaying legislation. In May, 1958, that is just not good enough. We are asking, not only on behalf of Her Majesty's Opposition but on behalf of organised labour and on behalf of all decent-minded people everywhere who desire that we shall minimise accidents in industry and give better facilities for the treatment of people who are injured and so on—on behalf, I believe, of the vast majority of 1655 the British people—that we shall have an end to this procrastination and that the Minister will tell us at what date the Government propose to introduce legislation.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I have listened to a number of interesting speeches today about many aspects of the railways. I should like first to welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) about the rail talks which are shortly to be proceeding elsewhere. I think it is the common wish of all of us on both sides of the House that they may be successful. Certainly nothing I am going to say today will in any way do other than help them.
As to the interesting point which the hon. Member raised in the latter part of his speech, that he would prefer to see the inspectorate under the same roof as the Factories Acts Inspectorate, in the Ministry of Labour instead of the Ministry of Transport, I have made a note of that and it is one I should like to look at. I am inclined to think our powers under the 1900 Act are fairly limited, but I have not had a chance to look at them in detail.
I should like to answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) as to which Ministry is responsible for answering these debates. We have had many opportunities to make up our minds. It happens that this one has two separate parts to it. The first part regarding the Gowers Report and legislation which may flow from that is, of course, generally speaking, for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. The second part of it, the modernisation of British Railways, is, of course, for us at the Ministry of Transport to deal with, and so in these circumstances it fell to me to reply to this debate. However, I think there is no mystery about these arrangements.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Swindon on his detailed and painstaking account of the composition of the Gowers Report and subsequent consultations. I certainly do not disagree with any of the account that he gave so accurately. It had not occurred 1656 to me to make the point that it was published in March, 1949, and that right hon. and hon. Members opposite therefore had two and a half years in which they might have done something. But I thank him for this assistance, and make the point for what it is worth.
I now come to the substance of the matter. There is no change in Government policy as to the principle of introducing legislation in implementation of the Gowers Report. We still accept that legislation should be introduced in due course. I can assure the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) that I find no embarrassment in the fact that I was a member of the Committee, sitting under the distinguished chairmanship of my old friend, Sir Ernest Gowers. I still think that it would be a good thing to have legislation in this sphere. I was glad to take part, in my previous Ministry, in assisting agricultural legislation which carried out a part of our recommendations.
I accept that there is a great deal to be done on the railways. I listened with interest to the descriptions of hon. Members of different matters which obviously need attention, and I accept that there is much to be done. The only point of difference between us is on the question when legislation should be introduced. The practical effect of what could be done is, I maintain, being done now.
During the debate hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to what is being done by the Commission, and the fact that about £11 million worth of welfare building was completed up to the end of 1956 and a further £2⅔ million was authorised in 1957, which means that since 1951 between £14 million and £15 million has been involved. That is a very substantial programme. I do not think anybody would disagree that the Commission is going ahead as fast as it can be expected to go.
§ Mr. Nugent
I cannot do so at this moment, but I shall be glad to give the 1657 hon. Member the analysis that I have. It is a fairly long list, but all the items bear directly upon improving the present conditions of men and women engaged on the railways.
I want to make a point about the effect of the capital cuts which were made last autumn. Some hon. Members have commented about it, and I must reiterate what I told the House on 22nd April, namely, that the cuts that were made at that time were cuts in the Commission's proposals to us, and its proposals last autumn involved the sums of £151 million for 1958 and £148 million for 1959. This is all in HANSARD. Hon. Members will find it at col. 795 in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 22nd April. In the event, we allowed the Commission £145 million for 1958 and £145 million for 1959. In other words, over the two years we made a reduction of only £9 million.
As I explained to the House, what was cut was the accelerated programme which later came forward from the regions and which at that time was not known to the Commission. Therefore, in perfectly good faith we made a capital allocation which, in our very difficult circumstances, went pretty well to the limit of what the Commission had asked for. It was a matter of great misfortune that the accelerated programme arrived too late to be considered in the difficult circumstances in which we found ourselves last autumn.
In those circumstances, it is not fair to see any lack of interest or sympathy on the part of the Government in helping forward this great modernisation scheme which we are basically financing. If, in fact, some welfare measures have had to be cut on that account, I regret it as much as anybody. But it was certainly no deliberate act on the part of the Government which had that effect. I say to hon. Members that the programme now being undertaken is a substantial one. Already it is making a significant improvement in the amenities of railway workers.
Many of these modernisation schemes are accompanied automatically by improved conditions for the workers. In several of the schemes I have seen when new dieselisation is going in automatically new accommodation for the staff of a much improved kind is being built. The fact is that for the present 1658 the rate of work on welfare schemes is as high as any legislation can contemplate. It could not go faster and, in the practical effect—this is the point I wish to leave with the House—we are seeing that the railway workers are getting an improvement in conditions which we know should be improved.
§ Mr. J. Hynd
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not overlooking several of the cases which I cited—and there are many others which could be given—where promises were made as long as ten years ago that essential improvements will be done, and where conditions are deplorable. That is what we are complaining about. To say that what is being done now is as much as can be done, is irrelevant.
§ Mr. Nugent
That is a matter of opinion. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd). In my opinion, what is being done today is all that legislation can require to be done. I regret cases like the hon. Member mentioned, but I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) that many of these cases could be dealt with in the ordinary course of maintenance at a small cost. I maintain that the programme of work is the largest that can possibly or practicably be required to be done.
I was asked what has happened to the Bill which was prepared. After careful consideration it was decided that other legislation should be brought forward first. It is never easy to decide on the legislative programme for any Government. In this case there was obviously an advantage as to when it should be brought forward, but in the event it was decided that this legislation would have to wait. I can say again that it is the intention of the Government to proceed with the legislation when time is opportune. Whether it will come within the lifetime of this Government I am not able to predict, but in case hon. Members opposite are anxious I can assure them that this Government will continue for a long time yet. I put on record the fact that in principle we are in favour of legislation on the basis of the Gowers Committee Report and that is also my personal feeling.
I wish to deal with the anxieties of the hon. Member for Swindon about the report on the workshops. He was 1659 right in quoting the 1956 statement. That still stands, and the hon. Gentleman quoted it correctly to the effect that maintenance will be done in British Railway workshops up to the extent of their capacity. They will be responsible for the manufacture of equipment and components for which they are today laid out and equipped. As has already been stated, the Commission will rely upon outside industry for the manufacture of diesel and electric motors and transmission equipment.
The hon. Member for Swindon asked why British Railway workshops should not be tooled up to do the work of private enterprise.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
May I put that straight? I asked why they should not be tooled up to do work in which they could compete with private enterprise from the point of view of cheapness and efficiency.
§ Mr. Nugent
I do not think I unfairly paraphrased what the hon. Gentleman said. There are a number of reasons, but one of the most important reasons with regard to motive power is that the Commission has not yet decided what should be the types of main-line locomotive, whether diesel or diesel-electric, or even main-line electric, that it will finally use. Many types have been tried out and successfully established in other lands where the gauge is normally wider than ours. A good many teething troubles have been experienced with main line locomotives on our gauge. That is an important technical reason why the Commission does not wish to be completely committed at the present time.
It is true that diesel-powered units are supplied by private industry. The Commission fits them into chassis either as multiple units or otherwise, or into locomotives. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that Swindon was making hydraulic diesels, which is a very interesting development indeed. I was as interested as he was to see the new welded frame, which is saving some thirty to forty tons on the weight of a locomotive. I agree that the railway workshops are manned by large numbers of very skilful men who are well able to turn their hands to new work of many kinds. It is a matter of judgment how far that should go. It is also true that the Commission has set 1660 up a maintenance plant—this is true also of other railway workshops—for diesel-powered units and that the plant is working very well. I have seen the one at Derby. The Commission is getting very great economic benefit from the setting up of this maintenance plant.
It would be difficult to tool up for the manufacture of complete power units because it would involve very big capital expenditure as well as the training of staff, particularly when sufficient capacity exists already in private firms with men waiting to do the work. To do that would simply means that the private capacity and the men would have less to do.
The hon. Member may be assured that the Commission is giving every consideration to its own workshops and is keeping their capacity filled. Any cuts it has had to make have been shared with private industry. Representatives of some of the private firms concerned have complained to me that they have been forced to carry more than their share of the cut, but they have accepted that it had to be so. They also made a point about the difficulty of private firms sustaining exports on the extremely narrow base of only a small part of the home market.
I have figures here of the over-all picture of employment in the railway workshops. It may be some comfort to the hon. Member for Swindon and to hon. Members generally to know that while in January, 1956, there were 125,471 employed in railway workshops, in January of this year there were 128,276. The latest figure is about 500 less than that. In effect, the total number has increased considerably in the last two years. It is evident that no serious reduction is going on.
I do not want to go on talking at length. The hon. Gentleman rightly observed that there has to be some reduction and adaptation in the workshops. The mere fact of a change-over from steam to diesel-electric means that whereas the steam locomotive can only put in ten out of the twenty-four hours, the diesel-electric puts in about twenty. That will mean that in future we shall need only about half the number of power units. I quite accept that there is anxiety for the men there. They naturally want to know what their future is to be. The Commission is doing its best to keep them in the picture and the Commission tries 1661 to take a view of what the future is to be for these shops. The problem is also severe in some coach and wagon works and again the Commission has adaptations to make there. I wish to say a word or two about other aspects of working conditions.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Will the hon. Gentleman say something about the enabling Bill which was talked about when the Minister met the T.U.C. in July? Why did it take the Ministry from July to the end of the year to make up its mind that an enabling Bill would not be of any use?
§ Mr. Nugent
I would not say that an enabling Bill is not of any use. It is a possible solution, but a matter which needs very careful consideration.
In the short time which remains to me, I want to deal with other aspects of working conditions besides the specific welfare provision of canteens, sanitary equipment and so on. In the broad sweep of modernisation, very much is happening now to improve the working conditions of the men on the railways. One has only to compare conditions on the footplate of a steam locomotive with those in the modern cab of the diesel, the diesel-electric or the electric train, to see the transformation which has taken place. One leaves conditions in the old locomotive, where there was dirt, heat, and extremely heavy work, to go into a clean, comfortable cab, decently warmed, where the man sitting down has a good view, to realise that the whole of the conditions are transformed.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely mentioned marshalling yards. I suppose one of the hardest jobs on the railways is the job of the shunter, who has to run with his brake stick to brake the wagons as they "cut" and come over the "hump." My hon. and gallant Friend referred to the recruitment of West Indians. One of the most difficult classes to recruit is that of shunters because it is hard work, done in all weathers, day and night. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools could tell us something about it. The development of the modern, fully mechanised yard such as we have at Thornton in Scotland, has substantially removed the worst of that hard graft and is mechanising pretty well the whole of the operation. One of the most fascinating things 1662 which hon. Members can see is one of these modern yards working, Thornton is one of the most modern in the world. It is well worth seeing. Soon there will be some yards like that nearer to London.
These are developments which are making a big difference to actual working conditions of men on the job. Reference has been made to conditions in the locomotive sheds. I can well remember, when I was on the Gowers Committee, going to see a locomotive shed. It rocked us to see the conditions which normally are found there. The new diesel depot is a completely different "cup of tea". At Leith, in the old passenger station, and in the one I opened at Darlington, diesel multiple units are brought in on a rail so that the brakes and wheels are at hand height. The man does not have to go down into a grimy, filthy pit, but the place is warm, well-lit and clean. It is a transformation from the dark, dirty old cavern where locomotives were traditionally kept. Fond as I am of the old steam locomotive, I can see great developments coming to change this hard, dirty work of the past into much more of an engineer's work, which will be clean, less arduous and generally less unpleasant.
All these developments, and many more that I could mention that are extremely interesting to see and which are now taking place, are all coming along to change the conditions of work. The result is that they are generally giving the men more comfortable and safer modern conditions, in which they can work better.
On staff consultation, I should like to say one word. The hon. Member was anxious about conditions at Swindon. I do not think I should go into that in detail, but I should mention that when a party of Members of Parliament visited Swindon recently they found that all was harmonious. I understand that they saw the works committee as well, and found it in good heart. My concern is that the relationships between management and men should be improved, and the Commission has been actively following the policy to develop just this. It has now got some 200 or 300 joint local departmental committees on which the staff and the management meet and discuss a range of topics. Certainly, they are only advisory, but it is a beginning to try to 1663 improve the general relationships between management and men.
I very much agree with something which the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) had to say about the quality of the approach of top management to organised labour in the trade unions, and I think the Commission is making every endeavour to try to get more success at all levels of management. The Commission has issued a booklet on the subject for the guidance of all concerned, and gradually it is having effect, but railwaymen, as others here who have spent a life on the railways can testify, are very conservative, not in the political sense, but with a small "c", and they take slowly to changes.
It takes time to get these new arrangements working but it is certainly the Commission's intention to make them work just as effectively as it can. The Commission realises the importance of getting good relationships between management and men. A great deal has been done with the productivity councils and the training schools which it has set up. It is in the achievement of greater productivity that we shall see the fruits of the modernisation scheme, and the Commission fully realises the absolute necessity of carrying the men with it if both the men, on the one hand, and the country, on the other, are to get the benefits of this great modernisation scheme which is now going forward.
The hon. Member for Swindon also asked about training schools. There is a wide range of training schemes, and I can send details of them to him. They cover every aspect of railway work and give every opportunity to a man in any grade who wishes to better himself. No one is more anxious than the Chairman of the Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, to give that kind of help to enterprising youngsters. One has only to look at 1664 the men at the top now to see how many have worked their way right from the bottom to the top, and that is surely in the best tradition. I will be very glad to send the hon. Member something on that subject.
I should like to say finally that, after seeing a good deal of the work on the railways during the last eighteen months, and seeing the modernisation going forward, I am certain that the Commission fully realises the importance not only of mechanical modernisation but modernisation in management and personnel relationships. It is doing all it can, but it does take time to get these things working. The Commission is steadily working forward to give the country a modern economic railway system, as well as a brighter prospect for the railwaymen themselves, and I am quite certain that it is the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am glad that it has been our Government that has provided the means for this modernisation.
§ Mr. Lee rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to make further provision for the health, welfare and safety of railway and allied workers, in the light of the recommendations of the Gowers Committee; and to ensure that their interests, as well as those of railway users, are fully considered while modernisation is taking place.