HC Deb 27 June 1962 vol 661 cc1166-297

3.44 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Reports and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1960 (H.C. 1960–61, No. 213) and 1961 (H.C., 1961–62, No. 209).

I think that it would be as well if, during the debate, I concentrated my remarks mostly on the railways, because I think that they loom in the minds of most hon. Members as more important that the other undertakings of the British Transport Commission. But I should like, first, to say a few words about other undertakings and to dispose of them, not because I do not think they are important but because I think that the major problem is that of the railways. I hope that no enthusiast in the House will blame me for doing so.

The working surplus the other undertakings contributed Ito the final accounts of the Commission increased by £2.1 million between 1960 and 1961, and, after allowing for central charges, this brought the 1961 deficit of the Commission as a whole down from £151 million to £1 37 million.

I want now to say a few quick words about London Transport. British Road Services and the docks. London Transport's accounts again showed a surplus over its share of the Commission's central charges, though not as large as in 1960. London Transport is at present trying to persuade the Transport Tribunal to allow it to increase its fares sufficiently to repeat this sort of result. Technical progress has included the four-tracking of the Metropolitan line to Moor Park where the new "silver trains" are running, and the introduction of some of the longer Routemaster buses.

In 1961, the receipts of British Road Services showed a considerable improvement over those of 1960 and are the highest since 1957. The greater part of the net receipts of British Road Services comes from specialised activities in fields such as parcels and heavy haulage. I look forward to the expansion of this type of profitable service. The bus services—Scottish Omnibuses and the Tilling Group—are suffering from the same gradual loss of traffic as is affecting all bus companies, but nevertheless continue to make a useful contribution under "other activities."

The net receipts in respect of the docks increased in 1961. For the first time since the formation of the Commission the net receipts exceeded £4 million. This was despite a considerable decline in inwards traffic not offset by a small rise in outward traffic. The Commission's docks, like all docks in this country, are subject to study by the Rochdale Committee, which, I hope, will report to me in the next month or two.

I should like to devote most of my remarks to the railways, which, I know, are a burning topic not only in the House, but in the country at large. Any alteration in the railway system arouses passions and emotions which have to be experienced before one can really believe them. We seem to be a nation of railway lovers. We invented the railway system, we built the first railways, we built the first railway engine, and we have built railways abroad. So there is some reason for our pride.

I hope, in my remarks, to look to the future rather than recriminate about the past. But I am bound to refer to the past in one respect. There is a matter of great historical interest which was brought to my notice by a deputation which came to see me. Members of Parliament and Ministers have been looking after railways and have been involved with them for many years. I see that, in 1830, over 130 years ago, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was officially opened by the Duke of Wellington. Among those present was Mr. Huskisson, one of the Members of Parliament for Liverpool and some time President of the Board of Trade and a very strong supporter of the Liverpool and Manchester Bill. The account of the event given to me by the leader of the deputation says that the Duke beckoned Mr. Huskisson to his side and that Mr. Huskisson went up to him and shook hands with him. The onlookers were horrified when they perceived the train bearing down on Mr. Huskisson. Mr. Huskisson was, I regret to say, killed.

The leader of the deputation said to me, "If they killed a man in 1830 for opening a railway, what are they likely to do to you in 1962 for closing railways?" So it is with some fear and trepidation that I approach the formidable task which lies before me this afternoon of explaining to the House the ideas that we have about British Railways and the methods that we propose to employ.

Logically, we cannot escape the stark fact that the railways are making unparalleled losses, losses never equalled in this country. If the railways are charged their proper proportion of the central charges of the B.T.C. and, secondly, the interest on their borrowings to meet their deficit, the losses on the railways alone—and the rest of the Commission's undertakings have contributed a profit—were £127 million in 1960, £151 million in 1961, and are estimated at £160 million for 1962. The losses of £160 million in 1962 and £151 million for 1961 compare with family allowances of £135 million, so we are dealing with losses of great magnitude.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

Will the Minister complete the picture and say that these losses have arisen and largely arise only out of his own Tory Government's 1953 Act?

Mr. Marples

I cannot accept the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I will not answer it, because I am trying to make a logical speech about the future and not about the past. I do not mind having a knockabout if that is what is wanted, but I do not think that that will help to deal with a £150 million loss.

We in this country have to be ruthlessly efficient to survive. It is the brutal truth that a loss of this magnitude is intolerable. Those who claim that Government expenditure is too high may well consider that this loss is part of that Government expenditure.

How are we tackling this unpalatable state of affairs? During the lifetime of this Parliament we have done two things. First, we have had the new organisational structure which is embodied in the new Transport Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shocking."] That may be the view of hon. Members opposite. If they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, they can elaborate that view at great length, if they are not out of order in doing so. That organisational structure enables the management to concentrate on the railways and to be free from every distraction. That is what we are after.

The second thing is that we have a new management. The first thing that the new Chairman did when he came in was to initiate a thoroughgoing study of the workings of the railway system and its future prospects. That study has been the most intensive and, I would think, the most effective ever undertaken in the history of the railways. In paragraph 8 of chapter 1 of the 1961 Report of the Commission, the Chairman said: 'The financial difficulties of the rail ways'"— this is what he said when he was taking over— 'which have developed increasing losses over a considerable period of years, are due to deep-seated causes and will not be quickly eliminated. Losses may get even worse before they get better. Although immediate economies are obviously of very great importance, and many steps must be taken to achieve them, it would be wrong to seek temporary cost savings at the expense of attention to root causes. Doubts about the future of the railway system as a whole can only be resolved by a more thoroughgoing study of the present working and future prospects of the system than has been made so far. Such studies will take time.' He said that it would take a year and he was speaking at the end of 1961, which means that the studies will be completed about the end of 1962. That timetable is being adhered to. That forecast is right.

I would now like to take the House with me to the next four stages for the future, and these are crucial. Stage one will be the completion of these studies and their analysis and digestion, because they are the basic tools of management with which we can reshape the future of the railways. Stage two will be publication of the facts which emerge from these studies, because the public should know what are the basic facts which emerge. I propose to devote more time to each of these four stages if the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) will allow me to continue without interruption. I would be most grateful for his indulgence on this occasion.

Stage three is that after receiving these facts the Transport Commission will place before the Government its broad proposals about the size, shape and pattern of the future railway system. Stage four is that the Government will then reach their own conclusions and they will cover closures.

I may say that there will be no passenger closures under the Transport Bill without the Minister's consent. The rumours about the Commission closing all the lines in particular parts of the country off its own bat are entirely wrong and untrue. I hope that hon. Members will tell their constituents that no passenger services will be closed under the new Bill without the Minister's approval.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire) rose——

Mr. Marples


Mr. Manuel

The Minister should not look so pained. This is a democracy and we can ask questions. A fortnight ago, I was told of passenger trains being withdrawn from a line in my constituency. Is that covered by the right hon. Gentleman's statement?

Mr. Marples

I shall be dealing with that in the course of my speech. I have no objection to the hon. Member asking questions, but if he will let me have an uninterrupted flow, he can ask me what questions he likes at the end of my speech, when I will do my best to answer them. I do not want to dodge these problems, but I have lived with this subject for two years and I want to present to the House a solution to the problems as I see it. Later, I will answer questions with the greatest of pleasure.

I should now like to refer to the four stages in a little more detail. Stage one is the completion of the studies. Completion will be about the end of the year, but we already have some facts, for they are unfolding all the time and from now on will be doing so with an accelerating rhythm. We shall get more information than we have ever had before. These studies are far more comprehensive than any which have ever been undertaken since the railways were first started, and they will give us the basic facts.

First, we are to have density utilisation of passenger miles per route mile over every mile of the route, and freight-ton mile per route mile over every mile of the system. Secondly, we are to have the costs of carrying certain traffic on rail and on road, and they will be compared by the railways. Those traffics which the railways can best carry they will carry and for those which they cannot they will either have to modify their methods, or abandon them to some other form of transport. The railways are carrying a lot of stuff which they are not suited to carrying and they are not carrying a lot of stuff which they ought to carry. That is precisely what these studies were initiated to find out.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

We did not need a study group to tell us that.

Mr. Marples

I know that the hon. Member can tell everybody everything about the railways, but when he was there they still did not do very well.

The plans which the Commission presents to the Government will not and cannot be finalised until the studies are finalised, because they are the basis of the plans. It is, therefore, premature to speculate about particular closures of lines or stations. One can see the general nature of the trends and changes as is shown in paragraph 10 of the 1961 Report. I commend this chapter in particular to the House as the finest chapter in either the first or second Report. Paragraph 10 says: Although it will not be possible to propose a reshaping of British Railways' system and pattern of traffic in detail, nor to assess the future financial prospects of the modified system with any confidence, until these studies have been completed and digested, a clearer perception of the basic causes of British Railways' difficulties has already emerged and the general nature of the changes which must be made is apparent. The studies are the basis of the first stage.

I now come to the second stage. It is no good keeping secret the basic facts which emerge from these studies. The nation owns the railways and is entitled to have the basic facts set before it and presented in a way it can understand. The more we explain the position to the public, the more likely we are to have their support in anything that we do, and the same applies to the railways. Therefore, the publication of these facts will continue until the whole picture is clearly before the nation.

We have started unfolding some of the facts. If we look at paragraph 17 of Chapter I we find that in the passenger field, fast and semi-fast trains, with a revenue of about £90 million, show a substantial margin against direct costs and just about break even against total cost. On the other hand, stopping trains outside the dense suburban areas, with a greater total train mileage than fast and semi-fast trains, yield only a third as much revenue, have almost the same costs, and produce losses substantially greater than their total revenue. We are pinpointing what is happening, where the losses are, what is vital, and where they can make a profit.

Mr. Popplewell

This is not new. All this has been done before.

Mr. Marples

I knew that the hon. Gentleman knew it, but I had never heard him say it in any of his speeches, or in any of his interruptions.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am aware that many hon. Members want to speak in this debate. I respectfully remind the House that the process of interrupting and shouting counter-assertions reduces the number of those whom it is possible for the Chair to call.

Mr. Marples

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West does not make any sharp comments, I shall not make any sharp quips. It goes on: In the freight field, bulk traffics such as coal and minerals shows a small revenue margin over total cost. The same is true of an appreciable part of the total tonnage of traffic in the general merchandise category "——

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

We can read it all in this document.

Mr. Marples

I know, but not all hon. Gentlemen opposite can read. I said that I would be all right if I was not interrupted. I am the mildest of men, and I was hoping for comparative peace and quiet.

Some of the freight produces a deficit relative to direct cost of some £40 million to £50 million, and an overall loss of perhaps £70 million or £80 million. The second stage is, as I have said, that the facts will be given to the nation.

The third stage is that the Transport Commission will draw up a plan based on these studies and present it to the Government. The Government will then consider the Commission's proposals for the size and shape of the future railway system and its prospects of attaining financial viability. These proposals will show the closures which the Commission proposes to make, subject, of course, to the procedures set out in the Transport Bill, if and when the House passes it and it becomes an Act. The Commission will explain the traffics which it would prefer to do without, and new traffics which it wants. It will show where and why further investment and modernisation would do the most good.

Then we come to stage four. When the Government receive this plan, they will be in a position to reach broad conclusions on the proposals. These will cover general closure plans on which I, as the Minister, or any other Minister who follows me, will have to make individual decisions under Clause 56 of the Bill to which I have referred. The proposals will also cover levels of investment which can reasonably be contemplated.

When putting its proposals to the Government the Commission, or the Board as it will be, will, I hope, be able to explain to what extent this new system can be expected to pay its way. This is the crucial point. I remind the House that a Select Committee made this point: The first consideration must be financial; the size and shape must be such as can enable the Commission to carry out their statutory task of balancing their accounts … I recall to the House that it is the Government's policy to set annual targets of performance for nationalised industries. In the case of the railways, the rate at which closures are carried out, new traffics won and old ones improved, and new investment injected, will determine how soon the Government's policy will pay off, but the Government can only decide on this plan after the Commission has presented its general plan.

I hope, therefore, that some of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not press me to see deputations of people from all parts of the country who think that they may be affected by a plan which is not in existence. It is better for me to concentrate on trying to make the plan effective thereby scotching rumours in the newspapers.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

What about the closures?

Mr. Marples

I will deal with them in a moment.

The Government will have to ask themselves a number of questions when considering the plan put forward by the Commission. The first question to be asked is: how will the plan affect the travelling public? Next, how far could alternative services be provided? It might well be that alternative services will have to be provided. Thirdly, will subsidisation be necessary for any of the alternative services? Fourthly, from whom should any subsidy come? Should it come from the central Government, or part from the central Government and part from the local authorities who enjoy the services? The Government will then have to ask themselves whether it is necessary and possible to build a new road which would take the place of the track on virgin ground, or whether a new road should be put along the railway track, or whether the existing road should be improved and modified. These are all questions which will have to be answered when the basic plan comes before the Government, and there are many others.

There is one question which the Government have already answered in the Transport Bill, and this concerns the protection for passengers. How is the passenger to be protected? His safeguard lies in the transport users' consultative committees. These committees will continue to examine proposed railway line closures to see whether there is any likelihood of hardship being caused to users. If there is, they can make proposals to alleviate such hardship, and it will not now be up to them to argue the financial case for closures. But no passenger closure can take place without my consent under the new Bill, and I should like those in the West Country, where rumours are rife, to take note of that, and publish it in their local newspapers and not bring deputations to see me, because they can deal with this point themselves.

Under the procedure of the Bill I can direct the railways to keep a service going—that is, the train service—or, alternatively, I can say that they must help in providing an alternative service, perhaps by way of a bus service. If there are only 15 or 20 people in an area, a train is not necessarily needed to transport them from one place to another. It may be that a coach would be more desirable. It would save the taxpayer money, and also the passenger, and he would still get his social service. I was glad to see that the Daily Mirror supported bus travel as an alternative in suitable cases. It published a very sensible article indeed. In fact, it was one of the most sensible articles that I have seen since becoming Minister of Transport.

Next, I think that we in this House ought to thank the members of the T.U.C.C.s who give their services free of charge and come in for a whole heap of abuse. I have met the various chairmen. They do a good job of work, and do it as objectively and as dispassionately as they can. It is difficult to be objective and dispassionate when violent emotions are aroused.

One thing that we must avoid is procedural delays. They have cost a lot of money. The Westerham line took from April, 1960, to October, 1961, to close. In that time the railways lost £40,000. We could have kept a bus service going if we had given one-quarter of that sum, and it would have saved the taxpayers money, while, at the same time, keeping the service going for the passengers.

One last point before I come to some of the closures. There will be close cooperation between the Commission and my Department on closures. Clause 53 of the new Bill, which I must mention only generally, has not had enough publicity, because the provisions of this Clause will mean that users, local authorities, and others interested will know the extent of the closures proposed in their areas. When the railways are ready to proceed with the closure of a passenger line the local authorities which are concerned will receive notice. We are trying our best to spread the news of what will happen—to see that the local authorities are given notice so that cases of hardship can be met. That is one of our objectives.

One of the unions—the union of the locomotive engineers—quite rightly asked, "Why have closures now, in advance of the traffic studies?" That is a perfectly justifiable question, and it ought to be answered. I shall try to answer it. The closures which are now taking place have been "in the pipeline"—if I may use that ugly phrase—for a long time. They are closures of uneconomic lines, and lines which have no prospect of becoming economic. They are what I call the hopeless cases. There are no marginal cases among them. I can assure the House on that point.

Human nature being what it is, people write to me telling me that I should reduce the losses, but that I should not close their local branch lines. It is entirely a conflict of human nature, which we have to put up with. These closures have, in the end, to be decided by the Minister. I consider them carefully. I want to give an example—and as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) interrupted I shall take an example from his area. It is an example in respect of which a lot of abuse was hurled at me when I made my decision. As I have said, I go to Wales for my example, and hon. Members can judge whether I was justified in making the decision to close down the line in question.

When we consider these railway cases we have to have a statistical method of operation which is common to all railway lines. If we have a railway line which runs for 109 miles and 10 men make a journey half way along it we can say that five men go the whole of the 109 route miles. We have to reduce it to terms of the whole route miles. That is the statistical method employed. I will now give the information that I have, and upon which I had to reach a decision in respect of the Newport-Brecon, Brecon-Moat Lane line, which involves 107 route miles. There was a row, as there usually is when a closure is proposed of a line in Scotland, Wales or England.

The Lord Mayor of Cardiff decided to make an independent check, as he was quite entitled to do. I am glad that he did so. He had a party which joined the train at—oh, dear!—Pontsticill; anyhow, they joined the train there. He had a party of four altogether. Those four people travelled for three-quarters of the way, so they counted as three men travelling for the whole journey. On the whole journey, altogether, there were seven-and-a-half men—or 7.44, to be accurate. That meant that there were four-and-a-half men besides the Lord Mayor's party. Of those other four-and-a-half men, three consisted of 10 British Railways staff. They travelled to work along one-third of the total route mileage, so they counted as three men.

The Lord Mayor's party counted as three men, the workmen travelling on free passes counted for another three men, making a total of six men, leaving one-and-a-half other men travelling the whole route. One of those was an observer, who had been put in the train by the Transport Commission to see what the Lord Mayor was doing. [Interruption.] These facts are all concerned with questions that I have to decide. It meant that there was half a normal fare-paying passenger in the train over the whole journey of 107 route miles. [Interruption.] This is not fictitious; I had to decide this case. The average weight of the train was 160 tons, which meant that we had 160 tons of mechanical equipment and rolling stock to take half a man 107 miles. I do not know which half it was. The point is that if that man weighed 140 lb., half that man would weigh 70 lb., and if we want a comparison, that is equivalent to a five-ton crane lifting a bottle of beer.

These are the kinds of factors which affect the cases which are in the pipeline, and which I have to decide upon. In the case that I have just mentioned it would pay us to give the man a motor car and close the line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Half a motor car".] Well, we could give him an invalid motor car. This would still pay from the point of view of the taxpayer, and it would give the man concerned the social service he is now getting. Everybody would gain.

Mr. Watkins

Which way would that motorist go? There are no roads alongside the line.

Mr. Marples

He could get to his destination by road, not necessarily along the line.

Mr. Watkins

He could not.

Mr. Marples

Oh, yes, he could. People are travelling that way now.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydfil) rose——

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Davies

The Minister ought to have the grace to give way. This is a constituency point.

Mr. Marples

I have given way to one hon. Member on this point.

Mr. Davies

On a point of order. When a Minister makes pointed references in trying to capitalise upon his own shortcomings, and deals with the constituency of an hon. Member—as he has been doing—should not he have the grace to give way to the hon. Member? He has been dealing with my constituency.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Marples

A line that runs for 107 miles runs through many hon. Members' constituencies.

I want to try to summarise the stages by which we are trying to work. First, the original studies will be completed about the end of this year. They will give us the hard facts on which to base our decisions. Secondly, the facts which emerge will be published in a presentable form to the nation, which is the owner of the railways. Thirdly, the Transport Commission cannot finalise its detailed plan now; it can do so only after the studies themselves have been finalised. Fourthly, the Commission will present its plans to the Government, and, fifthly, the Government will then make their views known.

I want to make one last point. Hon. Members opposite have always said that they believe that the railways should be a social service and should not be governed by economic necessity or criteria. That has been said frequently. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) recently said, in a broadcast, that the railways should be free to everybody.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

We have said over and over again—and one day it will penetrate even the mind of the Minister—that there are many aspects of the railways which form a social need.

Mr. Marples

That is all very well, but that is not what the hon. Member for Romford said. He said that they should be free.

Mr. Mellish

He was speaking for himself.

Mr. Marples

Perhaps he was, but it is a fact that in connection with the social and economic aspects of the railways we have two distinct schools of thought. Some people, such as the hon. Member for Romford, say that the railways should be free to everybody. He sincerely holds that view. But that would mean that the rich people would travel free and the old-age pensioners would pay through taxation. On the other hand, people on the extreme Right say, in effect, that everything must pay, and that if something does not pay it should be lopped off ruthlessly, with no alternative form of transport being provided. That is the other extreme.

It is clear to me—and I hope that it is clear to the House and the country—that when the Commission's plan is presented to the Government any decision to solve passenger problems which is not based on a normal commercial approach must be done by way of a political decision—which is the responsibility of the Government. The Government will take that decision, and only the Government can take it. But the Government will be able to take it, naturally, only after the detailed plan and its repercussions have been studied.

I repeat, to all hon. Members, that present speculation as to which line or which station is to be closed is premature. The Commission does not know, and the Government do not know. I have no doubt that there are many people in Fleet Street who know, and that many people in Transport House seem to know, but we simply do not know, and we cannot answer criticisms until the detailed plan is published.

That is the particular plan. But, in general, we are bound to have radical changes in shifting our railway system and methods from the horse and buggy age to this aeroplane and internal combustion age. That is bound to happen whether we like it or not. The railways will have to slim their shape by using better equipment for carrying suitable goods and, at the same time, requiring fewer men.

This brings us to the very thorny problem of redundancy. It is a difficult one to solve in any society. There are conflicting interests. In the interests of the State and of modern industry, men should move as freely as possible from older declining industries to newer, expanding industries. Otherwise, we shall be doomed to make no progress whatsoever.

Mr. G. Elfed Davies (Rhondda, East)

So the Minister is cutting down the railways.

Mr. Marples

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen. Many men, naturally, are reluctant to move. It is not only a question of cash compensation. That does not cover everyone——

Mr. Manuel

It may be employers.

Mr. Marples


Some men have sunk their roots in a particular locality. Their children go to school there and the parents are reluctant to interrupt the education of their children. Perhaps the wife's parents live nearby and they may be in bad health. I have studied some of the human problems which arise. I find that there are many difficulties which men face when either they are made redundant or have to shift their place of employment from one part of the country to another. The difficulties are many and varied and they are intensely human.

I see that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) is in the Chamber. He knew my father very well. My father was a man who was reluctant to move. I often asked him to move to another job where he would make more money, so that then he could give his son more pocket money. But he never did. He would not move because he belonged to a local bowling club where they played crown green bowls—a very much superior method of bowling to that practised in the South, where the game is much cruder. My father would not move from that little club for all the tea in China. We may think that attitude is irrational, but the fact is that we cannot get such men to move. They may have joined a local club—probably the Conservative club if they are good workers—[HON. MEMBERS "Oh."]—and then they vote Liberal, at Orpington especially.

This is an intensely human problem which will present union leaders with a great deal of difficulty. But let us get the picture in focus. Take the railway staff as a whole. It numbers about 500,000 and about 110,000 are in the railway workshops. Overall, the net reduction of staff was less than 1 per cent. in 1960 and 2.7 per cent. in 1961. But wastage is running at about 16 per cent. a year. Because of changes of jobs within the railway service the real figure may be a little less. Recruitment is about 13 per cent., so that there would be some scope for dealing with redundancy by limiting recruitment, though this is complicated by staff shortages in particular grades or areas. It may also be possible to do a great deal by reallocating and retraining staff within the industry, but there will be problems all the same, whatever we do or try to do.

I have talked a great deal about it to the Chairman of the Transport Commission. Already, there are in existence redundancy agreements between the B.T.C. and the unions. These are being looked at to see whether they are appropriate for what is likely to happen during the next few years. The Government believe that there must be fair financial arrangements, and that provision for redundancy is something which deserves, and should get, the closest attention of those concerned on both sides of industry. It is right that the nationalised industries should be good employers and set a good example. I am confident that the Commission will be able to reach agreement with its staff on arrangements which are fair and reasonable on both sides.

The Government are also concerned with the wider aspect. We have to be concerned with what happens to people who have to find new jobs outside the industry—about where and how usefully they can be employed. After all, in this as in other spheres our aim is to see that every man has the chance to make the best contribution he can in the place where it will do the most good. If times change and fewer men are needed on the permanent way or the footplate, there are plenty of other industries crying out for recruits. We are considering how industrial training can best be provided. We accept it as the task of Government and employers to ease the transition and so make possible the most economic and effective use of the manpower of the country.

I wish now to turn to another theme. Within a more compact railway system there is a need for greater productivity and the more efficient use of assets. I am quite certain that if hon. Members will look at paragraph 62 in the second chapter of the Commission's Report they will find that greater productivity is mentioned and the question of work study is dealt with. I will not read it out, but the reference is there. It is not only a question of work study and the men. It is also a question of management and the more efficient use of assets and of the tools at their disposal. I will give two examples.

British Railways have generally obtained an average time in traffic of about nine hours per day from steam locomotives. The diesel locomotive costs three or four times as much as a steam locomotive—it costs about £100,000 that is, one of comparable power. It can give an availability of about 20 hours a day. If management so arranges it that a diesel is idle, the result is much more serious than had it been a steam train which was idle. Therefore, it is up to management to utilise these expensive diesels as much as possible.

In 1961, the Commission had nearly one million freight-carrying vehicles which did only about 30 journeys in a year. That is not good enough. They must do more. It was largely due to a method of operation which depends upon the wagon rather than on the train as the unit of movement. This point is brought out in Chapter I of the Commission's Report. It is a pattern of operation which leads to long and irregular transit times as well as to a poor turnround. It must be altered if they are to be made to pay.

I wish to conclude with a reference to the study of transport as a whole as a long-term project and this will add to the reply I made earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). We are getting a lot of help from the transport industry, not only the nationalised part but from people in Europe, and so on. I think it essential to have the best possible forecasts of the demands of industry and trade and to see what they mean in terms of transport. Sir Robert Hall, who, until recently, was Chief Economic Adviser to the Government, is supervising this work on my behalf. He has been doing so for several months. There is a small, informal group of people, and when it has reached its conclusions I will have to make decisions—or a future Transport Minister will have to do so—about transport planning, investment, and so on.

We cannot work in isolation. There are Government Departments and others who are interested. I am hopeful that results will emerge from this, but I should not like to forecast what will happen. It is a mammoth job which has never been undertaken before.

Whatever may be the final plan for the shape of the railways I hope that the House will agree that our method of tackling the problem is reasonably sound and businesslike, fair and practical. I hope that no one will pronounce judgment on what we are to do if that judgment is based on rumour. Rumour is often wild and sometimes it can be malicious. I believe that we have made a great effort. I know that the Chairman of the Commission has. I have here an extract from the Daily Mirror, referring to Dr. Beeching as a formidable man. As Chairman of the British Transport Commission—the hottest chairman's chair in the country—he is the right man in the right job. They don't come any better. Dr. Beeching has a most unenviable task. He deserves the support of the House. He certainly gets my support. As the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) once said, he is our last hope. Well, he may be, but I think that he is a great hope. We are making a great effort and I shall rest content if we are judged on the ultimate plan. I ask no more than that.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

We have listened to a very interesting speech from the Minister of Transport. I think that the House will agree that we were right, in spite of the fact that we have been discussing transport, and particularly railways, frequently in the past few months, to ask for a further debate on this subject today.

In view of the latest Report from the British Transport Commission and the great anxiety in the country about the future of the railways, any light which can be thrown on the subject by the Minister is welcome. The House will agree that it is also desirable that while the future of the railways is still undecided and the situation is fluid Parliament, which represents the general public interest and not only that of the railways, should express its view and perhaps influence the Government in making their decisions.

The Minister said much of interest. Some of his statements were statements of the obvious. We were well aware of many of the facts he told us—that some branch lines lose money and that the railways carry a great deal of traffic which they ought not to carry, while there is a great deal of traffic which now goes on the roads which they ought to carry. I wish that he had continued on that last point further and told us how he or Dr. Beeching propose that the traffic which ought to be on the railways and is now on the roads is to be transferred to the railways from the roads.

It seems that that could be done in only one of three ways—by Government measures such as are carried out in varying degree on the Continent, by some restriction on C licences, or by a considerable reduction in freights which the railways are now asking for these traffics. If the reduction in freights were considerable, carrying these goods by rail might not then be a profitable transaction. Until we can have some clarification of this proposal by the Minister we shall not be very much wiser.

The main burden of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was a plea to the House not to accept the rumours and prophecies put forward by experts and authorities about the future shape of the railways, and not to accept the suggestions that particular areas will have all their railway facilities cut off. As no such decisions had yet been taken, he asked us to ignore those rumours.

The first thing I say to him on that is that those rumours have been given currency for the greater part in Conservative newspapers. If one read particularly the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph recently one would find that their traffic experts have been putting forward the most alarming pictures of the wholesale closing of railways throughout the British Isles. I suggest that the first thing the right hon. Gentleman ought to do is to tell the editors of papers which, broadly, support his party to stop putting those rumours out. Most of them come from those sources.

Another aspect of these rumours is important. It seemed that the Minister was saying, Dr Beeching has told us on many occasions, and he tells us in this Report, that there is to be a drastic closing down and curtailment of railway services. "The Minister has also told us that on many occasions. He did so during the debates on the Transport Bill. But now he is saying," Do not bother about the application of this drastic curtailment and wholesale closing down as that may alarm some people. The final decision is with the Government." He wants to divorce himself from the consequences of the principles he has been enunciating.

No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is doing that because he has in mind that before long there will be a General Election. If people believe that the effect of the policy he and Dr. Beeching have been advocating will be a wholesale closing down of services in their areas, they might vote against his party. I do not think it wholly honest of the right hon. Gentleman to say, as he has said, that he is determined to make the railways pay, that profitability is the only thing which will count in the future, and statements of that sort which I could quote if necessary, but add, "No one need worry about the consequences of all this as we have not settled exactly what those consequences will be. Every proposal has to come up individually and be decided by the Minister; no one need be alarmed at all at the moment."

I do not think that that is the true position. I think that many people in large areas of the country have every right to be alarmed, not by the selective cutting out of services which are wholly un economic and not much used, but by the Government adopting the attitude, that the element of public service is no longer to be considered as part of the railways purpose. If that means anything at all, it means that the railway closures and curtailments of services will be very extensive, and the only thing the Minister will have in mind in making decisions is, "How and to what extent can I cut services in order to reduce losses on the railways?"

If that is the sole consideration, many people in Scotland, Wales and South-West England have every right to be alarmed and would be foolish if they were not.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Speaking on behalf of the Opposition, does the right hon. Member accept that where we could clearly switch from rail to road either in the case of freight or in the case of passenger services, it would be right for the Corn-mission and the Government to take that course? Or is he saying that a rail —because he stressed that word—service is the test of social need? Or does he look at the matter as transport as a whole?

Mr. Strauss

If the hon. Member will permit me, I propose to deal with that suggestion later and also with the problems of transferring from road to rail.

However, before I consider the road-rail problem, I wish to say a word or two about the Report in general. It is inevitable that emphasis has been given in the Report and in Press comments on it to the railway losses and the steps which are proposed to reduce them. As a result, little publicity has been given to the bulk of the matter in the Report, which is a record of considerable achievement effected by the railways and the other B.T.C. services during the year.

That is a pity, because if people are unaware of that side of the picture they get the impression that the publicly-owned transport services are a failure, whereas in fact, as everyone who has read the Report in full knows, that is the reverse of the truth. Considered simply on a profit and loss basis, the B.T.C. services, except the railways and inland waterways, made a profit. They had a working surplus of £34 million last year and the £87 million working loss on railways was the result of factors completely beyond the control of the B.T.C. and factors which equally affected railway systems in other countries.

If the activities of the B.T.C. are to be measured, apart from the financial aspect, by the test of progress and improving services to industry and the public, then, bearing in mind that since the beginning of the war and for fifteen years after the war very little expenditure took place in buying new rolling stock or modernising the system, it can fairly be said that the record redounds to the credit of the Commission, its technical staff and its employees. That does not mean that anyone can contemplate with equanimity the present state of efficiency of the railways. They have a very long way to go before they are as good as they ought to be and could be.

But let us not regard the railways, because of the financial problems which confront them, as an inefficient and down-and-out industry. They give a fine service, rapidly increasing in capacity to handle well and swiftly freight and passengers as the modernisation plan takes effect. The problem before us is what steps should be taken to adapt the railways to modern conditions and whether the Government's approach to the problem is the correct approach. We have to ask whether the Government are right in considering the profitability of the railways in isolation rather than against the background of what is best in the widest national interest.

We are confronted with the very heavy losses which the railways are making every year. The optimism which heralded the launching of the modernisation plan—optimism expressed by the Commission and supported by the Government—has proved to be unfounded. It was never shared on this side of the House. If the Parliamentary Secretary is in any doubt about it, I will quote various speeches in which we expressed the view that rising costs and, in particular, inevitably rising wages would prove the optimistic forecast to be false. That has happened, but I admit that neither we nor anyone else envisaged the heavy fall in mineral and other heavy traffics which subsequently developed and which, together with the increase in C licences and private motoring, has brought about the present continuing heavy losses.

The Government first tried to deal with the matter by a series of loan-making schemes to the Transport Commission, hoping thereby to avoid having to make a frank subsidy to the railways. Those schemes became so top-heavy and complex that they had to be abandoned, and now the Government have brought forward various drastic proposals. One has been the complete reconstruction of the capital structure of the railways and the Transport Commission. That proposal was accepted by everybody as being wise and inevitable. The Government then proceeded, through the introduction of the Transport Bill, to break up such integration of the publicly-owned transport services as existed in the B.T.C. and to decree that all railway services which did not pay their way, or were unlikely to do so, would be closed down.

To this end, they appointed Dr. Beeching Chairman of the B.T.C. No one can complain of his lack of energy, enthusiasm and ability in carrying out the assignment entrusted to him. In the B.T.C. Report, Dr. Beeching tells us more fully and frankly than ever before the extent of the railway shutdown which he envisages and the reasons which make it necessary for him to adopt this policy. We ought to be grateful to him for stating his attitude so frankly.

I do not want to quote many passages from the Report, as I assume that most hon. Members have read it, but in paragraph 20 he says: It must again be emphasised that stopping trains have long ceased to be the most suitable form of transport for the traffic for which they cater. In the interests of the railways as a whole, most of these services should be discontinued as quickly as possible. He goes on to suggest in other paragraphs that stopping trains and branch lines should be eliminated as rapidly as possible. The argument which he uses is that if we eliminate services which do not pay, the general losses on the railway will be less. That is obvious. We all know that. It is no profound thought, and we do not need dither Dr. Beaching OT the studies which he has set up to tell us that. it is a truth which would apply equally to all transport services—including bus services —and the Post Office. They all have parts of their services which do not pay.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

They do not all make enormous losses.

Mr. Strauss

In all these services there are parts which do not pay, but the public and all parties have considered in the past that in any important service it is desirable that the non-paying parts should continue to operate and that, if possible, the losses should be borne by the paying parts.

We are now told that the railways are to be the one service in which the nonpaying parts are to shut down, because the railways as a whole lose money. That does not seem to us to be an adequate reason. If these services are important they should either be maintained or a full and adequate substitute service run in their place. Often this will not be possible.

The closing down of some non-paying parts of the railways will of course improve the appearance of the Commission's balance sheet, but there are other national aspects of doing this. For example, the effect on those people who at present use the service. Heavy costs are likely to be involved in providing alternative transport services, new roads and road widening, in many areas. There is the damage which may be done to the industrial and other development projects in areas such as those where there are flourishing tourist centres, as in the South-West. There is the fundamental question of the extent to which closures are to be considered in the broad context of national planning, as they should be.

There is no mention of these other social factors in Dr. Beeching's Report, and there is no reason why there should be, as they are not his responsibility. But they are the Government's responsibility, and the responsibility of this House, and it is for us to see—and this is the burden of my speech—that these other important social aspects are given full and proper weight when decisions are made to alter the shape and functions of the British Railways.

Dr. Beeching's proposals may be divided into two. One is the cutting down or elimination of a large part of the traffic at present borne by the railways—the small consignments which he tells us do not pay. We do not dispute his argument that they lose a lot of money. In future, that traffic will presumably go by road. I suppose that that will be done by the Railways Board either refusing to take these consignments, as it will be entitled to do under the Transport Bill, or by putting up freights to such an extent as to make the transport of these goods prohibitive. They will be forced on to the roads. One effect will be that the cost of carrying these goods will rise substantially and their ultimate cost to the consumer will rise.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Has not the right hon. Gentleman forgotten a third possibility? Under Clause 4 of the Bill before Parliament the Railways Board has the right to run its own services, and it could extend its collection and delivery service.

Mr. Strauss

I am well aware of that. I do not know whether it is suggested that freight which is now being carried by British Railways and which does not pay will pay if it is carried by road on their own lorries at the same freight charges. I do not think that it will.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

It could easily.

Mr. Strauss

I should be interested to be told how. If that is so, I do not know why such freight is not carried on British Railways' lorries at the moment. This is a proposal to do something that I assumed the railways were not doing and could not do at the moment.

Anyhow, it must be agreed—this is my point—that there will be an immense amount of additional freight traffic on the roads. Amongst other things, this will inevitably mean that there will be greater road congestion in both rural and urban areas, with all the delay, frustration and inefficiency which this involves. This, in its turn, will lead inevitably to an irresistible demand in many areas for new roads and schemes for widening other roads, with a consequent heavy expenditure of public funds.

To what extent have these costs been taken into account in considering the general plans for cutting down rail facilities? It is not only the actual costs, which may be considerable, arising from the need to make new roads and widen other roads. It is the very serious social disadvantage of badly increased congestion on many roads. Moreover, the building of new roads and the widening of existing roads in many areas will destroy existing amenities.

The same consequences of increased traffic on the roads, more road congestion, more accidents, and a greater demand for road widening and building, will follow from the substitution of road transport for passengers in areas where lines are to be closed. The cutting down of passenger services and the elimination of stopping trains will have an even more direct and dire effect on the public in the areas where the closures are to take place. It is no answer to say that an increasing number of people now travel by car or motor cycle and it does not matter terribly if railway facilities are withdrawn. Only a minority of the population can travel by car or motor cycle.

Nor is it a complete answer to say that the existing rail services can be replaced by buses. This can be done in some areas, but unless these areas are provided with buses which have a full frequency of service and charges which will not place an unreasonable fare burden on those who use the buses, nothing satisfactory will be achieved. It is unfair on people who have gone to certain areas because these had rail services to have them withdrawn and suddenly have to pay three or four times more in fares to go to and from work than people have to pay in other areas and much more than they expected to pay when they went there.

Mr. Rees-Davies

This is the economics of Bedlam. Is it the right hon. Gentleman's case that people living in the centre of towns, where there is a tremendous turnover, should be expected to pay as much as those who live in the depths of the country and travel the same distance? People who choose to live in country districts must recognise that transport is one of their highest expenses, higher than if they lived in towns. People living in towns pay more for their vegetables and everything else.

Mr. Strauss

The hon. Gentleman has little imagination. He does not think of the person living in a country area who now travels by train every day and spends, say, 15s. a week on train fares to get to and from his work who may suddenly have to use a bus service which costs him £2 or £3 a week. That is not funny.

To maintain a bus service and make it viable it is possible that very substantial fares will have to be charged. I said that substitute bus services must charge fares which are not unreasonably high and which do not place a new and unfair burden on those who have been deprived of railway services for reasons beyond their control. We must, moreover, ensure that substitute bus services run at times which are convenient, in the sense that they enable workers to go to their work and come from their work at the times they need to do so.

Neither the Labour Party, nor the railway unions, nor anybody else has opposed in principle the closing of stations or branch lines where there is a strong case for doing so. Obviously, there is always local opposition, which should be heard, but in principle we have never opposed this policy. Indeed, we recognise the necessity for closing many lines which are used by few people and which are wholly uneconomic.

However, Dr. Beeching is contemplating something quite different. He has said—the same thing has been echoed in ministerial speeches—that everything that does not pay should be shut down—never mind the social consequences; they are not his responsibility; somebody else must take care of those. I do not know, any more than the Minister or anybody else knows, what the consequences will be.

We can only use our common sense. If, as has been threatened, services which do not pay or do not show any prospect of paying—these are the words which have been frequently used—are to be cut down, we can only estimate what the consequences are likley to be. We know that in areas such as Scotland, Wales and the south-west of England the consequences will be very severe indeed. The general manager of the Scottish Region has said that out of 2,700 daily passenger trains 2,000 are at present running at a loss and these will, according to the general statement made by Dr. Beeching, presumably be closed.

Mr. G. Wilson

Nothing of the sort has been said. The right hon. Gentleman is forgetting the White Paper, The Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries, Cmnd. 1337. The right hon. Gentleman should remember the statement in paragraph 32: To the extent that commercially unprofitable activities are subsequently imposed from outside, a board "— of a nationalised industry— would be entitled to ask for an adjustment of its financial objectives. It does not follow that because a line in the north of Scotland does not pay it will be closed.

Mr. Strauss

Of course it does not follow. I say that closure is threatened.

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Strauss

Because we have been told that the principle in which Dr. Beeching believes, with the support of the Government, is the closure and elimination of lines that do not pay. Most of the lines in Scotland, Wales and England do not pay. I therefore say that closure is threatened.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

In this very building Dr. Beeching said categorically, "My job is to make the railways pay". I am using almost his exact words." If a line does not pay, I am not obliged to run it. That is a political decision and the Government must make that political decision or subsidise me". He is clear about that. What we do not know is whether the Government are prepared to subsidise it.

Mr. Strauss

The Minister himself has said that it is his job to make the railways pay and he is determined to do so. The emphasis in all his speeches has been on that point. He has said so over and over again.

I can understand the alarm of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), because there are areas, such as those he represents, where the closing of branch lines, which is threatened—I do not put it any higher than that—will have the most grave consequences. I am thinking of the great tourist industry there. It will be impossible to substitute bus services for train services in areas like Devon and Cornwall, which, I believe, have more holiday resorts than any other part of the country. Nearly all these resorts are at the end of branch lines and it would be impossible to carry the thousands of holiday makers who go to these resorts in the summer by buses along the narrow Devonshire lanes. If branch lines there are to be closed down wholesale, it means the crippling, if not the death, of most of the tourist industry in that part of the country.

Those of us who speak from this side of the House have been asked whether we are prepared to accept the continuation of a subsidy on the present scale with the burden that it imposes on the taxpayer. I think the answer to that question is quite simple. We believe, as everybody else does, that the losses should be reduced so far as it is practicable to do so, provided that this does not seriously interfere with the essential services rendered by the railways. We believe that as the modernisation plan progresses—there is still an immense amount to be done to make our railways fully efficient—losses could be cut down. We warmly support the many proposals for making better use of productive resources and for increasing efficiency on the railways, both at headquarters or in local operations, which the British Transport Commission is contemplating and putting in hand. We believe that there can be a substantial reduction in losses through those means.

We are prepared to accept the need for cutting dawn further losses by same elimination of existing services. But we believe very definitely that a measure of subsidy is better than inflicting the social and economic consequences which would result from the scale of closures which Dr. Beeching and the Government appear to be contemplating.

Subsidies are never desirable in themselves but they are often necessary. It has been long accepted by all parties in the House that certain services and industries essential to the national interest should receive subsidies from the taxpayers. There are, for example, housing and agriculture. No one who believes that a good railway system is as essential to the nation's good as an energetic house building programme, or a prosperous agricultural industry, can object, in principle, to paying such subsidy to the railways as may be necessary to enable them to serve the nation effectively, and to pay proper remuneration to its servants.

Road competition has put the railways here, on the Continent and in the United States in the red. We have to face that fact, as it is being faced in almost all other countries, that if railways systems are to be maintained they can only be maintained out of public subsidies. The railways are essential not only from an industrial point of view but for national defence. All Governments recognise that need. Recently, President Kennedy proposed to Congress the granting of an initial subsidy of 500 million dollars to help the American railways. We believe that a subsidy is better than cutting down a large part of the services which now form an essential part of industrial and national life.

I want to ask the Minister one question about an aspect of the Transport Bill. It may be a detailed point, but I think that it is of some importance. He told us that one advantage of the Transport Bill would be that it would improve the railways prospects by giving them greater commercial freedom than before, and that one of the benefits that will flow from greater commercial freedom is the right of the Railways Board to make whatever freight charges it likes and to make bargains with consignors, unrestricted by any published list of charges.

Whether this is a good or bad thing, surely it conflicts with the provisions of the Rome Treaty which prohibits secret arrangements with individual firms on freight rates. If, therefore, as the Government hope, we join the Common Market, will not much of these anticipated advantages of commercial freedom disappear? I understand that difficulties have already arisen with the steel industry, which, in anticipation of entering into the Coal and Steel Community, are arranging to offer their products in future for delivery at certain selected basing points. Any information that the Minister can offer on this matter will be welcome. It would be a strange situation if one of the promised advantages of the Road Transport Bill were in fact to disappear as a result of our entry into the Common Market.

As for the other and main proposals of the Transport Bill, the breaking up of the British Transport Commission, disintegrating the elements under its control into wholely separate and independent units, linked only by an ineffectual and powerless advisory council, we on this side of the House are convinced that this will be entirely harmful. We have expressed our views on this on numerous occasions while the Bill was passing through the House, and I do not want to repeat them. It has been the Government's admitted intention to isolate railway administration from all other interests, including the bus services, which the B.T.C. at present control in whole or in part. This is surely a foolish thing to do when the proposed large-scale withdrawal of train services is to be accompanied, as it must be, by substituting bus services.

These bus services, I would remind the House, are in future to be the responsibility of a completely independent body, the Holding Company. The many private bus companies which previously, because of the shares owned by the B.T.C. had railway nominees on their boards, will no longer have them. These private companies have protested vigorously at the break up of the valuable co-ordination which this withdrawal will involve, and in fact they did all they could during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill to induce the Government to allow the minority shareholding, now held by the B.T.C., to go to the proposed Railway Board and not to the Holding Company. But the Government were adamant and the Minister was not prepared to agree to any modification of the splintering process on which he had set his heart.

This deliberate divorce of railway and bus services at a time when road and rail co-ordination is obviously more important than ever is, we suggest, a proof of the truth of our contention, as stated in our Amendment, that … Government action has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation. Among our other reasons for criticising the Government's general attitude to transport in recent years is a matter that is referred to in the Transport Commission's Report, and which came up at Question time today. I refer to the Government's continuing refusal to sanction the Victoria—Walthamstow extension of the London Underground. That is an extension which, in the opinion of every expert body that has considered it—including a body presided over by a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent)—is urgently required, and which, in spite of the large costs involved, is justified by the relief it would afford to road congestion.

The Minister's own London Travel Committee reported to him in July, 1959, in these words: The Victoria line deserves, we think, the highest possible priority, and we have no hesitation in putting forward our recommendation that it should be built, and a start made on construction in the very near future. In spite of that, the Minister has refused, and his predecessors have refused, to give a decision.

The right hon. Gentleman has given one excuse after another, often quite fatuous excuses which change every few months, for postponing a decision on the matter. He has said today that it will cost a lot of money, and when he said that there were loud cheers from his colleagues behind him. Money is found for road building, very largely, I believe, because there has been a very strong pressure group which has influenced the Government and made them embark on a road programme, of which I fully approve, costing between £100 million and £200 million a year over the next few years.

The Victoria scheme is likely to cost about £8 million a year over the seven years it will take to construct the line. Of course it is expensive, but every authority says that this construction would give greater relief to London's transport than anything else. But the Minister and his colleagues, and the Treasury, say, "No, it will cost money." They cannot object to road congestion in London if they refuse to start this construction, which would bring so much relief.

Indeed, the responsibility for road congestion in that part of London where the line would operate is the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, as he and his colleagues refuse to take the steps which every expert says are the right steps to take to solve the problem. Sooner or later, that line will be built, and when the decision is finally made it is certain that the cost will be very much more than it would have been had the decision to build it been made many years ago.

The Government's attitude in this matter is in marked contrast with the far more progressive and energetic policies being pursued in most European countries to avoid congestion in their cities and countryside. Many of us who have had the opportunity of visiting them have seen and admired the extraordinary steps that they have taken, and the enormous expenditure which they think is justified —far bigger, comparatively, than the expenditure we are undertaking in this country—to relieve congestion in their cities—and especially in their capital cities. It is all the more shameful that the Government should for so many years have refused to come to a decision on this new line.

Our charge against the Government—and our Amendment is very definitely a charge—is twofold. The first is that in the eleven years during which they have been responsible for the publicly-owned transport services they have hindered rather than helped the development of those services. Their first act, typical of many subsequent ones, was to sell to private interests a large part of the remunerative long-distance road haulage service that the Transport Commission had built up, and was beginning to operate.

Again, during those eleven years the Government have frequently interfered with the Commission's freight- and fare-raising proposals, each time to the Commissioner's financial detriment. On one occasion, the Government ordered a slowing down of the Modernisation Plan —again to the Commission's detriment. All these things have contributed to—I do not say that they are responsible for —the present unviable position of the railways. And now, when the maximum road-rail liaison is obviously more desirable than ever, they introduce a measure to break up such liaison as exists.

Our other charge is the Government's complete abandonment of the concept of British Railways as a national service. The Minister likes to hedge, to deny, to say, "Wait and see." He says that nobody knows what he has in mind, but we do know what he has in mind, as he has stated it explicitly on several occasions. During the Report Stage of the Transport Bill on 17th April the Minister said that the railways could no longer be regarded as a milch cow torn between consideration of public service and profitability. I do not think that he can deny the implication that public service is no longer a consideration that should be borne in mind, but only profitability. We know that that is the Government's view, and it is an understandable one, although we think it a wrong view.

Increased congestion on the roads and worsening of the rush hour delays; the cost of extensive road widening and road building; consequential destruction of amenities; personal hardships to countless individuals who depend on the train services, and the general damage that will be done to many large communities and industries—all these are to be given no consideration at all.

There is a deep division between the two sides of the Committee on these matters, and we believe that public opinion is with us. The only consolation that I can derive from the situation is that if Dr. Beeching and the Minister of Transport proceed to implement to the full their present policies—accompanied, as they have threatened, with the maximum fare increases that passengers can be made to nay—they will be making a significant contribution to the defeat of the Government in the next General Election.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

The original Question was, That this House takes note of the Reports and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1960, since when an Amendment has been moved——

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

On a point of order. I did not hear the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) move the Amendment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Strauss

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought that I had moved the Amendment at the beginning of my speech, but, if not, I beg now to move to add at the end of the Question: but regrets that Government action has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

After all the alarm and despondency sounded by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), I was not at all sure whether he meant it all when he did not move his own Amendment. I felt that, perhaps, he was restrained by the engine drivers and railwaymen behind him who, perhaps, did not understand it or agree with it either. We have heard the pattern of alarm over the withdrawal—or the alleged withdrawal —of services, of which we have yet no information, which would make the complaint of the 1830s when these services were taken into the depth of the countryside sound quite pale in comparison. We have heard talk of reduced amenities in the countryside because the roads there are to be made fit to carry motor transport.

We can compare that with what Dr. Dionysius Lardner said when the Box Tunnel was put through; that the air pressure would be so great that it would kill people, that the belching flame and smoke would destroy the complexions of the happy milkmaids and, by making the cows run about, would sour the milk. That is the same sort of alarm and despondency sounded by the conservative element when a time of change is on the country. Today, the conservative element is on the other side of the House.

I would commend to the Committee the Report which, in its clarity, is quite excellent—and particularly Chapter I. It is a splendid Report ——

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

The hon. Gentleman has not read it.

Mr. Webster

I have read it—and I have even discussed it in the corridor with the hon. Gentleman, and have recommended him to read it.

Mr. Steele

The hon. Member may have read the Report, but perhaps he has not understood it, because paragraph 23 contradicts what he says: It states: This does mean, however, a drastic reshaping of the railway system …

Mr. Webster

Paragraph 23 also says —it is commendable to note—that the fast and semi-fast passenger services and freight services, such as the Condor, will with opportunity pay their way. I have read the paragraph and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read beyond it.

One should not forget that there is this year a deficit of £122 million of taxpayers' money. It is a deficit which has been increasing since 1953 at the rate of about £15 million each year. The fact that that has occurred at the same time that the "C" licence was granted is, I think, an excellent thing because it has shown with absolute clarity where this loss is being made. If this had not been so that loss would have been concealed behind hidden figures. We know that the loss occurs, and it is an excellent thing that that fact should be well and truly known. It is extremely alarming to find that this deficit which was £101million last year, and £69 million this year, is in interest rates. Unless we get it under control this growing burden will continue to increase each year.

There is a £53 million loss, being the difference between an £87 million loss on the railways themselves—and that is the brute fact that comes out in the Report—and a £34 million surplus in other activities. I welcome that surplus and the fact that it has increased, though there are one or two things that I shall have to say about it. It is also a special loss this year which ties up particularly with the change in the activity of the steel industry. That industry, as has industry in general, has gone over from stockbuilding to stock using.

The freight carried by the railway services which brings in twice as much revenue as passenger carrying has been hit particularly, because on the long-distance fast hauls they carry a very heavy bulk which can be quite remunerative. This has been particularly effective this year, as the Report shows: we should not confuse short and long-term cause and effect. It would be wrong to seek temporary cost savings at the expense of root causes. Studies have been made into the cost of each service and it has been brought out today—though hon. Members opposite tend to doubt that it was known—that stopping trains run at a loss. I go one step further and say that express trains are bringing in a revenue roughly double their costs and that they are the most economic part of the service. We should look at the most suitable and the cheapest source of business, at the traffic flow throughout the system in the country, in a competitive atmosphere giving the services freedom to charge their own prices and not to have to publish them so that the road hauliers can compete.

Mr. Mellish

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that all stopping trains ought to be abolished and ought not to be allowed to run on the railway system?

Mr. Webster

Not necessarily, but I want to develop that. I was talking of freight.

We should depart from the old system which we have had ever since the inception of the railways when the truck was the main element. The truck went at an average speed of 1 m.p.h. throughout the system, as it still does today. It sets forth, maybe, from Central Ayrshire to Weston-super-Mare and goes banging about the railway system, hitched first to one train and then to another. That is a system which has to be changed.

There are advantages and disadvantages in the railway system. A railway system is a high-cost system, a high-capital cost system. It is a high revenue cost system to maintain and one which is not flexible, but it has the advantage that it is also, as shown in the Condor services and the revived Flying Scotsman and as a Scotsman in the West Country I am very pleased that the Flying Scotsman has clipped an hour off its time—a system which has high speed, high regularity and also a very high record of safety. Let us cash in on these advantages.

Let us not forget, as has been brought out in the Report, that when the railway systems were brought into the depths of the country, the complementary form of transport when one off-loaded at the railway station was the horse and buggy. When one took the consignment off the train one could only be served as far as the horse and cart could take one. Now, thank heavens, we have got into the twentieth century when we have fast-running complementary vehicles which can serve fast freight trains from Edinburgh to Glasgow down to the West Country. We do not hear so much about the road-railer any more. Let us have faster delivery services in the country. That is better than running a vast series of little railway stations up and down the country as a sort of national garden scheme. Lest us run them on a more businesslike basis.

Mr. Manuel

Does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate that, while all this is in the Report, he has picked it out completely wrongly? He is right, however, when he talks about every piffling stations gathering "smalls", but we also have fast freight trains fully equipped running these distances. When he talks about the north of Scotland, he cannot get a straight pull from the north of Scotland coming down to London.

Mr. Webster

I should like to see further emphasis placed on this type of service and also on the speed of the railway service and the flexibility of the motor vehicle by having more car sleeper services. We in the West Country are benefiting from the car sleeper service which runs from Exeter and from another service which goes to Okehampton. I should like my right hon. Friend to tell me what revenues are being obtained from the car sleeper service going to the West Country. It is not only financially advantageous but it is also taking a great deal of traffic off the road.

Mr. G. Wilson

And to St. Austell.

Mr. Webster

My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) would like to have that service taken to St. Austell.

I should also like my right hon. Friend to tell me if he sees any possibility of increasing that sort of service in the West Country until we get its roads modernised.

I appreciate that of a total rail passenger revenue of £157 million compared with a freight revenue of £300 million, £90 million comes from fast and semi-fast services. It seems that the rest of the trains which are running at this big loss are not bringing in nearly sufficient revenue to keep this part of the service going. When the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) came in he made an ejaculation about a meeting which he had attended in the House with Dr. Beeching. He said that the railway system should be made to run at a profit and that if it did not run at a profit it should be left to the politicians to decide whether that part of it which did not was to be kept going as a social, military, defence or other form of service. I thought that an admirable proposition, and from the cheerful smile on the face of my right hon. Friend, he did also.

Regarding modernisation, I think that here again there was far too much rosy thinking at that time, because we are only now just beginning to see some of the benefits of it. In the Western Region, for example, we still have, over a large part of it, the dual running system, partly steam and partly diesel. With this system there must be two locomotive sheds, two types of locomotive staff to run on a steam roster and, as a result, we are not getting the benefits of this system.

In Crewe, Manchester, and Liverpool there are vast modernisation schemes in volving great expenditure. There are vast electrification schemes in progress, and the Report states that the Manchester, Exchange-Liverpool, Lime Street line was 67 per cent. up on its gross passenger revenue. But how much is the net amount of expenditure and how many more trains must be run to obtain a profit on top of that expenditure? That is the other side of the coin which I do not see recorded in the Report. The excellent figures for Chester and Birkenhead, where the percentage is up by 24 per cent., are also worth recording.

Like the right hon. Member for Vauxhall, I praise the railways for having 77 per cent. of their trains running on time. It is interesting to note that in June the figure was 85 per cent., and in December it was 61 per cent. In this connection, I wonder if our safety-in-fog precautions are as good as they have always been on the Western Region. One hears rumours about this matter and I would like to scotch them.

I will now leave the immediate subject of the railways and consider the ancillary trades that made a profit. We are told that the hotels made a net profit of £547,000. That is based on the book figure of the assets involved, totalling £9.4 million. The profit, therefore, represented a figure of 5 per cent.—but did it? When were the assets last revalued and what is their value today? Without knowing that we cannot assess the profit. We must discover the actual figure before patting ourselves on the back, though I appreciate that the figures have gone up materially in the last year.

We see that there has been a profit of £5.3 million on property—but what are the assets? They are stated to be £29 million and, if that figure is the one to be used, the profit represents an income of 16 per cent., which is very good. But it is a fact that these assets were taken on to the British Transport and various railway company books at varying valuations since 1832, when Mr. Huskisson was run over, and these valuations have not been changed. Therefore, they mean absolutely nothing.

One of the troubles of the British Transport Commission is the fact that the book value of these assets means utterly nothing. We are being browbeaten and brainwashed by the losses of millions of £s each year so that when we see a profit occurring we cannot tell whether it is, in fact, a real profit and what percentage of assets is employed to obtain it. I implore my right hon. Friend if we are to dispose of this property or revalue it for rental purposes, to ensure that the revaluation is extremely thorough, particularly before any property is disposed of.

I realise that I am sticking my neck out in putting forward this suggestion. One learns of the activities of the railway sites organisation, the intention of which is to benefit the nation from the running of these properties on an economic basis. One welcomes the activities of this organisation and it is certainly high time that its aim was achieved, particularly when one learns of the three marshalling yards at Peterborough, two of which are to be closed down. This represents excellent property in a big city. When marshalling yards of this type are thrown open some really excellent property becomes available.

I mention this because one is told that the property boom is likely to come to an end in 1964. If so, by the time the Bill becomes an Act at the end of this year Railway Sites Ltd. will be ready to dispose of some of the property about which I have been speaking. It will be doing so at a time when the boom will be coming to an end.

Could the Government explore the possibility of doing something along the lines of the property shares which are at present on the market and which are standing at a 2 per cent. yield? I am encouraged in this thought by the activities of B.O.A.C. and Cunard. Could the public be encouraged to take a share, with the railways, in the development of these properties before they are actually sold? This is a thought which requires some investigation and the idea I have in mind might be appropriate.

As to the rest of it, I will not argue along familiar lines. In many respects the railways run an excellent service and are much maligned. Many of the workers in this industry are disappointed men. I do not intend to become emotional about this but one often finds, when examining the affairs of public corporations or Government bodies, that while they are conducted by people of the highest integrity and enthusiasm—and I am sure my colleagues on the Estimates Committee will appreciate this—in many cases there is a commercial edge lacking in their activities.

In many instances it is appropriate that there should not be a commercial edge because they are, after all, not there to exploit the public. Nevertheless, they are using money provided by British taxpayers, who are the owners of the property involved. It is right that, sometimes, a commercial edge should be applied for the benefit of the public whom they serve.

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) closed his speech on a contradictory note. The tenor of the earlier part of his speech indicated that he was accusing the British Transport Commission of not getting a fair return, particularly from land and property, mainly because it was basing its activities on the wrong values. He ended his speech by saying that the Commission should not have a commercial edge on its undertakings. Thus at one point he said that the B.T.C. was not using enough commercial acumen to obtain sufficient profit and, in the next sentence, condemned it, saying that there should not be too much of a commercial edge.

Mr. Webster

I was simply qualifying my remarks by saying that while one does not want to see the British public being exploited, at the same time a little bit of commercial acumen on behalf of the owners might be a good thing.

Mr. Popplewell

It is good that the hon. Member should qualify what he had said previously. He had, earlier, condemned the B.T.C. for not utilising the through-brake services to a higher degree. A little thought would have made him realise that his own Government prevented the B.T.C. from going ahead and equipping many of its freight vehicles to apply the through-brake service.

It was his Government which stopped the modernisation plan regarding the building of marshalling yards and this was a big contributory factor concerning the running of these overnight through-brake services at express speeds from the north to the south of England. I shall return at some length to this problem later. First, I wish to dead with the melodramatic performance of the Minister. I thought that he was qualifying for a Palladium act to be screened on television one Sunday night. Many of the things he said in such a profoundly dramatic way really represented the old railway truths that have been known to railway managements over the ages and which they have been trying to bring about. The Minister, with his dead hand of Government, has deliberately stopped them doing that. He presented many of his ideas far what is required as though they were entirely new, as though they were matters requiring a special study group to advise upon them.

One can understand Dr. Beeching needing a special study group to advise him. He is the hired butcher from I.C.I. at £24,000 a year for five years, brought into the transport industry to remodel the service. Naturally, he does not know what should be done. He must have a study group to advise him. Gradually, but none the less surely, the old railway-minded people who know what is required in the service and who know what the nation needs for its transport system are being weeded out and removed from any connection with transport undertakings. The latest example is the retirement of Mr. Grand, a fine railway man with many years of service, a man who at one time was tipped as a possible future chairman of the British Transport Commission. He has now resigned at a much earlier age than would have been normal for him. People of this kind, witnessing the wrecking of their lifetime's endeavour as a result of what is being done by people brought in by the Minister himself, prefer to retire, being men of principle, rather than be associated with what is now going on.

We have heard a lot about the financial structure of the railways and the evidence in the 1961 accounts. I shall give my own version of the matter and show how some of the difficulties could be overcome. It is interesting to note that, if the Bill at present in another place becomes an Act and vesting date is 1st January, 1963, Dr. Beeching's Railways Board—we can tell him this without waiting for the report of his study group which he expects to receive by about next October—will have to face a deficit on its actual working of about £87 million, according to the 1961 accounts. It will have to turn the present deficit into a surplus. Over and above that, there will be its share of interest. At present, the British Transport Commission has to pay in interest and central charges no less than £109 million a year. This is the fantastic situation brought about by this Government since 1953. Out of those moneys, £38 million is transferred to the special account, which at present is held by the Government, so that that sum does not actually have to be paid over; but the fact remains that the present undertaking will have to face £68,611,000 in interest and central charges. This is part of the root cause of the trouble.

When vesting date comes, a truncated service, with Dr. Beeching as chairman of the Railways Board, will have to face its share of that £68 million interest which will be £49 million, and that, coupled with the deficit, will mean that, for the first year, it will have to find a total of £136 million. We have argued that this was impossible. I repeat what I have said many times in the House. It is a fantastic task, and we shall have to have another approach on the financial side because the burden is totally unrealistic.

This serious financial position has all arisen since 1953, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was honest enough to admit. Until that date, the British Transport Commission met all its interest charges and its working expenses and, moreover, was able to show a profit in 1951, 1952 and 1953. Since that time until the end of 1961, with the present Government's policy, an accumulated deficit of about£680 million has been created. The taxpayer has had to subsidise an undertaking which previously could make its own way. By the end of the year, that sum of £680 million will have increased to about £850 million.

Mr. G. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the date 1953. Does he recollect that in 1953 there were about 5 million vehicles on the roads and that there are now about 9 million?

Mr. Popplewell

The hon. Gentleman need not worry about that. I shall come to that with considerable effect, I hope, later on. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare touched on the point when he said that since 1953, when there was a profit, a deficit has accumulated co-incidentally with the development of the "C" licence. I shall deal with the matter of the long-distance "C" licence holder later, if the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) will contain his soul in patience.

In the new structure which is to come into being in January next, all the profitable side of the Commission's undertaking is to be hived off to separate boards or associated companies. The non-profitable section, including the operation of railway restaurant cars, will be left to the Railways Board. Hotels and refreshment rooms will be operated by a separate hotel undertaking. We all know what will happen to the profits there, if any. Although the assets will be in the hands of the Railways Board, any profits will go to the Exchequer. The profits of lucrative developments in the various other undertakings in which the Commission previously had a direct interest, the bus and ancillary services, will simply be handed over to the Holding Company or the bus companies themselves which will have separate articles of association and which, as such, may be subject to take-over bids or anything else which comes along. This is the background against which this whole matter must be viewed. It is a background prepared by the Tory Party. It is all part of Tory philosophy and policy.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare suggested that the Commission should show a little more commercial acumen, yet the first action which his Government took when they came to power in 1951 was to prevent the Commission from showing commercial acumen. It had to apply to the tribunal which dealt with transport charges, which gave it permission to increase fares in order to meet increasing costs. The first action as Prime Minister of that grand old man who is talked about so much, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), was to prevent the Commission from increasing fares in order to meet increased costs. There has been a lack of commercial acumen on the part of the Government by refusing to allow the people who know their job to meet their obligations.

Mr. Webster

The hon. Gentleman has gone a long way back into history. Let us get a little more up to date. In the last four years, passenger revenue has increased by 24 per cent. because of increased fares.

Mr. Popplewell

If we go further back, we see what has happened.

Mr. Webster

Come forward a little.

Mr. Popplewell

If we bring the story up to date, we see the backlog which has resulted from Government policy. We saw in the Select Committee in 1959 that the B.T.C. did not go to the Transport Tribunal as often as it should have done. The salutary lesson taught it by the Government's refusal to allow it to implement the increases agreed by the tribunal prevented it from doing so.

What are the Government's proposals to deal with this situation? Dr. Beeching has told us that the railways must attract more traffic, that they must decide which is the most profitable traffic and unload the unprofitable traffic in the hope eventually of recapturing it. He has said that more than once. He has also suggested that there will be made more branch line closures.

I was intrigued to hear the Minister talk down the possibility of the closure of branch lines. He indicated that Members should not go to him in deputations whenever there were rumours about the closure of branch lines. Dr. Beeching, this £24,000 butcher, went to Newcastle and spoke at a lunch given by the manufacturers. He said that he had to give serious consideration to the possibility of closing the North and South Tyneside electric railway because it was showing a loss. Is it any wonder that hon. Members become alarmed and lead deputations to the Minister in view of this sort of thing? Is it any wonder that when the Minister refuses to meet deputations they form their own opinions? My own city of Newcastle is pressing the Minister for a meeting because of the speech made by the Chairman of the Commission. Surely we cannot ignore what he said. He is receiving a salary which is one-third of the total salaries paid to all the members of the British Transport Commission. I put that on record so that note may be taken of it.

The Minister suggests that railway-minded people are averse to the need to face up to branch line closures. That is nonsensical. Since 1948, 301 branch lines have been closed and 3,600 miles of track have fallen into disuse. How can the Minister say that there has not been co-operation in the lopping off of unproductive services? There has been co-ordination in these matters because railway members face their obligations. These closures have amounted to an annual saving of only £4,300,000. In addition, about fourteen other branch lines have been closed in the first two months of this year and about forty other closures are being considered. With the additional closures, the annual saving is about £5 million.

Is the closure of branch lines the solution to the railways' problems? Taking into account the latest closures, there will be a saving of just over £5 million out of a total net revenue of £710 million. In view of this small saving, is it worth creating all this dismay and despondency in the north of Scotland, in the West Country and in Wales through branch line closures? In South Wales there is scarcely one branch line to be left. In Mid, North and West Wales, the curtailment of branch lines is absolutely terrific. The Minister may scoff and laugh when it is suggested that the whole of north Scotland may well be cut off by railway closures. As has been said, about 2,750 trains run in Scotland and over 2,000 of them are showing a loss. Will the Minister cut them out in order to add to this paltry saving of £5 million? It just does not bear thinking of, to say the least.

The Central Transport Consultative Committee greatly deplores these closures. In paragraph 10 of its Report, it states that, of the lines approved for closure in 1961, there were 18 major closures effecting savings of over £10,000 and 18 minor closures effecting a saving of less than £10,000. The Committee goes on to state: While it is certainly the case that there are still a considerable number of uneconomic lines which could be closed down to advantage, we continue to feel that too much stress is being laid on the results expected from this aspect of the `streamlining' of railways. The closure policy is sometimes spoken of as if it is one of the main solutions for the troubles of the Commission. It should be viewed in the proper perspective, and in relation to the whole picture. That is what I have been trying to do.

Last week I had the privilege of spending two days in the Keilder Forest, in the Border Country, and I saw the good work of the Forestry Commission. About 285 square miles of what was almost barren hill farming, non-productive country are being transformed into wonderful forest land which will have considerable capital value with the passage of time. There used to be a branch line in the area and people from the towns came to live in the small hamlet of 50 to 70 houses in the heart of the forest. Now that branch line has been closed. These people are isolated. The nearest centre of habitation is the town of Hexham to travel to which they have to pay a 10s. 4d. return bus fare about three times a week, the bus service being subsidised by the British Transport Commission. One cannot find out from the accounts of the Commission how much it has been spending each year on subsidising private bus companies. This is the picture we see today of the closing down of branch lines, at a saving which is negligible when compared with the financial undertakings of the Commission.

I have a list of all the branch lines which have been closed. As I said earlier, fourteen have been closed in two months this year. I was incorrect in saying that there were about forty proposals for closures. In fact, seventy-six proposals are already being considered. Yet the Minister says to us, "Do not do anything. Do not approach me. Do not bring deputations to see me. because I cannot do anything until such time as the study group issues its report." This seems to me to be complete nonsense.

Charges have been made of lack of co-operation on the part of the men who are engaged on the railways. Since the Commission took over in 1948 there has been a reduction of well over 150,000 in the number of employees. The manpower today stands at about 470,000 employees compared with well over 600,000 in 1948. Now we find in the new proposals that Dr. Beeching has implied that in addition to the closures I have already mentioned, with the closing of 3.600 miles of track, there are further proposals to close one-third of the remaining 18,000 miles of track.

If proposals involving the displacement of a further 150,000 railway employees are made, is it any wonder that the railway employees say that if such generous terms could be given to the former Chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, they, too, should be treated properly? Sir Brian Robertson received a handsome grant of about £12,000 for loss of fees after only seven and a half years' service. The railwaymen who are to be dispensed with under these proposals expect at least the same kind of treatment. Many of these men have completed thirty, thirty-five or forty-five years' service.

I detected a little warmer note in the Minister's speech today when he referred to the discussions that would take place. He seemed to indicate that in the terms of compensation for men who might lose their jobs he was prepared to be somewhat sympathetic. I hope that that was not just something to pass things over for a little time. I hope that he will he sincere in the discussions on redundancy and will be extremely generous in his approach to the men concerned.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Marc mentioned modernisation. I wonder how hon. Members opposite can ever talk about the modernisation of the railways. In 1954 modernisation proposals were put forward by men who knew the job. They have since been decried by almost every Tory speaker, by members appointed to the Commission who do not understand anything about railways and by men in the hierarchy of the railways who are opposed to nationalisation.

The modernisation proposals produced in 1954 were estimated to cost £1,200 million but then the dead hand of Toryism become operative. The Tories stopped the modernisation plan. The basis of that plan was the electrification of main line routes, in particular, and the dieselisation of branch lines. That was a common sense approach with the utilisation of the nation's resources—coal to produce the electricity, and the electricity to give us cheap running power. But the crowd opposite were in power and they stopped that development. They turned almost completely from electrification to dieselisation.

Mr. G. Wilson

Absolute nonsense.

Mr. Popplewell

It is not nonsense. It is correct, and the hon. Member must know it. If the hon. Member will come to my constituency at the weekend and travel with me on the east-coast line from King's Cross to Newcastle he will see all the bridges which were lifted in preparation for the overhead cables. Thousands of pounds were spent on work which is no longer necessary because dieselisation is replacing electrification, and dieselisation depends on imported oil. Heaven knows where we should be if there were a war or another crisis. We are pinpointing our economy on oil.

In 1956 the Government brought forward other proposals based in the main on diesel oil traction. It is true that there are certain electric tractions still remaining. The change in the modernisation programme added a further £300 million to make £1,500 million. Again in 1958 this Government of inflation and of "never had it so good" stepped in. The dead hand of the Government stopped that programme. In 1959 they came back with a third scheme at a cost of £1,600 million. Is there anything as fantastic as the way in which these things have been presented and developed? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport appears to shake his head, but he knows that his colleagues in the Department had to pilot Bills in 1957 and 1959 which in effect said to the Commission, "You can borrow money to pay the interest on money already borrowed."

Mr. Hay

With great respect, that is nothing to do with the entriely false version of history which the hon. Member has been giving. The fact that we had to have various financial arrangements to tide the Commission over has nothing whatever to do with the changes in the modernisation plan for which the Commission was itself responsible. The "dead hand" of the Government has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Popplewell

We have heard that repeated like a parrot cry so often from that Box that we can now assess it at its correct value. This is the question that we find referred to in the Select Committee's Report.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Sir Brian Robertson complained about it.

Mr. Popplewell

When we had Sir Brian Robertson, along with the Treasury people and the Minister's own officials, before the Select Committee, we were able to find out where the day-to-day interference was taking place. It was not so much a case of directives, but of the constant talk and discussions going on between the people concerned —the Treasury officials, the Ministry of Transport officials and the British Transport Commission—because of the fact, which I have already mentioned, that the Commission was so dependent on the Treasury and on the amount of money it was to receive. We find all the evi dence in that voluminous document, the Select Committee's Report for 1959, and we see just where the dead hand of the Government played such a large part in bringing about this serious financial position which is now facing the railway service.

Another important factor in regard to Government interference concerns the skill of the men in the railway workshops, which is now being cast aside. We find in this new development scheme —and I will not argue against the merits of it—the concentration of new works in a few up-to-date, modern railway workshops. This means dispensing with the services of many workshop employees, although it is admitted by the British Transport Commission that these men have the skills and are capable of doing other work, such as producing locomotives for export. They are not being allowed to do so. We have proved, as was proved during the war years, that these self-same men can produce other things apart from those necessary for transport, and can make a jolly good job of it. But now, because this is a publicly-owned undertaking, the skill of these men is to be completely wasted.

We have places like Eastleigh, which is a railway town dependent on the railway workshops for its very livelihood, where some 1,200 or 1,800 personnel are employed. We have a town Like Derby similarly situated, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) will no doubt have something to say, if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, about the 600 people or rather more who are to be out of work there. I see that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) is in his place, and he knows the feeling that exists there in the North Road workshops. He also knows what is taking place in the adjoining town of Shildon and in other large centres which are dependent on the railway workshops.

My hon. Friend who represents Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) put forward the case of the 800 personnel at the railway workshops at Horwich. These are also skilled personnel, admirably trained, who can do other work, but because this is a publicly-owned and nationalised undertaking, and because Government policy prevents the nationalised undertaking from following through to the end-product, as it were, they are not allowed to do it. We see it done in the case of almost every other nationalised undertaking. We see it in the case of electricity and gas, but in the case of the railways, instead of utilising the skill of these men to the full, they must stop at a given point. They are circumscribed in their activities and are not allowed to have any commercial freedom, which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare talked about.

The sooner the Government make a complete change in their policy in this matter—and I think that, quite frankly, it is hopeless to expect it—and the sooner another General Election comes and the people can give their own decision, the better. I think that we shall get a repetition of Middlesbrough, West and Orpington—[Laughter.] Yes, even with the Liberals—and West Lothian, where the Tories lost their deposit, because of the ineptitude of the present Administration.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I do not propose to go over the last ten or twelve years of the history of the railways, because the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), perhaps with some degree of inaccuracy, has discharged that task in more ways than one. I prefer, like my right hon. Friend the Minister, to take a rather more intelligent course and direct a visionary and practical view to the railway system of this country, and to the people who use it, for the future. I think that in that way we shall do our best service to the present problem.

I expect that it will be impossible to try to eliminate politics from our discussion. For some extraordinary reason, this question of railways and also that of road haulage have, at least for the last quarter of a century, loomed large in political quarrels, but I think the time has come when we should see the light and stop it. I want to look at this problem from a long-term and broad angle, not entirely and in every way supporting the Government's viewpoint, but, I hope, making some suggestions which will not be without some constructive merit. I want to look at the situation of the railways from the points of view of the service to the public and of profitability, in that order.

It is axiomatic that if we want entirely to eliminate these losses on the railways, all we need do is to sell off the railways to anybody we can find willing to buy them, and, henceforward, we should have no national deficit to deal with. There is, however, inherent in the whole situation of the railways that we in Parliament have a duty to serve the public as, indeed, we have in other respects. Therefore, although I am not at all averse—in fact in this I am with my right hon. Friend—to considering the matter of profitability, I cannot eliminate from my mind the question that runs side by side with it, if indeed it does not have priority over it, that is, the interest of the public whom we are here to serve.

The first thing I want to say in that context is that is useful to look back very quickly—a long way back, not over the last ten or twenty years, but further still. In the nineteenth century the railways of this country were started by people who were anxious to make a profit and, indeed, for a time they did. That was the era of their profitability. I am now going back more than a century; in fact, about 130 years. Then they entered the period—I am old enough to remember it—before the Second World War, before nationalisation but after the railways were amalgamated into the four principal companies.

At that time, the £100 deferred shares in one case stood at £25 and paid a modest dividend of 1¼ per cent. The holders of these shares who were fortunate enough to buy at the lower price were thus getting a 5 per cent. dividend, less tax, and it presumably satisfied them. Even then it was no secret, but was well-known to us that the railways were at that time losing money. We may say that the railway service was maintained at that time, when the railway companies came together into four companies and when road services were started, and that it was all done with a background of a social conscience, though they were still trying to make money. I suspect that the people who lost their money were the original shareholders who sold their holdings at less than the original price.

Then we came into the present nationalisation period when the emphasis was placed entirely upon the social aspect. Nationalisation seeks to recognise the social requirements of the people but does not necessarily, though it might incidentally, also connote profitability. Nationalisation meant that the railways could be run in the service of the people, and that if they could make money or even break even, that was all to their benefit. The railways are still in the nationalisation period and are still publicly owned, and we are still under an obligation to. run railways as a social service.

I think that, quite properly, my right hon. Friend has perceived in the public mind a feeling of fatigue and despair at these increasing, and, what is more important, continuing deficits over the years. Let us get one thing clear, and that is that the public do not concern themselves with the fact that certain viable and profitable portions of the British Transport Commission's work may have been hived off and that certain other things may have happened. They are concerned with the figures, with the fact that for the present year there is an estimated loss of £160 million and that for last year there was a loss of £150 million. That is the sort of thing which the public can appreciate.

It is our jab in this House to assess the relative importance in the minds of the public between these increasing deficits year by year on the one hand, and, on the other hand, what the public want from the railways and how far they are prepared to pay for them. I think that the day we can make that assessment we shall find a solution to the problem.

This House, the Government and the whale country started the wrong way in the appointment of Dr. Beeching. I think it was the right appointment, but we made it in the wrong manner. We regarded Dr. Beeching as a sort of short-term, quick-answer panacea. We expected results within twelve months. Certainly the body politic was led to believe that this would be the case. He was appointed for five years, a reasonable term. I would not have been impatient if I had seen no tangible results for two years or so. But after that I would have been very restive if I had seen no results. He has been in his 'present position for just over a year. He is watched by every newspaper in the land and by almost every member of the public, and certainly by every Member of this House, in order to ascertain his day-to-day production in the cause to which he has set his hand.

I do not think the man has been given a proper chance to do a proper job in the way to which he is accustomed. Certainly would not have expected him to reduce a £130 million lass in a matter of just over twelve months. I believe that in pushing his back to the wall we are in danger of asking him to produce too many economies too soon. All power to him if he will not be pushed too much too soon. Nevertheless, he is under pressure from all sides and, for all I know, from the Government as well. If at the end of five years he has not done the job, I think that as an honourable man he may wish to give up the job, but let us give him a chance to do it and not expect results in June, 1962.

Paragraph 10 of the 1961 Report of the British Transport Commission ends with the words: …the general nature of the changes which must be made is apparent "— that is, to cure the difficulties on the British Railways. I wonder whether anybody has ever addressed his mind to the question whether the solution to these difficulties lies in the railways at all or whether it is something to do with the national, economic, geographical and, if you like, insular position of our country as a whole. I have seen at least three railway systems on the Continent and they are all different. One is brand new because the railway system was destroyed during the war and has been replaced. Another had been modernised earlier than ours. It has the most complicated set of economic mathematics that I have ever met in my life. The third one functions well but still makes a loss, though less than ours.

I do not believe that the solution lies within the British railways. The only solution which would be 100 per cent. financially satisfactory would be to abolish the railways, and I do not think any hon. Member, including myself, would wish to do that. I do not believe we have had modernisation of the railways at all in this country. We have had modernisation of rolling stock, and very fine rolling stock it is. I do not mind whether it is diesel or electric. I am not a technician; I am just an observer. Nevertheless, it is very fine rolling stock. It has got over some of its initial growing pains. Also we have had modernisation in our signalling systems in various parts of the country.

However, as I see it, modernisation is a viewpoint. I make no criticism, but I think we are all too much imbued with a nostalgic view of the railways of old. This applies to myself, and I expect that this view is shared by many people. I read in a newspaper the other day about a man who insisted on taking his child to the seaside by train so that he would have a chance to ride in a steam train before they vanished.

If we are to have real modernisation of our railways we must have more than merely new equipment. That is the easiest part of it, even though it is the most expensive. We should have a really modern analysis of the whole subject—the sort of thing to which my right hon. Friend referred in his four points at the beginning of his speech. Then we should find out how we can run a modern railway, what we can run in supplementation of it, and how far we want to run it as a service.

One thing that puzzles me is this. We are told that the Government have committed themselves to the doctrine of profitability. We are told that even more emphatically by the critics, including hon. Members opposite. If that is so, what does point 4 of my right hon. Friend's points amount to when he said that the pattern and design of the British Railways of the future will be for him to decide after the work study commission has made its report? If one is tied to the doctrine of profitability, which I am not, I cannot see how point 4 is going to have any real relevance. It seems to me that every kind of point will have to be judged according to whether it will produce a profit, and I do not believe that that is in my right hon. Friend's mind. I wish to point out that contradiction in what he said earlier this afternoon.

If, as may well be appropriate in many cases, it is decided to replace branch lines by bus or other kinds of services, the chances are that a loss will still be made, although not so large as at the moment. Who is going to bear the loss? Is it going to be borne by the Commission? Is there going to be a subsidy, or is it going to be written off as part of the service to the public? Those are some of the matters which have to be considered in connection with modernisation of the railways. They are a thousand times more important than new diesel engines. One can understand a new diesel engine, especially if it gives quicker and more comfortable travel, but these other matters are for Government decision, for consideration by those with the best brains and technical experience on both sides of the House. We do not need hon. Members to decide which diesel engines we should have, but we do need hon. Members to decide on these other different aspects of the problem.

I should like to say two things about the men and women employed on the railways. I was very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend say that the British Transport Commission has a duty and responsibility in connection with the compensation and livelihood of its staff. That is true. No one in this House, least of all my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, would deny it. Whatever may be the facts, however, the sort of case of which we read earlier this week in the newspapers, of a man being made redundant fourteen months before he was due to be pensioned after serving forty years, does not help to create the right public image. I do not know whether the facts were as reported, but that is the kind of situation which influences the public in forming an opinion.

My next comment applies not only to business concerns, and even more to nationalised industries, but it applies most certainly to the Transport Commission. There must be a definite lessening in morale among the men and women employed by the Transport Commission as a result of the continued and continuous deficits since the war. I should not like to work in such conditions. Not only is it bad for the unions but it must be bad to have such facts produced from the other side of the table in wage negotiations. I hope that we can bring the run of deficits to an end and solve this situation.

To sum up my anxiety and concern, I am either much too clever or too stupid to form a final decision, and I would not presume to do so. I wish, however, to compare the two statements made by my right hon. Friend and by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) in their two excellent speeches. My right hon. Friend said that the viewpoint must be one of profitability and of making one year pay with another. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend made many references to the staff and to the social service aspect of the railways. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall gave the other viewpoint and said that if the railways are to be maintained with a high emphasis on the social service aspect, it can be done only by means of subsidy.

There is not a difference of 100 points between those two views, but there are solid and almost intractable differences which, I hope, will be resolved. For my part, I believe that in the first place we should carry out the business action which is now being done. As far as possible, we should rectify the tremendous wastage of capital investment which occurred when the railways were formed in their initial stages in the second part of the last century. Tremendous waste of capital occurred in having stations in the wrong places and too many stations, lines and all the rest. With modern knowlege and "know-how", we should do our best to scale down the capital structure to a proper size so that the income represents a return on the capital invested.

We should then ask ourselves how far the public are prepared to pay for those parts of the system the results of which are marginal or which incur a loss. How far are the people prepared to pay higher fares and how far is the body politic as a whole prepared indirectly to pay through taxes for those parts of the system which cannot in any circumstances be made to pay their way?

I care not whether the transport is provided by rail, railcar, bus or any other method. Once we salve the business side, we should examine the social aspect. We should then satisfy those who say that the railways are not run properly as a business enterprise should be, which to me as a Conservative is an important principle. On the other hand, we should satisfy those people, whether of the present or of any future generation, who maintain that a railway monopoly should be a service to the public and, therefore, should operate as far as possible for people's convenience and comfort.

I believe that along those lines lies the final answer and that both extremes which we have heard stated today are wrong. Somewhere in the middle course, by the integrity and application of good men and true, I believe that we shall find the answer to solve these problems.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

It was interesting to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole). Although he had some of his ideas the wrong way round, generally I must agree with him. In my opinion, the railways should be operated for the social benefit of the community. I am sure that the hon. Member would not disagree with that. In my view, profit takes second place and not, as in the Minister's reckoning, the first place.

I was anxious to know whether the Minister would tell us anything new. He dealt with Chapter 1 of the Annual Report and described the year as being a good one of change. In my constituency, it has been a terrific year. The two counties which I have the honour to represent in the House of Commons comprise 770,000 acres of land and 21 local authorities. If all the proposals which have been made to the Minister are implemented and the lines are closed, there will not be a single railway left in the constituency.

It is the children for whom I am sorry. The Minister tried to be a "Smart Alec" concerning my constituency, but there is something which I must say to him straight away. What is his reply to the Transport Commission when 600 schoolchildren, through their respective teachers, applied to British Railways for facilities for their annual excursion next month to the seaside? The answer that was given was that the only train that could be provided would be one of non-corridor coaches for the 60-mile journey, yet every week parts of the same line take soldiers to Sennybridge Camp in beautiful corridor coaches. The outcome is that the children will travel by road, but because of the dangers of traffic their mothers may not be keen to let them go.

The Minister referred to Pontsticill. He did not state that the transport users' consultative committee, reporting on the proposed closure of four lines in Brecon, said that the line has 1,400 passengers per day. The Minister merely for his own convenience takes a little piece of line over the mountain and beyond the tunnel to put in the odd half man. That was an unfair argument for him to use. He did not reveal that the transport users' consultative committee had asked him to consider certain facts concerning the line. I agree that certain sections might be closed, and that as a result the line would break even. Why, then, did the Minister not tell us this? All these are matters which are covered in the "Year of Change" section of the Report.

I agree with what appears in those paragraphs. They state that stations are an average of 2½ miles apart and that numerous halts should not exist. I quite agree. Why 'has not the Commission got rid of them sooner instead of closing whole lines? In that way, a terrific amount of expense could have been saved, but the Commission has been content to let things remain as they were.

I only wish that instead of devoting so much time to deciding which lines in Wales should be closed, the Commission had paid attention to attracting more revenue to the lines. The Commission has not done this, however, and so far there has not been much result.

I represent the Welsh Members of Parliament on the all-Wales Committee which is concerned with railway closures in Wales. They are so embittered by it all that they have decided to recall a conference. At the first meeting of the conference every part of Wales was represented. Real views were put before the people concerned, and the desire was expressed that this all-Wales committee should deal with the matter. That committee presented a good memorandum, and a deputation from it was with the Minister for an hour and a half. I was with it.

The Minister listened with great interest. I have been on four deputations, and whenever I go on a deputation to the Minister I think there is hope of something being done. But there has been no hope in this case so far. The Minister gave the most disappointing reply that I have ever known given to a deputation. There was no real argument in it. It was composed of platitudes just as are the right hon. Gentleman's speeches on the platform and on television. I am not exaggerating the feeling in Wales about this. It was no grain of comfort to get the Minister's reply.

In Wales people ask why there should be this piecemeal method of closing the railways. I am glad of what the Minister has said today about the four stages in connection with Dr. Beeching's policy. But that is the sort of argument that we use about Wales. Why should the Minister not postpone the closures until the results of the surveys have been published? The Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee commented caustically on the piecemeal closure method. The Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Wales referring to the Brecon closures, which mean the closing of four lines converging on Brecon, said that it would be doing less than its duty if it did not call attention to the wider social implications of large-scale withdrawals of rail services, particularly in sparsely populated areas.

On the Second Reading of the Transport Act, 1947, Mr. Alfred Barnes, the Minister at that time, specifically stated that our railway system ought to cater for sparsely populated areas, because if anyone is doing work of national importance, some kind of transport system should be provided for him. That seems to have been forgotten. But the Minister said that there will have to be alternative bus services if railway closures take place. The last straw is that instead of waiting for the Minister's decision, on the Brecon lines the Commission has suggested the closing of the line from Swansea all the way to Shrewsbury, going through the constituency of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More).

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

The hon. Member is mistaken. I think that the closure suggested is from Swansea to Craven Arms.

Mr. Watkins

That is true. I am sorry. We call it the Swansea-to-Shrewsbury line. I am sure that the hon. Member will accept that it affects his constituency.

Mr. More indicated assent.

Mr. Watkins

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I hope to have his support.

An important aspect is that this is a Central Wales line which takes people from West Wales to the north-east and the north-west of England. How are people to get away from Pembrokeshire and that part of Wales if this line is closed? The Parliamentary Secretary is looking at me very seriously. He will ask, "What about the passengers"? The passengers are there according to figures which I have. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary has those figures?

Mr. Hay

I was looking serious because going through my mind was the fact, which I have told the hon. Member about on more than one occasion, that the County of Brecon has the largest number of motor vehicles per head of population of any part of the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members

So what?

Mr. Watkins

I have heard that so much in the past. My reply is that there are some constituents of mine so well off in the affluent society that they have two cars, and some have three; but they do not belong to the Labour Party. Some of my constituents have to go long distances to work, and if they take their cars at half-past seven in the morning, they cannot be used by their wives. So that argument does not hold water. What about the old-age pensioner in a rural district who has no car? At the Brecon hearing the Commission suggested that they should thumb a lift. I shouted "That is charity". People in the countryside do not want that. They want proper transport services. I am afraid that we shall not get anything at all the way things are going at present.

It is important to realise that the situation in Wales is so desperate that that conference will meet again on 20th July. Cannot the Parliamentary Secretary whisper in the Minister's ear and ask him to call off the closures until we have had the result of the surveys? That is what the conference has asked for. The Carmarthenshire County Council sent a letter to the Minister calling for a Commission of Inquiry. I hope that atten- tion will be paid to representations of that sort.

I am glad of the Parliamentary Secretary's announcement in Aberystwyth that where a rail closure takes place, alternative bus services will be arranged. The Minister confirmed that today. I am glad to know that; but cannot we have more information about it? Who will determine the frequency and type of service and check that it is synchronised with main line centres? Will the Commission do it? If so, it must do a better job than it has done at Hereford The Brecon train gets there one minute after the express train has left for London.

What guarantee will there be about the continuation of such a service if the expected number of passengers use it but there is increased expenditure through no fault of the operators in respect of wages, vehicles or fuel? Will the service then be taken off, or will there be an increased subsidy? Surely the Commission will have to pay a subsidy if there is to be an alternative service in this manner. I hope that these things will be considered in the right perspective and that something will be done about them.

May I have an assurance that no rail service will be discontinued in places where there are no buses until such time as services are arranged? Such an assurance should be given today. We ought not to have to wait until the Minister has seen, the reports. The Parliamentary Secretary ought to be able to give that assurance now.

I am glad that the Minister himself has given attention to the employees. It is not often that we get the Minister saying anything at all about them. I was glad to hear about the campaign of the railway unions. That is near to my heart. It should lend support to the protests which have been made, not particularly because certain lines are being closed but because there is no co-ordinated plan for transport.

I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the matter of the closures converging on Brecon, which will result in 350 persons losing their jobs. I wonder what will happen to such people in depopulated areas? I hope that the existing redundancy agreements will be made more realistic to meet modern circumstances. There are areas in my constituency where even now no alternative bus service has been suggested. How will retired railwaymen in those areas get the benefit if of subsidy is paid by the Commission to its own vehicles or to anybody else's vehicles? If subsidy payments are made, will retired railwaymen get concessionary fares on the buses for ordinary travelling or for their holiday travel? I do not want the Parliamentary Secretary to get "hot under the collar". The hon. Gentleman has had a good time so far at the hands of hon. Members of this side of the House. But these are things which he ought to consider and I do not think that there is any harm in telling him so.

I suggest to the Minister that he should not get the impression that because there are so many things coming out of the surveys he ought not to meet deputations. I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a large number of deputations from Wales. There is bound to be, because of the tone of the last letter from the Minister. Had he been more forthcoming in the last letter to the all-Wales committee, it might have excused another deputation. But the tone of the letter was disappointing. I am glad to have had this opportunity to make these strictures on both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

If there is one thing I like to hear it is a good Welsh voice. I only wish that I had that lost capacity myself. I know the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) although it is a long time since I toured Wales. I used to do so in my cricketing days and I hope to have the opportunity to see more of Wales in the future.

I have had an opportunity to see at first hand the work of these committees which have been set up to consider whether recommendations should be made to the Minister—not to the B.T.C., but to the Minister—in the event of a service being closed. We must face the fact that in certain parts of the country a satisfactory road service is infinitely better than a railway service. We must accept what is said in paragraph 12 of the Commission's Report. In saying this I am having a tilt at the Opposition. Part of the reason why hon. Members opposite have not, shall we say, recovered their lost popularity when the party on this side of the House has not been, perhaps, so popular is, as many of my constituents put it, that they are living in this space age as though they were still in the horse-drawn age. Members of the party opposite do live in the horse-drawn age in respect of many of the things which they have said in this debate.

I think that paragraph 12 is a good section of the early part of the Report. It states: The railway system which developed in this country during the second half of the last century was greatly influenced by the inefficiency of the only complementary form of transport, horse-drawn vehicles on poor road surfaces. As a result, the railways extended their services well beyond those traffics which were and still are clearly suitable to rail, that is, those involving dense flows and bulk movements in train load quantities, preferably over considerable distances and at speed. In recent cases—many more will develop—it has been quite apparent that there are a considerable number of branch railways which will have to be closed. Let me be the first to say that in my constituency there is a railway station which, as I gladly say here and now to my constituents, ought to be closed. It is known as Dumpton Park. It is a little station which lies between Broadstairs and Ramsgate. It is quite unnecessary to have a station there, and it ought to be closed. It will be appreciated that I am referring to a constituency which is densely populated. Many little intermediate railway stations ought properly to be closed. I hope that we shall be able to get on faster than we have done in that respect.

I wish to say a word about profitability. I entirely agree that there is an element of social need and there is the question of running the railways as a service. But let us look at it the other way round; let us turn our hat. Let us bear in mind that so long as we continue to have a large deficit in respect of our railways, one traveller is subsidising another traveller. While we continue to spend £130 million of our money subsidising the railways we shall not be able to spend that money on increasing old-age pensions, or reducing the Income Tax, or in some other way. That is something which is far too often forgotten.

I consider that the Report of the British Transport Commission is very well laid out. The statistics are well presented. But I hope that next year we shall be given more useful information about certain aspects regarding which there is little or no information in this Report. I shall not criticise this year, but I ask the Minister to pay close heed to the need to produce proper information on these matters next year.

On page 21 of the Report and page 120 of the Accounts there is a reference to commercial advertising. Quite rightly, the Commission has set up its Commercial Advertising Division as a limited company. But I want to see that it is conducted as if it were Parting-tons or one of the other great advertising concerns of this country. I want far more advertising by British Railways. By all means let the planning requirements be considered, so that the advertisements are not sited in an unattractive manner. I should like to see far more advertising on the stations. Industry could help to remove the deficit on British Railways by undertaking more advertising.

Secondly, there is the question of the new Railway Sites Limited, which is referred to on page 21 of the Report. There is not a word about the work which has been done by this company and yet one of the greatest needs is to sell off much of the non-operational land upon which a capital return could be made. Other portions of land could be secured for operational development schemes. There is the reference on page 21 and another reference on page 52 and there is a slight reference on page 118 of the Accounts, among the statistics. But we have been told nothing about the great marshalling yards which are being developed for various industrial or residential purposes.

We have been told nothing about the immense potential at Victoria Station, at King's Cross and on other sites in London. I know that work is going on and so I will hold my fire. I raised the matter as long ago as when I first came to this House, in 1953, when I raised it with Sir Brian Robertson, and I have raised it each year since. I hope that next year we shall see a proper lay-out of what is proposed.

There is practically no information with regard to British Road Services, which are referred to on page 81 of the Report. There is a complete paucity of information about the contractors and about haulage and parcels. I want to know about the turnover and about the figures. I do not accept the idea that information should not be given because it might do harm commercially. I accept what the Minister has said. One of the reasons why I particularly like the present Minister of Transport, and why I have always supported him and shall continue to do so, is that he tries to give facts and information. People are often unfair to him because of the personal publicity which he receives. He is attacked for going after personal publicity. But a person cannot help that happening if he is trying to give facts and information, and I support what my right hon. Friend is doing. If in the process he gets a bit of benefit, good luck to him.

Those who represent the tourists and the resorts—I have the good fortune to be the secretary of a committee which is concerned—have been troubled about the long-distance commuters. There are a great many in our constituencies. In this matter I refer mainly to the large and well-known resorts in the area from Bournemouth and Brighton, up to the East Coast to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale); and to Portsmouth and the Eastleigh area of the country. I do not think that the West Country is covered. Those people within travelling distance from London can help the railways by living farther out and by commuting.

Many years ago, to assist this particular class of customer, the railways introduced a red-line season ticket. It was introduced specifically as an inducement to people to live in those towns so that they would have a direct town-to-town ticket, that is to say, between Margate or any other such town and London. Having moved into those areas, those people find that this system is being whittled down and there are now no new tickets of this kind on the Southern Region. I am told, however, that they are still issued on the Eastern Region. I do not understand why that should be so. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas) drew my attention to this matter.

I think it quite wrong to make a differentiation between one region and another in those areas where the railways want more traffic. They are all paying areas. It is essential that passengers should join at the end of the line to travel to the Metropolis. Those who are prepared to travel long distances and to have quarterly or annual tickets ought to get a reasonable and proper discount. I wrote to Dr. Beeching on behalf of the local committee and he replied on 25th June. I wrote, as I was instructed to do, not on the grounds of social need or political expediency, but on commercial grounds. He replied: It is on commercial grounds that we believe there is no serious disincentive to rail travel, even after the traditionally large discount on Red Line season tickets is lowered. These cut-rate non-intermediate tickets were introduced many years ago between certain coastal towns and London, as a special inducement to people to live at the coast. From time to time we have complaints about the 'unfairness' … of this … I do not think it can be held that we are under any moral obligation to continue it indefinitely. I did not necessarily ask that it should be continued for one class of ticket. I shall not read the rest of the letter, which deals with other points.

This matter is of tremendous importance to coastal resorts, although we do not ask for them to be singled out particularly. Those who go to live in those resorts should be able to get a reasonable discount for long-distance travel, upwards of 50 miles to and from London. I also contend—and take issue with Dr. Beeching on the question and I will certainly take it up with the Minister—that those who support a profitable line are reasonably entitled to a substantial discount if they are willing to use that line day in and day out throughout the year.

If I were wrong in that argument I should certainly say to the Minister that on political expediency grounds this is a service which ought to be subsidised. Curiously enough, as came out in debates about 18 months ago, the areas where there is almost the greatest amount of unemployment are the seaside resorts. This House has done a great deal for them, and I am much indebted to Parliament for it, in bringing light industry to coastal resorts. People of the greatest value to our resorts are those who live there and travel to town daily. In Thanet—and I know it is true also of Brighton and of places even as far away as Bournemouth—many civic leaders are most valuable citizens who travel daily to and from London and commute the very considerable distances of sixty or 100 miles. It is quite wrong to say that those who provide the backbone of rail travel should not be given a special inducement and concession.

It is important that the speed of this travel should be maintained. That is a point made in the Report. The long-distance commuter travel needs to be fast. If we are to speed it to and from London in the way in which I think the country wants it done, so that people live at distances yet further away than Reading and still serve the Metropolis, it is important that at least once during the day there should be a fast through train to enable them to reach such distant places. I hope that both the Minister and the Commission will pay close attention to the needs of the seaside resorts and will try to ensure that there is some special inducement or concession made to those living further distances away from London to encourage them to provide the profitability which undoubtedly these lines can supply.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I hope that the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) will forgive me if I do not follow the trend of his speech. I want to examine the implications of the speech made by the Minister.

The Minister indicated that he would give the economic facts leading to the present financial position. I think it grossly unfair that when a statement of that kind is made we get only part of the facts and do not get the whole matter covered. The House is well aware that the railways did not start to lose substantial sums of money until 1953. They have been bearing a loss since then averaging about £15 million a year. If we are to try to establish the facts why the huge deficit they now have has arisen, we should have regard to the action which the 1951 Government took which led to the present position.

In 1953 the Tory Government went out of their way deliberately to smash the idea of a co-ordinated transport system. They robbed the British Transpor Commission of long-distance road haulage and promoted costly competition. These facts cannot be denied. For a short time long-distance road haulage was under public ownership and it made a profit of £9 million in the year before take-over. The Government destroyed the publicly-owned long-distance road haulage which was working for the nation. Why did they do that? I believe it was the price they had to pay to the road haulage interests who had poured their money into the election funds of the Tory Party to help them to win the 1951 election. I feel much happier to have got that on the record, because I have now given facts which the Minister did not give.

Every hon. Member is concerned about the future of British Railways. The Government have appointed Dr. Beeching to carry out their policy, and his terms of reference are abundantly clear. Branch lines which are not paying and passenger trains which are not running profitably are to be closed and withdrawn. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to have some regard to what I have to say. I intervened when the Minister was speaking, but he got rather heated and I let the matter drop. He said that the decision to take off passenger services completely from branch lines would be left to him. I understood that after the initial withdrawals and closures of branch lines nothing more was to happen until the Bill on which we were employed for so many weeks in Committee came into operation. Presently there is the intention in my constituency—and both I and the local authority have been notified of it—that all passenger services are to be removed from the branch line between Beith and Lugton. I believe that this branch line pays because of the freight service, apart from passenger service; it is certainly not in the category of the hopeless cases which the Minister mentioned. It pays particularly because of the big Admiralty depôt at Beith.

But I do not believe that every possibility has been explored to try to keep the service going for the people who are using it, who are not an inconsiderable number. The diesel-electric rail buses run between Beith and Lugton to meet with the main line services at Lugton, but a little further along the main line is the electric service extending from Glasgow out to Neilston. I am positive that there would be a good chance of success if the Beith-Lugton service continued to Neilston in order to meet the half-hourly electric service in the outer circle from Glasgow. This could be a reasonable proposition. But no thought has been given to it. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to this suggestion.

Mr. G. Wilson

Is the hon. Member saying that the date has been given when these passenger services are to be withdrawn?

Mr. Manuel


Mr. Wilson

It has been before the Committee and has been accepted?

Mr. Manuel

And the local authorities are presently appealing to the consultative committee. That is the position. I hope that the Minister will consider my proposal of an extension to meet the half-hourly service in the outer electrified system around Glasgow. It is not a great distance to take it.

Throughout the country there have already been massive withdrawals of passenger trains. It is apparent that the Government expect Dr. Beeching to make the railways pay and that he was appointed to do that job. We must realise that the cuts which we have experienced—over 300 trains withdrawn in Scotland—have nothing to do with Dr. Beeching or his appointment. His economic reappraisal has still to come. We are informed that he is working on a reappraisal of the whole railway system and will bring forward proposals about the future size of British Railways and the number of staff who should be employed. If we are to have proposals based purely on the economic argument, we shall certainly see a further great contraction of railways as we know them and many more trains will be cut off. On the economic argument it appears that all our railways north of Perth will disappear, and this includes the two main railway lines on to Fort William and Mallaig and the Inverness-Aberdeen line on the other side. This would be ridiculous and, allied to the increasing depopulation in the Highlands and elsewhere in Scotland, would arouse tremendous resentment in respect of these proposals.

Paragraph 20 of the Report refers to cutting out the stopping trains, and the clear indication is that nearly every stopping train is to be discontinued. This is of particular importance in Scotland. Let us take the Glasgow-Fort William-Mallaig line and the other line out of Glasgow to Inverness and the north. Is the Parliamentary Secretary thinking in terms of running trains between Glasgow and Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen and Glasgow and Fort William without serving the intermediate stations? I am quoting from the Report. It will be ridiculous to try to do this and not to serve the intermediate stations on these routes.

In these areas we have not the alternative roads which could take the traffic from the main stopping stations back to the intermediate stations. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary knows the Highland Roads between Mallaig and Fort William or Fort William and the south. Does he know about the ferry systems? It is necessary to get across and around the ends of the lochs. Does he know about the passing places for road vehicles?

Does the Minister realise that he would have to face a massive expenditure, amounting to hundreds of millions of £s, on our road system and that this would also apply in Wales and in other parts of the country which would be denuded of railways? This massive expenditure would be necessary to provide the roads to take the goods and passengers now being carried by rail. This must be weighed in the balance. It is all very well for hon. Members to speak about closing the branch lines when they do not know the Highland counties. We have no roads there which could take even the coal necessary to keep going the central heating in the hotels needed for the tourist traffic. If this programme of the closing of railways were carried out, the sights would need to be set twenty years ahead until this massive expenditure on roads had been undertaken.

It is said that Dr. Beeching makes no mention in the Report of the dismissals and redundancies which will result from the policy on which he has to report for the Minister's decision. Paragraph 29 shows that British Railways' staff fell during 1961—in one year—from 514,000 to 500,000, a fall of 14,000 or of 2.7 per cent. Today the Minister indicated that some regard was to be paid to this aspect of dismissals and redundancies. I am sure that that arises from a meeting which Dr. Beeching had with one of the major railway trade unions, that this has percolated to the Minister and that these thoughts have come after the compilation of the Report. The Report should have contained an indication of the Government's intention in regard to redundancy.

There should be a clear statement regarding compensation for dismissals arising from reorganisation and for loss of earnings resulting from men being transferred from grade positions to positions involving much lower earnings. If there is to be the major reorganisation for which hon. Members opposite ask in order to make the railways pay, it should not be forgotten that thousands of men who are at present driving diesel engines and locomotives will be reduced to the grade of fireman and thousands of firemen will go back to the grade of cleaner, resulting in the loss of several pounds a week. It is intolerable that this this should be viewed as normal and something which the men must take in their stride. It will result in a lowering of their standard of living. I hope that we shall have some statement which will bring some relief to the men concerned.

I have been talking about roads and what will be necessary before the roads could carry the traffic which will be shed on to them as a result of the Government's policy. There is already far too much traffic on the roads. I am convinced that much that now goes by road should go by rail. There are far too many accidents involving death and injury arising from over-congestion on the roads. Yet the Government intend deliberately to add to the slaughter which takes place every day.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents calculates that in 1950 the cost of road accidents was £136 million. In 1960 the cost had risen to the staggering figure of £229 million. People who talk airily of the savings to be made by closing branch lines should bear these figures in mind.

Quite apart from the financial loss resulting from road accidents, in human terms the position is terrible and tragic. In 1960 there were 347,551 road casualties; 84,448 people were seriously injured; 6,970 people were killed. In 1961 the number of casualties rose to 349,767, an increase of 2,216 or nearly 1 per cent. Of that number 6,908 were killed, 84,936 were seriously injured, and 257,923 were slightly injured. These are appalling figures, and the toll is still rising. I hope that the Government will try to do something to reduce the slaughter on the roads and not add to it by pursuing their present policy of contracting the railways and throwing more traffic on to the roads.

During 1961 an average of 958 people were killed or injured every day. An average of 132 people were killed every week on the roads during the whole of 1961. This is a crying scandal. The House should be heartily ashamed of it. How can the Government deliberately, as part of a considered policy, tell the nation that this figure will be increased? It is bound to be increased. The House should be heartily ashamed of this intolerable slaughter of innocent people, pedestrians and cyclists. It is all very well for the Minister to tell us that in some Continental countries there are higher death tolls than this country's death toll. That is no consolation to the relatives of those killed, many of whom are breadwinners.

To emphasise that the rise is continuous and persistent, I will remind the House that in 1951 there were 216,493 road casualties and in 1961 349,767, an increase over ten years of 61 per cent.

How do the Government intend to control the number of new vehicles coming on to the roads? During 1961 1,259,162 new vehicles came on to the roads. During 1960 there was a total of 9½ million vehicles on the roads. During 1961 the figure rose to 10¾ million. The Ministry of Transport estimates that by 1970 there will be 17 million vehicles on the roads. In a recent debate the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) advocated that more coal should be carried on the roads instead of on the railways. It is utter and complete nonsense that anybody in this day and age should advocate the haulage of coal in huge vehicles on roads on which all this slaughter is already taking place.

I mentioned that during 1961 132 people were killed every week on the roads. If 132 people were killed on our railways every week during any year there would be headlines and publicity. The House would be in uproar. The Minister would be out on his neck within a week.

Mr. G. Wilson

What is the hon. Gentleman advocating? Is he proposing that all C licence lorries and all private cars should be nationalised?

Mr. Manuel

I am not a member of the Government, nor am I Minister of Transport. The hon. Gentleman supports the Government. The onus is on the Government and not on the Opposition. The Opposition should not start playing at being the Government. The onus is on the Government. They are elected to do this. They should cure the problem. I say that it is intolerable that this slaughter should be taking place and that the Government should allow millions more vehicles to come on to the roads year by year. When Dr. Beeching's proposals are received the Government will have to face the fact that large areas will be without railways, unless the Government grant subsidies to keep lines open.

I hope that the Government will take the view that lines should be kept open in the areas about which I have spoken, where there is a lack of roads and where the road system is totally incapable of taking the traffic which the railways will shed. Why should not the Government quite deliberately subsidise areas of that character directly from Government sources and not by giving a global subsidy to the B.T.C. and it then having continually to carry the loss? We give subsidies to other sections of the community. I could quote the McBraine Shipping Company, serving the West coast of Scotland, and the Orkney Shipping Company, which serves the constituency of the Leader of the Liberal Party.

The Leader of the Liberal Party and his colleagues make speeches against nationalisation and public ownership, but there was no protest from the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) when this company was nationalised in order to keep his constituents travelling between Shetland and the mainland. There is a case for nationalisation and public ownership, but the Liberals and Tories only recognise it when it concerns something which does not pay.

I believe that British Transport could pay if rail, road, water and air transport were operated as a fully co-ordinated and national service. I have added air transport because it is quite apparent today that on the longer routes within the country the first-class travel is being creamed off from the railways to air. I do not object to that. Business men can get to London by air travel and back to Scotland the same night. If that sort of thing is to continue—and it is inevitable in my opinion —we should have a co-ordination of the whole of the transport services so that the lucrative ones would help to pay for those that are not lucrative.

I am not asking for the running of empty trains in which no one wants to travel, but I say that in certain areas services need to be provided even if they are not paying their way. If certain firms do not pay their way hon. Members opposite do not object to their getting a little help. The same policy should be spread over the British Railways. Until we get this outlook I believe that the Government should, if necessary, subsidise the necessary services operating in the uneconomic areas.

Undoubtedly many branch lines will be closed, and they should be closed if they are not being used, but if we are continually contracting the mileage of British Railways are we still to have the same capital figure? Are we to have the same capital value on which dividends are now being paid? Are the Government going to write down the capital of British Railways as they contract them, or are they going to keep it at its present high figure and make it impossible for them ever to be a paying concern? If we close branch lines and contract the railways into a much smaller mileage, and already there has been a great contraction—my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) gave the number of miles lost in operations over a number of years—the corollary is that there should be a writing down of the capital value of the railways, and, therefore, an easement of the position of B.T.C. in meeting its financial obligations year by year.

I hope that the Government will take notice of what has been said in this debate and realise that they just cannot wave a magic wand to get a change in our railway system. This will be a long process, and unless there is integration the Government will again meet with failure and we shall need a Labour Government that believes in an integrated system for the various transport services before we get really successful transport paying for itself in this country.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

I do not think that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will expect me to follow him into the economics of Highland transport, although I tell him that I know the Mallaig line well and on some other occasion I would be prepared to discuss the problem with him.

Mr. Manuel

It is a very nice line.

Mr. Price

It is, indeed.

I intervene for two reasons; firstly, because professionally I am an industrial economist and to me an efficient transport system at reasonable prices is essential to the prosperity of this country, and, secondly, because the centre of my constituency is the borough of Eastleigh, which is the major railway town on the south region system. Not only do many of my constituents work for British Railways but the prosperity of the borough as a whole is closely related to the fortunes of British Railways.

We have heard today about the proposed modernisation of our railway system. I imagine that few hon. Members would disagree with the general view expressed in Dr. Beeching's Report, namely, that the pattern of our railway system was laid out in the days of horse transport and before the introduction of the internal combustion engine. Therefore, in many ways it is unsuited to modern conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) quoted paragraph 12 of the Report. I should like to read the whole of that paragraph because this to me goes right to the centre of the problem. The Report states: The railway system which developed in this country during the second half of the last century was greatly influenced by the inefficiency of the only complementary form of transport, horse-drawn vehicles on poor road services. As a result, the railways extended their services well beyond those traffics which were and still are clearly suitable to rail, i.e. those involving dense flows and bulk movements in train load quantities, preferably over considerable distances and at speed. It goes on to say: They became widely engaged in local short-distance, low density passenger traffic, and in small consignment freight traffic, using rail movement for a large part of the fine scale collection and distribution operations associated with such traffic. The Report went on to point out that: Under these conditions, the railways developed a dense network of routes and a close spacing of stations to serve the whole country with a minimum use of horse transport. Similarly in freight, with the result that: The railways largely sacrificed their main advantage, the movement of freight in train-load quantities, in order to provide universal facilities for door-to-door movement of consignments of all sizes. Those seem to me to be absolutely fundamental criticisms of the current pattern of the railway system and of railway operation. I want to make it quite clear that I believe in an integrated transport system. My disagreements with hon. Members opposite are not as many in practice as some of them may think. Where we disagree is on the method of integration of the transport system. Transport has to be integrated. Here, we do not have to look at our rail system as complementary and superior to horse transport, but we must ask ourselves in what respects it is superior to road transport and in what respects it is complementary to it. That seems to be the burden of this Report. I think that we work ourselves up into unnecessary ideological "Tizzies" by arguing in great "isms". One has to look at this business in practice.

The Report suggests that the future of the railways must lie principally in four major services: the long-distance passenger service; bulk freight, principally in coal and minerals—a "natural" for the railways in every respect; long-distance general freight, and commuter services around large centres of population. To me, all that makes general sense, but if that is to be the pattern of future railway operations a large number of questions have to be answered. In part, my right hon. Friend answered them when opening this debate, but there are many more that we have yet to ask, but we must also go into greater depth in asking them.

My first question is: by what yardstick will British railways determine whether a service should be maintained, curtailed or scrapped? Presumably, that will be determined by a study of marginal costs, and I submit to the Minister that until there is a major reconstruction of the British Railways costing system, many of us will doubt whether British Railways will get the right economic answer.

I would draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the evidence given before the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in respect of the costing in railway workshops, which is something that affects my constituents very directly. Mr. Gillespie was asked on what basis they allocated their overheads—and it will be within the knowledge of the House that in an increasing number of industries that is one of the most important elements of cost.

Mr. Gillespie replied that workshop overheads were allocated shop by shop, and allocated to the direct wages, by percentage in position in relation to direct wages. When the Chairman of the Select Committee asked whether it was not done by reference to the fact that there was more heavy equipment used in production than on maintenance, the reply was that no reference whatsoever was made to that.

I submit that to run a costing system in which one allocates one's overheads— which, presumably, include remuneration of the capital invested in the equipment—on the labour content of the job, is archaic. If that type of costing is carried out in British Railways, they may well arrive at the wrong answer. Furthermore, I believe that we have to look at this, not only in terms of strict costing of individual services but in what I would call national accounting terms.

The second question I wish to ask is: where an established service is curtailed or scrapped, what steps will British Railways take to ensure that alternative transport facilities are made available to the customer? A good deal has been said about that in this debate, and my right hon. Friend has given some indication that the Government will announce their views on the matter in due course. In most cases, it is undoubtedly sound economics to close branch lines and unremunerative services, but alternative road transport must be available, within certain limits, to those who previously used the rail services.

In my view, this is largely a question of arriving at suitable agreements with local bus companies and local transport operators. I believe that to be socially important, as some hon. Members have indicated, otherwise people in the more isolated areas will suffer greatly. I understood from my right hon. Friend that it is the Government's intention to do just that.

My third question is: what steps do British Railways intend to take to improve these major services upon which their future depends? It is not just a question of cutting out the unremunerative services. What is to be done to make more attractive and better the four major services in which they see their future? I think that unless there is immediate improvement in long-distance passenger service, bulk freight and commuter services, those services will continue to lose custom to the road. For instance, when will British Railways take a leaf from B.E.A.'s book and start reducing the fares of long-distance passenger services as, for instance, those from Edinburgh and Glasgow to London?

My next question is: when can British Railways be expected to produce and make available to the public their strategy for the railways? I assume that British Railways will have a master plan—a strategy—which the Government will have to approve. Up to now, modernisation and rationalisation, necessary though we know they all are in general terms, have too frequently appeared in the particular to be haphazard and unco-ordinated. Furthermore, because of the apparent lack of overall strategy, the travelling public, the consignors of freight, and those employed in the industry have lost confidence in British Railways and in their ability to bring about a purposeful and worthwhile system.

My fifth question concerns a very important financial matter, as yet undetermined. It concerns those services that are not by any standard economic but which it is socially desirable to maintain. In paragraph 413 of its Report in 1960, the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries said: The operation of railways is a public service, whether performed by a nationalised industry or by privately-owned companies. But whoever undertakes this service has to make, or help in making, the difficult decision about what size and shape of railways to provide. The Select Committee went on to say in paragraph 415: It seems to Your Committee that the best initial test of what the public needs is given by what they will pay for. If, thereafter, there are other considerations which make it desirable for members of the public to travel or freight to be carried on some routes at prices below the cost, it should be for the Government and not the Commission to decide. In other words, there is a clear test for the running of British Railways, within the authority given by Parliament, and that is that they must be run at a profit, but the Select Committee went on to recognise that here were those services which it was socially desirable, and our duty to maintain. But the Committee said that it was not fair, on the one hand, to ask British Railways to pay their way and, on the other hand, to expect them for reasons of broad national policy to run services which they said they could not make pay.

The Select Committee faced that issue, and stated its solution in paragraph 423: … if decisions are to be taken on grounds of the national economy or of social needs, then they must be taken by the Minister, and submitted by him before the approval of Parliament. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether the Government accept that recommendation of our own Select Committee. I detected in my right hon. Friend's opening speech an inference that it had, in fact, been accepted, but it has not been stated publicly. Personally, I should much prefer, as, I believe, did the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, that we should give specific subsidies to specific lines or specific services which are identifiable and which could be debated and discussed, rather than that we should ask British Railways to cover unremunerative services in their general accounts, knowing that they are running at a loss. There is then shown just a general deficit and everyone says how incompetent British Railways are, but it is really because they are fulfilling a national purpose in these specific services.

I should be very distressed if it were decided to deal with this problem by a general subsidy. On the other hand, I should look with great sympathy on specific claims for specific subsidies. I would take on my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and be prepared to justify, let us say, not increasing expenditure on some other desirable public services, if it involved some small subsidy to keep open, for instance, the line from Glasgow to Mallaig. I hope that, if not tonight then within the foreseeable future, my right hon. Friend will make absolutely clear where the Government stand on this matter.

There are many questions one could ask on the human side. On the whole, railwaymen are a sensible and conscientious body of men. But they have had to put up with a lot in recent years. They have a strong sense of pride in the railways, but that pride has been somewhat eroded by the conditions under which they have to work. They are not by nature Luddites, though occasionally one or two of their representatives might suggest that they are. They accept the need for change, even drastic change, in the railway system. But like all of us, they are human. They fear the unknown and therefore they want to know what is their future.

I wish to make certain specific recommendations on the human side. First, let British Railways make a master plan, a long-term strategy. Let them discuss it not only with the trade unions at national level, as they do now, but right down the line with men and management at every level. Up to now this has been a major failure of the top management of the Commission. Let them have a look at the way in which Monty kept the men of the 8th Army in the picture at every stage of his campaign. The men are entitled to know what is going on and where they are going.

Secondly, let British Railways have a major campaign to improve the standard and quality of their management. For far too long British Railways have failed to recruit their share of the nation's abler young men. Few engineering graduates have chosen the railways as their career. The reasons are obvious. I urge that the railways should make a special effort to bring in young talent. Of course, they will have to pay them properly. One cannot get ability on the cheap.

Thirdly, let British Railways, as a number of hon. Members have suggested, have another look at their redundancy agreements. They are not very generous, especially for the older men. These agreements should be geared strongly in favour of the older men and those with long service because it is much harder for them to adapt themselves to new jobs. Remember that there are skills particular to the railways. This is a real problem with us in Eastleigh where we face substantial redundancies of this nature in our railway workshops.

Undoubtedly the railway system of twenty years hence will not require the 500,000 people who are at present employed in it. I have no idea how many will be needed, but if British Railways are to get the co-operation from railwaymen and their trade unions in rationalising and modernising the railways they must produce financially more attractive redundancy terms. In the long run generosity in these matters is good economics as well as being socially desirable.

If any hon. Member doubts the validity of my argument, let him calculate what would be the cost to the nation of a two or three weeks' national rail strike. If the sort of fears which we are experiencing in Eastleigh are reproduced over the whole system one might end up with just such a strike.

Fourthly, it is not only a directly financial question, but it is also a question of showing willing so as to gain the men's confidence by being generous over redundancy terms. I am certain that the men and their local representatives would be much more helpful to the Transport Commission if they know that they will be treated generously if they are no longer needed. When major services or facilities are to be closed down, let British Railways plan well ahead. Let them take the men into their confidence and tell them the real reasons why certain unpleasant action has to be taken. Tell them the truth—however bitter it is. My constituents in Eastleigh still do not officially know why no more carriages are to be made in our carriage works. We think we know but we have never been told officially, either the men in the works or the management.

Fifthly, if British Railways plan ahead properly, then let them take the Board of Trade and the local authorities into their confidence at an early stage so that new industry can be made available to take up the redundancies. It is easy to talk about reducing numbers. We know that the numbers must be reduced over the years but let us never forget that for each man made redudant there is a deeply personal problem which it is our duty to help to solve.

Lastly, let British Railways make far more use of developing their spare railway land as industrial sites. This gives not only alternative employment in railway towns such as mine which is suffering redundancy but is of more general application, because in the development of these potential industrial trading estates lies one of the best ways of attracting freight back to the railways. At the same time it gives the railways and, through them, the nation a chance of exploiting to the economic benefit of the nation a lot of land lying idle and derelict.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) knows that I am in utter agreement with what he is saying about improving the terms under which men are made redundant. Would he not also include in that generous attitude towards redundancy the giving of adequate notice, really long notice, to men who must look for other jobs, particularly older men who have the difficulty of adjusting themselves to new jobs?

Mr. D. Price

I agree entirely and that was implicit when I asked the railways to plan ahead and inform people at a far earlier stage.

I have talked in general terms about British Railways, but, as I have indicated, we have a real and immediate problem in Eastleigh in our railway workshops. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and I raised this matter in an Adjournment debate on 5th March. I will not detain the House by repeating all the arguments we used on that occasion, although many of the questions which we raised still remain unanswered. I will, instead, select two broad questions of general interest to hon. Members.

First, what is to be the British Railways' plan for the future of their workshops? Secondly, and this is of more particular interest to hon. Members who represent constituencies in the South, what is to be the future of the Eastleigh Carriage Works and the Eastleigh Locomotive Works? These are the major workshops of the Southern Region system. We do not know the answers to these questions, although we should. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to answer them when he replies.

What the public and, in particular railway men, need most from my right hon. Friend and the new Railways Board is hope for the future—hope that after the pain and agony of rationalisation we will have an efficient, modern railway system on which we will be pleased to travel and for which one will be proud to work.

7.59 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Derby, North)

I intend, like the Minister, to concentrate as far as possible on the future. I fear that in the Minister's speech we learned precious little about the future and the position basically is that we are all still waiting for Beeching. One thing the Minister told us which was new to me, and which, I think, we all welcome, is the intention that after the present survey of the factual position has been completed the facts will be made public. That is obviously essential if we and the country at large are to be able to make any intelligent judgment about the proposals when they are made.

When the third stage is reached and the Commission makes its proposals to the Minister, will those proposals be made public? If not, what use is the publication of the facts? We must know, at the critical moment, which is before the Minister makes up his mind, what the proposals are. The Minister may not like receiving deputations now. He may tell us that it is a waste of time because until he receives the proposals of the Commission he does not himself know what he will have to consider. But implicit in that is that, when he does know what the proposals are, then will be the time to receive the deputations. How can the deputations make any coherent and reasonable representations unless they know what are the proposals upon which their fate will depend? The Minister will realise that upon these proposals will depend the fate of thousands of workpeople and the livelihood and prosperity of whole communities.

I make no apology for concentrating my remarks within what may seem to some hon. Members a relatively narrow compass, namely, the future of the railway workshops. This subject was touched upon by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) in his very interesting speech which, I am sure, will have won a great deal of sympathy and support from both sides of the House. The position of the workshops is dealt with, perhaps with somewhat scant treatment, in the Report of the Commission, and, as I say, I do not apologise for concentrating upon it because, as is said in the Report, a very important part of the Commission's expenditure is here involved. For example, it is shown in the figures that repairs to rolling stock alone account for £90 million, which is 16 per cent, of the total expenditure on the railways.

I have a strong constituency interest in the matter. The Derby Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Works are, in fact, situated in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), but, as he will be the first to recognise, at least half of the many people who work there live in my constituency. I emphasise at once the scope of the problem. There are 11,000 citizens of Derby who work in these workshops. Naturally, there is the greatest anxiety and concern about what the effect of these drastic proposals for the future of our railways will be upon their livelihood and future.

From talking to railway people in Derby, I gather that there is a measure of confidence there as regards the fate of Derby itself. People hope and expect that their workshops will survive. The Derby group of workshops is one of the oldest, one of the largest and one of the finest of all the workshop groups in the country. Although I have no information, my prediction is that it will survive. Certainly, the British Transport Commission and the Minister would run into a great deal of trouble if they tried to plan any other future for them.

The work of the workshops is divided under two main heads, new construction and repair work. We gather from the Report that at present about 40 per cent. of new construction of locomotives is carried out by the B.T.C. and about 60 per cent. by private industry. About 80 per cent. of new construction of carriages and wagons is done by the B.T.C. and the rest is done by private industry. The great bulk of the repair work, of course, is carried out in the Commission's own workshops, but some of it both on locomotives and on carriages and wagons still goes out to private companies.

What are the present prognostications for the future, as far as one can see? I understand that in recent discussions certain figures were put forward indicating that for locomotives it is expected that within the next 10 years there will be a reduction of between 35 and 40 per cent. in the output of locomotive repairs, from 27,000 units, the present output, to about 17,500 a year, and for carriages it is expected that there will be a reduction of about 18 per cent., from 90,000 to 75,000 units a year. For wagon repairs, there will be a much sharper reduction in a much narrower period, it being expected that there will be a reduction of about 40 per cent., from 145,000 to 85,000 units a year, in only five years. These are startling figures which show the extent of the reductions which are contemplated in these workshops.

As regards new construction, I understand that there are no figures given or available at present, but what is envisaged is that for locomotives the present position is likely to be held for about two years, with a falling away thereafter, and for carriages and wagons there will be a yearly decrease, somewhat steeper for wagons than for carriages.

The conclusion which has been drawn by the Commission is that there is no alternative but to close several of the workshops, with resulting substantial redundancies. In fact, this policy is already being put into effect. As we know, new locomotive construction is already ceasing at Horwich, with redundancies taking place this year, and in the carriage and wagon works of Swindon and Eastleigh new construction will cease within about the next twelve months. Incidentally, one of the effects of this policy has been that these workshops have been brought under central control and will no longer be under the regions, a departure from the Minister's policy of decentralisation made necessary by the rationalisation.

At present, there is taking place a study of the relative efficiency of the different workshops in order to ascertain which of them is to survive. Of course, the results of this study are awaited most anxiously. I urge the Minister and the Commission to ensure that the study is conducted with the utmost speed not only in order to help to relieve anxiety but for another reason, too. I understand that while this study is going on there is no new ordering of materials allowed. In my own constituency, at least, there is real anxiety that unless the study is completed soon there will be a risk of an artificially created slack period as a result of workshops finding themselves understocked.

What can be done to save the workshops as far as possible? I hope that the Minister and the Commission feel that they have a real responsibility to try to save them wherever they can. We have heard something of the history of the railways during this debate. One piece of workshop history should be recorded. These workshops were not constructed as a result of nationalisation; they were, of course, inherited from the private companies. When the private companies started, they did not build their own workshops but depended on private industry, but private industry, realising that it had the railways in their grasp, imposed such extortionate terms that the private railway companies found it essential to construct their own workshops in order to be able to maintain their business. As a result of the development of these workshops, there are in various parts of the country whole communities and towns whose prosperity very largely depends upon the success of the workshops. Before any workshops are closed, every possible effort should be made to provide other work for them.

I urge that three principles should guide the Minister and the Commission in considering the future. First, no work should be contracted out without the opportunity being given to the Commission's workshops to tender for the work. Second, there should be no closures, no dismantling and no redundancies until every effort has been made to find alternative means by which the workshops can be economically employed. Third, where redundancies are unavoidable, everything must be done to mitigate the hardship.

First, opportunity to tender. I say at once that Derby workshops—I am sure that hon. Members representing other workshop constituencies will say the same—have no reason to fear competition from private industry. They have an accumulated experience, skill and "know-how" which is second to none. In Derby, the men now in the workshops are men whose fathers and grandfathers were in the workshops. They have a skill, devotion to and pride in their work which is beyond compare. They are also, of course, the pioneers in this field.

It was in Derby that the first steel coaches were built. They pioneered the standard wagons for coal and minerals. They have been building diesels since 1935. One-third of the diesel rail cars used by British Railways were built there. They also have the advantage that they cover the whole sphere of locomotives, carriages and wagons. Both sides have large machine shops which are able to assist and do assist each other. In consequence of these factors, they welcome any investigation and challenge any comparison, and they are confident that they can show that they can produce at less cost and with better quality. All they ask is that they have full opportunity to tender in competition.

There is a somewhat disturbing trend on the locomotive side. As I have said, the Commission's workshops at present construct about 40 per cent. of the new locomotives built in the country, but when we compare the 1961 figures with the 1960 figures we see that their output was reduced from 350 to 258, a drop of 26 per cent., whereas outside purchases fell only by 7 per cent.—from 401 to 373. They should have a better share in new construction.

Secondly, it has been the policy for some time that all diesel and electric power units shall be constructed by private industry. The major reason given for this is to help those industries in the export trade, a field which is denied to British Railways. This discrimination is quite unacceptable, and the railway workshops should be given their full proportion of this work, especially when it comes to the construction of standard power units.

Thirdly, on the locomotive repair side, the Commission's workshops are forced to purchase all their spares outside. The reason given by the Commission for this is that spares can be obtained more cheaply and economically that way. I am advised by the men that they are confident that if they were only given the opportunity to do so they could produce many of these spares more cheaply but they cannot get the specifications from the private manufacturers.

On the carriage and wagon side, in view of the massive reduction which is forecast, there is no reason why all the new construction should not be done the Commission's workshops. At the very least, they should be allowed to tender for it. I understand that the new Pullman trains which have been built by Metro-Cammell's were not offered for tender to the Commission's workshops. There is a disturbing trend in the figures for new wagons. Although the majority of them are being built in the Commission's workshops, the figures show that, whereas there was a very slight increase of 4½ per cent. this year in the wagons built by the Commission's workshops, the volume of purchases outside increased by 350 per cent.—from 520 to 1,821.

On the repair side, the Commission tells the workshops that they cannot replace the private repair facilities which can be obtained at more favourable prices. I know that the men in the workshops feel that on many occasions those more favourable prices conceal shoddy and skimped work. I was told of one instance of wagons brought in for light repair which were supposed recently to have had a complete overhaul in a private company's workshops. When the floorboards were lifted to do the repairs, it was found that the metal-work underneath had not even been scraped or painted. So common is this that the men in the Commission's workshops have a name for it. It is called "oil and brush work". When a phrase like that grows up, it is a fairly strong indication to me that there is a recognised practice which is fairly widespread.

The question of alternative work is really the vital issue for the future of these workshops. It is stated in paragraph 183 of the Commission's Report that The main purpose for which railway workshops are provided is the maintenance and repair of locomotives and rolling stock and the many other items of engineering equipment needed for operating the railway system. I ask that greater effect should be given to the words … providing … the engineering equipment needed for operating the railway system "— and not only the railway system, but the whole of the transport system under the British Transport Commission.

Not only should the Commission's workshops be able to construct their own components but a mass of engineering equipment at present used under the Commission is bought outside and is not put out to the Commission's workshops for tender. Examples are station equipment, lifts and other outdoor machinery, a vast quantity of equipment for the electrification schemes, overhead gantries, signalling equipment, signalling materials, steel girders for new bridges and a host of other constructional steel work materials. This applies not only to the railways but to similar requirements of the Docks Board and of other parts of the Commission's set-up.

I understand all this work is at present being put out to private contractors without the Transport Commission's workshops being given the opportunity to tender for it. Again, this is quite unacceptable. If we are to be given figures —I am delighted to hear that publications are to be made—I hope that they will include figures by which we can make true comparisons and find out what is the cost of the work being put out to private contractors.

On the third point of redundancies, I would only echo what has been said, namely, that where redundancy is necessary let it be carried out with all possible humanity and consideration. Let the longest notice be given to the men and let them be given really generous terms of compensation. Above all, let there be consultation with the unions. Let there be proper retaining schemes and let as many people as possible be reabsorbed in the railway industry. If this cannot be done, let them be given assistance in finding other work and retrained for it. This is a major social responsibility. The cost and burden of it need not necessarily fall on the new railway boards. If certain subsidies, as it were, are to be given on social grounds under the new plan, perhaps this is one of the items which should be paid for in that way. But the money must come from somewhere if redundancy is to be carried out humanely.

There is naturally the most profound anxiety throughout the railway industry at the moment at what appears to the workers in it to be the drastic, ruthless and at times short-sighted way in which the railways' problems are being tackled.

This Report at the moment does nothing to allay these fears. That, perhaps, is not the fault of the Report, but I urge the Minister to fulfil as early as possible his promise to acquaint us with all the facts and also to acquaint us with the proposals in time for us to be able to make effective representations before the Government make up their minds.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I will not attempt to follow the terms of what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) has been saying, except to say that I understood him to urge that the building of Pullman cars should be tendered for by the railway workshops. I understand that some of those already in the railway service are lying idle because the restaurant car staff will not work them, so there is very little point in building more Pullman cars if those that already exist cannot be used.

I was very much struck by remarks which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport let slip when opening his speech. He said that possibly some hon. Members opposite could not read. He was referring to the Transport Commission's Report. I wondered whether some of them could not hear, because earlier today I had a Question on the Order Paper to ask the Minister of Transport what new arrangements he had made for studying transport needs in the future and the best way of meeting them. My right hon. Friend gave quite a lengthy Answer, and he answered a further supplementary question whether the result of the study would be borne in mind in connection with railway closures.

In answering those questions, and over and over again in his speech, my right hon. Friend said that the final pattern of transport service was not and could not be settled until Dr. Beeching's Report had been received and made public. Notwithstanding that, speaker after speaker opposite made speeches on the assumption that some section or other of the railway was likely to be closed tomorrow and said why the closure should not take place. This is why I wondered whether the question of hon. Members' hearing might not also come into these matters.

I should like to congratulate the British Transport Commission on the opening chapter of its 1961 Report. Too often previous Reports have read rather like a prospectus written by a publicity agent, with soft phrases and rather optimistic thinking. There is nothing like that in this first chapter. The Report is hard and realistic. Though it may be said truly that many of the observations are not new, I have never heard them before stated quite so precisely and clearly and certainly not seen them so plainly mentioned in the Commission's Report.

Mr. Mellish

If this is a realistic Report, will the hon. Member not agree that if the suggestion in the Report about the closure of lines becomes a reality then my hon. Friend's fears are justified?

Mr. Wilson

The basic purpose of the first chapter of the Report is to point out the advantages and disadvantages of railway services and how the existing pattern of railways, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) pointed out, has no relation to present needs. One hundred years ago the railway services were built in competition with the horse and cart. The railways took on a bigger job than is suitable for railways today. This country has a more extensive railway service than has been attempted by any other country. We built railways a hundred years ago in haphazard fashion and even then some of the railways and even termini were little used. One of the London termini, Marylebone Station, was nicknamed by other railwaymen "The Birdcage" on the grounds that the staff were supposed to have nothing to do except whistle. There was little traffic. The pattern as originally constructed was therefore not at all realistic.

Surely, it is obvious that we should concentrate public money on the development of those railway services which are most likely to pay, because there are other transport services which can do certain jobs better. If we have public money to spend, let us spend it on those services which can best do a particular job. I have said before that transport is never an end in itself but always a means to an end. Each of us decides the peculiar advantages of a form of transport according to our individual views of what is cheap and convenient. The difficulty about the central planning of transport is that there is such a variety of views that it is difficult to estimate public opinion and to decide how it is to be met. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh who said that the safest thing to do was to allow people to decide by the purse what sort of transport they most wished to pay for and utilise. Nevertheless, there are certain pretty obvious advantages in certain forms of transport. For instance, air transport clearly attracts because of the speed of transit, notwithstanding the long delays at air terminals, which would not be tolerated in any other form of transport. Again, the C licence attracts because door-to-door delivery is under the owner's control and, obviously, in the case of the private car, one can drive in any direction and at any time.

The railways' advantages have been mentioned and are clearly set out in the first chapter of this Report. They are concerned with long-distance travel, commuter travel and bulk travel for goods, and on these three things nothing can touch the railways in this rather crowded island of ours. Some hon. Member has suggested that a leaf should be taken out of the airways' book and that long-distance travel, particularly at night, might be reduced in price. If the long-distance services did not have to contribute to the cost of a large number of other uneconomic services, there is no doubt that long-distance night travel could be reduced in price.

If we can get full trains, long-distance travel should pay quite well, because it has got a much higher standard of comfort and can maintain a higher average speed for long distances, particularly at night, than can a long-distance coach or bus. These advantages should be made the most of, and I think that everything should be done to improve them. I am not sure that everything has been done; I think a great deal more could be done in regard to comfortable seating. I know that certain things are being done to improve the silent running of the trains, with long rails and so on, which will make an improvement in regard to noise, but I think that more could be done in that direction.

With regard to the commuters, it is obvious that if a large number of people want to get from one place to another all at a particular time this can only be done by a railway, unless we are prepared to use vastly more surface space for multi-lane roads or possibly even heliports than is necessary for railways. A railway can carry a larger number of people over a given distance in a limited time than anything else, and if we are to concentrate on improving the advantages of the railways we should undoubtedly think of making such improvements.

For instance, one of the difficulties of services which provide for commuter passengers at medium long distance as well as short distances is that the trains are over-full before they arrive at the stations where the short journey commuters wish to join them. This situation arises in the case of Orpington. The trains arriving at Orpington are full before they get there, and Orpington people cannot get into them. The suggestion has been made—and this suggestion comes from Orpington—that the services might be double-decked by running a monorail service over the railway line. It is an idea which I think should be investigated, because when we get limited space and an excessive number of people, the double-decker suggestion might do something to help. I think that suggestion might be looked at. Certainly, it is the rather popular glib answer at the moment. In order to increase the speed of traffic on the streets, we say that pedestrians should either go upstairs or down below, and it is possible that where there are over-full commuter services something of that sort might be done.

With regard to goods services, on which British Railways have always depended, there is no railway in the country, except the Southern Railway or those in areas immediately around London, which has ever at any time been able to make a profit out of passenger travel alone; they have all depended on goods traffic, and some almost exclusively on it. If we want to improve the goods services it is disappointing that we have not done better in the provision of braked freight vehicles. There seems to have been no great improvement in this respect compared with 1959. The figure now is 315,000 in 1961, compared with 291,000 in 1959, and there are still 624,000 non-piped vehicles, which seems an execessively large number.

To improve the goods services it is necessary to speed up the goods trains and keep them going between the faster passenger trains. What delays goods traffic so much is the necessity to shunt it off on to a siding to allow a passenger train to pass. That is the cause of many complaints, and unless we get prompt deliveries the chances of getting full train loads of traffic over long distances are remote. If we concentrate on those requirements, I think that we can produce a much better service which will pay and will have a future.

Although it will be necessary to close down a certain number of lines and although there will be some question of redundancy, I hope that the staff will be fairly treated and that everything will be done to ensure that they get ample consideration. But I wish that hon. Members opposite would abandon chasing this will-o'-the-wisp of theirs that the losses on the railways since 1953 are due to something that we on these benches did at that time. That suggestion does not bear examination. The present working surplus of British Road Services is only £3½ million. Even if we were to quadruple that, and suppose that we had nationalised many more lorries than are nationalised, the figure would still be only £14 million. Even if we added the working surplus of the buses, which is at present £6 million, and doubled that and made it £12 million, we would still have only £26 million to set off against the £87 million which is the working deficit of the railways.

To try to represent the railway deficit as something arising out of the partial denationalisation—for that is all it was —of British Road Services in 1953 does not hold any water at all, especially when we look at the figures and see the vast increases which have taken place in the number of private cars since 1953 and the very large increase in the number of C licensed lorries in that same period. I asked one hon. Member whether he proposed to nationalise the private cars and the C licensed lorries. If he does not—and I have yet to find any hon. Member opposite Who will give a clear affirmative answer—it is useless to suppose that by some sort of wangling and by some increase in the nationalised sector or B.R.S. we could produce an integrated service.

I cannot understand the argument that the railways must be maintained in precisely their existing pattern and that they must be paid for by adding some other sort of service which pays its way. If one liked to nationalise all the bingo clubs and pubs and to pay their profits to the Transport Commission, possibly a balance sheet could be produced that was not "in the red", but it would not benefit anybody and certainly it would not produce a good service. It is surely far better for the railways to concentrate on the things that pay and to supplement their services by other means which are more appropriate to the particular form of traffic.

There seems to be also a misunderstanding amongst hon. Members opposite about what is the policy of the Government. It is not for me to give a statement of Government policy. It has been set out clearly in White Papers. We have never subscribed to the theory that we could not subsidise any part of British Railways. We indicated, in fact, our expectation that there would be sections of line which, for one reason or another, might have to be run at a loss but which the Government would expect the Railways Board to continue. That has been clear all along.

The Bill which is now before another place gives the Minister of Transport power to order the Railways Board to continue a railway service which is not economic. It also gives him power to direct the Railways Board to run a bus service. By statute, and certainly by contract, the new Railways Board will have the right to demand that the local bus companies with whom it has contractual rights shall run a bus service and to subsidise that service with railway funds. There is a great deal of misconception in the belief that if a railway service is withdrawn, no service will remain.

As many other hon. Members wish to speak, I will now resume my seat. I conclude as I began, however, in congratulating the Commission on a Report which, although its financial results may be disappointing, is clear and concise and sets out the position in a manner which people can well understand.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for the interest which he has taken in the problems of my constituency. I had intended to deal with them myself during the course of my remarks. I still hope to do so, although I have less time.

The first thing that struck me in connection with the Annual Report was the masterly understatement in paragraph 5 that The year 1961 was not a good year financially for the Commission's undertaking as a whole, the result being a deficit of £122 million compared with a deficit of £101 million in 1960. I hesitate to think what a really lousy year might be like. Secondly, we note that, in the words of the Report, this overall result was dominated by the large losses of British Railways and that the other activities achieved a surplus of £34 million. It is, therefore, natural to concentrate one's attention on the railways.

There has been much discussion of the studies which have been initiated under the leadership of Dr. Beeching. It should not be forgotten, however, that we have had a Tory Government for the last 11 years and that those studies might have been initiated at any period during that time. Therefore, the Government must bear the full weight of responsibility for the enormous deficit, which has been referred to by so many hon. Members and which has accumulated over these years.

Anyone with business experience will agree that if a business has been grossly mismanaged over a period of years, even a genius could not make it profitable overnight. We have been told by, I think, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) that few engineering graduates are employed by the Commission. I looked carefully at the Report to ascertain how many were being recruited. I see from paragraph 44 that, In 1961 the number of applications from university graduates seeking entry to the Commission's management training schemes increased, particularly from arts graduates applying for traffic or accountancy apprenticeships. I submit that this is not much use to the railways. They ought to be making strenuous attempts to attract engineering graduates, or they will continue to suffer from the poor management which has plagued them in the past.

We ought now to inquire whether all possible steps have been taken to put the railways on a sound commercial basis as quickly as possible. The analysis in Chapter 1 may have told us nothing that we could not already have deduced for ourselves, but it summarises it quite well. We are told that the fast and semi-fast passenger trains, the bulk freight such as coal and minerals, an appreciable part of the general merchandise as well and the surburban services as a whole all yield a margin on their direct costs and, therefore, make a contribution towards the central charges and interest. The remainder of the freight produced a deficit of £40 million—£50 million relative to direct costs; and that compares with a total working deficit of £87 million. This is important, because so much emphasis has been placed on the discontinuance of the passenger services, and yet we see from these figures that the uneconomic freight services are producing a deficit equal to half the total. Likewise, we are told that the stopping services outside the surburban areas lose heavily on their direct costs. It is stated that these figures are to some extent inaccurate, but I believe they should provide us with a guide to future policy, as they are intended to do.

It is admitted that no conceivable improvements in efficiency could possibly make some of these services pay for themselves. Most people accept that some of them will have to be discontinued. If we accept this reasoning in principle, we should also demand that the economies which the railways are aiming to secure by discontinuance of services should not be looked at in isolation. For example, every branch line closure throws an additional load on the road, and may even mean an increase in expenditure on construction and maintenance which could nullify any saving otherwise achieved by the railways.

There is also the intolerable slaughter on the roads referred to by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). We cannot put a value on that, but it is a very serious matter which must be taken into consideration.

There could also be an acceleration of population movement from areas such as the west of Scotland and Wales into the already densely populated regions of the Midlands and south-eastern England, which has been a very undesirable feature of post-war Britain. In other words, we should ask that the closures shall be looked at from the national point of view and not just from the point of view of the railways themselves. I could not quite follow the argument of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, but I think he will agree with me about this. The hon. Member for Eastleigh made the point explicit in his remarks.

This implies that there should be a subsidy to ensure the continued existence of certain services which would otherwise have to close I very much agreed with the hon. Member for Eastleigh when he said that the subsidies should be related to specific services. They should not be general ones given to the whole railway undertaking but should be properly related to the known operating expenses of the services.

I am afraid that there is a danger that in the list he is said to be compiling Dr. Beeching may not have in mind the factors which I have enumerated relative to the closure of branch lines. I say this because I have seen that there is the list compiled by the National Union of Railwaymen. It includes 105 stations and 256 miles of track which the union says are now scheduled for closure. The regions concerned will neither confirm nor deny this announcement. It brings out the point that it is essential that the authorities should publish their proposals as soon as possible, because doubts and anxieties are felt, not only by the public who use the services, but by members of the staff who may lose their jobs.

I think the idea of discussions on redundancy at local level is very important and should be looked into by the Commission when the time comes. But, according to the timetable given today by the Minister, it will be at least the end of this year before we know what are the proposals of Dr. Beeching. Of course, some time will elapse after that before the second stage is reached and the proposals are announced to the public. Then we shall have to wait again, until the third stage when the Government make a decision, before all those doubts are resolved.

There is, of course, another reason for coming to this point as soon as possible. It is that the sooner the obvious candidates for closure can be closed the sooner the railways may be put on as sound a commercial basis as possible, consistent with the other obligations to which I have referred. I do not think that this would absolve the management from undertaking the most vigorous search possible or other means of cutting down costs and increasing revenue. When this modernisation programme first appeared in 1955, it was to be the panacea to put the railways on a sound commercial footing. But as soon as it got under way we saw deficits taking another upward turn and now they are larger than ever. I think that it would be dangerous, therefore, to look upon the closure of branch lines as another panacea for all the ills of the railways.

There must be an emormous number of lesser economies which could be made and I am glad to see that there is a growing awareness of this fact which is evidenced by the employment by the Commission of nearly 1,500 full-time work study engineers. The Report claims that important economies have already been achieved by the use of work study technique, but no figures are given, and so we are unable to judge whether the expenditure on the training and employment of these people is counter-balanced by the saving achieved.

We are told in paragraph 122, and several hon. Members have referred to it, that the Commission has set up a company to accelerate the development of major railway property. But nothing is said about what is the future potential. It is true that in paragraph 237 there is a reference to the additional rent from property development schemes in the near future and it is said that the revenue from this is likely to be substantial. But what does that mean? It could be anything.

Another activity which demands greater exploitation is that of commercial advertising. This is referred to and there is the separate company which has been incorporated to deal with advertising. There are many other potentialities. The incorporation of advertisements in the passenger timetables might be considered. These huge timetables must be published at a loss because the only advertising matter in them comes from the Commission. It is quite inconceivable that the prices charged could cover the printing costs.

I want to end this section of my remarks by referring to the customer research investigations which are mentioned in paragraph 313 of the Report. All too often the customer feels rightly or wrongly that he is not of much account in the calculations of the Commission. It will be some comfort to the readers of the Report to be told that this is not really true, even if we cannot see much of a concrete nature happening as a result of these investigations. One series cover trends in population, industry and other developments likely to affect passenger travel in the Southern Region. I should have thought that a report on this subject would have been of interest to a very wide circle of people outside the railways and that therefore it ought to be published. Among those who might be able to make good use of the information would be local authorities, industries in the areas, transport consultative committees and members of the general public.

I very much hope that the regional board will decide to publish this report, which I think would also be of special interest to all hon. Members whose constituencies are in Kent. In the regions in Kent near London we have problems which we feel are not given the attention which they deserve. Perhaps the report will remove some of our fears on this point because I think that some people in British Railways feel that with the spending of £50 million on the coastal electrification scheme there is nothing further that they need do for us. In fact, when that scheme was completed they announced Kent has the finest train service in the world with the full implementation of the huge Kent Coast Electrification Scheme". Whoever thought up that particular piece of self-satisfied smugness ought to be condemned to travel on the Orpington to Cannon Street 8.36 a.m. train every day of the year.

To add insult to injury, they even had a special beano for all the county big-wigs in Folkestone to celebrate the completion of the scheme. I could not see how that could knock a single penny off the deficit on British Railways. It seemed a splendid example of the absence of commercial sense which seems to inflict some of the mandarins at the top. Mr. Bolland, the line manager of the South-Eastern Division, told us that the rush-hour problem is quite beyond the Kent modernisation scheme. He also said that peak hour overcrowding can be ended only by enlarging the London terminals and their approaches at immense cost and by encouraging firms to move out of London or staggering working hours.

What incentive is there to travel in the off-peak periods? When we had the last general increase which was 10 per cent, the off-peak fare jumped up 15 per cent. The fare from Orpington to Cannon Street was increased from 3s. 11d. to 4s. 6d., for instance. One cannot have an off-peak season ticket but it is possible to buy a weekly ticket entitling one to make one journey each day on five days in the week whereas the ordinary weekly ticket allows unlimited travel. In spite of the fact that a passenger uses an off-peak ticket he cannot leave Orpington between 7.27 and 9.23 in the morning and has not to return between 4.16 and 6.30 in the afternoon. I speak of Orpington because I know it, but the same applies to other suburban stations. Trains at the beginning and end of off-peak times are by no means overcrowded by rush-hour standards. If the off-peak times were extended more traffic might be attracted from those trains which are really overcrowded. Real off-peak season tickets and an extension of off-peak times are measures which might substantially alleviate overcrowding. They should be tried for a period on an experimental basis.

There is a further partial solution to the problem which apparently the railways prefer to ignore. I refer to making better use of the facilities available by a limited rearrangement of the timetable. I know that it is impossible to get more trains into and out of London during the rush hour; it is physically impossible to do so. But during the peak period some of the trains which arrive are much more crowded than others, and there should be some opportunity of evening the load.

May I give two examples? Chelsfield station, in my constituency, is particularly badly served, although the population which uses it has increased much faster even than that of the rest of Orpington. Until the last timetable revision there was no train from Chelsfield between 8.2 a.m. and 8.22 a.m. The train starting at 8.11 a.m. did not serve Chelsfield. It used to start at Orpington, but then they took it back a station, and now it stops all the way. This train was already grossly overcrowded when it started from Orpington. Now that it starts from Chelsfield it is even worse. A better solution would be to stop the 8.9 a.m. from Sevenoaks to London Bridge, which is a non-stop train and goes through Chelsfield about 8.17 a.m. If it stopped there it would impose a delay of only about a minute, and the train is by no means overcrowded.

I could give several other examples, but there is not time. May I briefly refer to the delays and overcrowding on the rush-hour services? I have referred to these problems before and the Minister may say that he has no responsibility in these matters, but they ought to be mentioned. There are two particular reasons for this on the Southern Region. One is that a train which is supposed to have ten cars is sometimes reduced to eight cars, and I believe that this is generally due to damage caused by hooligans— although, as everyone knows, railway passengers are treated like babies who apparently need no explanation when things go wrong. I should like to be assured that the railway authorities are taking all the steps they can to minimise the hooliganism on trains which is said to be the cause of taking these carriages out of service, even if they cannot eliminate it altogether.

Secondly, many delays and cancellations are attributed to points failures, and I should like to know whether this is something which we must accept for ever or whether it is caused by lack of proper maintenance. There is no way in which the public can find the answer to questions of this sort.

May I say a few words about the long-term improvements which I think could be made in these suburban services? We know that these short-term measures which I mentioned, such as the revision of the timetables and the encouragement of off-peak travel, would be palliatives rather than a complete cure of the situation, because there has been a vast growth of population throughout the southern periphery of London since the war. Meanwhile, the completion of the electrification scheme means that more and more commuters are attracted into outer parts of Kent and fewer seats are available for those travelling from close to London.

If nothing at all is done, people in the end will be driven back on to the roads. There is already a financial incentive for people to operate car pools, and there are many cases in which car owners team up with a few friends and drive to London. They can do this more economically than they can travel on the trains because a journey of this nature does not include the cost of providing the urban roads. I think that the majority still prefer to travel by rail because it is faster, but if it becomes more and more uncomfortable and unreliable, in the end they will have had enough.

There have been discussions of the measures which would be needed to secure a substantial increase in the capacity of the south-eastern division services. Mr. Rupert Shervington, traffic superintendent of the division, writing in Modern Railways for June, 1962, says,

The task of the railways in Kent is still incomplete. From the train operating point of view, the ability to run more trains into London, if these are demanded, depends upon an improvement in the headways at the approaches to London which, at the moment are fully utilised. Various outline plans are being considered for widening the bottlenecks and increasing the terminal capacity. Later on in the same article, Mr. Shervington points out that the financial justification for providing vastly expensive facilities which will still further increase the peak load is by no means certain. The money clearly cannot be found from revenue. This is not the only criterion by which these schemes should be judged. If they could enable us to avoid constructing even more expensive urban motorways, which bring in no revenue whatsoever, they could be justified from the national point of view if not from the point of view of the railways themselves.

I wish I could feel that the problems to which I have referred are being given the serious consideration which they warrant. I cannot get away from the suspicion that nothing gets done because the railway customer is a captive market, doomed to suffer for ever regular fare increases and a continued drop in the standards of service.

9.1 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I propose to deal with the Liberal Party's arguments, if they can be called that, later. I should like to start my speech by referring to two speeches which have been made today, because they are the background to this important subject. The first speech to which I want to pay special tribute was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot). My hon. Friends and I are delighted to see him back with us once again. In the past he always made excellent contributions to our debates. He made an excellent contribution again today. The second speech to which I want to pay special tribute was that of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price). These two hon. Members said to the Government and to the whole House that when considering transport problems today we have to think about thousands of people, their heartaches and their social backgrounds, and the fact that there are literally whole town-ships of people dependent entirely upon the railways. Nobody can talk glibly about closing lines, as has been done in the past, without recognising that hundreds of thousands of people will be affected. These two speeches are the background against which we must consider the problem.

I suppose that the Minister's supporters thought that he made a first-class opening speech. We on this side thought that he was dreadful. The only tribute I would pay him is that I think he would have done awfully well on "Sunday Night at the Palladium". He gave us a first-class comedy effort, but he did not dead with any of the basic problems. He said, in effect, "Do not worry. There is no detailed plan yet. We shall let you know when there is. The rumours which have been floating around about the closure of lines are all nonsense. No one can read my mind". I agree with that, because he has such a funny, distorted, twisted mind at times. It is fair for him to say that. It would be very difficult for us to read his mind. I will come to what he said later.

It cannot be denied by any hon. Members opposite that the Tory Government have now been in power for eleven years and any transport problems which exist are entirely their responsibility. They cannot offer any excuses. It is their sole responsibility. There was a time— I remember it only too well; I have taken part in most of the debates on transport which have taken place in the House in the past few years—when it was the fault of nationalisation. Everything that went wrong was laid at the door of the Labour Government of 1945, who introduced nationalisation. Their action was described as a tragedy.

Transport is worse now that it has been in the history of our country, particularly on the railways. It is a tragic situation. The Government ride off by saying, "There are different trends. There are different economic problems. It is not our fault. We are sorry about it. We will set up some study reviews." How many more study reviews are we going to have on this industry? It is full of study reviews.

Hon. Members opposite can think of nothing else but profit. In 1953 the railways were doing remarkably well. Arguments then raged about State ownership and about whether road transport should be taken away from the nationalised set-up, but the railways on their own were doing a first-class job. For example, in 1953 they made working profits of £34 million. In 1954 the profits went down to £16 million. In 1955 they went down to £1 million.

It is a story in which the railways have been literally drowned in a sea of deficits, and the Government take no responsibility for that. One question that has to be answered is why this tragic decline in railway income took place. It is based on the fact that there was a slump in the two industries which provided the railways' most important freights —coal and steel. Do the Government disclaim responsibility for that? It is a known fact that steel and coal, because the bottom was knocked out of those industries, put the railways in the red from 1954 onwards to such an extent that we are talking tonight about a railway system that has a deficit of £86 million on the working side, apart from central charges. It is a tragic story.

The Tory Government believe in a policy of free-for-all. They do not believe in a planned economy for transport. They have said it often before. The people of this country have been given the chance in the last few months to say what they think about the Government. I do not think any hon. Member opposite would deny the fact that the people want to see the back of the Government as quickly as possible. The Liberal Party won the seat in Orpington largely because that constituency has suffered from the Government's transport policy. That is true, and it would be foolish not to admit it.

The Minister of Transport is full of gimmicks and is a great publicity man. Let me get this on record for him. I know that he will not like it. But more than anyone he is responsible for the unpopularity of the party opposite. This great little man who has spent so much time in trying to get popularity for himself is already very unpopular, particularly in areas where there are literally thousands of commuters. That is why we are getting the Liberal Party in. There cannot be any other reason for it.

I hoped that we would have heard about Liberal Party policy on transport. The greatest contribution that we heard from the Liberals today—it is absolutely wizard, and I am sure that Dr. Beeching will tremble with fear when he hears it—was that the one way to get more money for transport was to put more advertisements in the time-table.

Kent and areas of that kind are the stronghold of the Tory Party. If it starts losing seats in Kent then it is really in trouble. The hon. Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. Hornby) is not in the Chamber. I apologise for not giving him notice of what I am about to say, but I am not really criticising him. The poor, wretched man has been compelled to join a travellers' association and to support it. He is against the Government. If there is any question of closures there the hon. Member for Tonbridge will be in a terrible way. The Conservatives are now facing disaster because of the commuters feelings in the matter.

Dr. Beeching has been in power only one year and has not done too badly, has he? He started off with £100 million deficit on B.T.C. and the deficit is now £121 million. That is not bad for a year's work. This was the greatest of all men. He is a courageous man and has warned the Conservative Party that before things get better they will get a lot worse and it must get ready for more deficits. This is the man who on £24,000 a year was to get us out of trouble. What is he actually doing? He is to give us some surveys. I agree that 'they should have been done a long time ago, and I pay tribute to him for introducing them. When we read the report and see what he is going to do we shall when we become the Government of the day, as we surely will next time, need just that sort of information on which to base our transport policy. [Interruption.]

If hon. Members opposite think that they should go to the polls now, I wish that they would. If they did, there could be no doubt that there would be only half a dozen Tories left here and they would all represent seaside constituencies. As most of the seaside constituency Members are not worth very much, we should not have much bother with them. In fact, what Dr. Beeching is going to do is to have five very important surveys. They will tell us the cost of handling existing traffics by present-day methods. They will tell us the forms of traffic which the railways could handle most satisfactorily. They will tell us something about the volume of traffic flowing through all stations and depôts, and of the actual route miles travelled. They will tell us the determination of the pattern of traffic flow throughout the country by rail and by other forms of transport, but, in particular, what forms of traffic are favourable to the railways.

That is all essential information. It is one of the intelligent things that have come out of Dr. Beeching's work in the last year, and we pay tribute to him for it. But what are Dr. Beeching's terms of reference? What is it that this great man has been told to do? He has been told that at all costs he must make a profit on the railways, he must make them viable, and everything he does is tuned to that. Indeed, in his Report, and particularly in Chapter 1, which is first-rate in its presentation, he says again and again that he is faced with the task of making the railways profitable, and he brings home the dangers of that policy.

I should like here to refer to page 5 of his Report. After referring to branch lines, and having made the point about the use of stopping lines being uneconomic and, by inference, that those things would have to go if his terms of reference are to make a profit, he states: Therefore, the closure of branch lines should be seen as a part, and only a minor part, of a much wider withdrawal of one form of service and modified operation of another. When my right hon. Friend expresses alarm and despondency about the future, and has been backed by the hon. Member for Eastleigh and by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) says that he does not think that they can have read the Report. It is a pity that he himself did not read it.

The Minister, of course, has told us that we must not worry about the future, but we do not trust the Minister in this. Mr. Sidney Greene of the N.U.R., whom the whole House will recognise as a first-class trade union leader, has already said that if Dr. Beeching's terms of reference are carried out to the full it is possible that one-third of our railway lines will have to be closed down and that one-third of the staff will have to be sacked. That has been described as a very irresponsible statement, but he was justified in saying it in view of What Dr. Beeching has said in his Report.

That is why the Minister has come to the House today—and we have seen it all in the evening papers—"Minister says 'Don't fear railway closures. These are untrue'." If I may say so, the Minister made a very dishonest speech. He knows that if Dr. Beeching is to carry out his terms of reference he must close down a very considerable number of branch lines and that there must be considerable redundancy. The Minister says, "We have some surveys to come, and on those I shall decide," but, as Dr. Beeching's Report says, these surveys already show that these closures must take place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) made a notable speech the other day, and the Minister has today tried to follow the same sort of line. My hon. Friend, talking of the men, said what a disaster it was to talk of closing vast lengths of line and sacking thousands of men who have spent their lifetime in the industry without making some reference at the time—and in the Report—to adequate compensation, and so on, for those men. I can best sum this up by quoting from an article written by Mr. Tom Margerison in the Sunday Times of 1st April last. The article, referring to statements made by senior railway engineers, stated: 'Dr. Beeching,' one of them told me, 'has a five-year contract so he is all out for a short-term solution. But we are devoting a lifetime to the railways. And for us the short cut to a healthy balance sheet may prove to be a calamity in the long run'. This is an honest railwayman's point of view. Dr. Beeching's short-cut to fame may mean a disaster for many people, and while it may be a short-cut to fame for him this is not a matter on which just the Minister of Transport or Dr. Beeching can decide. A lot of other people need to be consulted. What about the Minister of Housing? Should he not be asked about it? Surely the Minister of Housing has an interest in this matter, as must have the Minister of Health, who also should be consulted.

With all the faults of our railway system—and we have been told that it is antiquated and many other things—it has served and is serving the nation, although it may not be something from which we can make a profit. One cannot talk about cutting out a great deal of it without consulting those who are affected by the cuts—and that includes a number of Ministers who have an interest in the matter.

There are other aspects resulting from the closing of branch lines. The Government's policy on these closures does not match up with what they are doing in other fields. I doubt whether the Minister of Transport knows what is going on in other Government Departments because he is so worried about himself and what he is doing. The truth is that the Government are trying to urge industry to go to places like Scotland while, at the same time, the Minister of Transport carries out his policy. We hear the Secretary of State for Scotland saying that he is doing a wonderful job, attracting thousands of firms to Scotland, Wales and such places, but does the Minister of Transport know about that?

In Scotland and Wales, to which firms are being urged to go, there are many depressed areas. How can one talk about attracting industry to these areas and, at the same time, declare that many of the branch railway lines in them are uneconomic and must go? That is what has been said in the House and also in the Report and it is against that background that my hon. Friends have pointed out the difficulties involved.

When some of my hon. Friends made their speeches I do not think that the Minister of Transport was here to listen to them. It was a pity. It is a pity that he does not stay longer and listen to more of our debates, for he certainly made a rather laughable effort himself. My hon. Friends were referring to areas where there is already a great deal of unemployment and depression and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if his Ministry adds to these problems he is going to hear a lot more about it from us.

I believe that when the right hon. Gentleman spoke earlier he rather panicked and said, in effect, "Do not believe all you hear". "Wait, things are not as bad as all that". We think that the right hon. Gentleman fears a General Election and, because of that, said the things he did. In any case, what has been the result of the Government's policy? Because they believe in a policy of free-for-all we are in our present position, for as far as the Government are concerned if someone wants to send goods by road, let him. The Government say, "Let him do it; we do not care." What has been the result? One result is that 1 million tons of traffic was lost from the River Thames in 1960 to the roads. Coastal shipping is absolutely dying. Do the Government care?

When my hon. Friends talk about co-ordination they are sneered and jeered at, but surely hon. Gentlemen opposite are interested in the future of coastal shipping and shipping generally? Nevertheless, shipping generally and a great deal of the lighterage industry of the River Thames is in a terrible plight. As I say, 1 million tons was lost from the Thames to the roads in 1960 and there are some borough councils in London which are sending refuse by road because it is cheaper to do so. Does this sort of thing not concern the Government? Do not they care? At the end of the day their free-for-all policy must be matched with a roads policy. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that his roads policy is correct, having regard to things like 1 million tons of traffic being transferred from the Thames to the roads?

If present Government policy continues and if fares go up again for the commuters, what will be the consequences? For one thing, the Tories might well have lost their deposit in Orpington, as the Labour Party lost its, except that in their case they would have lost it after having held the seat with a 14,000 majority, if the increase in fares applying to the people of Orpington had been announced before instead of after the election there. But let us suppose that in the next year fares for commuters are increased again, as is quite likely, it is a fair assumption that about 10 per cent. of those who come into the main line stations of London would decide to go by road at peak hours. That increase in our present peak-hour traffic on the roads of London would bring us to a standstill. The Minister knows it. Yet the British Transport Commission must get more money. According to its terms of reference, it has to make more money from that which is profitable, and commuter traffic is profitable.

I put this suggestion to the Government. At the end of the day, the public must pay for a good transport system. I have never shirked that issue, and neither has anyone on this side of the House. A good transport system must be paid for, and the British Transport Commission must not run away from its obligation to put up fares when increases are justified. When all is said and done, the fares on our railways and buses are among the cheapest in Europe. But, if we are to put up fares again and again, there is no reason why the Government—I doubt that this bright Government will do anything about it —should not decide that the time has come to reconsider our taxation rules in regard to claiming travel expenses. We do it for big business. Big business is properly able to make a claim by showing that £x have been spent during the year in the business of the company on travelling expenses.

The words used by the Inland Revenue refer to expenses incurred wholly, necessarily and exclusively in the course of employment. Is there anything better qualified within those terms than the cost of going to work? Yet none of the commuters of Orpington—I have great sympathy for them; I hope to see a Labour Member in Orpington, not a Liberal—is able to claim his travelling expenses in that way. Why do not the Government consider giving people some relief from taxation? We cannot keep on putting up the fares without finally driving most of them on to the roads.

The power of the railwaymen is enormous. We know what happened on the black Monday of the unofficial strike in London. I speak here as a Londoner. On that day, every gimmick the Minister of Transport has ever thought of during the past two or three years came to nought. All our traffic over the bridges was stopped. By five o'clock that evening, when the railways came to a halt, there was traffic congestion such as London has never known. This is the power of the railwaymen, and I tell the Minister that they will want something far better than what he said today about not fearing the future. The railway industry has had a great battering from this Government. It has been denigrated, sneered at and jeered at, and I believe that the railwaymen of this country deserve full tribute and credit for not having taken advantage of the power which they possess.

I turn now to other parts of the Report—not much has been said about them today—which deal with what are, for the most part, the profitable parts of the British Transport Commission's undertakings. I begin with a special word about the London Transport Executive and the buses. The London Transport Executive made a profit last year of £7 million. Pretty good, considering everything. But the busmen of London are just about the unhappiest section of men I have met for a long time. They demanded an inquiry into the conditions of their work. They are frustrated and absolutely fed up with the attitude of passengers in London, who, quite understandably, abuse them a good deal because timetables have gone astray, and so on. They wanted an independent inquiry. I went to the Minister with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and pleaded with him for this to be done. We had petitions signed by 180,000 people. The right hon. Gentleman turned it down. He did not want an inquiry because he knew, as most of those who signed the petitions knew, that a genuine independent public inquiry, not the sort of secret inquiries the Minister has been having, would show that this Government carried full responsibility for all the problems of transport today, including the problems of the buses. But the right hon. Gentleman would not have it.

Much has been made of the Victoria tube. I do not know when we shall have a decision on this matter. It is disgraceful for a Government in this day and age, with a Budget of nearly £6,000 million, to say that we cannot afford an extension of the tube. This is what was said about Waterloo Bridge. If the present policy had been adopted with regard to that bridge, we should not have it today. It appears that this nation can never afford anything when it comes to giving the people a real service. We can spend unlimited amounts of money on defence. We are not allowed an inquiry into the way in which money is spent on that. Yet it is said that we cannot have the Victoria tube because it will lose money. It seems that it does not matter about the people, nor that the people using the tube in central London are choked to suffocation and that they are travelling in the most uncomfortable conditions. This is unimportant. Cost is all that matters. This is the attitude of a Minister who talks about his concern for transport.

We on this side make no apology for the arguments which we have put forward in the past and which we have put forward again today. The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) said that the trouble with the Labour Party is that we are out of date. Our beliefs and principles which we attempted to apply in 1947 were never given a real chance. Our record up to 1953 was, I think, one of which we can be proud. If one's principles are right, no matter how often one says it, it does not make them wrong.

We shall be the Government of the day next time; of this we are certain. We shall return to what we started in 1947—a co-ordinated transport industry. We recognise and understand that transport has been in the cockpit of politics for many years, but all of our basic industries eventually have to be decided in this House. We have said, and I say it again on behalf of my party, that we believe in co-ordination. We do not believe that the vast majority of our people must suffer merely because some individual manufacturers and employers say that it is cheaper for them to send their goods by other means.

The needs of the nation are all-important. We shall reaffirm that when we return to power. The present situation speaks for itself. The Government stand condemned by their own record over the last eleven years.

9.27 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has entertained the House for the last 25 minutes with an ebullient speech. I understand why he is feeling rather cheerful because he has told me of the good family news which he has had. I am sure that he will accept congratulations from me and from my hon. Friends on the fact that his son has done so well at Cambridge. However, my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman extend only that far, because he said many things on which I certainly cannot congratulate him.

I was most struck with the fact that at the end of his speech the hon. Gentleman gave us a foretaste of what sort of policy, presumably, his party would pursue should it again be in a position to form the Government of this country. We were told that they would return to integration. I hope that they do better than they did last time. It is odd that, as the years go by, the curtain of secrecy which surrounded the activities of the Labour Government after 1945 is lifted. We know how it came about that this great attempt at integration which they tried in 1945 and 1946 failed.

I have just been looking at the memoirs of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison on this subject. We are often told that the trouble with the railways today is that we have allowed too many "C" licences to proliferate. We have pointed out that it lay in the power of the Labour Government to do something about this. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, in his memoirs says: There was never any question of putting the small local haulier out of business, or of making him an employee of a nationalised industry. But the big firms, including those with their own fleets for carrying their own goods (the holders of 'C' licences), I considered should, outside certain mileage limits, be brought into the public service. At that stage of the discussions I fell ill, and possibly due—but only in part—to a distinct lack of enthusiasm among the Co-operative Societies about surrendering their large road transport fleets, the 'C'-licence firms were cut out of the Bill… Douglas Jay had been hard at work on Attlee to get the provisions about 'C'-licence vehicles dropped from the Bill. I will not go on quoting because the noble Lord continues with a rather obscure but I think pregnant reference to the view of the municipalities about the nationalisation of their bus services. Perhaps it might be a little unkind for me to quote that too.

Mr. Mellish

To get the record clear, Lord Morrison was saying then, and I repeat it now, that we have always believed that the "C" licence covers many vehicles which ought not to be in the "C" licensing system at all. When they talked about co-operative vehicles they were talking of milk floats and all sorts of delivery vans. One way in which I believe this matter ought to be dealt with is to take the vehicles of the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker outside the "C" licensing system. Then we should have a co-ordinated service of the kind we have in mind.

Mr. Hay

The House will draw two conclusions from that remark. Firstly, it is a pity that the hon. Member did not then occupy the position in his party which he occupies today. Secondly, it is rather odd that the leaders of his party at that time did not take that simple solution.

I should like to mention one other thing before I leave the hon. Member's speech. He stated that our policy on transport was that of a free-for-all. This is quite untrue. It is not our policy to have a free-for-all but, on the other hand, it is not our policy to have rigid control in the sense that the party opposite has so frequently advocated. It is our view that national efficiency will best be served as a consequence of the sum of individual decisions taken by individual people as to how they wish to send their goods.

We are frequently asked what is our policy for ensuring that traffic which is going by road should go back on to the railways. The answer is simply that if the rail service is more efficient and more economic, those who are sending their goods by road will send them by rail. It is this thinking, which is part of the policy, that is also implicit in the first chapter of the Transport Commission's Report.

It is perhaps inevitable that the debate has largely turned upon the railways. The hon. Member for Bermondsey, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), and my right hon. Friend and I, have had a number of opportunities for debating the railways over the course of the last two years. I have not counted how many times we have debated these matters but the facts remain the same however frequently we debate them.

One new factor, however, has been introduced into today's debate which we did not have in any of the other debates. It is that we have the Commission's Report for 1961, and the Government's Motion is to take note of it. It contains, particularly in the first chapter, the review of the situation which Dr. Beeching has prepared. I was struck, as I think every hon. Member has been, by the clarity of thought which that chapter shows and by the obvious grasp of the problems which the nationalised railways have to face.

I should like to say something next about railway closures. It is clear that there is a lot of anxiety at present, particularly in Scotland and Wales, about the extent of future railway closures. I quite understand that those who think they may be directly affected should be concerned, but we must remember that there have been closures on a considerable scale for a number of years. In its Annual Report for 1961, the Central Transport Consultative Committee pointed out that since 1950 it had deal with closure proposals involving 3,600 route miles, or rather less than 19 per cent. of the total mileage operative in 1950. It is therefore nothing new for the railways to close lines. Indeed, the railways are now saving about £5 million a year as the result of the closures effected since the war. By comparison with the current railway deficit, this may not seem a very large sum, but it is a significant contribution towards achieving railway viability.

In the course of the debate, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), and I think one or two other hon. Members, urged my right hon. Friend to tell the railways to stop all pending closures until the traffic studies are completed. I must tell them frankly that we do not see the point of doing that, for the simple reason that the closures which are now under discussion, which are projected or which are actually before the consultative committees are closures in respect of which the Commission itself is convinced beyond any doubt that not only is the service unprofitable as it stands, but that it can never be economic, no matter what happens. If we were to adopt the advice given us or to respond to the requests made to us to call a halt to these closures, we should be cutting ourselves off, for a number of months, at least, from a very useful source of economies. For that reason, I am afraid that my right hon. Friend is not willing to give any direction, such as he is being asked to do, to the Commission to call a halt to railway closures at this stage.

The present fears are that the new railway management before long will put forward closure proposals on a very much larger scale, and I think the Report foreshadows this. The chapter to which I have referred explains in some detail the need for closures. Briefly, we have to face the fact that in spite of the closures which have taken place since the war, the railway system which we have today is just too large for our country's present needs. For example, as the Report shows, stations are so close together in this country that on the average they serve a radius of only 2½ miles. That is a startling fact which I did not know until I had this information from the Commission.

The present system was developed when the roads were very different from the ones we have today, and when there was only horse traffic moving on them. A great network of railways was built up a hundred or more years ago, covering the whole country, to supplant the horse and cart. In view of the high capital and maintenance costs, however, a railway can be economic only if used intensively to carry heavy traffic at high speeds. In the era of railway expansion, when the railways' only competitor was the horse and cart, the railways carried all sorts of local short-distance traffic, and as a result, right from the beginning, some lines and local services were uneconomic.

With the development of motor transport between the wars, the economic weaknesses of the railways became obvious. Up to the end of the last war, the railways were in no shape to face a further expansion of road transport, but since then not only has there been a great increase in public commercial transport, but the country's prosperity has brought a very great increase in the ownership of private transport, as I have frequently mentioned in debates before. So we have to face a railway system which by its very size was much too large for our economic needs, and which has been faced in the recent years with growing competition from other forms of transport.

These economic and social changes have expressed themselves as far as the railways are concerned in increasingly heavy deficits, and no amount of new capital for modernisation can end this process. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the railways' present financial difficulties derive from the problem of trying to maintain a railway transport system of a size and of a nature which do not match what the user wants and is prepared to pay for. It is all very easy for the party opposite to whip itself into a frenzy and place the blame for the troubles of the railways on the Government and on Government policy, but the fact is as I have stated it. The troubles of the railways are simply due to the fact that they are trying to run an undertaking which is far too vast in size and scope for what the country really needs and is prepared to pay for. That is the problem which we have to face. That is why we have been obliged in the course of the last two years to go through a very large exercise to prepare the stage for the reshaping of the railway system.

May I now say a word about the immediate future. In our view, as I have said, there must be a comprehensive review of the whole railway system to ascertain what the country really wants. Dr. Beeching, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, has put in hand traffic studies to determine the traffics which the railways can most profitably carry and to determine the services which they will never be able to provide on an economic basis.

Paragraph 9 of the Annual Report of the Commission describes in detail what these studies are. The results of the studies are now becoming available, but they will not be fully analysed until later this year. But when we have examined them it should be possible to settle the future shape and size of the railway system. In the mean time, a broad indication of the kind of changes likely to come is contained in the Annual Report.

Examination of the financial results for broad classes of traffic has shown that stopping passenger trains outside the dense suburban areas produce losses substantially greater than their total revenue. Similarly among freight traffics that part of general merchandise, Which, if I may quote from the Annual Report, is in small consignments, is of poor loadability "— that is the Commission's word and not mine— and is handled through high cost terminals, produced an annual overall deficit of no less than £70 million to £80 million, which is a very large sum for one particular activity.

This is a broad indication of the areas of present losses, and when the railway management has completed its examination of the results of the traffic study it will be able to produce information about its plans for discontinuing services, both passenger and goods. As the House knows, under the Transport Bill it will be required to publish information about those plans, and the precise nature and scope of the information to be published by the Boards has to be determined by the Minister in accordance with Clause 53 of the Bill. It will be designed to give users and, in particular, local authorities and other bodies having wide interests a picture of the withdrawals which are likely to take effect in the areas in which they are interested.

Mr. Ray Gunter (Southwark)

In November of last year Dr. Beeching, in an address to the Institute of Transport, said that if the same surveys and the same aspects of policy were undertaken by all other sections of the transport industry, the hopes for the transport industry would be much happier than they have been in the past. Would the Minister say now whether all aspects of the transport industry are now to undertake the same surveys so that an integrated transport system will emerge?

Mr. Hay

I can only speak for that part of the transport industry for which we are in some degree responsible. I would remind the House that there is a very large section of the transport industry which is not nationalised and for which my right hon. Friend has no direct responsibility, although, of course, he is the Minister of Transport. So far as I am aware, probably the private enterprise road haulage industry, the private enterprise bus industry and other parts of the transport undertakings in this country carry out and have carried out before surveys of this kind, but I understand that the British Transport Commission's surveys are concerned only with the railways in the sense in which I described them. But perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Gunter

Dr. Beeching—I offer no criticism—laid it down as a condition that the future well-being of the transport industry as an efficient industry would be conditional upon the other sections of the transport industry undertaking the same surveys, which conveys the idea that he was thinking in terms of a transport industry, private and nationalised, that could be integrated.

Mr. Hay

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would take that point up with Dr. Beeching. I honestly do not remember in detail the speech to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I would like to look at the actual quotation. It is something into which I should prefer not to be drawn, because I want to talk about other things.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

Can the Minister answer in this way? I speak as a representative of a Welsh constituency. Does he realise how desperately anxious we are in Wales about what is to happen to the whole of our Central and West Wales areas? If it is not the responsibility of the so-called Minister of Transport when railway closures are threatened to provide genuine long-distance as well as local services, whose responsibility is it?

Mr. Hay

That is rather different to the question put by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), who asked about a speech made by Dr. Beeching some time ago. The hon. Lady is asking the general question, and I am trying in this part of my speech to deal with the very question of which she has spoken.

I should like to say a word about the effect of the new policy of the railways upon the staff, a matter with which the hon. Member for Southwark is particularly concerned. The hon. Member and the House know that the railways are what in economists' jargon is called a labour-intensive industry. Wages and salaries contribute something like two-thirds of the working expenses of the industry. It is therefore inevitable as the system is pruned that the total number of staff should fall. No one should panic about this. One should not overlook the substantial contribution which is made by the process of normal wastage in the industry. If, however, some degree of redundancy occurs, obviously the railways must treat fairly the men who are affected. The House would certainly expect that, and so would the Government.

We must remember that many of the men who may be redundant will probably be able to find other employment, either in the railway industry itself, but in some other place or in some other capacity, or outside in some other job for which the skills and abilities which they have learned on the railways will fit them.

Mr. Watkins

In Central Wales?

Mr. Hay

Of course, we cannot at this stage do more than generalise. I repeat, however, what my right hon. Friend said today, in words that were carefully chosen, that it is his view that the railways should deal with these human problems of redundancy as fairly as they possibly can.

I should now like to say a word or two about the workshops and the whole problem of construction and manufacture of the railways, a matter which was raised particularly by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price). There is one direction in which the railways and private industry may seem to be at variance. Representations have been made to my right hon. Friend about the way in which he is to use his powers under the Transport Bill in relation to manufacture by the workshops. Of course, he has as yet had no proposals from the railways and he has as yet no powers which he can exercise, but there are a couple of points that I should like to make, always remembering the context, namely, the vast railway deficit of £150 million.

First, I am not sure that the fairest and best solution may not be for the Railways Board to recognise its duty to the taxpayer by buying from the cheapest supplier. This supplier may be a railway workshop or it might be a private company. If it is the former, I should expect the Railways Board to be able to satisfy itself, and, if necessary, the Minister too, that the price quoted by the railway workshop was a genuine one.

Secondly, in any event, there can be no question of the railways buying things that they do not require. During the last seven years, the railways have spent very large sums—for instance, £367 million on new rolling stock, which is an average of £50 million a year. This process of re-equipment, however, is inevitably coming to an end. In the current year, only £21 million will need to be spent on rolling stock. Although £40 million will still be spent on new locomotives, expenditure on them is now at its peak and must be expected sharply to decline after 1966. As far as one can foresee, however, the position of the railway workshops will remain very much in the mind of the Commission and of the Railways Board; but my right hon. Friend would not wish to go beyond what I have said tonight.

The Amendment is phrased in somewhat peculiar language.

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

It always is.

Mr. Hay

I thank the hon. Member. He says that an Opposition Amendment always is.

Mr. Wilkins

According to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hay

It invites the House to regret that Government action has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation. In the few minutes that remain, I should like to examine the Government action which is so censured and see what our policy is.

There are five main features of our policy for the railways. The first is financial reconstruction. The total capital debt of the British Transport Commission is about £2,450 million. We are writing off about £475 million of that, and of the remainder we allocate £1,575 million to the railways and £400 million to the other activities of the Commission. Of the £1,575 million capital allocated to the railways, we are placing between £650 million and £700 million in suspense where it will bear no interest. That leaves the railways after the Bill becomes law with about £900 million of capital debt, a figure which includes the money which has been invested in modernisation. The overall effect of-this is to relieve the railways of some £1,150 million of interest-bearing debt. The interest figure itself is about £35 million a year.

Despite this, the railways still have a formidable task. They will have to meet interest on a reduced live debt of some £900 million and, in addition, interest on some £300 million of superannuation funds and savings bank deposits. Therefore, at the outset their interest burden will be about £65 million a year. As new money comes into the railways, so this will increase, and at the same time they are running an operating deficit of some £80 million a year.

We cannot expect any early or dramatic improvement, but by the Transport Bill the Minister can make grants and loans of up to £450 million over the next five years. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall this afternoon said that it was evident that subsidies would continue to be needed and called for Government action accordingly. The Bill provides just that treatment. But I would suggest to the House that this financial reconstruction is a major advance towards achieving solvency for the railways, and I ask whether this is, to quote the words of the Amendment: Government action which has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation". The next item is the reorganisation of the Commission. By the Transport Bill we are dividing it up so that the railways can be looked after by a Board specifically charged with that task. At the same time, the system is being reorganised along the lines which are forecast in Chapter 1 of the Report. Following the traffic studies we shall back the new Railways Board and its Chairman to the hilt in the policy which they pursue. It is obvious that we need a more modern, less wasteful and more efficient railway system than we have today, and the reorganisation is designed to lead to it.

A remodelled system should give much better service to the nation as a whole, and I defy any sensible or unbiased person to read Chapter 1 of the Report and not come to the conclusion that the railways will henceforth be working along the right lines. Therefore, I repeat in respect of this second item of our policy that it cannot justly be said that our action in reorganising the railways adversely affects the service that public transport is able to render to the nation.

The third item of our policy is to give the railways a new management. The Report is, I think, good evidence of the fact that a "new look" has come over the railways. Not only is there a new management. There is also a new attitude. There is less emphasis than in the past on social obligations and more upon the commercial performance of the railways. This is right. With these vast sums of money that the taxpayers are obliged to find every year—they must be found out of taxation—it is right that more emphasis should be placed on commercial performance from now on. It is evident from the Report that this new spirit is already at work at the top levels of the management, and it will spread, and is already spreading, downwards. I think that all grades and ranks in the railway service are beginning to realise that the railways are fighting a battle for their very existence and that a new and modern type of approach is needed.

I urge and I beg the National Union of Railwaymen to reconsider the attitude which it has adopted in recent days regarding this new organisation that we are trying to bring forward. I ask hon. Members opposite, quite seriously, do they believe that this new management, this new spirit which we are stimulating by our changes, is really, again to quote the words from the Amendment, Government action which has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation"?— —

Hon. Members


Mr. Hay

If they do believe so, I am sure that the next few years will show how hopelessly wrong they are in this as in other matters.

The next aspect of our policy is commercial freedom. We want to give the railways freedom to charge and to get rid of the out-dated obligations and commitments under which they have laboured for so long. During the debate on the Transport Bill we had full support for this from the Opposition. This is one of the crucial aspects of our policy. This is part of the Government action in connection with the railways, to remove all these out-dated restrictions and to give the railways a better chance to compete with other forms of transport. Is that Government action which has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation"? I should have thought that it was something that the Opposition would applaud.

Finally I come to the point about modernisation. We have already, in the last few years, between 1958 and the present year, committed very large sums of money to modernising the railways. The total figure for the British Transport Commission as a whole is over £900 million, and over £778 million of that has gone into the railways. The fruits of modernisation are beginning at last to appear, and a jolly good job too.

I have a great deal of information about what is happening on the railways under modernisation. Certainly, railway-men to whom I have had the opportunity of talking—I am sure that all hon. Members would agree about this—are much happier and in a much better frame of mind now that they are at last using decent equipment. They are again beginning to take a pride in the equipment which they have. This is due to the fact that we have pumped over £700 million into the railways under the modernisation plan. Is that Government action which

"has adversely affected the service that public transport is able to render to the nation"?

I wonder.

If one looks at the Report as a whole; if one looks at the ideas that we have tried to put forward for the Commission and for its successors, the Boards, to carry out; if one looks at the management which we have installed; if one looks at the system as it will be in the course of the next few years, one is driven inevitably to the conclusion that what we are doing is right. The plain fact is, as I said earlier, that we have a system which is far too big for our modern needs. It is carrying far too many different types of traffic which it ought not to be carrying. The job of the railways is to weed out from the system those traffics which it ought not to be carrying and thereby we are convinced that we shall bring the system towards viability.

We do not ignore the obligation of public service. But we say that if we have an obligation to the public it is a double obligation; first, to ensure that the service is there, but certainly also there is an obligation to the public, as taxpayers, to ensure that, as taxpayers, they are not inevitably and interminably saddled with the burden of meeting a vast deficit.

I ask the House tonight to endorse our efforts and to reject this stupid Amendment which the Opposition have tabled.

Question put, That those words be there added: —

The House divided: Ayes 200, Noes 266.

Division No. 219.] AYES [10.0 p.m.
Abse, Leo Bray, J. W. Edwards, Walter (Stepney)
Ainsley, William Brown, Thomas (Ince) Evans, Albert
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Fernyhough, E.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Castle, Mrs. Barbara Finch, Harold
Awbery, Stan Cliffe, Michael Fitch, Alan
Bacon, Miss Alice Collick, Percy Fletcher, Eric
Baird, John Corbet, Mrs. Freda Forman, J. C.
Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Crosland, Anthony Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Bence, Cyril Crossman, R. H. S. Ginsburg, David
Benson, Sir George Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.
Blackburn, F. Davies, Harold (Leek) Grey, Charles
Blyton, William Dalyell, T. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Boardman, H. Davies, Ifor (Gower) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Griffiths, W. (Exchange)
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H.W.(Leice. S.W.) Delargy, Hugh Grimond, Rt. Hon. J,
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Diamond, John Gunter, Ray
Bowles, Frank Donnelly, Desmond Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)
Boyden, James Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Hannan, William
Brockway, A. Fenner Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Harper, Joseph
Hayman, F. H. Mellish, R. J. Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Healey, Denis Mendelson, J. J. Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Henderson, Rt.Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Millan, Bruce Small, William
Hewitson, Capt. M. Mitchison, G. R. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Hill, J. (Midlothian) Moody, A S. Snow, Julian
Holman, Percy Morris, John Sorensen, R. W,
Hooson, H. E. Moyle, Arthur Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Houghton, Douglas Neal, Harold Spriggs, Leslie
Hoy, James H. Oliver, G H. Steele, Thomas
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oram, A. E. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Oswald, Thomas Stonehouse, John
Hunter, A. E. Owen, Will Stones, William
Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Padley, W. E. Strauss Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Janner, Sir Barnett Paget, R. T. Swain, Thomas
Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Rannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Swingler, Stephen
Jeger, George Pargiter, G. A. Taverne, D.
Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Parker, John Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Parkin, B. T. Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Paton, John Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)
Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Peart, Frederick Thornton, Ernest
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Plummer, Sir Leslie Thorpe, Jeremy
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Popplewell, Ernest Wade, Donald
Kelley, Richard Prentice, R. E. Warbey, William
Kenyon, Clifford Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Watkins, Tudor
King, Dr. Horace Probert, Arthur Weitzman, David
Lawson, George Proctor, W. T. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Ledger, Ron Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Randall, Harry White, Mrs. Eirene
Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Rankin, John Whitlock, William
Lipton, Marcus Redhead, E. C. Wigg, George
Loughlin, Charles Reid, William Wilkins, W. A.
Lubbock, Eric Reynolds, G. W. Willey, Frederick
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Rhodes, H. Williams, D. J. (Neath)
MacColl, James Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Williams, LI. (Abertillery)
MacDermot, Niall Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Mclnnes, James Robertson, John (Paisley) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
McKay, John (Wallsend) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton) Winterbottom, R. E.
McLeavy, Frank Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.) Woof, Robert
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Ross, William Wyatt, Woodrow
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Royle, Charles (Salford, West) Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Zilliacus, K.
Manuel, Archie Short, Edward
Mapp, Charles Silverman, Julius (Aston) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marsh, Richard Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Mr. Charles A. Howell and Mr. McCann.
Mayhew, Christopher Skeffington, Arthur
Agnew, Sir Peter Carr, Robert (Mitcham) Fisher, Nigel
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.) Cary, Sir Robert Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Allason, James Channon, H. P. G. Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian Chataway, Christopher Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)
Arbuthnot, John Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Freeth, Denzil
Ashton, Sir Hubert Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.
Atkins, Humphrey Cleaver, Leonard Gardner, Edward
Barber, Anthony Cole, Norman Gibson-Watt, David
Barlow, Sir John Collard, Richard Gilmour, Sir John
Barter, John Cooke, Robert Glover, Sir Douglas
Batsford, Brian Cooper, A. E. Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate) Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Goodhart, Philip
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Corfield, F. V. Goodhew, Victor
Berkeley, Humphry Costain, A. P. Gough, Frederick
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Coulson, Michael Gower, Raymond
Bidgood, John C. Craddock, Sir Beresford Grant, Rt. Hon. William
Biffen, John Crawley, A. M. Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R.
Bingham, R. M. Critchley, Julian Green, Alan
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Crowder, F. P. Gresham Cooke, R.
Bishop, F. P. Cunningham, Knox Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.
Black, Sir Cyril d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Gurden, Harold
Bourne-Arton, A. Deedes, W. F. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Box, Donald de Ferranti, Basll Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)
Boyle, Sir Edward Digby, Simon Wingfield Hare, Rt. Hon. John
Brewis, John Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E, M. Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Doughty, Charles Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) du Cann, Edward Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Harvie Anderson, Miss
Buck, Antony Eden, John Hastings, Stephen
Bullard, Denys Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Hay, John
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Elliott,R.W.(Nwcastle-upon-Tyne,N.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Burden, F. A. Emery, Peter Hendry, Forbes
Campbell, Sir David(Belfast, S.) Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hiley, Joseph
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Farey-Jones, F. W, Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Mathew, Robert (Honiton) St. Clair, M.
Hirst, Geoffrey Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Sandys, Rt. Hon. Duncan
Hobson, Sir John Mawby, Ray Scott-Hopkins, James
Hocking, Philip N. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Seymour, Leslie
Holland, Philip Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Sharples, Richard
Hornby, R. P. Miscampbell, Norman Shaw, M.
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Montgomery, Fergus Shepherd, William
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John More, Jasper (Ludlow) Skeet, T. H. H.
Hughes-Young, Michael Morrison, John Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Hulbert, Sir Norman Nabarro, Gerald Smithers, Peter
Hurd, Sir Anthony Nicholls, Sir Harmar Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John
Hutchison, Michael Clark Nicholson, Sir Godfrey Stanley, Hon. Richard
Iremonger, T. L. Noble, Michael Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Stodart, J. A.
James, David Oakshott, Sir Hendrie Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Orr-Ewing, C. Ian Studholme, Sir Henry
Jennings, J. C. Osborn, John (Hallam) Summers, Sir Spencer
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Tapsell, Peter
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Page, Graham (Crosby) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Page, John (Harrow, West) Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green) Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)
Joseph, Sir Keith Partridge, E. Teeling, Sir William
Kaberry, Sir Donald Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Kerr, Sir Hamilton Peel, John Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Kershaw, Anthony Percival, Ian Thomas, Peter (Conway)
Kirk, Peter Peyton, John Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lagden, Godfrey Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Lambton, Viscount Pike, Miss Mervyn Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Pilkington, Sir Richard Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Leather, Sir Edwin Pitman, Sir James Turner, Colin
Leavey, J. A. Pitt, Miss Edith Turton, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Leburn, Gilmour Pott, Percivall Tweedsmuir, Lady
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch van Straubenzee, W. R.
Lilley, F. J. P. Price, David (Eastleigh) Vane, W. M. F.
Linstead, Sir Hugh Prior, J. M. L. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Litchfield, Capt. John Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho Vickers, Miss Joan
Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'dfield) Profumo, Rt. Hon. John Walder, David
Longbottom, Charles Proudfoot, Wilfred Walker, Peter
Longden, Gilbert Pym, Francis Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek
Loveys, Walter H. Quennell, Mica J. M. Wall, Patrick
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rawlinson, Peter Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
McAdden, Sir Stephen Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin Webster, David
McLaren, Martin Rees Hugh Wells, John (Maidstone)
McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia Rees-Davies, W. R. Whitelaw, William
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy(Bute&N.Ayrs) Renton, David Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Ridley, Hon. Nicholas Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Ridsdale, Julian Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Rippon, Geoffrey Wise, A. R.
Maddan, Martin Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maginnis, John E. Robson Brown, Sir William Woollam, John
Maitland, Sir John Roots, William Worsley, Marcus
Markham, Major Sir Frank Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)
Marshall, Douglas Russell, Ronald TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Marten, Neil Mr. Chichester-Clarke and Mr. Finlay.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the Reports and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1960 (H.C. 1960–61, No. 213) and 1961 (H.C, 1961–62, No. 209).