§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Parliamentary Secretary, I should say that I propose to select the Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and no other. The House will notice that the effect of that Amendment is very much to narrow the debate, which, technically, should only be on the Question as to whether or not these limited words should be added. In these circumstances, I propose to be as lenient as I think circumstances permit.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
Would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for the Amendment to bemoved halfway through the debate, which has happened in the past?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is a most attractive proposition, but it has the result of confining the Minister who winds up the debate to a narrow field. I therefore do not think that it provides a solution.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1961 (H.C., 1961–62, No. 209).I feel sure that the whole House will sincerely regret the inability of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to be at the Dispatch Box this afternoon to move this Motion. I think that hon. Members will be aware that he has been indisposed for a couple of days and is confined to bed at home with the strictest instructions from his doctor to rest. It was only by almost physical force that he was prevented from coming to the House this afternoon to speak, because, as he told me, this is the first time in, I think, seventeen and a half years that he has been unable to make a speech which he planned to make. I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say that I hope he will recover very soon.
We had this same Motion before us no less than five months ago in respect of the same accounts that we are concerned with today. I do not complain about this, because, clearly, this formal Motion is a peg on which to 679 hang the railway debate for which the Opposition asked, but I hope that hon. Members will not criticise me if I do not deal in detail with the Report and Accounts of the Commission as my right hon. Friend did on the last occasion.
Today, I prefer to do two things in particular. First, I wish to give the House an account of the progress that we have been making since our last debate on the reorganisation of the nationalised transport industries. Secondly, I want to concentrate for a time on some of the current and future problems of the railways.
First, I turn to our progress report. Perhaps hon. Members would agree that from now on our debates should tend to take a course rather different from that which they have taken up to now. My reason for saying that is that on 1st August last the Transport Act received the Royal Assent and from 1st September many of its provisions came into force. Naturally, debates have centred around what should be in the Act, but I hope that our future debates will centre more on the implementation of the Act, especially since 1st January next is likely to be the vesting date for the new organisation.
Even now few people appreciate the magnitude of the task to which we have set our hand. The present British Transport Commission's undertaking is the largest business in this country. It employs no fewer than ¾ million people, nearly twice as many as all those employed in the whole of the motor manufacturing industry, to take but one example. This is one of the reasons, as the House will recall from previous debates, why we are reorganising this undertaking.
Hon. Members may be interested to know that on 1st August, which was the date of Royal Assent to the Act, the working agenda which we prepared in the Ministry of all the things which had to be done by vesting date—1st January—had no less than 70 separate major items, and there was a multitude of smaller matters which had to be considered and cleared up. All this has involved a very great deal of work, not only by our officials but by others outside, such as the British Transport Commission and its own staff, the trade 680 unions, trade associations, and so on. I should like to pay our tribute and give our thanks to all of those who have worked so hard to bring us to this position.
Our main task has been to get the right men for the jobs that have to be done. However fine one's organisational structure may be, it is useless if one has unsuitable people to manage it. Our method in each case has been to appoint a suitable chairman and to build a team around him. I stress the word "team" because our whole thought has centred on the idea of collecting a team and not merely of compiling a list of highly respectable and well-known individuals.
How have we been getting on? Already, we have announced the main appointments to the London Transport Board and the names of the Chairman of the Transport Holding Company and the Chairman of the Docks Board. Yesterday, we appointed the other holding company members, announced the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Waterways Board and shortly we shall announce some other appointments.
Yesterday, also, my right hon. Friend anounced the membership of the Railways Board. The Railways Board is a first-class team. It includes men who have spent the whole of their working lives on the railways and other members of it have experience both inside and outside the railway industry. Some are new men who, as we said would be our wish, have come in from outside businesses with fresh ideas and a new approach. Lest there be any misunderstanding about this, there is one trade unionist on the Board, but we expect soon to anounce the appointment of another. I mention that because this has been already noted.
§ Mr. Hay
I have explained the position. The list of members is pretty impressive and their joint experience in transport and outside industry adds up to a formidable total. They are a balanced team and will, I think, serve this industry very well indeed.
The House will recollect that under the Act the Central Transport Consultative Committee is on a new basis. Its first 681 meeting will be held today, and we have been fortunate to get this years' President of the Institute of Transport as its Chairman. The first of the new area consultative committees is now being formed and its composition will be announced soon. We have a new President for the Transport Tribunal.
Finally, there is the nationalised Transport Advisory Council. As the chairmen of the five nationalised undertakings have now been appointed, they will automatically be members of this council. That enables my right hon. Friend to make the other appointments. For the time being at any rate, he proposes to take the chair of the Council himself.
May I briefly sum up the position on appointments? A very great deal has been done and the appointments which remain to be made will be guided by two main criteria: first, individual ability, which is essential, and, secondly, willingness to work happily as a member of a team.
So much for the first appointments. Whatever people's views may be about them, I think that the Government are justified in asking the country and Parliament to give them a fair run at the new task which they have undertaken, because these men are starting five new organisations. Of course, the biggest, and, in many ways, the most difficult, is the railways. Five months ago, my right hon. Friend spoke of four stages in railway reorganisation.
May I briefly remind the House of what they were: first, the taking of the traffic studies; secondly, the publication of the facts which emerge from the traffic studies; thirdly, the presentation of the Railway Board's proposals or plan to the Government; and, fourthly, the Government will then reach their own conclusions.
We have finished the first stage, namely, the taking of the traffic studies, and we are halfway through the second stage, which is the publication of the facts which have emerged from those studies. I believe that Parliament and the country as a whole are now much more in the picture about the true nature of railway operations. They have been kept informed. They have seen the maps of freight traffic and of traffics that the 682 railways think they will be able to win from road transport.
I expect that hon. Members have read the speech made by Dr. Beeching, Chairman of the new Board, at the Albert Hall on 31st October and will agree with me that it showed a massive grasp of the problems that the railways face, together with an extremely constructive approach. In that speech, as on other occasions, Dr. Beeching demonstrated that it was not simply a question of lopping off branch lines here and there, but that splendid opportunities exist for attracting new business to the railways, always provided that the railways are prepared to use new thought, new techniques and new methods.
I want to make one point absolutely clear. Under the Act, the Government have certain responsibilities and the railways have other responsibilities. Some people, perhaps not surprisingly, get rather muddled and confused as to who is responsible for what. I should like briefly to define these responsibilities. First, the railways are responsible for the management of the railway system. They are responsible for the traffics for which they wish to compete and for the kind of system which they think will be a commercial proposition. From what I have seen and learned during the last three years, I believe that a commercial attitude of mind on the railways is essential in present circumstances. That is why they are being run as a nationalised industry rather than by a Government Department. The management must be allowed to manage the railways.
Secondly, however, the Government have responsibilities which are more general than managerial. The Government have responsibility for general problems, not only on the railways, but as regards transport needs as a whole. We have roads, road services of all kinds, licensing and many other aspects of transport. That is the responsibility of the Government. I hope that people will try to keep the two ideas separate.
As to the railways, it is true that under the Transport Act no passenger line can be closed without the Government's consent. That is, perhaps, an important gloss to put on what I have just said, but the distinction which I draw must always be kept in mind; that the responsibility for running the railways is 683 that of the railway management—the Board—whereas the responsibility for general oversight of the whole field of transport including the railways is that of the Government.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I accept that the Board must be responsible for running the show. Do I take it from the hon. Gentleman's observation that if the railways continue to show a loss, there will not be interference from his Department in managerial policy? It was revealed in the Select Committee in 1959 that considerable interference took place on the managerial side. May I take it that there will now be no interference, even though for a time there might continue to be a loss?
§ Mr. Hay
I cannot agree with the hon. Member's interpretation of history. It simply is not true that there has been a lot of managerial interference by the Government. The evidence which both I and the hon. Member have read does not bear that out. To answer the hon. Member's question concerning the future, I sincerely hope that any Government, whatever its political complexion, will always wish to keep to the division that I have just explained, namely, that managerial matters are entirely for the Board, whereas the general matters Which I have discussed are matters for the Government.
In the operation of any nationalised industry, particularly having regard to the financing of nationalised industries in Britain, there is bound to be an area in which the two facets come close together. One cannot say for the future that somebody will not at some time step over what others regard as the right line. With those qualifications, however, it is certainly not our intention to try to manage the railways. We have appointed an extremely good Board, we have an extremely good Chairman and one does not buy a dog and bark oneself.
We have not yet seen the complete plan for the size, shape and pattern of the new railway system. We do not know the details of the plan. The completed plan has not yet been prepared, although a minor detail like that certainly has not stopped quite a lot of people already from criticising and commenting upon it. 684 When the proposals are complete, and not before, they will be presented to the Government. We do not want to see them in some half-baked form and I am sure that they will not be put to us in a half-baked form.
Already, however, some things are clear. It will not be a plan to close down the railway system. It will be a plan to create the right kind of railway system for the second half of the twentieth century. We must face the fact that the existing system was laid down for horse and cart delivery and collection long before the internal combustion engine was invented. We cannot forget the history of the railways.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
Can the hon. Gentleman go a little further and say when the Government expect to receive the plan from the railways?
§ Mr. Hay
I cannot say with accuracy. It certainly will not be this side of Christmas. It depends entirely upon the Board and how the matter progresses. It may well not be for a month or two after Christmas. We will have to see. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) may be a little impatient, but I prefer to be a little slower and right rather than hasty and wrong. I prefer the railways to do the job properly and not to produce a half-baked plan.
We cannot forget the history of the railways. They were built up by literally hundreds of railway companies, each of which acted more or less in isolation. Our first task, therefore, must be to make sense of the size and shape of the system in 1962. To give one quick example, a new marshalling yard is projected for Sheffield, which will get rid of nine of the existing 11 marshalling yards and four freight depots. The result will be a more efficient unit working with no less than 3,000 fewer wagons, 900 fewer staff and 27 fewer locomotives. This can be done simply because the old system was built up on a multiplicity of railway services in the area.
That sort of example could be repeated all over the country. It is not just a question of closing a branch line here or there, or even a lot of branch lines. There is much more to it than that. As Dr. Beeching made clear in the speech to which I have referred, the task 685 of the railways is to weed out from the system those traffics which, in modern conditions, are completely unsuitable for the railways to carry or to handle.
Dr. Beeching, mentioned, in particular, two examples. He said that it was clear from the traffic studies that the stopping services of the railways do not pay. They do not pay to the tune of no less than £50 million a year. Secondly, he mentioned what he called the slow and semi-random movement of individual wagons, because the railway system has been built up on the small wagon load. As we have found in the past, this is proving to be an extremely expensive method of transport.
Let me, therefore, repeat that we intend to create a railway system of the right kind and shape for our time. The plan to do this will be promoted by the Railways Board, who will present it to the Government in the new year. But before the Government can tell the railways to go ahead, they must consider the impact of the plan. What are its implications and consequences and what possible hardship may be created if the plan is put into practice?
It is convenient and logical to divide the impact of the proposed changes into three main aspects: first, the impact of the plan upon the country's life as a whole; secondly, its impact upon transport generally; and, thirdly, its impact upon the railways and railway workers.
So far as the implications for the country as a whole are concerned, a number of factors have to be taken into consideration. There is the question of the location of industry, which is very much under discussion at present. There is the problem created for agriculture if certain types of services are withdrawn. There is the whole range of issues related to national defence and strategy. There is the effect of the plan upon the railway deficit—how soon and how quickly we can get to viability—and there are the human and social problems of the railway workers, raising questions of re-employment, retraining and how to deal with the difficulties when men lose their jobs before other jobs are ready.
For these and many other problems of like nature, my right hon. Friend has set up the inter-Departmental working 686 party which he announced in the House yesterday. The Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Scottish Departments, the Treasury and other Departments are all represented on it. They will examine all the aspects of the plan and report to Ministers on them. Our Ministry will provide the chairman.
Let me turn now to the implications of the plan for transport generally. For example, if a railway is to be closed down, are there adequate roads to take the volume of traffic which will be displaced? Should the existing roads in any particular area be widened or modified to a new standard, or should others be built? That is the kind of problem we have to face. Another question is: even if roads are adequate, will bus and other transport services be forthcoming? Is there likely to be any shortage of freight haulage in any particular district as a result of the plan?
These are questions we shall have to look at in the light of the plan when it comes forward. But the new look in the shape of the railway system gives us, for the first time, a foundation on which we can build a road system which we can sensibly co-ordinate with rail. That we shall do. It is something which my right hon. Friend has struggled and battled for three years to get. At last we have a foundation on which we can build—and, believe me, the whole of our organisation, including our divisional road engineers and the people at headquarters and the staff of the Secretary of State for Scotland, is keyed up and ready to deal with these problems when they arise.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
The hon. Gentleman has outlined a sequence of events. These will take a Little time and then possibly roads will have to be built in some areas. Does he not think that the Ministry and the new planning committee which the Minister assured me last year had been set up should do a little anticipation, particularly in the industrial areas?
§ Mr. Hay
There may be a little anticipation we can do, but we have not yet seen the plan. When we have the proposals we can consider these things. Until the plan arrives we cannot come to conscious decisions about it.
687 Now for a matter of the greatest interest to the House—the implications and problems which the plan will create for the railway management, and for the railway workers. For the management it may be that implementation of the plan, either in its entirety or in certain aspects, will require new investment so that it can pick up the right traffics. If it comes to us for further new investment, we will consider it very carefully.
The House probably realises that Our decision to provide, for example, about £65 million for the Victoria underground line is an indication that we do not blindly close our minds to the possibility of adjusting investment levels depending upon the changes that take place. But our qualification must be that any investment must be justified for the system as a whole. We cannot regard any particular project in isolation. But to talk as some do of the plan we have for the railways as being one for closures, and for closures alone, is claptrap and drivel. It has a positive and constructive side to it and that is what I want to emphasise.
There is the problem as it affects the workers. I have already mentioned the human and social problems which may be created if jobs are lost. The head of the family has to be retrained. When he is retrained he has to move to a new job. The children may have to change their school, and that is not an easy thing. Families may have to move to new homes, new environments, new friends and new habits. All these things are extremely difficult and pounds, shillings and pence cannot always alleviate the situation. But this kind of problem is, as I hope hon. Members recognise, quite inseparable from the process of change and economic growth. The way to deal with these problems is not to stultify or stop change or growth. Change is necessary and inevitable if we are to survive—and we have little choice anyway.
If we are to solve these problems we must consult throughout with the trade unions. My right hon. Friend was particularly disappointed at not being able to be present this afternoon to take up this point, because it is something in which he is deeply interested.
§ Mr. Hay
Let me be quite frank. Great feeling was generated on this point when the Commission published its proposals for workshop closures. Discussions about these closures and also about resettlement payments are continuing. I propose to say nothing which could in any way cause any further difficulty or exacerbate feelings during these delicate discussions, which are currently going on. With respect, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will do the same in the debate.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
The hon. Member said a lot of drivel and claptrap had been spoken, but what does he think of the situation in Darlington, Horwich, Swindon and elsewhere in relation to the closures? He talks about the social implications, but they are intertwined.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. The hon. Gentleman should be addressing me if he addresses anyone at great length during a Minister's speech.
§ Mr. Hay
I will leave the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) to make his own speech in his own way.
As I was saying my aim is to deal not with the past but with those closures which may be proposed in the plan. They form only a part, though an important part, of the whole plan. It is necessary and proper that the trade unions should be consulted about the effect of closures on the people they represent. This consultation falls into two phases. First, while the Commission is preparing its proposals, and secondly, after the Government receive them.
In the first phase, the preparation of the plan, the management is already holding monthly meetings with the leaders of the railway unions. Information is provided and discussions take place. For example, there have already been meetings on the traffics which might be won back to rail, and, as I have said, also on new organisational methods of coping with the important traffic in freight sundries. I understand that 689 another meeting tomorrow will start considering the implications of the density maps recently published. Thus the management will be able to take account of views expressed by union leaders in reaching their conclusions.
The second phase is when the Government receive the plan—and I must again emphasise that none of us as yet knows exactly what it will comprise. I cannot possibly say what the Government's general reaction will be, because we have not yet seen it. But at that stage there can be no question of the Government approving individual proposals for closures on passenger lines. The reason is simple. The Act lays down a procedure where, if there are objections, the transport users' consultative committees consider hardship before making a recommendation. Until then the Minister cannot decide whether the closure should take place.
Of course, the railways will also continue their long-established practice of consulting the trade unions on all significant closures, whether they be passenger or freight services. This consultation might be in local departmental committees or in sectional councils, both of which are parts of the existing consultation machinery. I cannot, at this moment of time, exactly forecast how the Government will acquaint themselves with the considered views of the unions. A lot depends on the plan and on the previous consultations which have taken place between the railways and the unions, but I am quite clear myself that before the Government agree broadly that the railways can go ahead with their plans the Government will have very carefully considered the unions' views.
I have covered the objects of the Government's examination of the railway proposals and the machinery required to deal with them, but I beg hon. Members not to forget why all this is necessary. I was hors-de-combat at the time when the trouble over the workshops closures was coming forward, and I was struck then by the fact that so few of those who commented in the public Press on these matters mentioned the enormous cumulative deficit on the railways and the large deficit that was being run this year. Last year as the House may remember, there was a deficit 690 of £150 million. People become numbed, confused and accustomed to such large figures, which appear meaningless. Comparisons are difficult for the man-in-the-street or the housewife, but let me give some comparisons.
The loss of £150 million on the railways last year is more, for example, than the amount we pay in family allowances. It is no less than a quarter of the total revenue from the Purchase Tax. It is about the same as the total amount of money we receive each year from motor vehicle licences. Judged by any standard, £150 million is a substantial sum, but even this huge sum looks like being surpassed in 1962. We had budgeted for a deficit of £160 million this year, and the final figure may be even larger.
I mention these things as a measure of the magnitude of the task we have to face, and I beg hon. Members opposite, when they discuss the question of social services in relation to the railways, to bear in mind the heavy burdens that weigh upon us in this respect.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West) rose—
§ Mr. Hay
I will give way when I have finished this section of my speech.
I hope that, during the course of debate, we shall not hear from the party opposite any more claims that the Government's policy is to make, the railways profitable in the sense of making large profits. This has been said many times before, and I have searched carefully through the records of everything which my right hon. Friend, myself and my noble Friend in another place have said on this matter in the last three years, and I find that nowhere have we ever said that our object is to make the railways profitable. We have said that we want to see them break even, get out of the "red" and pay their way. We do not abandon the concept of the railways as providing services. We are not aiming at the raliways making large profits and I hope that is now understood.
§ Mr. Steele
Will the hon. Gentleman continue his comparisons and compare what is given to the railways with what is given to the aircraft industry, as 691 indicated today by the Minister of Aviation, and also given to the farming community, without any means test at all?
§ Mr. Hay
If I were to pursue that, it would bring out to the House and the hon. Member the necessity for cutting out losses of this kind. If we have to find money for highly laudable projects such as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation announced only half an hour ago, this is all the more reason why we should be anxious to avoid the continuing heavy deficit on a system of this kind.
I have already mentioned the speech made by the Chairman of the Railways Board at the Albert Hall. The central purpose of the investigations has been—to quote his own words—to determine under what conditions the basic characteristics of railways enable them to be the best form of transport, and to determine how much of the total traffic pattern of the country falls within this range of conditions available to rail.This is a constructive approach, based on research and on new techniques by a new and positive management. It is better, and time will prove it to be better, than an approach based simply on restriction, direction and subsidy, regardless of basic technical possibilities. I therefore hope that the House will agree to await the new proposals from the Railways Board.
All the necessary machinery is being set up to ensure that there is proper consultation and that the effect on the national economy will be fully and speedily considered. Some of the existing system will, obviously, have to go, but what the Railways Board and what the Government seek is a railway system which will be right now and will remain right in the future. We ask for the continued support of the House in our efforts to this end.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Strauss rose—
§ Mr. Holt
On a point of order. Mr. Speaker indicated, when he was in the Chair, that the debate would be limited because of the narrowness of the Amendment to be moved by the Official Opposition, which he was selecting. In order 692 not to inconvenience the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask whether it would not be more convenient if the Chair would either select the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and myself—
§ [At end add "but regrets the failure of Her Majesty's Government to produce a national policy on transport which will ensure adequate services and the efficient use of limited resources, and will provide for the special needs of areas of high unemployment or those suffering from depopulation."]
§ —or, alternatively, if the speaker from the Official Opposition Front Bench would like to move it, instead of the Labour Party Amendment?
§ Mr. Strauss
Further to that point of order. I suggest that if I move the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friends and myself, it will not, in fact, limit the debate significantly, because the points raised in that Amendment are very wide indeed and cover the points which were mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech. I suggest that the best thing to do is for me to move our Amendment, which would not, in fact, limit to any significant degree the speeches which other hon. Members may like to make.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
In answering the first point raised by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), Mr. Speaker's selection stands firm and cannot be altered. So far as the Amendment in the name of the Official Opposition is concerned, I do not think that it will be found in the debate to be unduly restrictive. Mr. Speaker said a word or two which I take to mean just that.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
On a point of order. Technically, the House is debating the Report and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1961. In his speech the Parliamentary Secretary has in many ways gone beyond the 1961 period and has dealt with events of 1962. He has even projected his mind into what may happen next year. Would it be in order for hon. Members on this side of the House, or anywhere in the House, to show a similar flexibility of approach to this question, and not be ruled out of order because, 693 technically, the accounts relate only to 1961? Shall we be treated with equal leniency if we stretch a point to include events of recent origin?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not think that the Chair should be invited to rule before the event, but I think that it will be possible to debate both the Motion and the Amendment without undue restriction.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
Further to that point of order. Would it also be in order for us to take up the distressing position of the railway superannuitants, whom the Parliamentary Secretary did not even mention in his speech?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sure that hon. Members would do batter to make their speeches and see how they get on.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add:but views with deep concern the proposed large-scale closure of railway workshops and the withdrawal of unprofitable branch line services.On behalf of my colleagues as well as myself, I begin by expressing regret that the Minister of Transport is unable to be here today owing to ill-health. We very much hope that he will quickly recover and be his own exuberant self.
May I also express the view that the Parliamentary Secretary, who has substituted for him, has done extremely well, perhaps not in so provocative a manner as the Minister, but rather more persuasively. We are used to the Parliamentary Secretary substituting far the Minister, although, as the hon. Members concerned will remember, in Standing Committee on the Road Traffic Bill and the Transport Bill last Session it was more the case of the Minister very occasionally coming along and substituting for the Parliamentary Secretary who was there all the time and who bore the burden of the day and did very well.
There are one or two matters in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech with which I should like to deal at once in case I forget when I deal with the main burden of the argument which my hon. Friends and I want to put forward. He said that no one had spoken about trying to make the railways pay. We would all like to see the railways pay and make a profit.
§ Mr. Hay
What I complain about—I use the word "complain"—is that in the past it has often been said by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and other hon. Members opposite that our policy is to make profits from the railways and that the whole test of our policy is profitability. As I was at pains to point out, that is not so. Our policy is to make sure that the railways break even, not that they make a large profit.
§ Mr. Strauss
I accept all that. What I was about to say was that in his speech at the Albert Hall Dr. Beeching said that he hoped that under the new set-up the railways would flourish financially, and if that does not mean making a profit, I do not know what does.
We would all be delighted if the railways made a profit. That is the desire and intention of everybody concerned. What lies between us is that we believe that hon. Members opposite, including the Parliamentary Secretary, put the viability and the balance sheet aspect of the railways first and foremost and say that nothing else counts, while we say that, while that is exceedingly important, it is not the only factor to be considered in deciding the shape and future of British Railways.
The other point was the Parliamentary Secretary's rather charming statement that the Minister had been battling for three years to co-ordinate the railways with road policy. With whom has he been battling? He is responsible for both. The picture of the rather aggressive Minister of Transport fighting with himself in his own Ministry is attractive, and I am sorry that we were not there to see what happened. To suggest that he has been fighting against the forces of evil in order to get a co-ordinated policy is ridiculous, as the Minister of Transport is, of course, responsible for both these aspects of his Department's work.
It is not very long since we discussed this Report—the end of June. But since then many things have happened. We have been able to look longer and more carefully at the B.T.C. Report, which had been published only a few days before our debate in June, and there have been a number of statements by Dr. Beeching and others, and maps with explanations have been issued to the 695 public. It has all given us a much clearer picture of what is in the mind of Dr. Beeching and the Government.
Many of these statements have been exceedingly alarming. Others have been soothing, but none of them has reassured us in our fears that Dr. Beeching, probably with the support of the Government, intends to cut the railway system in the interests of profit far more than is desirable in the national interest. We do not yet know, as no decision has been taken, but I want the House to consider the dangers of the present situation and I want the Minister to answer a number of important questions.
It is no use waiting until the final decisions are made by the Minister on the plans which the Railways Board will put before him. It will be too late then for the House, or local authorities, or unions, or the transport users' consultative committees to do anything about it. Now is the time, while the situation is still fluid, for hon. Members to represent the interests of their constituents and public opinion and to express their views and their fears and perhaps influence the Government's decision. It is much easier to influence the Government decision today than it will be to reverse it once it is made.
I agree with what the Parliamentary Secretary has said today and on other occasions—that in relation to Dr. Beeching's proposals and the changes which are likely to come about we should also consider the other aspects of the Commission's Report, the changes which are already taking place, particularly the technical one in the railway system and in the other transport constituents of the Commission.
Anyone who reads the Report as a whole, and not just the first six or seven pages, must agree that there have been enormous and admirable improvements in the running of the railways during the past year. The modernisation plan has come to fruition and among other important developments are the construction of marshalling yards, the number of new diesel locomotives coming into operation, electrification of some parts of the system and the increased traffic which has flown from it. Anyone reading the chapter dealing with technical progress must agree that the railway 696 system and those managing and operating it are very much alive.
It is important to realise and to say as a matter of record that these considerable improvements are the result of the enterprise and initiative of the Commission before the new chairman took the job. They are largely the result of the activities of Lord Robertson of Oakridge, as he now is, and the members of the Commission who worked under him and their staff. Dr. Beeching does not, of course, claim that these changes are the result of anything that he has done, and in fact they have nothing to do with either Dr. Beeching or the present Minister of Transport. Indeed, the proposals which Dr. Beeching now puts forward for substantially increasing the flow of traffic on the remunerative central lines where the traffic is most dense are only possible because of the technical improvements initiated many years ago in marshalling yards and other equipment in that field.
The two aspects with which I want to deal today are the two major changes foreshadowed in the first part of the Report, particularly the substantial and widespread curtailment of stopping trains, cutting out of branch lines; and, as appears elsewhere in the Report, the closing down of many workshops belonging to the railways.
In a way these two policies are separate, but in a way they hang together, because the more that railway services are contracted the less there will be for the workshops to do. But I want to deal with them separately, and, in particular with the cuts in the services which Dr Beeching plainly has in mind and which are likely to be carried out on an intensive, and we believe undesirable, scale unless the Government stop the process.
We are told that Dr. Beeching has undertaken a number of studies which were absolutely essential to come to any conclusions about what the future size, shape, and function of the railways ought to be. Everybody says that these studies have been very important. I wonder why, if these studies were so important and had not been carried out before, the Government, who are generally responsible for the welfare of the railways did not ask for these studies to take place at an earlier stage. Anyhow, they were not, and 697 now we have the studies, and the information they provide is exceedingly interesting.
Any statistical information about the future of the railways must be of great value, but I must say that the conclusions so far published of the results of many of these studies do not appear to be very exciting. They seem to lead to glimpses of the obvious. Boiled down, they come to this; that railway lines on Which there is very little traffic do not pay, and railway lines on which there is a great deal of traffic do pay. Therefore, if we cut out those sections which do not pay, and try to increase the traffic on those which do, the profitability of the railways at the end will be better. That seems to be the conclusion, and I should not have thought that very much effort was required to arrive at it.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
The right hon. Gentleman must be fair. In previous railway accounts we have never had an analysis of exactly which lines paid and which did not. This is what the new administration is doing.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not saying that they are of no value. I do not know whether such detailed investigation was made of each line, but I would like to remind the House of the conclusions which the Commission reached as a result of these investigations. One expects the result to be dramatic, but what happens? Paragraph 16 of the Report says:The position is brought out very clearly by consideration of the financial results for various broad classes of traffic. These figures cannot be derived with high accuracy, and must be used with caution, but they do show"—and here one expects some sensational revelation—that rail is profitable, or within sight of being profitable, when used for favourable traffics.Really, What a discovery! Did no one realise that before?
The Report continues:Equally clearly, they show how uneconomic rail transport tends to be for light or intermittent flows of traffic and for small consignments.Anybody who had anything to do with railways, and even most of those who had nothing to do with them, would have appreciated that obvious fact without having careful studies made of the financial results of each line.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
Does not the Amendment go directly in opposition to the words which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted from the Report?
§ Mr. Strauss
Not a bit. I do not see the logic of the hon. Gentleman's case. Perhaps he will develop it later. We do not doubt the truth of the statement in the Report, it is obvious, but we nevertheless express great concern at the national consequences of making the large-scale closures which Dr. Beeching plainly proposes to carry out.
In spite of everything that the Parliamentary Secretary said, the situation today is that we have a Government whose purpose, and, I think, its main and only purpose, with regard to the railways is to do everything possible to make them remunerative. No one doubts that the present losses are enormous and should be cut down if they can be, but the Government say that cutting down these losses and making the railways pay are the only things about which they are worried, and that the other aspects of the railways which we consider of great importance—service to the public, to industry, and to agriculture—will have to be sacrificed if necessary to make the railways remunerative.
It is no good the Government or Dr. Beeching saying that what they want to do is really nothing very drastic or serious, that the proposals for cutting railway services are almost marginal, and that alternative services can always be put in their place. The Minister's favourite line is that people all over the country are becoming unnecessarily alarmed at the prospect of having railway services withdrawn, that this talk of the general withdrawal of services in the north of England, in most of Wales, in the south-west and the eastern part of England is all nonsense, and that we ought not to take any notice of these rumours and this sort of propaganda. But we must take notice of it, because Dr. Beeching has said clearly that that is exactly what he wants to do.
Dr. Beeching has said that he wants either to curtail materially, or to cut down services in those areas. This is not a statement by me, or by one of my colleagues. This is not our interpretation 699 of the Commission's Report. The leading article in the Financial Times of 23rd July begins with this sentence:Dr. Beeching has now demonstrated that prima facie a viable railway system will need to close down somewhere in the region of a third to a half of total track mileage and a very much larger proportion"—note the words "very much larger proportion"—in Scotland, Wales, South-West England and East Anglia.That is the obvious and sensible interpretation of Dr. Beeching's proposals, and what we have to consider—and I hope that the House will be doing so today and that hon. Members representing these areas will speak in defence of the interests of their constituents—is whether the railways are to be cut out in those parts of the country. Are there to be no more services there, and what protection have the public, through the Minister and Parliament, against their interests being ignored?
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not forget that some services have already been cut in the North-West, although it is vitally necessary to attract new industries to that area.
§ Mr. Strauss
I was merely quoting what the Financial Times said. I do not propose to say anything about the social consequences of cutting out railway services in those areas, as I think that every hon. Member is aware of the consequences of such a policy to people, to communities, and to the prospects of attracting new industries into those areas. I am not talking about that aspect of the matter. I am merely trying to discover whether these curtailments are to take place. I suggest that they should not take place on the scale proposed by Dr. Beeching. What means have we of ensuring that these curtailments are only operated in a sensible and reasonable way?
§ Mr. J. A. Stodart (Edinburgh, West)
The right hon. Gentleman is expressing great agitation, and I think reasonably so, about what is to happen in Scotland. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State for Scotland has said, not once, but three times during the last few months, that no lines in Scotland, or in the Highlands of Scot- 700 land, will be closed unless adequate alternative transport is provided?
§ Mr. Strauss
That is all very well, but it depends on what is meant by adequate alternative transport. I am sure that the Minister will say the same thing, but it is not always possible to provide an adequate alternative to the railways, and if an industry is to be served, or if there is any question of new industries going into a certain area—and everybody agrees that new industries are needed in areas like Scotland where there has been a considerable draining away of industries to the South—it is essential that there should be a railway system to serve them. If railway services are withdrawn, there is a danger of new industries not going to areas to which they might have gone if there were a good service.
The leader in the Financial Times from which I have already quoted expresses this important sentiment:And most of the closures which can be expected are likely, by the nature of things, to be in remote areas where there is already unemployment or fear of unemployment, and where alternative methods of public transport are few and far between. In a sense—and this is the central paradox about the railways—those areas that need them most are those that can least afford them.I think that everyone will agree with that. We are told by the Parliamentary Secretary and by the Minister himself. "You need not worry. Do not send deputations from Norfolk, or the South-West of England, or from anywhere else to see me. No railway can be closed without my consent", and we are asked to take comfort in that thought. When we last debated this matter, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said that under present conditions there was no threat of railway closures. Let us see what this threat is, and to what extent we can rely on the Minister of Transport preventing these wholesale closures taking place.
First, I put this to the House. It is a ridiculous situation whereby the board of a nationalised industry is told to prepare plans to make that industry viable, and then, when that plan is given to the Minister, he is expected to cut, alter and blue pencil it as he considers appropriate. This is a very important new principle which has been introduced into the affairs of nationalised 701 industries. It is quite novel. Up to now the board of a nationalised industry has been charged with a double duty, that is, to look after the affairs of the industry, and the social consequences of its activities.
That has been its responsibility. Working under the general direction of the Minister it has had both the wider public interest and the commercial interests of the industry for which it is responsible under its control and consideration the whole time.
Now we have something quite different. We have a division of responsibility, something quite new, and, I suggest, exceedingly unhealthy, in that the board is told "Do not worry about the social consequences of any of your activities. That is not your duty. You draw up a commercial plan to make your industry pay, so far as it possibly can pay, present that to me, and I, as Minister, will come along and alter that plan—cut it to pieces if necessary—and at the end of the day you will have to operate such plains as I, the Minister, propose".
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Is the right hon. Gentleman forgetting Command Paper 1337, the Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industry, which states, in paragraph 32:To the extent that commercially unprofitable activities are subsequently opposed from outside, a Board would be entitled to ask for an adjustment of its financial objectives.That means that if a Government interfered with a nationalised board and ask it to do something uneconomic, the board is entitled to ask for subsidy.
§ Mr. Strauss
That is a much wider matter than I am talking about. I am talking about dividing the responsibility for the conduct of a nationalised industry which, until now, has been wholly under the board appointed by the Minister, and covered the social as well as the economic facets of that industry. Now the Railways Board is told not to consider that in the slightest bit. This divided responsibility is bound to lead to conflict. One responsibility is to rest with the, board, and 'the other with the Minister. I suggest that that is a wholly unhealthy and undesirable state of affairs which is bound to lead to conflict and confusion.
702 It will make it much more difficult for the public and Parliament to hold responsible the body which, in fact, is making the final decisions. That is the general point I want to make. I think that it is important, and I do not believe that anyone has realised how the Government are deviating from the principle accepted by all parties, up to now, as to the way in which a nationalised industry could best be run in the public interest.
I want to know what is to happen when the Railways Board has prepared its plan for the new size, functions and activities of the railway industry, some time in the new year. That plan will inevitably propose, if the Report of the Transport Commission means anything at all, wholesale closure of branch lines and the withdrawal of stopping trains. That plan is to be produced to the Minister. Will it be published at that stage? All that we have been told so far is that the Minister is to have the plan and that thereupon he will make decisions without inquiry from anybody, except the ministerial committee he has talked about. He is going to reach broad conclusions on the proposals. According to his speech of 27th June, this will cover general closure plans.
The position is. therefore, that when this plan, presumably secret, is presented to the Government by the Railways Board the Minister of Transport will then reach broad conclusions and will say that certain areas from which it is proposed to withdraw trains should be trainless. That is a very serious situation, which has not been fully appreciated. It is true that after he has reached those conclusions—and he told us definitely that it is at that stage that he reaches conclusions—the transport users' consultative committees have to be informed and given an opportunity of commenting on these conclusions. What use is it at that stage, when the Minister has decided to accept the general decisions of the Railways Board for the transport users' consultative committees, to say, "We would like all the railway lines in the South-West, or in Scotland, or wherever they are proposed to be closed, to be kept open"? Surely it will then be too late.
§ Mr. Hay
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will study what I said earlier. I said that we shall be concerned, when 703 the plan is produced by the Railways Board, with the overall picture of it, but that the wording of the Act shows that in respect of individual line closures and individual withdrawal of services we are obliged to go through procedure. What the Minister will do will be simply to look at the whole plan and reach his conclusions, but that does not mean to say that he will automatically endorse every individual closure that is proposed. That is something that will have to go to the consultative committees under the Statute.
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not think that that is the full answer. The Minister at this stage will have reached his broad conclusions on closures. I suggest that the conclusions reached at this stage will be final and binding and that there will be little, if any, opportunity for the transport users' consultative committees to object effectively to closures which have already been agreed on by the Minister.
Then, before reaching his conclusions, the Minister is to do a number of things which, it seems to me, will take a very long time. We have been told some of them today by the Parliamentary Secretary. The effect on the travelling public; to what extent new roads will be needed, or old ones have to be widened. All this is obviously desirable. But we are not told who will report to the Minister. We do not know whether it will be his own Departmental investigation, or who it will be.
At any rate, he wild have these investigations carried out before he reaches his broad conclusions, and then he will consider alternative services. If the area concerned is a large one—such as the north of Scotland, or south-west England—this will take a long time. He will then consider what form of subsidy may be necessary in order to continue the railways, or alternative forms of transport. Then he must consider who will have to pay the subsidies.
It has been suggested that local authorities may be asked to pay them. I can assure the Minister that he need not consider that possibility for long. If railway services which local inhabitants have been enjoying for a number of years are withdrawn, and the Minister of Transport then says to the local authority concerned, "You raise your rates and pay us the proceeds, and we will 704 keep those services going in your area", the answer he will get wild be sharp and rude. Local authorities will not accept any such proposals. Perhaps the Minister will go further. If local authorities say, "This is not the sort of thing that we should put on our rates", he may bear in mind the possibility of their holding a flag-day in order to keep the national railways running in their areas.
There will be considerable delay before answers are obtainable on a number of other matters which he must consider before reaching his final conclusion. The Minister's final decisions are, in fact, likely to be so unpopular and far-reaching as to the extent of the closures and withdrawals which he will endorse that he will certainly postpone it, if possible, until after the next polling day.
To what extent will these closures take into account the deliberations of Sir Robert Hall's Committee, which is today studying the long-term future of both road and rail transport? I ask this question because, although it may appear today that some roads are capable of carrying all the required traffic in a certain area, so that the railways can conveniently be closed with advantage to the economy, we know from experience in other countries that such a position can easily change in less than twenty years. It may happen that roads which are now comparatively empty became congested, and that a big demand is created for railway services to be reestablished in the public interest.
It is no use the Minister's merely answering by saying, "This fact will be taken into account." Before any large-scale closures are ordered the long-term effects of those closures must be considered. The possibility must be borne in mind that railways which are unremunerative today, and are carrying comparatively little traffic, freight or passenger, may be urgently required in ten or twenty years' time, when they would be remunerative again. If those railway services are stopped and rendered incapable of resuscitation great damage will be done to the national interest.
The next question is one that I asked in our last debate, and one to which I received no reply. When the Transport Bill was before the House we were told that one of its great advantages 705 was that in future railways would have commercial freedom. We were told that their position would be much improved as a result; that they would be able to quote rates, high or low, as they thought desirable, and as the traffic would bear. The essence of this commercial freedom was that the railways would not have to publish their rates; they could bargain with any potential customer about the rates to be charged.
We were told that this was extraordinarily important, and that it would give the railways a big advantage which they did not have before. That may be so, but what is certain is that if this country enters the Common Market—as, I hope, will be possible—secret rates will not be allowed. The essence of the arrangements under the Common Market set-up is that all freight rates have to be published, and quoted for anyone to see. No secret allowances can be given to any industry which has goods to be carried. In those circumstances, it would appear that all the commercial freedom and advantage which the Transport Bill was to give to the Railways Board will be destroyed if this country enters the Common Market and accepts the general provisions relating to the transport industries of the Common Market countries.
I have not said anything about railway workshops, for two reasons. First, I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak about them, as they feel very keenly on the subject, and, secondly, I do not wish to speak for too long. But there are one or two things that I must say in reference to them. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that it will be a tragedy if we have to close down railway workshops which have rendered such a service for so long, both to the railways and the public. Many of them are highly efficient, employing skilled men who have given very long service to the industry. It will be tragic if they have to be closed down, the works sold, and the men thrown out of work and left to try to find employment elsewhere.
The effect will be especially serious in towns where the workshops provide practically the only source of employment. There will be grave social consequences for the community, with dislocations and 706 personal hardship on a large scale, all of which is to be avoided if at all possible.
We agree that, as they exist today, these workshops have a greater capacity than can be used by the amount of work available to them from the railways now that the modernisation plan is being completed. The last thing that we want to do is to stand in the way of the proper utilisation of workshops for other purposes, or to maintain them merely for the purpose of doing so. That would be highly wasteful of our resources.
There is one thing which the Government refuse to contemplate but which, would at any rate ameliorate the situation, namely, the proposal that we urged over and over again when we were considering the Transport Bill in Committee and on Report. We repeatedly urged that these workshops should be allowed to take on work for other firms—private enterprise or any other—which wanted to have work done which was similar to the work already being carried out in these workshops, provided that that work was prospectively profitable. All the time the Government have said, "No". They will not allow this to happen. The reason is—although they have not said so—that they do not want a nationalised industry to compete with private enterprise. There can be no other reason why these workshops, manned by skilled operators, should not be allowed to take on the manufacture or repair of equipment for other industries if they have an opportunity to do so.
When I was Minister of Supply the Royal Ordnance factories did millions of pounds worth of work for private industry, especially during the period of transfer from war time to peace time. This was profitable and satisfactory for everybody concerned. The industries got the work done well, and the Royal Ordnance factories kept their teams together.
Once more I beg the Government to reconsider the possibility, when redundancy will inevitably result in the field of railway equipment, of allowing these workshops to do work other than the manufacture or repair of railway equipment. Where that is not possible the Government must take responsibility of 707 dealing with the human side of the redundancy problem. It is, however, a matter more for the trade unions and the B.T.C. than this House to see that redundancy payments are fair and generous. The Government must set an example in this matter and I am sure that they would have public opinion wholeheartedly behind them in any steps taken in that direction.
Many changes are bound to take place in the railway set-up in the next few years. Some will be painful, but inevitable. The last thing that we wish to do is to oppose adjustments required by modern conditions or to preserve a set-up which is wasteful of national resources. The difference between hon. Members on this side of the House and hon. Members opposite is one of approach.
Despite anything which the Parliamentary Secretary has said, the simple fact is that the Minister considers the railways solely as a business with the objective of private commercial enterprise, that is, to make a profit. Or if it does not make a profit, to reduce losses. I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary would disagree that the balance sheet consideration not only predominates but is the only one in the mind of the Minister and of Dr. Beeching whom he appointed for the main purpose of trying to make the railways pay, or lose less. The social consequences of his activities are not the responsibility of Dr. Beeching. Indeed, from everything that has been said, the consequence of large-scale closures will not worry him much, if at all, if, as a result, he is able to make the balance sheet look better than it does at present.
We believe that this is the wrong approach. We believe that the railways are still an essential service. The railways are an enterprise whose purpose it is to provide a good transport service, which includes paying its servants good wages, and providing a service wherever it is required in the broad national interest; and, where it may be necessary we consider that subsidies, even considerable subsidies, should be continued to keep the service going.
That is our attitude in the matter. It is not the attitude of Dr. Beeching. It 708 is not his responsibility to implement that attitude. It is not the attitude of the Minister of Transport. Today, we have not before us any concrete proposals to close railways. Those will come later. But there are very strong and definite indications of what will happen in the Report of the Commission, where large-scale shutting down of lines and the discontinuance of stopping trains are contemplated. It is stated there that the closure of branch lines is only a small part of the curtailments which Dr. Beeching has in mind. All these indications are before us and today there is a real danger, a real threat, that, unless public opinion and this House bestirs itself and expresses itself, these comprehensive, ruthless and indiscriminate closures will take place.
So we feel it desirable that the House should express itself clearly and as soon as possible along the lines set out in our Amendment, which is not a revolutionary one, but only asks the House to viewwith deep concern the proposed large-scale closure of railway workshops and the withdrawal of unprofitable branch line services.We believe that this reflects the view of many hon. Members on both sides of the House and that it is certainly the view of their constituents. We ask the House to do the right thing today by supporting this Amendment in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I wish to join the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) in sympathising with the Minister because of his absence through illness, and I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on what I thought was an admirable presentation of this very difficult problem.
The right hon. Gentleman also said, I think rightly, that now is the opportunity, before the plans of Dr. Beeching are known, when back-bench Members of Parliament can raise a number of aspects of the railway problem I wish to confine myself to two points. First, the procedure adopted over rail closures with regard to objections and the duties of the Railways Board in that respect towards the public and the 709 transport users' consultative committees and, secondly, Dr. Beeching's proposals, which are important and far-reaching, for reorganising the freight system on the railways. I shall be speaking in that respect from the point of view of industry.
I do not think that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall was right to minimise the value of this Report. He said much was obvious that is said, but there is a much more detailed analysis of railway problems and costs than we have had before, or I have been able to study. After what is said about the financial duty of the Railways Board, as it now is, and about railways in general, I am not sure whether the necessity for this Amendment is so obvious. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman agreed the necessity for action. But until we have the plans before us we cannot judge them any further than that.
Dr. Beeching has produced a new approach. Some of these ideas are old ones. But, generally speaking, he must be congratulated on a new and constructive line. He has to sell his plans and his diagnosis to industry. In that respect I wish that he had made his statement about the future of the railways in a television broadcast to the public rather than in a speech to the Institute of Directors. Directors are estimable people and have to be convinced of the need to use the railways for carrying their goods. But Dr. Beeching has still to convince the public at large and I think that the public relations side of his organisation has to be looked into in that respect.
He has to produce a national transport industry which makes sense and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall agreed about that. The right hon. Gentleman differed from hon. Members on this side, apparently, over the approach. The greatest contribution Dr. Beeching has made in this Report, as I said earlier, is in the survey of costs, and how these transport costs are to be related to the lowest level compatible with requirements of industry and passengers.
Other countries are suffering from the same problem. I do not know whether hon. Members read the message of President Kennedy on the subject of domestic transport which he submitted to Congress in April and which, in fact, 710 in slightly different language, reads very much like the introduction to the Report that we are now discussing. It is a worldwide problem. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right and I too should like to see more emphasis on the need to obtain new business for the railways rather than cutting them down. Cutting back will be necessary, but too much emphasis has been placed on that aspect in the public eye; and I hope to see Dr. Beeching and his public relations team putting more emphasis on attracting business to the railways, particularly on the freight side.
The right hon. Gentleman said, as the Report also states, that modernisation has already created general improvement in 1961. The House should take note of the fact that 77 per cent. of the passenger weekday trains were on time in 1961. That is certainly an improvement which we should note, and the increase in the speed of freight trains as well.
Whatever is the right policy, it certainly is a question of attracting traffic. Most of the deficit was on the stopping passenger services and the proliferation of goods depots and wagons to which Dr. Beeching referred. Both belong in a sense—I say "in a sense"—to a former age, but this is very deeply rooted in people's lives. We all realise that Dr. Beeching is providing scientific thought on this matter, but it is the Government who decide the social aspects and individual needs.
I said that I should mention the procedure for hearing objections by the transport users' consultative committees. We had a debate on this matter in relation to Section 56 of the Transport Act. The transport users' consultative committees, according to their booklet, are supposed to be representatives of the public in that matter. For that reason, many hon. Members on both sides of the House welcomed the Amendment which was moved to provide that these committees in future should meet in public for the hearing of oral representations by people who object to railway closures. It is now, and always has been, the wish of this House that these hearings should be fair and impartial, and that they should be seen to be so.
I hope for that reason the Railways Board will avoid the behaviour of British 711 Railways, the predecessor of the Board, in my constituency over the closing of the Abingdon-Radley branch line. The Central Consultative Committee has not yet reported to the Minister on that branch line. Therefore, I cannot comment on the merits of that case. Suffice it to say that British Railways refused on that occasion to supply what I thought quite reasonable financial details to the objectors so that they could cross-examine railway witnesses and state their case. If the individual or the local authority feels prevented from expressing views, there will be the feeling that the set-up is wrong. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall will recognise those words because he used them in the debate in Standing Committee when we discussed this point.
When the Report has been received by the Minister, my intention is to raise the question of the conduct of that inquiry and, if I am able to do so, I shall do it before the Minister actually makes his decision. I raise the matter now because the Minister wrote to me. I am speaking of the general point now, not the constituency point. My right hon. Friend wrote to me in the spring saying that he was taking steps to see that local authorities were given copies of the railways' case. He was then referring to the new procedure. I assume that means that the Board would answer reasonable questions and come to terms with local authorities in giving them information which was reasonable.
As hon. Members who have studied Section 56 of the new Act will know, the function of the Committee now is to report to the Minister on hardship only. It would leave out the economic details. The Minister has said that he does not want financial wranglings going on in these committee hearings. That might be right, but if there is to be consideration of hardship caused to the public it is all the more necessary for the hearings of these committees to be more judicial than they have been in the past. There is all the more reason that the system of objection should be more flexible than it has been in the past.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a look at the new booklet issued by the Central Committee where he will see that the dice are still very heavily 712 loaded against objectors. I should like to see something in the way of a revision of the directives, if such they are, contained in that booklet. That would indicate that justice must be seen to be done. I hope that hon. Members will take this view when they have similar cases in their constituencies. The case I mentioned caused quite unnecessary ill-feeling in the town. It could have been prevented by a great deal more flexibility in the rules governing the provision of financial information.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Would not my hon. Friend also agree that, as it is imperative that closures will be involved, the Transport Commission should itself, from its own knowledge, provide available information as to alternative road transport services, thereby giving objectors in hardship an opportunity of seeing the sort of alternative bus services which might be available, even within those owned by the Transport Commission?
§ Mr. Neave
Certainly I should include that in the provision of reasonable information on the railways' case, but I have explained that I want to raise this question very much more fully in regard to the constituency case, although I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). Now is the opportunity when the 1962 Act is coming into force and the Central Committee, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, has been reconstituted, for us in this House to raise the subject. I hope that note will be taken of it.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) will realise that one of the difficulties about the Commission indicating bus services which are available in the area is that the Commission can never say whether those bus services will continue or not. That is outside its scope. In answer to the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), now that the Act is operative the Commission does not own a single bus service. They are all private enterprise services. They have been handed to separate companies in which the Railways Board will have no control. Therefore, the assurance asked for by the hon. Member for Isle of Thanet cannot be given.
§ Mr. Neave
I should not like to pursue that question further now. I want there to be no further cases of the Railways Board refusing to give proper information to people who object in a democratic manner to closures. The Board should provide the information that it has available so king as it is reasonable and not too voluminous. At present many statistics on these matters are given to the committee, which are not given to the objectors. That creates a bad impression about the manner in which the hearings are conducted. With a little good will, improvements could be made. It is in the interests of my right hon. Friend and the Railways Board that, if rail closures have to take place, it should be in an atmosphere in which people feel they are being dealt with fairly. I shall not take that point further because I hope the occasion will arise when it can be raised in far more detail, perhaps on the Adjournment.
In regard to freight and the need which Dr. Beeching has expressed for a fast, long-distance freight system, it is worth noting that, according to the Commission's Report, already 2,000 freight expresses run daily between main industrial centres. Hon. Members, however, will agree that the problem is still gigantic with the huge percentage increase in freight-ton miles by road since the war. I speak feelingly from an industrial point of view because the multiplicity of stations, depots and wagons needs rapid reorganisation.
Dr. Beeching wishes to develop new services and new rolling stock and also new depots and containers. The question is how he is to attract this business from the roads. In regard to bulk transport of coal and much mineral traffic, it seems from what he says that he will have a simple problem. The real problem, as hon. Members who have taken an interest in this matter know, is that of semi-processed products, manufactured goods and general merchandise, of which £90 million now goes on the roads. The flow of that traffic runs parallel with the main railway arteries.
There is good reason for optimism if Dr. Beeching's proposals for freight are accepted, not only by this House but by industry, that a scheme for scheduled large consignments on company trains and liner trains can be sold to industry. That would be attractive and would pro- 714 duce a very much greater degree of efficiency and profitability on the freight side.
I have had an opportunity to talk to many people in manufacturing industry since Dr. Beeching made his speech, and the proposals for company trains and so on which he announced have interested them greatly. It all depends how it works out how efficient and quick this system is proved to be, but generally speaking there is a very good response from industry. It is an imaginative plan, and all those concerned with transport costs will examine it most carefully in connection with the carriage of various types of merchandise.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
If the hon. Member reads the Beeching document again carefully, he will find that there is not a word about the rates and tariff structure on the railway. These will be deliberated on 1st January. The hon. Member is no doubt familiar with the employment of salesmanship vis-a-visà transport, but how far is he prepared to say that the price factor will he the determining issue in the long run? If we continue with the cross-subsidisation of railway rates, the railways will not get the traffic. If we discontinue cross-subsidisation, then obviously serious economic problems will arise for both road and rail.
§ Mr. Neave
It is very difficult to answer the question, since Dr. Beeching did not deal with it in his speech, and one does not know how far he has considered it. But I do not know that price is necessarily the determining factor. Delivery is very much more important. The prejudice in industry against railway carriage has been very much because of delivery, in my experience in the last few years, though obviously price will be a factor. Until we have Dr. Beaching's views on that point—and he will have to bring them out when the completed plan for freight is made—it is difficult to express an opinion. I accept what the hon. Member said; it is a complication, although I think that delivery is even more important than price.
By this scheme of Dr. Beeching it may be possible to get a fair balance between road and rail for freight. I am optimistic about it. I have therefore made two points, the first about railway closures, 715 which I suggest is a matter of justice not only for our constituents but for the public at large, and the second that we ought to support Dr. Beeching in trying to find a solution to a very great problem. At any rate he is the man who has produced the first stages of an imaginative proposal.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
I was very interested in the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), when he was dealing with freight traffic. I think that all of us would like to see much of the traffic on the roads put back on to the railways. But, living as I do on the main A.74, and watching the traffic on that road in particular, I am concerned about how Dr. Beaching will be able to achieve it, although I hope that he will.
The hon. Member started by saying that we ought to emphasise the possibilities of new business for the railways and not to do so much criticising about cutting down. Nevertheless, he dealt mostly with the closing of a branch line in his own constituency. I grant him that the question of the procedure on the closing of branch lines is very important in view of the likelihood of many more closures taking place.
I was disappointed that the Minister of Transport was not with us this afternoon. He may not always be correct in his facts, but at least he is always stimulating in what he says. While the Parliamentary Secretary said much less, using more words, at the same time he showed the same ability as he had shown during the Committee stage of the Transport Bill.
I was happy about the hon. Gentleman's speech up to the point at which he made the same mistake as the Minister made on the last occasion that we discussed this subject. At that time the Minister stated that it was premature to speculate about what would happen and that newspapers and others concerned were criticising and commenting upon something which they thought was to happen. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) made clear today, the cause of this speculation and these discussions is that the Minister in his various speeches emphasised and 716 reinforced by the Report of the British Transport Commission for 1961.
I will quote from the Report. Paragraph 10 reads:…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.Paragraph 20 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.In paragraph 22 we read, talking about branch lines: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.Running throughout the Report and the documents which we have obtained is a clear indication of what is likely to happen. In the Minister's speech on the last occasion there was a gleam of hope, as there was in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech today, and it is a point taken up by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries: that the first stage having been completed, the Report will be put on the Minister's desk and the Minister will decide what is to happen. Running through the Minister's speech on the last occasion was an indication that the Government would be prepared to accept that any lines to be kept open would be a matter for political decision for which they would have to take responsibility. At least, the Select Committee's attitude is recognised.
I have no intention this evening of dealing with the past history of British Railways, nor have I any intention of following the admirable speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall, who put the case extremely well. I do not require to add to it, because I support it and approve of it. Probably the Parliamentary Secretary will reply to the debate—
§ Mr. Steele
I am disappointed. It chat is the case, and we do not get a reply tonight, perhaps we shall receive a letter later.
717 The Report is not all gloom and despair. There are clear indications that the work in progress on modernisation is already bringing results. I am very happy that that is so. Paragraph 300 contains encouraging figures showing the increase in revenue following the introduction of diesel multiple units. Paragraphs 138 and 304 make special mention of the successful operation of the electric services in Scotland. I want to make e plea tonight for a further extension of these services. The service which is in my constituency—the electrification from Balloch and Helensburgh to Glasgow and Airdrie—has been warmly welcomed. It provides a better and a cleaner service, as anyone who knows the low level in Glasgow will agree. It serves my constituency. It is efficient and popular. This is shown by the use made of it.
I want to draw attention to something which has happened because of the introduction of this service. Paragraph 331, dealing with provincial and Scottish buses, contains this interesting statement:The Scottish Group were affected by the reintroduction of the electrified railway services in the Glasgow district on 1st October, 1961, which caused a considerable fall in traffic in the Group's operations in that area.I welcome this, because it is a clear indication that the railways have been successful and are providing the kind of service that the public want. Fewer buses going into the centre of Glasgow from my constituency and from the neighbouring areas of Glasgow means in effect that there is less congestion and that the service being provided is efficient.
Since the first stage has been completed the second stage of electrification has also been completed and is now in operation—that is, Cathcart Circle, Kirkhill and Motherwell. I have no knowledge at present about what is happening, but I should like some information as to whether the second stage has been successful.
The third stage, that from Glasgow to Greenock, would have been started had it not been for the appointment of Dr. Beeching. This third stage had already been agreed. It was part of the electrification which was to take place in Scotland, but with the appointment of Dr. Beeching and the reappraisal which 718 took place work on it was stopped. All the survey work had already been done by a private company. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) tabled a Question to the Minister about this and received this information, together with details of the cost involved. My hon. Friend has been vigorously—"vigorously" really means something when it is applied to my hon. Friend—pursuing this matter with Dr. Beeching and others concerned.
The equipment to do this work is available, because when the capital expenditure on providing the equipment was considered it was realised that there was to be all this work. Therefore, the heavy capital equipment to do the job was considered at the early stage and it is now available. I was very happy indeed to hear the Prime Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) at Question Time today. He gave my hon. Friend an assurance that Scotland is in a special situation and that he would have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to considering what capital development can take place which will be helpful to Scotland at this time. This third stage is an admirable job. The survey has been done. It is completed. All the information is in the hands of British Railways. All that requires to be done is to proceed with the job.
What is holding up a decision? What will be the basis of the judgment? When will we know, and on what grounds will the Government or whoever makes the decision decide whether the electrification will go ahead? Will it be on the success or otherwise of the blue trains which are at present operating? They are successful. The public has accepted them. British Railways makes it quite clear that the passenger receipts have doubled. I hope that they will treble. They give a good service. This scheme would be warmly welcomed.
In effect, the present schemes have taken off the road many of the buses which previously carried passengers. What will be the attitude of the Minister of Transport? I do not say the Ministry at this stage: I want to be very exact and say the Minister of Transport. Will the Minister of Transport say, looking at the blue trains, that the new capital which has been invested does 719 not provide an adequate return and does not meet the demands of the White Paper on Capital Investment in the Nationalised Industries? Will that be the Ministry of Transport's attitude? Or shall we have another view, that of the Treasury? Will the Treasury say that, although the passenger revenue may have trebled and although it may have taken all these buses off the road, the line is still making a loss because it is not showing an adequate return on the new capital invested and paying for the depreciation of the plant and equipment which has been replaced? If that is to be the criterion, we shall get no further electrification.
I hope that the Minister—this time I say the Minister, not the Ministry—will take a different view. As the Parliamentary Secretary said in opening, the responsibility of the Government is to look at transport needs as a whole. I am glad that he said that because it is right and proper. If the decision whether to proceed with electrification on the Glasgow-Greenock line is to depend on the narrow criterion of what the Treasury thinks should be the requirement, we shall run up against a great deal of difficulty. Will the Minister, with his overall responsibility for transport as a whole, and taking into account the fact that there are road services from Greenock to Glasgow, consider what improvements are necessary and essential? His function, above all, is to get as much traffic as possible off the roads and utilise the railway services.
Good electric services are the best answer to the private individual in a motor car. I do not think that the dieselised service is the full answer because, if there is a good electric service, it must be used regularly There must be as much use of the line as possible. If that is done, it results in the type of service that there is from Dumbarton to Glasgow. All my constituents know that there is a train every 15 minutes from Dumbarton to Glasgow. They do not need to worry about timetables. They do not need to worry about anything. They merely have to go to the station.
This is not likely to happen with the diesel trains, but if we have electrified trains giving this kind of service that is 720 the real answer to the private individual with the motor car. The trouble in our cities is the congestion caused by one individual in one car, and who is always looking for parking space.
We must also look for adequate parking facilities at the stations. In my constituency the businessman going to the city finds it easier to park at the station—although he will find it more difficult in future—and then get on the train to Glasgow than to find a space to park in Glasgow. There is an interesting aspect to this question. In the South, electrification came first. The whole of the Southern Region had the advantage of these electrified services and when the buses came along the natural thing for them to do was to feed the stations which were providing these good services. The result of this is that in the whole of the South the bus station is near the railway station and the habit of the people is to use these electrified services. They have been fortunate in that respect.
In Scotland we have not been so fortunate. Electrification has come far too late, with the result that the traffic has created its own answer, as it were, and the bus services and the traffic habits of the people have been established. Therefore, we not only have to provide the electrified services but we have to break the natural habit of people over the years in getting them to the stations. I am happy to say that Glasgow Corporation has co-operated in this respect. Without the co-operation of Glasgow and of the S.M.T. the electrified services would not have been as successful as they have been, but there is still a great deal to be done. I receive complaints that the bus stop is too far from the station. If the electrified service had been there first, the bus stop would have been at the railway station.
These are the problems we must look at and I hope that the Minister will do his best and use his influence to secure this kind of co-operation. I do not want to use the word "integration" if the Parliamentary Secretary does not like it, but this is integration in using facilities.
§ Mr. Steele
Before a bus stop can be moved one has to go to the Ministry of 721 Transport regional officer. Then the chief constable and the local authority and all kinds of people descend on one and there have to be inquiries. I have had experience of this sort of thing. It is the most difficult thing in the world to move a bus stop. I do not want to pursue this point now. I can have a conversation with the Parliamentary Secretary and show him the heap of correspondence I have had on the subject.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
It will be within recollection that it took an Adjournment debate and six months' delay to get a bus stop in my constituency moved from the bottom of a hill to the top.
§ Mr. Steele
In winding up the debate on public investment, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury indicated that there would be 1,000 miles of motorway in England and Wales by 1970. We would hope to have at least 10 miles of motorway in Scotland by the end of 1970.
§ Mr. Steele
I know that this is not the responsibility of the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend, but it is a fact that there will be 1,000 miles of motorway in England and Wales while we in Scotland will be lucky if we have 10 miles.
§ Mr. Steele
Anyway, if we have 10 miles, how happy we shall be!
I am convinced that the general manager of the Scottish Division will not make the decision and neither will Dr. Beeching or the Minister. I am convinced that the Treasury will make the decision in the end on the question whether we have the services between Glasgow and Greenock electrified. I hope, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take his responsibilities seriously in this respect. We have approached the Prime Minister to make this point to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If we are to have only 10 miles of motorway, I ask that work should not stop on the electrification of the railways in Scotland which has already been agreed to.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Naturally, I have sympathy with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), but at the beginning of his speech he attacked several paragraphs in the first chapter of the British Transport Commission's Annual Report. I regard the first chapter of the Report as historically one of the most important chapters on transport ever written. I believe that in future it will be looked on as a landmark in taking the railways into the second half of the 20th century. This is a cool and exact analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the railway system which alone would justify Dr. Beeching's appointment.
The analysis tells us that the railway system was developed against only one competitor—horse-drawn vehicles on poor road surfaces, with stations spaced only about 2½ miles apart, with operations based on the use of the individual wagon and not a train load, and with the disadvantages of high capital cost, high cost of maintenance and the inflexibility of the system. On the other hand, there were the advantages of exclusive track use, and low movement cost when used for dense flows and bulk movements in train-load quantities. This characteristic of high capital cost and inflexibility is at once seen as a characteristic also of mass production plant generally. Therefore, it shows that the railways are suitable in the age of mass production in which we live today.
That appreciation of the situation is most encouraging, and represents a great step forward, but many hon. Members opposite seem to oppose the entry of the railways into the modern age. Some of them seem to be almost obscurantist, relics of Victorian conservatism, and a great force holding us back. That reminds me that an extreme Right-wing friend of mine, not in this House, after hearing the Leader of the Opposition speak on television about the Common Market, said, "What a wonderful speech. I agree with every word."
That seems to be the attitude of some of our Victorian friends opposite. The Victorians liked stopping trains. There were no bus services then, so they had to have the "Parliamentary"—the train that stopped at every station by Act of 723 Parliament. I suppose in 25 years' time—[Interruption.]—I have already heard two hon. Members opposite oppose this, and they have even quoted sentences from Chapter 1 on the removal of stopping trains—
§ Mr. Steele
I did not quote this in defiance of the Report, but referred only to facts that the Report brought out.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The hon. Gentleman concluded with a denigration of the railway Report, and said that if British Railways did that kind of thing he was opposed to it. That seemed to be the burden of his speech—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
That was the tendency of the hon. Member's speech. I think that collective travel has a fascination for some hon. Members opposite—the thought that no one can travel unless 200 others do so at the same time.
Dr. Beeching did well to note what I said in this House on 3rd December, 1956. I then quoted the British Transport Review for 1956, which said:'It is almost as if it were an offence against good taste to mention the guilty secret that we are running hundreds of trains whose movement costs are more than five times their receipts.'I went on:The railway system and railway stations are, of course, based on the age of the horse. The average distance apart of railway stations in this country is about three miles, based on the distance that a horse could take people to a station. I think that it would be much better for railways to leave these local services to the bus services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1956; Vol. 561, c. 982.]I am glad to see that Dr. Beeching has taken note of that.
From the analysis, and from what has been disclosed since, it has become obvious that a railway line carrying only 5,000 passengers or under a week, with a fairly frequent service, has a route cost of £50 a week per route mile and a movement cost of £100 a week per route mile. If the receipts, at an average fare of 2.4d.
724 per mile, bring in £50 a week, as they do on the average, the line loses £100 a week per mile or £5,000 a mile per year. A bus service running parallel to that line costs only £25 a week per route mile, and should give a gross profit of £1,250 per annum per route mile. That is a very significant feature when we are trying to make the best use of our transport services and avoid these heavy subsidies.
Every picture tells a story, and the two pictures contained in pages 55 and 67 of the Commission's Report are tremendously significant. They show us a growth in the number of private cars in the past ten years from 2½ million to 6 million, with a spectacular increase in the number of commercial vehicles from 934,000 to 1,450,000. That is very significant.
Even if rail freight traffic were entirely free, hundreds of thousands of traders could scarcely use the railways at all. Let me give an example. I am a director of a wholesale business which has a fleet of over a hundred C-licence vehicles. Each vehicle does a round of between 80 and 100 miles a day, makes between 30 and 60 calls a day and, on the average, makes one call every ten minutes. That could not possibly be done by the railways. It is made possible only by the growth of the motor vehicle. Again, when one compares the speed of the motor vehicle, which is about 20–25 miles per hour, with that of the railway wagon, which averages just over 4 miles an hour, one sees the difficulties that traders face in using the railways.
There is the same story on the branch lines. We are all keen on dieselisation and electrification, but when members of the Press made an inquiry into the running of the Newbury and Didcot branch line, which was dieselised at the request of the public, they found that on the middle-of-the-day train there was a guard and a driver—and two passengers. They were housewives.
A lot of nonsense is talked about some of these branch lines. I was talking the other day to a builder in the country about the possible closure of the branch line next year. He said, "It will be very sad when that line is closed". When I asked why, he said, "Because the bus service only runs twice an hour". 725 I asked, "When did you last use the branch line?" He replied, "Of course, I haven't used it since the war". That is typical of the attitude of some members of the public.
All this adds up to the extraordinary change there has been in traffic since 1952. In 1952, the rail ton mileage was 54 per cent. of the national ton mileage, and road transport represented 46 per cent. In 1961, the rail ton mileage was 39 per cent. of the national total, and the road ton mileage was 61 per cent. The last time there was equal road and rail ton mileage was during the Suez crisis, when petrol and fuel oil were rationed.
In my submission, these facts show that a new conception of rail traffic to fit modern circumstances is clearly and emphatically necessary. That is what I think Dr. Beeching and his Board are now giving us. On the freight side, Dr. Beeching is giving a picture for the future of fully-loaded liner trains on scheduled services, with flat wagons carrying containers, and calling at about 50 depots—perhaps in a circle—instead of at hundreds of individual stations, and instead of the shuffling and reshuffling of individual wagons through innumerable marshalling yards, with no guarantee at all of delivery times.
If that happens with freight, the railways will carry out their true function in a mass-production age of mass carrying, leaving local delivery to road transport. That should give the volume-producing industries today a chance to deliver their goods in volume to selected points. That has a great future. In the same way, there should be fast train services for passengers between distant points, leaving the bus services to deal with the local traffic—which they can do unsubsidised where the number of local passengers is over 2,000 a week.
In some cases, we might use the branch-line tracks for roads. I think that the Railway Conversion League has a point here, but I am rather sorry to learn from its propaganda that a certain disused railway line in Norfolk that was promised to be taken over for a road has not yet been taken over.
In this picture, too, we have the problem of the activities of the railway workshops being reduced by the replacement of steam with diesel, and the consequent 726 smaller amount of repair work. That all leads to a decline in the use of the workshops. But is it any use keeping these vast cathedrals, these half-empty railway workshops, going? Take that enormous place at Stratford, in the East End. The other day a friend of mine went down there to mend a machine-tool. He asked for a spanner or a small tool, and someone had to spend about half an hour fetching it. This indicates the enormous size of these works which are working at only 50 or 60 per cent, capacity.
I come now to suburban services in which I have a direct constituency interest, with over 5,000 season ticket holders travelling to London every day. I was glad to see from the Report that suburban services as a whole cover their direct costs, although I must admit that they show a loss against total costs. But if there are to be fare increases, at which my constituents will complain, it is as well to remember that fares, when adjusted to allow for the fall in the value of money since the war, still remain at or below the pre-war level. That point needs emphasising, as it is emphasised in the Report.
In London, we have the terrible problem of peak flow traffic, which amounts to exactly ten times the number of passengers carried outside peak hours. It is very disappointing to see that not much economy can be achieved if that pattern persists, but—and I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will note this—it reinforces the need for the six co-ordinating committees in London on the staggering of hours to be more active in bringing about further staggering of hours in and out of London.
I am sure that passengers do not want perpetually to be subsidised at the rate of £150 million a year. I think that they are too proud for that. I cannot see why transport should always be subsidised any more than I can see why air traffic, which is a highly subsidised form of transport, should be subsidised.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
That is a different problem. Transport is a service which demonstrably can be shown to pay its own way.
In my view, British Railways are facing up to the realities of the problems 727 which confront them and which confront railways all over the world. It is patently absurd to go on meeting at vast expense a public need which in many places hardly exists.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
Whatever may be the interest in the House on the subject we are debating today, I think that every hon. Member, from the experiences of the last twelve months, will be fully aware of the tremendous interest in it among the people of this country and particularly among the hundreds of thousands of railwaymen whose future will be affected by whatever happens in this very important industry.
I was, I suppose, a little satisfied by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I was certainly satisfied about the hon. Gentleman's manner of delivery, and particularly about the striking contrast between his manner and that of the Minister of Transport, whom we are more accustomed to hearing in these debates. However, I say to the Parliamentary Secretary with the utmost respect that when he reads his speech tomorrow he will find that the House has reason to be disappointed at not detecting very much substance in it.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to take us through what the Minister said in his last speech, when he talked about the four stages and about the new appointments which were to be made, some of which have been announced this week, to the various organisations set up by the new legislation. But many of us who study the transport matters are familiar with all that. What struck me about the Parliamentary Secretary's speech—this is one of my foremost complaints—was the fact that there seemed to be no sense of urgency in his mind about this matter.
I wonder, for example, whether the Government really understand the tremendous depth of anxiety which exists in thousands of humble homes of working railwaymen in this country, in workshop towns such as Swindon and Darlington, and in Scotland.
§ Mr. Collick
Yes, and in Wales. There is great anxiety in the homes of people up and dawn the country whose lives depend on the future size and shape of British Railways.
It is not sufficient for the Government merely to leave this matter for negotiation between the trade unions and the new railway authority. The Parliamentary Secretary today went much further than I should have expected him to go by saying that this matter of closures was all piffle. I think that that was the word he used.
§ Mr. Collick
Whatever the word was, I was astonished, because, whatever the Parliamentary Secretary may think in the innermost part of his mind, the people, and certainly my constituents, want to know the extent of these closures and whether they will affect their areas. I am sure that hon. Members opposite who wish to speak in the debate will want to refer to that aspect. It is wrong for the Parliamentary Secretary or for anyone else to refer to this matter as piffle when almost all the statements which have been made since Dr. Beeching's appointment have stressed this aspect rather than any other.
The Government have gone astray in transport matters, and I am not sure they have not gone a little astray over the sequence of events since Dr. Beeching took over. Let me recall what has happened. The Minister came to the House and announced Dr. Beeching's appointment. The Government were concerned, so we were told, about the fact that the Commission's losses at that time were about £60 million. The Minister eulogised about Dr. Beeching—most of us had hardly heard the name at that time—and we were led to expect something worth while. We still hope for that. But what has been the result? Dr. Beeching has been labouring on this job for approximately two years, but there has been no diminution in the losses. They were about £60 million when the former chairman was in control. The Parliamentary Secretary told us today that they are now £160 million. This is after almost two years of Dr. Beeching's régime.
This is not exactly a tremendous commendation of the Government's 729 foresight in appointing Dr. Beeching or of what has happened since. Dr. Beeching is now approximately halfway through his apprenticeship, because his appointment is for five years. What have we had from him? We have had maps showing the density of lines and the density of traffic. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said. I am sure that much of this information is not new to people who have given any attention to these problems. I do not know any experienced railway official who was not familiar with all this before we saw the maps.
§ Mr. Collick
If the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) would read the transport debates which have taken place since he came to the House of Commons, he would know that the essence of this has been said again and again in those debates.
We now have the maps, which show everybody the points of density. The question is: what follows from this? The Parliamentary Secretary told us today—as we already knew, because the Minister had told us as far back as June—that there were to be the four parts of the plan. First, Dr. Beeching was to complete his studies. Then there would be publication of the studies with the maps and documents which have come from them. Then, as the Parliamentary Secretary said today, the new railway authority would submit its plans to the Government. The hon. Gentleman told us that this may be done in about February. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or March."] None of us knows. I appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary cannot be certain. At least, the plans will not be presented until early next year.
After the plans are presented, by the time the Government consider them and make up their mind what to do about them, it will almost certainly be midsummer. Further legislation may be necessary, and goodness knows when we shall get finality. By that time, we may get a General Election. Out will go the Government and then, perhaps, we may be able to get somewhere in transport. With time passing at that rate and the lack of any sense of urgency, I cannot 730 see that we will get any practical results from the plan for at least another twelve months.
The Parliamentary Secretary was anxious to describe to us the extent of the losses and he gave several illustrations. There is another example which he might have given. The loss is about equivalent to one and a half Blue Streaks. On Blue Streak, the Government threw £100 million down the drain, which means that the losses are about equivalent to one and a half Blue Streaks. The hon. Gentleman might care to add this to his list of examples.
Last week, the House considered a Bill to improve pensions. Both the Government and the House have agreed that there shall be an improvement to the pension provisions for ex-civil servants. Most of us are agreed about that. There is a Motion on the Order Paper, proposed, I believe, by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and supported by hon. Members on both sides, asking the Government to consider extending those pension provisions to people in nationalised industries and the like. The case for doing so for old and retired railway superannuitants and members of the wages staff is overwhelming.
We heard the other clay of a man who is well known to some of us, Bill Starvis, the former driver of the Royal train. He used to drive the King and Queen and members of the Royal Family from London to Scotland when they went to Balmoral. He retired only a few weeks ago. His pension after forty-nine years' service is 13s. 6d. a week—
§ Mr. Collick
—which is about equivalent to the cost of the Sunday joint. I know that hon. Members opposite cannot be any more proud of that than anybody else, but this is a state of affairs which exists not only for Bill Starvis, but for hundreds like him.
I do not want to tread on old sores, but I am bound to say this in defence of these enginemen. If, when they disposed of the former chairman of the Transport Commission and appointed Dr. Beeching, the Government found it convenient to give to the former chairman the amount which they gave him for terminating his 731 office, they should find it convenient to discover ways of meeting the demands of the railway superannuitants and other old railway servants for some improvement in their pension and conciliation payments.
It appears that the reply to this debate will be given by the Home Secretary, who is honouring us by his presence. On behalf of these men for whom I am appealing, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say what consideration the Government have given to the Motion which appears in the name of hon. Members on his own side of the House and supported by us on this side, what they propose to do about it and whether, now that the House has passed the Pensions (Increase) Bill for ex-civil servants, there is any hope that they will do something about this urgent matter.
I wish to refer to the housing problem. The Transport Commission owns a large number of railway houses throughout the country. About two months ago, a constituent of mine complained that the railway house in which he was living needed modernisation and required a bathroom. He referred to the Government's scheme by which old houses which are out of condition should be modernised with the aid of Government grant.
When the case was brought to my notice, I could not understand why there should be difficulty about it. I thought that the Transport Commission and Dr. Beeching would have been anxious to ensure that some of these railway houses should be modernised and have bathrooms and modern toilet facilities. Accordingly, I wrote to Dr. Beeching, calling his attention to the matter and asking whether he would do something about it. Dr. Beeching referred the matter to the General Manager of the Midland Region, who, in turn, told me:The fact is that at the present time there is a strict embargo on all new works to railway-owned houses and I am quite sure that I could not obtain an exception to the restrictions in this case.'I felt that the Minister of Housing should look at the matter, since what was happening was deliberately contrary to Government policy, and I wrote to him. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to write back to me and say: 732You ask for comments on the Government's general policy on improvement grants. What you said in your letter of 18th July correctly represents our view. We urge the most extensive possible use of improvement grants so as to bring soundly constructed old houses up to a level compatible with the requirements of modern living. Indeed, the more limited standard grants scheme for bath, hot water supply, w.c., wash-hand basin and food store was aimed at securing the installation of the basic amenities in as many houses as possible.On the other hand, one has to recognise that the owner has got to find the half of the cost not covered by the grant and this can amount to a substantial commitment, particularly in the case of large owners such as the British Transport Commission. I understand that in view of their other commitments they feel there are limits to what they go do at the present time, but it is to be hoped that they will go on doing as much as they can.What is the good of the Government having a policy, through these grants, of enabling these older houses to be modernised when a body working as closely with them as is the Transport Commission is not in a position to bring its own houses up to standard? The Home Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, has had experience at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Surely the Government could do something, in conjunction with the Commission, to make it possible for it or the new Railways Board to bring these outmoded houses up to date. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give an assurance on this point.
I finish, much as I began, by saying that I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey to his right hon. Friend and the Government the sense of urgency which railway workers, and the general population, feel on this matter. I encounter this in my constituency. Everyone wants to know what is happening. Now we are being told about maps, which reminds me of an experience I had six years ago. I went to see Lord Robertson of Oakridge, then Sir Brian Robertson, the Chairman of the British Transport Commission, because I found that the loading going into Birkenhead Docks as railborne traffic had dropped to as little as 25 per cent. of the total volume. I asked him to ask his officials whether they could not make a special drive to increase the proportion of railborne traffic. I was not greatly enthused by what resulted. The amount of railborne traffic to those docks is now even less than 25 per cent.
733 Now, however, Dr. Beeching, after two years in office, and having gone into all these maps and documents—I would not like to hazard a guess at the expense, although I have some little idea of it—made a speech last week to the Institute of Directors which showed that he is learning Good luck to him in that process. Dr. Beeching said:Ninety million tons of traffic at present on the roads…is favourable to rail haulage.That is what we have been saying for years, and now Dr. Beeching says it.
The Parliamentary Secretary told us that the Government had heard of some part of what the new plan may be. Could he not take us into his confidence and tell us just how Dr. Beeching proposes to get this 90 million tons on to the railways?
§ Mr. Collick
I do not know, but I want to know and I hope that we can be enlightened. However, I was very glad to read what Dr. Beeching said. By the time he has served his five-year apprenticeship, we may be getting somewhere. I hope so, because he went on to say, in words which were measured—he uses no other—The scope for the improvement of British Railway freight business is enormous.In case any hon. Members opposite say that the railways are out of date, let them note that Dr. Beeching believes the scope to be "enormous".
Dr. Beeching went on:…those railwaymen who are in a position to see the possibilities unfolding find the prospect exciting.I can assure Dr. Beeching that we most certainly do.
We see opportunities to attract a substantially increased volume of traffic by the provision of services of much higher quality, which will also"—This will cheer the hearts of every-one—be cheaper.This is wonderful. Let us speed the day. Let us get out the plans. Let us see how we are to get the 90 million tons which should be on the railways. I understand that the original purpose in bringing Dr. Beeching in was to tell us how to do it. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is 734 telling us."] He has been two years on the job. Perhaps it will be three years by the time we get this plan. But I am most anxious to see exactly how he will get his 90 million tons.
The Government may have a little headache when they get Dr. Beeching's plan. But let them realise that there is a sense of urgency about this among the men affected. We can have a little "do" across the Floor of this House, but men and women are depending on this. They may be asked to shift their homes, go to a new town and buy a house—or try to buy one—at three or four times its proper value.
§ Mr. Hay indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Collick
I say that there are houses on the outskirts of London which, to my knowledge, are being sold at three times their proper value.
§ Mr. Collick
I will give the hon. Gentleman some evidence. I am a trustee acting for a dear old lady who lives in one room at Golders Green, for which she pays £2 12s. 6d. a week. If that old lady pays so much for one room in London, what does the hon. Gentleman think a main line locomotive driver moving from Crewe will have to pay for a house in the London area?
These are practical problems with which the railwaymen are concerned, and I hope that the Government will catch the same sense of urgency so that the men know where they stand.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Longbottom (York)
I want the House to consider the present employment problem which we are facing in relation to the railways. There is no one on either side of the House who can deny that one of the most vital facts affecting us today is the serious pockets of unemployment in the north of England and Scotland. Whatever we do or whatever we sanction in this House, we must see that we do everything possible to reach the roots of this problem, and, wherever possible, to halt or reduce unemployment. It is our duty in every single aspect of employment policy which we may discuss.
There are a number of things that can be done by any Government. The Board 735 of Trade has come forward with advance factories, and there is a great amount which it can do in the location of industry and in giving inducements to industries to go to particular parts of the country. There are, in the whole field of public investment, opportunities for the Government, in terms of roads, railways, housing and public works, to see that special priority is given to these areas. These are important weapons with which to combat unemployment, but these weapons are blunted unless we have a cohesive and efficient transport system in those areas where it is to be applied.
For industries in some areas, the railways have been disappointing in many respects in the past because their antiquated purpose is totally irrelevant to the needs of many industries today, and they have to be improved, particularly in their communications between factory and factory and between factory and port, in order to match up to the needs of industry in many areas.
Though the unemployment figures are of concern to us, what worries me more is the increasing figures in certain areas. Those of us who are lucky enough to represent northern constituencies see only too clearly this growing gulf in employment between the North and the South. The difference is widening, and we ignore the signs at our peril as a country. We must redress the balance, because we cannot afford to allow the North to be depopulated and depressed at the expense of the growth of the South.
There seem to me to be two ways in which this affects British Railways, one a long-term problem and the other a shorter-term remedy for the immediate problem. On the long-term issue, I submit that we must urgently consider why it is that the South is virtually booming, whereas industry is falling off to a degree in the North. It is not merely that industry thinks that the South enjoys a better climate. I am sure that a lot of it is because industry feels that the South provides a better transport system, particularly for industries which are exporting to the Continent. It is an urgent responsibility of both the Government and the British Transport Commission to study this immediately.
736 It is true that we have made great progress with modernisation. It is also true that in an area in the north-east of England—that of Tees-side—the advent of one marshalling yard instead of a great number has meant much greater efficiency for industry on the spot. I am delighted that it has been announced that a similar thing is to happen in Sheffield, because many of my friends in that city have complained about the lack of facilities and too many marshalling yards in Sheffield itself.
There has been, and I think there will continue to be, a concentration on the main line industrial routes from our big centres of industry to the ports, and I am delighted that attention is being paid more and more by the British Transport Commission to port facilities, because factories need, if they need anything at all, in order to fulfil their orders, quick delivery to the ports. Coming from the North, I am delighted that so much emphasis is being placed on the port of Hull, and the considerable improvements being made there.
I repeat that we must look very carefully at what the British transport system can do in these matters to bring industries to the north of England and to other areas of under-employment. I have been particularly impressed by Dr. Beeching's speech, which has been widely quoted in this debate, to the Institute of Directors at the Albert Hall. In it, he said:Now, however, we see prospects of operating a system which will carry a greater total traffic than at present and which will flourish financially while doing so.Dr. Beaching has imaginative plans for freight, and I think that his up-to-date and modern concept of the long-distance haul is extremely important. I am sure that the British Transport Commission must and will examine the problems of the North in the light of being able to provide up-to-date and efficient transport between the factories and from the factories to the ultimate destination of the goods. I also submit that here is a field for priority Government investment.
In the short-term, there is the immediate problem of unemployment being increased in some of the worst-hit areas of the country by the closures of railway workshops. The effect in some places 737 could be very serious indeed, if insufficient time is allowed to elapse between the closure and the opportunity for fresh industry to come in to give these men employment. I am aware that the British Transport Commission has this in mind. It has announced a reduction in railway workshops which amounts in Scotland to 9 per cent. of those employed, and in England to 32 per cent., so that it has tended to concentrate on some of the worst hit areas.
I am not suggesting that railway workshops, just because they are railway workshops, should be kept open, but if, after careful examination they are found to be out of date, the crucial question for us is the timing upon which they are to be closed. I think that the British Transport Commission and the Board of Trade should work very closely together in this matter, in order to see that, where workshops are to be closed, every possible inducement is given to fresh industries to be ready to open immediately these workshops close, so that there is no chance whatever of men having to face unemployment for a long period of time.
Everyone agrees that we must come up to date and modernise, but, of course, we cannot sustain over-capacity or outmoded operations. This is the only way in which we can, at the same time, cause the railways to cease to be a drain on the Exchequer and yet fulfil the needs and requirements of today. The phasing of closures must allow for the growth of fresh industries.
§ Mr. Monslow
This is a rather interesting point. May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he would agree that where there are closures to be effected, such as in Darlington, by way of illustration, and where at the moment the British Transport Commission is placing orders with private enterprise for work which could be done in the railway workshops, that work ought to be done there, or should it go to private enterprise?
§ Mr. Longbottom
I hesitate to answer that question when my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) is sitting at my side. He is much more aware of the problem. So far as I am aware, the main problem in Darlington is not that railway workshops are being closed because work is being given to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Monslow
The point is that I know that work is going from the railway workshops to private enterprise—work which could be done at the railway workshops. Would you agree that, in these circumstances, this work should be retained by the railway workshops, and that we should put an end to this business of putting out contracts to private enterprise?
§ Mr. Longbottom
I do not know on what evidence the hon. Member bases his statement, but there are many cases of work being put out to private enterprise which could not be done in railway workshops. If we examine some of the companies concerned, which have a longstanding arrangement with British Railways, it will be found that they suffer equally from under-employment at present.
§ Mr. A. Bourne-Arton (Darlington)
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the example quoted at the moment, both the railway locomotive shops at Darlington and the privately-owned firm of Stephenson & Hawthorne are full of work? Both have very good orders, which they are now fulfilling, because these locomotives are required in a hurry. It is in the future, in 1964 and 1965 that the redundancy will be felt, but, at the moment, both are full of work because the locomotives are required urgently.
§ Mr. Longbottom
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington for that clarification. Again I emphasise the tremendous importance of phasing and the closest co-ordination among the Commission, local authorities and the Board of Trade.
I am surprised that no mention is made in the Annual Report of the problem of railway superannuitants, and even more surprised that neither Front Bench speaker mentioned it. I appreciate that they had a lot of ground to cover, but this is an extremely serious problem and I was very glad when the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) gave a lead by referring to it. We must discuss superannuitants in this debate, for their plight is urgent. Many men who have 739 given all their working lives to the railways are in receipt of pitifully small pensions, as the examples given by the hon. Member for Birkenhead showed.
The House has just considered a Pensions (Increase) Bill, and there is good reason to believe that the Commission is considering the problems of superannuitants as well. I hope that the Commission will soon be able to tell us what it feels about this problem and that it will take urgent action. The whole House should urge the Commission to bring these pensions in all cases—and I repeat, all cases—at least up to a minimum in line with the level of present old-age pensions. That is the fairest minimum reward for those who in their working lives served the railways so well.
Railways are a service industry daily catering to the needs of the public. As such, their efficiency and quality depend to the greatest extent upon the railwaymen themselves. It is the morale, the confidence, the well-being and the safety that these men feel in their employment that count. Their morale has been severely shaken over a number of years and they have often been the victims of uninformed and misconceived criticism.
But morale is improving—I notice it as representing a railway constituency—and I am sure that it will continue to improve. Provided that Dr. Beeching and the Commission will take the railwaymen and their union leaders into their closest confidence, as I am sure they will and must, and provided that the Commission is seen to be doing everything possible to avoid hardship in railway reorganisation, railwaymen will readily respond to Dr. Beeching's lead.
Dr. Beeching's first task, as I quoted earlier from his speech, isto operate a system which will carry a greater total traffic than at present, and which will flourish financially while doing so.I believe that he carries the good wishes of the great majority of hon. Members in his efforts to reach that target.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) made certain generous references to the north of England for which, as a Lancashire Member, I am grateful. I do not wish to follow the general line of his argument, but to take up a theme for 740 which the text was given to me by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon.
The Parliamentary Secretary addressed us in his usual courteous and well-informed manner. We are always ready to express our appreciation for that, and we have come to expect it from him. But I hope that he will not think that in paying that compliment to him I agree with the substance of what he said, though I approve of the manner in which he said it. He spent a moment or two making certain very guarded and cautious references to the human aspect of the redundancies which are troubling so many people in the railway service. He did not develop the idea, but he appealed to us all, regardless of our party affiliations, to be temperate in what we said and not to inflame a delicate situation.
This appeal is a fairly common experience for hon. Members and far be it from me to inflame a situation which is already bad. I hear many people appealing to us not to make a party issue out of railway or other troubles which afflict the Government. We can have party issues on all sorts of polemics when it suits the Government's purpose, but immediately they face an intractable problem which causes anxiety among large sections of the population, we are asked to regard it as a sort of bilateral situation in which we are to act as an all-party Council of State and regardless of the political aspects of the situation.
That is not a fair proposal, because the trouble with the transport industry today—and I will not go into all the old arguments with which we have paralysed the Government so many times on matters of detail and policy—is a product of the historic background of our transport system, especially the railways. The railway system began under private ownership, and before nationalisation it was being allowed to fall into disrepair and almost into ruin. For a time, it had been exploited by those who owned the equity capital, but it must be admitted that for generations, ever since 1922 at least, even under private ownership the transport industry was not making profits for the shareholders. By nationalisation, only one railway company, the Great Western, had paid a dividend since 1922 and that was only about ½ per cent.
§ Mr. Price
I accept the correction, but it was a very small dividend and any modern man in the City of London would regard it as chicken feed, as a marginal investment to be got rid of. No other railway company was paying dividends to its shareholders.
It is sometimes forgotten in these debates that the terms of nationalisation to which my party was committed by pledges given to the electorate were far in excess of any computation of the total value of the physical assets of the railway system—in spite of all the great controversies about whether compensation should be paid at £X million or £Y Yet, even with that situation, let it not be forgotten that for five years between vesting day in 1947 and 1953, when the co-ordination of transport was scrapped by hon. Members opposite, the railway system was viable, even from a book-keeping point of view. Up to 1953 the nationalised transport undertaking showed a credit balance, and it is only since then—and people have short memories and forget this—that we have had mill these red figures and serious deficits about which I am as much concerned as any hon. Member.
I have had the advantage—if it is an advantage—and the interesting experience of sitting in Committees upstairs for many months dealing with this problem. I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Transport Bill and the Road Traffic Bill. I have therefore had as good an opportunity as most hon. Members of forming some impressions and judgments about the outlook and mentality of the Minister of Transport. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but we understand why he is not present. There can be little doubt that the bias of his mind is in a certain direction. One never knows from day to day into which alleyway he will dive or jump. It all depends on which cameras are fixed on him at the moment. I would not be too unfair to the right hon. Gentleman in his absence, any more than I would in his presence, but it is nevertheless true that the bias of his mind is cast in the direction of what the accountants say, and what is the final balance from an accountancy point of view.
I have listened to Dr. Beeching on two occasions since he was appointed 742 to this difficult hot spot in British industry. There is no doubt that the terms of his appointment were secret. No one was present at or eavesdropping on the conversation between the Minister and Dr. Beeching which resulted in deflecting Dr. Beeching from his directorship of the I.C.I. to the inner councils of the British Transport Commission. We do not know what was said. We can only surmise and speculate, but from his declarations since his appointment it is clear that he was told that he was a functional executive and would not be allowed to interfere in any questions relating to the railways as a social service. Dr. Beaching has told tit in a Committee room in this House that if the Government want to regard the railways as a social service that is not a matter for him. It is a matter for the Government to decide. His business is to make the books balance and make the undertaking viable. This ought to be made clear to everybody.
I am perhaps allowing myself to be deflected from the real purpose of my intervention in this debate. The Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to make a number of observations and comments—rather cautiously of course—about the sensitive nature of the human problem which we are facing in the great surplus of manpower which will be created by the policy to be adopted by the British Transport Commission in the next few months.
I understand why the Parliamentary Secretary was anxious. Having listened to the authorities, and having read the Press, I have come to the conclusion that one of the most overworked words in the English language is "redundancy". Ironically enough, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as a state of superabundance That is a rather surprising definition. I do not know how long ago that definition was given to the word, but it has taken on a new connotation and significance in the modern world with which we have to put up as best we can.
I have the greatest respect for the compilers of this learned book. It is a great dictionary by any standard, but the definition to which I have referred illustrates the tremendous gulf which exists between the academic mind and the minds of people who have to earn 743 their living to keep their families in the real world in which they live. I do not say that frivolously or flippantly to score a debating point, but when I speak of the academic world I speak of the theoreticians who are plainly speaking to us in high-falutin' terms and regarding redundancy as an academic problem and thus getting away from the more obnoxious word "unemployment".
To the people concerned with this problem the word redundancy is of far more sinister significance. Spelt out, it means unemployment, short commons, upheaval, the threat of being driven from one's home town, and the future clouded by uncertainty and anxiety. That is a fair picture which my constituents would wish me to convey to the House. I represent a Lancashire constituency consisting of a number of small towns, villages and open countryside, a mixture of industry and agriculture, and a lot of decent people.
Amongst my constituents are those in Horwich and I want to speak briefly, and I hope fairly, about these people. When I first came to the House I conceived it to be my duty—as did more eloquent members who went before me—not so much to take part in debates on high policy and world affairs, but to see that the grievances of my constituents were brought to the attention of the House. This, as I see it, is the first duty of any hon. Member, and I am trying to discharge that obligation tonight.
These constituents of mine live in a small railway town of probably no more than 15,000 people. At the moment the Horwich railway workshops, as they have been for generations, are the mainstay of the town. Not only have these workshops been for many generations the mainstay of the people working there, but they have been the mainstay of the people attending to the services of the town. They have been the mainstay of all the other business in the town apart from one or two small marginal textile industries, which, as we know are always in trouble.
The workshops have a tradition which goes back for generations of son following father into them. Also, this great workshop has been accepted as one of the training grounds for railwaymen through the world. Great railway 744 engineers have come out of these workshops and out of the Technical College and Mechanics Institute. I am told that people trained in Harwich are to be found throughout the world.
Today, the people in Horwich, like those in many other towns which are faced with this vast reorganisation of the railway system and all that it implies, are full of anxiety and doubt about the future and wondering whether they will have to go elsewhere to find work to provide them with a living. I accept the Parliamentary Secretary's statement that we have not received any direct intimation of the Commission's proposals, but I am advised that out of approximately 3,000 men in those workshops about one-third will come under the hammer in a period to be decided.
§ Mr. Bourne-Arton rose—
I thought that I might be able to help the hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether he has seen the statement made by the Commission on 19th September about redundancy. The Commission estimates that the labour force of 2,693 now employed in the workshops to which the hon. Gentleman referred will run down to about 1,600 by 1965.
§ Mr. Price
I am obliged to the hon. Member, because this makes the position even worse than I suspected. I hope that the House will accept that I try not to exaggerate.
Horwich is a town completely torn by doubt and uncertanity. We are entitled to know with the greatest clarity and precision from the Government if, in fact, the estimates that I have mentioned and which the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) has amplified are near to the situation that is likely to arise. It is that situation which I want to put to the Minister who is to reply to the debate. There are one or two questions which he may care to answer, if he knows the answers. I want to know if about 1,000 men are to be displaced, and where they are to get work. The nearest 745 big town is Bolton. In Bolton there are several flourishing engineering industries and some diversified industry, and I think that I am right in saying that for every engineering job going there are four or five unemployed waiting for that job. There is certainly no work in Wigan which is eight miles away and where unemployment at the moment is nearly twice the national average. This leaves a situation in which the hon. Gentleman, if he cares to look at the map and consult his officials, will find that the only alternative open to the skilled engineers, if they want to continue as skilled engineers, is to go to Manchester which is 18 miles away.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
They had better not come to Manchester, because the Gorton tank workshops are to be closed, which will mean about 1,500 people being redundant next year.
§ Mr. Price
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) for drawing attention to that. I was not suggesting that men should go to the Gorton tank workshops, because that is also to be closed. I am speaking of engineering development in the Manchester area at Trafford Park, which involves a journey of 18 miles each way, 36 miles a day, which will make the hopeless traffic congestion in Manchester even worse than at present.
Do the Government know what their right hand is doing that is different from their left? At this moment, the Manchester Corporation is negotiating with another local authority in my division, not three miles from Horwich, to provide an overspill for about 60,000 because Manchester cannot find living space for its own citizens. Here we have a situation in which the policy of the Government may cause up to 1,000 engineers to go backwards and forwards to Manchester, because there are no houses for them there, and we have to provide in other directions for about 60,000 Manchester citizens who at present live there to come to my division where there is no work for them; and now we have the Harwich workshops to be run down which have been a major source of employment for the local population. It is not only economic lunacy but socially 746 and morally wicked for any Government to put this forward as a coherent policy for Britain in the middle of the 20th century.
I know that many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite wish to put their views to the Government, so I will conclude by saying this. Because of its historic connection with the railway industry and the building of the Lancashire-Yorkshire Railway, which was done largely in its workshop by the generation of the day, Harwich has built up a great educational tradition because it has been a training ground and school for engineers. The railway mechanics institute was first created by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and out of that has grown one of the finest technical colleges of any small town in England.
If these workshops are to be run down now we anticipate that all the investment that has taken place in developing a highly-efficient educational institution will be superfluous to the needs of the town, because confidence will be destroyed in the basic industry of the town. I should like the Minister to give attention when he replies not only to the social and educational implications but to the fact that people will have no work to go to and that many people in middle age who have spent their whole life in railway engineering will not be able to find a job. Younger men can go overseas or they can go to Birmingham or the south of England and still further unlevel the whole economy of the country. But what is to happen to these skilled engineers? Are we to be left in Harwich with a largely semi-skilled labour force because the making of machinery, tanks and locomotives has been taken from the town.
In recent months I have sat in Committee listening day after day to the Minister of Transport turning a deaf ear and expressing an apologetic but, nevertheless, definite "No" to our demands that the capacity of these workshops, which is now supposed to be surplus capacity, should be used to do subcontracting work for other firms. For ideological reasons the Government have refused. But they are always prepared to agree to the British Transport Commission giving as much of its work out to private enterphise as it may need to do. It is because this has been going 747 on that private enterprise has been creaming off a great deal of the work. This has caused the surplus capacity of which Dr. Beeching talks about.
I make no apology for speaking vigorously and strongly and, maybe, a little emotionally about this, because it concerns the livelihood of many of my constituents, and I should like tonight some encouragement from the Government that the whole of this policy is to be reconsidered in the near future.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
The problem to which we are addressing our minds tonight in the context of the British Transport Commission's Report is really on how we shape a railway system, mostly built a century or so ago, when the distribution of industry was very different and when the population was very small compared with what it is now, to the needs of the day.
I speak as a railway enthusiast, almost a railway sentimentalist, but even I do not believe that we can do this job entirely regardless of the cost or without paying proper regard to the various competing forms of transport which have grown up during the years in which we have had a railway system. That is why I think that Dr. Beeching is entirely on the right lines when he proposes, as I understand it, to make really intensified use of the railway system for that part of its operation which it is best equipped and fitted to do in the conditions of today.
Of course, we shall all differ on the question of emphasis. We all have our pet constituency branch line and, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) has so movingly pointed out, our own particular railway workshops which only over our own dead bodies would we see run down in any way. I accept that. Nevertheless, it is true that we have to do this adaptation job if the railways are to have a chance of fulfilling their proper rôle in the community.
§ Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)
Is not the hon. Member aware that these pet lines, about which he speaks so lightly, provide the livelihood of the men in some of these towns, and provide the only means of attracting industry into the 748 area? To some of us these pet lines are vital lines.
§ Mr. Thompson
I am not treating them lightly in any way. I have one in my constituency, and if I call it a pet line it is because that is what it is to me. I believe that it is an adequate way of describing something that one is rather keen about.
The problem of the adaptation of a system which is over a century old to meet our present needs is of prime importance to us. I want to talk largely about one aspect of that system, namely, the mass movement of passengers every day in and out of our great cities, and especially London—what is commonly called the commuter part of the operation.
We all know what the basic commuter problem is. There is a tremendous use of the available equipment and facilities for two or three hours a day, twice a day. There is a peak period during the morning and another in the evening, when, in the case of London, for example, 500,000 people are brought into and carried out of the Metropolitan catchment area by rail. It is the imbalance between this excessive use of the system, with all the congestion and split-second timing of the operation during the peak hours, and the comparative idleness of the system between those two peaks, which causes the problem.
In the commuter sense railways have to win back from other forms of transport, including the private car and the scooter, the considerable amount of traffic that they have lost to those other forms of transport over the years, largely as a result of the effect of rising fares. That traffic must be brought back, and I am convinced that it can be brought back if we go about it in the right way. However well bus services may serve the population in remote rural districts, I do not think that they can solve London's commuter problem. The provision of additional bus services or the additional use of the roads is no solution. The roads are already very congested. We all know the size of the parking problem, and the problems arising out of congestion and delay. I am convinced that the only solution is a railway solution.
749 I am inclined to believe that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) was right when he said that we must be very careful to take a long view before agreeing to a given branch line closure, because the traffic and user patterns of today may change dramatically in a very short time, as new communities are established and new industries require people to serve them.
I want to say a few words to show how that question affects my own branch line. A tremendous opportunity for technical innovation is bound up in this commuter operation. A great deal has already been done, and I am advised that there is no technical reason why we should not have fully automated, driverless trains, functioning at even higher densities than at present during the peak periods. I hope that the research side of the question is being carefully considered, because I am convinced that only the railways can move this immense mass of people to and fro every day. There is a rich field for profitable experiment if the Transport Commission goes about it in the right way.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can tell us whether he has considered the experience gained overseas in handling this great commuter problem. I have looked into the question, and have found that in the United States—and I have chosen that country as an example, because we all think of it as being up to date and being the country, par excellence, of the motor car, where practically everybody has a motor car of his own—some completely new thinking is being done on the problem of dealing with commuters. Three very large cities have found to their cost, as they now admit, that simply building, at tremendous cost, enormous motorways and the huge parking areas which have to go with them, provides absolutely no answer to the problem.
The first example is San Francisco. Together with Oakland and its conurbation it has a population of about 3½ million people. In terms of population, therefore, it is only about half the size of London. Yet the San Francisco Bay Rapid Transit Authority, which body represents all the local authorities in the area, has decided to spend 792 million dollars—if it can get the support 750 of its voters—not on vast motorways, but on laying out 75 miles of new electric third-rail track. About one-third of the line will be underground, one-third on the surface and the remainder on a raised embankment.
It is a remarkable thing that in the second half of the twentieth century, when so many people in this country talk as though the railways were a dear old anachronism that we must live with for just a few more years, a go-ahead city like San Francisco should be forced to the conclusion, after years of experience and after conducting many experiments, that a new railway system, fully automated, is the answer to the problem.
The same kind of thing is happening in Los Angeles. A few years ago it allowed the whole of its suburban railway system to close. Now it is on the verge of commissioning about 75 miles of new line. The trains and the track are of a revolutionary design. The carriages have rubber tyres, and run on concrete tracks, but are so constructed as to be able to run on the ordinary railway tracks as well. That is another great city which has found that a railway solution is the only one.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Can my hon. Friend say whether the automated trains will have drivers, or will be fully automatic?
§ Mr. Thompson
There will not be drivers in San Francisco or Los Angeles. The authorities went into that question. There will be a man on the train to cope with emergencies. He will be able to put on the emergency brake if things go wrong, and he will be available to help passengers. But he will not be a driver.
The third example is a little nearer home—Philadelphia. That had a familiar problem. It had two main railways. It has an enormous commuter catchment area—as the mumbo-jumbo goes. The two railways were not making money, so they pushed up the fares. The commuters objected and tended more and more to drive to town in their cars. So the process continued, until hardly anybody could afford to travel on the railways, and they became antiquated, broken down and disreputable. The railway companies then announced that they 751 would have to abandon the lines altogether.
That was too much for the city council, which got down to the job. They evolved a system—I do not say that we can do precisely the same—whereby they lend money to the railways on the undertaking that the railway stock was modernised. Large commuter car parks were built in the outlying districts, so that people could park their cars with ease and catch the trains. It was also agreed that the railways should reduce their fares substantially. The city council reorganised the bus service in order that the new commuter trains could be met by buses which travel on a circular tour of the city and visit all the main business centres. They make it a kind of postal rate system. The idea proved a brilliant success and now the problem is to prevent people from travelling on the railways.
The thing can be done. We are doing something about it in this country. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. T. Steele) referred to the great success of the blue trains in Glasgow. They are an innovation which has meant the entire scrapping of old bus schedules and that sort of thing. I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that in other parts of the world the importance of the commuter operation is fully understood. These countries are turning to the railways to solve their problems and not to monorails or vast motorways and everything that goes with them; not even to the use of hovercraft, which was one of the ideas tried out in the States. They are turning to the railways, so there is not need for us to despair about our railways, or to feel that if there is proper management they would fail to be tremendously successful.
I wish to say a word about by own branch line. I realise that my hon. Friend has heard similar pleas from other hon. Members, couched in various forms, on many occasions. The line I wish to refer to fits in with what I have said about the importance of keeping the railway commuter service going. It is the small Woodside to Selsdon line, of about 2½ miles. It was built as long as ago as 1885. In these days it ran around the periphery of the Borough of Croydon, as it then was. Perhaps in 752 those days it did not make a great deal of sense. It did not attract much support and in 1917 it was closed down altogether.
But when the enlightened policy of the old Southern Railway resulted in the electrification of its suburban services, this line was reopened and it was electrified in 1935. So it is a modern double-track line. Unfortunately, it still does not attract sufficient of traffic and rumours have gone round that it will under the "chopper" before very much longer.
I cannot pretend that the discontinuance of a passenger service on this line, or the abandoning of the line altogether, will bring absolute ruin to the Borough of Croydon. It will not. It will simply mean that those people who use the line will instead use the grossly overcrowded services from East Croydon and South Croydon, and possibly Addiscombe, and that the trains will be more crowded than ever.
The little bit of Croydon through which this line passes is excessively built-up. The other end of the line, beyond Selsdon, runs to Sanderstead and Oxted and that part of Surrey is densely built up. I think that the Minister would find that in a short time the traffic available to use the line would increase considerably, and the line should not be closed now because of an arithmetical computation; there are not enough season ticket holders to keep the thing going at the present time.
The Minister should make a positive effort to get customers. He should indulge in local publicity to draw attention to the existence of this spur which provides a perfectly good service to London within business hours and where there is a lack of congestion. He should try to attract some of the passengers from East Croydon and the other stations. If he did so, I think that he would get a response. But a little publicity would have to be given to this facility.
Next to Clapham Junction, East Croydon station is the busiest in the country. A fantastic number of trains are dealt with there during the rush hour. This station is to be rebuilt in the near future. The train services will not be 753 affected, but the convenience of passengers and their access to platforms will be affected. A little imagination and local publicity might persuade many people now using East Croydon station to use one of the other stations. There might be tickets which could be made available for use at other stations. It would be well worth trying. I am certain that in the long run we should find that there are a great many passengers from the new suburbs which are being created who would want to travel in London and would use this line. In any case, it is a useful bit of line which by-passes East Croydon. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep these considerations in mind before coming to any abrupt decision about the future of this line.
I have made my point about commuter services with particular reference to one in my constituency which I do not wish to see lopped off. I believe that in the long run, while there is a mass of people coming into London and leaving every day, we should be very unwise to lop off any means of conveying them to and from the City. On the contrary, I should like to see the suburban railway system extended. Whatever we may do about the drift to the South, I am sure that we shall always have a tremendous number of people going in and out of London every day. Indeed, having heard what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government had to say the other day about the green belt, I think that there may be even more communities springing up and the residents will want to use this form of transport to London.
Let us approach the future of our railways, not with an apology, or with the idea that here we have an antiquated, old system on our hands which has to be spun out for a few years longer, but rather with the idea that we have a system which, if used intensively for the job it can best do—by which I mean long-distance passenger services and freight hauling and this commuter service—could be made to balance its books. It could be made to do the job which it was originally intended to do and, in the bargain, provide definite prospects of employment for the vast army of railwaymen whom we all wish to see prosperous and in work.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) started by saying that he was a railway enthusiast. Obviously, when he was describing developments he had seen in San Francisco and Philadelphia he clearly revelled in his enjoyment of what was being done there.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right when he said that the problem of commuter traffic in London will be solved only by railways. He will probably be aware that the traffic coming into the centre of London between 1955 and 1961 has increased during ordinary working hours between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays by 8 per cent. London Transport and British Railways increased their traffic of this kind by 9 per cent. and 19.5 per cent. respectively. They got their share of the total increase of the traffic coming to the centre of London, but a bigger increase was 46 per cent. in private car passengers.
That has been the problem, but I am sure that it is only by developing the commuter railway services and making them more attractive through building places for park cars at or near stations on the outskirts of London that we attract people to use the railways for coming into London. We must also see that such bus services as are running finish their routes at local railway stations. It is through those kind of things that we shall help to get better transport services for hundreds of thousands of people who have to come to the centre of London, or to a lesser extent have to go to the centres of other big cities.
The hon. Member also revealed his practical and pragmatic approach to transport problems. I have taken part in many transport debates over the last ten years and I am glad that it seems that more and more the House is approaching transport matters in this fashion. It is late in coming, but it is very welcome. This makes all the more serious the fact that the Government have taken what seems a purely doctrinaire approach to the closing of railway workshops. We have had no satisfactory explanation of Government policy on the closure of workshops, either in recent debates or in this one. 755 I support my neighbour, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), in all that he said about the dire effects that reduction in the activities which are taking place in the Horwich locomotive works will have on employment in Horwich, which is on the borders of my constituency.
I noticed that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Longbottom), when he was talking about workshops, said—I think that I have his words correctly—that if, after careful examination, they are found to be out-of-date maybe it is all right to reduce or close them. I do not know whether the point is being examined either by British Railways or the Minister of Transport, or whether it is those which are thought to be out-of-date that are to be closed. I should certainly have thought that Harwich came into that category.
The points which have to be answered by the Minister are these. What is it intended should eventually happen to these railway workshops which are to close completely and those to be closed in a few years' time? Is the machinery in them, the tools, the foundry equipment, and so forth, to be sold as scrap? What is to happen to the buildings? Are they eventually to be released for some private enterprise firm to try to establish a new business in the same buildings? If so, would it not be better to try to sell them as going concerns? If that is possible, why not let the railways run them as going concerns?
If we are at this stage in the present state of unemployment, as so many of these workshops are in small communities where they matter a great deal to the employment of those communities, Why not remove all the restrictions which have been on them and tell the managements of the workshops to get any order they can, be it in the home trade or in export?
I cannot see any reason for the Government action being taken on this line other than if it be purely doctrinaire. I should have thought that at a time when the House is ceasing to argue about transport in terms of whether hon. Members are in favour of nationalisation and wholesale integration or not, we should be trying to look at transport, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South said, 756 so that it should adapt each of its forms to the uses for which it is best suited. In commuter services in London the railways must do most of the movement.
It must be clear to most people who have studied the problem of rural areas that while there may be a perfectly good case for having a link from the main line to the centre of an agricultural area, most of the traffic—freight and passenger—in those areas, even now with the branch lines, is being carried on the roads. What is wanted is being outlined now. Transport feeder services should be more efficient, the roads should be better and straighter and the feeder service should go to the railhead which would then move much of the traffic quickly and safely for long distances, it may be 100 miles, on the rails.
That, surely, is sense about transport. At last, it would appear that people generally are taking notice, but we have had to wait a very long time. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who spoke earlier, regaled us with what he said in the House in 1956. He is not the only Member who has made many useful suggestions. They have been made from both sides of the House about the rôle of transport in this country, particularly that of the railways, but it has taken a long time. I am very much concerned about the sequence of events which the Parliamentary Secretary outlined. It seemed to mean that the implementation of this policy is still a long time ahead.
I entirely agree with hon. Members who have spoken earlier that the matter is urgent. It is urgent for the sake of those areas suffering depopulation and unemployment which were spoken about by the hon. Member for York and others. When the hon. Member far Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) spoke about the electrification of the Southern Railway before the war, I could not help reflecting that the modernisation of the railway system in that area is just another example of the kind of steps that were taken which hastened this movement of people from outlying areas of England, Wales and Scotland to London and the South-East. We shall not counteract this by Board of Trade certificates for development factories in certain areas unless the whole priority of the transport 757 system is changed and moved into those areas.
Any hon. Member who has travelled into Lancashire and gone up the Rossendale Valley or round the west coast of Cumberland and seen the transport which is available will appreciate that if one were offered £1,000, or £10,000, to set up a factory there one would say, "Sorry. Until the transport system is improved it would not be a going concern. I should go 'bust' if I set up there." I agree that I put that in a rather exaggerated way, because some people have done it, but there are marginal industrialists who have not done it for this reason. These are the important things with which we have to deal in transport today.
I do not want to delay the House for long, or to repeat many of the things which I have said previously. In his technical approach to the problems Dr. Beeching is quite right, but I think that his presentation, first, to the railwaymen, has been negative. If he wishes to carry out a reform of the railway system—which is his wish—and to develop that part of the system which should be developed, and to curtail that part which no longer serves the needs of the community, this will cause a great deal of change, and many men will lose their jobs.
There is a considerable labour turnover in railway employment, and if this reform can be planned properly, I think that it can be done with the minimum of forced redundancy. It is only a question of people changing round. Surely this is one of the first things that Dr. Beeching should have got over to the railwaymen when he contemplated letting his plans be known. He put out his plans between July and October, and all that they have done is to frighten many people. Others think that they contain some airy-fairy ideas which would never be implemented. Probably that is not his fault; perhaps he has not had the right advice.
There is widespread criticism of this from many people who have close knowledge of this matter. Internal communications on the railways policy of the Commission have been dismally lacking, and to a similar extent they have been lacking with the public. I do not think that Dr. Beeching will ever convince the 758 public that he is on the right lines until he has convinced the railwaymen. It is not a question of putting one over them but of explaining and arguing and having full consultations with them, and of getting their backing for whatever plans he intends to produce.
One of the main problems in recent years has been the absence of an overall Government transport policy. There would be for less concern among the public and on the railways about the closing of branch lines and the withdrawal of some stopping services if there were an indication that the Government intended to ensure that in the congested areas of the country and between the large industrial conurbations suitable traffic would be attracted back from the roads to the railways—and I mean attracted, not forced. And I think that it can be done.
There has also been no indication that in the areas where rail services would be withdrawn the Government would be active in ensuring that the roads were improved. I urge the Minister to start a programme in anticipation of this. It is not impossible to see the general lines of the plan which will be put to us and to begin getting some of these roads right in those areas where they will be the chief channel of transport. The Government should see that the roads are improved and should be active in seeing, both through the Commission and in other ways, that the district services offered on those roads are adequate. The Government should be alert to the need for and be active in providing better transport facilities in areas of the type which I have already mentioned in order to stop this movement of population down to the South. To help relieve unemployment, the Government should be ready to give open subsidies for transport in those areas in order to get industry and people to go back there.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
I could not help feeling, when listening to the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), that if we had about £1,000 million a year to spend on both roads and railways we might be able to produce a reasonable solution to the problem which he has outlined to the House. The fact is that we have not these sums of money and are never likely 759 to have them. We have to try to adjust both our rail and our road programmes to fit the means which we have and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
At one time the hon. Gentleman made some kind remarks about Dr. Beeching, but at the end he was a little unfair when he said some rather unkind things about him, about his management and about his consultation with the trade unions. I think that Dr. Beeching's consultations and relationship with the trade unions have not been as bad as some newspapers and some individuals have tried to make out. Dr. Beeching is trying to do an extraordinarily difficult job. It is easy to have good relationships with people when one is paying more money, but relationships become much more difficult when one has to cut down.
I feel very sorry for Dr. Beeching. Not long ago I heard him described as the tool of the Tory Party. I do not believe that we shall retain the right men in our nationalised industries or attract men to be chairmen of very important industries, such as the Railways Board, if, when we get them, we do nothing but villify them and assail them from all sides.
I have the greatest admiration for the work which Dr. Beeching is doing. I think that we ought to give him great consideration. One might wonder why he does not go back to I.C.I. He would not be worse off financially and I am certain that he would lead a much happier life. However, I do not want to pursue that argument, because I want to explain to the Parliamentary Secretary one or two of the worries which I have over the policy which has been outlined so far.
I quite agree that Dr. Beeching's job, as it has been given to him by the Government, is to produce a plan to show which railways pay and how the system can be made to work efficiently and economically. But I do not think that my hon. Friend emphasised in his excellent speech that the Government have to look at the plan as a whole and to decide, on a much broader and wider scale, which lines should be closed and which should be kept open.
760 I want to draw some conclusions from lines in East Anglia which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) mentioned during his opening speech. There is a main line which runs through my constituency, which is a marginal line. It is all too easy for hon. Members to come here and to be in favour of Dr. Beeching and his plan, and to be in favour of railway closures in other constituencies, but when it comes to their own constituencies they usually have a very good reason for keeping the lines open! One must try to resist this temptation to the best of one's ability.
But in the wider context there are reasons why we should not close down too many lines too quickly. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon (Mr. R. Thompson) talked about San Francisco and Los Angeles. I was recently in San Francisco, where it is intended to spend 874 million dollars on putting in a new commuter service. When we look at the map of England we have to realise that nearly all England is overcrowded, that it will become more and more overcrowded and that the chances of ever being able to build the roads of the size and dimensions required to take all road transport are so remote that we must consider our railway lines in the same way as the Americans consider their commuter services.
We have heard tonight that Los Angeles is to build another new railway line. Los Angeles stretches as far as from London to Brighton. In this country we would say straight away that the line from London to Brighton is hardly a suburban line the whole way, but in Los Angeles it would be so termed. We must keep many of our lines, because in ten years' time even what now appear to be remote areas will probably have a much larger population than they have today.
For example, I am certain that over the next ten or fifteen years East Anglia will develop enormously. It is bound to. It is one of the more under-developed parts of England at the moment. It will obviously take a lot of overspill from London. It is starting to do so now. There is talk that Ispwich may double in size, and that the population of all the small market towns of East Anglia will rise from 2,000 or 3,000 to 10,000 761 or 15,000. These people will need communications. In my estimation they will need Tail communications. I do not think for one moment that it is physically possible to build the roads which would be required to carry the people.
There is another major consideration. Whenever I have a case of a person wanting to go to an orthopedic ward at a hospital, I cannot get him in because the hospitals are full of the victims of road accidents. If we are to close all our lines Dr a very large number of lines, we will be faced with overcrowding on the roads. If the line through my constituency were closed, it would put on to the main trunk road an additional 5,000 to 50,000 people a week. We do not know quite what the number would be.
This trunk road still has a number of very narrow places through small villages and through not so small villages. Some of these small villages and some towns will not be by-passed within the next five years. What is to happen? I hope that the Government will realise that we must co-ordinate the closing of railways, if we are to close them, with a very much greater plan for roads. As there is no chance of obtaining the roads that we might like to have, because of Physical and financial troubles, we must be prepared to keep some more lines open.
When the Government get the plan from Dr. Beeching they will have to decide. Obviously, they will say to Dr. Beeching, "We are going to keep X, Y and Z railway lines open. We must do this". Dr. Beeching will then say, "This will destroy my hopes of making the railways pay". The Government will then have to step in and give a subsidy. I do not think that there is any question about it but that they wail give the subsidy. We should like to know a little more about this. We should like to know definitely that the Government are prepared to give a subsidy in certain cases and how long they will take for them to make up their minds to give it.
What we do not want to continue with is a period of great uncertainty. Undoubtedly, this summer a great uncertainty was built up in the minds of people who probably do not take these things very seriously and do not try to 762 understand the finer points. During the summer maps were published. There was not a person in my constituency who did not believe that the publication of a map showing a dotted or a dashed line meant that the line was to be closed. They all believed this to be true, however firmly they were told that it was not true. The sooner we can get away from the period of uncertainty the better it will be.
The headlines now appearing in local newspapers are to the effect that if the Transport Commission—the Railways Board, as it will be—decides to close a line all it has to do is to put it through to the T.U.C.C. and then to the Minister and within six weeks of the Board saying that it will close the line the line can be closed. I should like a very definite answer from my hon. Friend that that is not the case and that there is a very considerable period between the making of a movement to close the lime by the Board and the procedures which have to be gone through before the Minister accepts the proposition. We must have an answer to this sort of problem.
I was pleased with the speech of my hon. Friend today. He showed that the Government intended to look at the picture as a whole and were not going to take a narrow view of making the railways pay, because it will be no use making the railways pay if we make everything else to do with transport lose money as a result. We must get a coordinated plan.
I want, finally, to say something about the trade unions. When I was in America I found a new use for the word "featherbedding". I had always thought up to then that it referred to farmers. In America, the word "featherbedding" is used as a way of saying that two men on the railways are doing one man's work and are kept there by union pressure, which is known as "featherbedding". It was miserable to see the way in which the American railways were running. All the employees that I saw were old men. There were no young men on the railways. One felt that it was a dying industry and that something had gone drastically wrong.
Part of the reason was that the American companies did not offer sufficiently good terms when men had to 763 change their jobs and the unions resisted those terms. I do not say necessarily that the unions behaved too well or that the employers behaved too well. The result is that the industry is dying. Although attempts may be made to resurrect it in certain places, it was a grim business travelling on the American railways. It was refreshing to return to Britain and see our railway standards.
I am convinced that we need high railway standards. I am also convinced that some men will have to leave the railways. Here we have a definite duty. I should think that it would pay hands down to be over-generous rather than under-generous about redundancy. This is a human problem which must be tackled wisely. A little extra money now will save much money later, if it is used in the right places.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will pass on some of my remarks. I would not mind having a go at him about docks and harbours, now that he is here, but I will let him rest in peace. I hope that he will try to pass on some of my remarks to the Minister of Transport.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I am not sure whether catching the eye of the Chair at this stage of the debate is more a happy release or an embarrassment, because I am very much aware that numbers of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp), with a strong railway interest, have been seeking to do so throughout the debate. I apologise to them and I wish I could cover in my own speech the points that they would make, but if I had not done my level best to get called I should have been eaten alive next time I went to Swindon.
I listened, as I am sure all hon. Members did, with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) and I have listened with a good deal of sympathy to a number of other speeches by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member [or York (Mr. Longbottom) and the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) made speeches which, 764 with a little pruning, could easily have been made from these benches. I was interested to see the growing realisation on the other side of the House that we cannot in the future survive without a developing railway system and that with the growing congestion on our roads there will have to be very dramatic developments on the railway, front in the next few years.
Cheering though that was, I was profoundly depressed by the Parliamentary Secretary's speech and by the realisation that still, after eleven years of Conservative Government, we are a very long way from getting a definite and final policy on the structure of Are railway system. Since the present Government came into office we have had appraisals and reappraisals, committees and working parties and investigations. We have had a new Act of Parliament and a drastic reorganisation of the boards running our transport system. We have had Dr. Beeching's traffic surveys and maps, but we still have not had his plan and, still less, the Government's final decision when that plan is eventually revealed. As one of my hon. Friends has said, it looks as if we shall have found ourselves in the next General Election before the Conservative Party makes up its mind what kind and what size of railway system it wants us to have.
In these conditions it is really very difficult to expect railwaymen, from managers to drivers and signalmen and porters, to do their work effectively and to do it with any kind of enthusiasm or any sort of confidence in the future. They have no clear picture of what will be left of the railways and of the parts of the railways where particular workers will be working at that time. With threats of massive closures and slashing cuts, they have no idea what the Government are going to do.
It is, therefore, not surprising that large numbers of key men and large numbers of younger men among the railway employees—and they are the people Dr. Beeching wants to retain in railway service in spite of the cuts—are going to more remunerative and safer jobs. Paragraph 29 of the Commission's Report says that in 1961 staff fell by 14,000 men and it adds:Not all of this decrease was intentional. …765 which is a remarkable piece of understatement. Dr. Beeching can be assured that this unintentional decrease will be a good deal bigger in 1962 and will go on and on to the detriment of the efficiency and safety of the railway system unless railwaymen are taken out of the state of paralysing uncertainty in which they have been for so many years.
Dr. Beeching claims that the cuts and closures and contraction of the railway system which the Government seem determined to make him carry through are to be based on scientifically conducted traffic studies which will reveal potential demand and the future use of the railways. When he spoke to the Institute of Directors in the Albert Hall on 7th November, he said how surprising it was that this had never been done before. This is indeed surprising, and the responsibility rests with the Minister of Transport. But neither the Government nor Dr. Beeching must expect us to accept conclusions drawn from the kind of studies carried out at present.
I do not propose to repeat the powerful arguments recently put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) and other hon. Members, in the Press and elsewhere, showing how if production and living standards are to rise in Britain during the next few years we shall need not a contraction but a very substantial expansion of our transport system, and that if there is any real attempt to plan transport this will mean a railway system which will carry greatly increased loads of passengers and freight.
I shall not argue that in detail now, because it is well known to the House, but I should like once again, through the hon. and gallant Member, to draw the attention of Ministers to the example of the Continental railway systems. I am very much surprised that in this debate no one has yet thought fit to mention, at least in my hearing, the experience of the Continental systems, particularly the system in France, where patriotic Ministers have not played party politics with their railways,, and where both passenger and freight traffics have greatly expanded since the war, and are still expanding—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member will be as well aware as I am that the 766 subsidy paid by the French Government to the French railway system has steadily declined during the last ten years—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think that any reasonable man looking, in particular, at the French railway system, will agree that this is a very effective and worth-while investment, if we are to have a transport system and a traffic pattern that make any kind of sense during the next five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, we will have to follow the French and Western European example.
Paragraph 26 of the Report states that during 1961 we spent £17 million less in capital investment on our railways than we did in the year before. That is given as an item of good news. I can only say that, at this stage, a boast about spending less in capital expenditure on the railways, when so much has still to be done to bring them to modern standards, is very sad.
Dr. Beeching said to the directors at the conference in the Albert Hall:… a sensible pattern can be established only if the relative merits and optimum rôles of the available forms of transport are properly judged.Non one would quarrel with that as a statement of principle. Indeed, it is precisely on this point that both he and the Minister have made their worst mistake.
The… relative merits and optimum rôle …of road transport and the best way of co-ordinating railways, roads, shipping, airways, pipelines, and other forms of transport, in the public interest is just what they have not studied, and just what they propose not to do.
We should all like to know very much more about the methods used by Dr. Beeching's experts in carrying out these traffic studies. What other outside bodies do these experts consult? What steps do they take, for example, to judge the… relative merits and optimum rôles …of the road system? I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister has seen the sample survey of roads and traffic that has just been published by the Road Research Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and 767 Industrial Research. It states that 78 per cent. of our roads carry less than the average flow of 1,000 vehicles a day, and that nearly half the vehicle miles in Britain are done on only 5 per cent. of the roads.
If the Minister of Transport were to apply Dr. Beeching's railway criteria to the road system, the threat of railway closures would be nothing at all compared with the thousands and thousands of miles of roads he would have to shut down. He would make a strong case for that by saying that they were uneconomic, unprofitable, and that the community could not bear their burden any more. For some reason, however, roads can continue to be uneconomic and unprofitable—only the railways have to meet the commercial criteria.
I turn briefly, as I must, to the effect of Government policy in Swindon. As the Minister knows, the railway workshops in Swindon, with their long history and fine record, are being rapidly shut down. The foundry is closing. Carriage and wagon building is to cease, and during the next two years some 2,000 men will be redundant. That, of course, will create a very difficult problem for the whole community. The local authority, and responsible local people outside the railway factory are very much concerned at the immediate future outlook.
I am sorry to say that the Minister himself, in what I am bound to say has been a very offhand manner, has refused repeatedly to see any of the Swindon railwaymen, and has refused to allow me to bring a deputation to discuss the matter with him. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here at present. Had he been in the Chamber, I should certainly have pressed him to change his mind. If I may say so, the Minister is not in any case a very popular figure with railwaymen in Swindon, and this latest demonstration of his indifference to their interests has not enhanced his reputation. He and other Ministers have taken the line that, because Swindon is a relatively prosperous place with a low rate of unemployment, the railway workshops there are not a serious problem. I assure them that they are quite wrong, for three reasons.
First, even if Swindon were able to maintain the remarkable rate of expan- 768 sion which is planned and which has been carried through up to now through the foresight of the civil officials and members of the borough council, it will not be possible to absorb railway redundancies at the rate now planned of 1,000 a year in 1963 and 1964. This is the considered opinion of responsible local people, and I very much hope that Ministers and Government Departments—the B.T.C., the Ministry of Labour and others concerned—will look at the whole question once again and will at least consider the possibility of slowing down the present planned rate of redundancy. There is a feeling in trade union circles that the B.T.C. has shown itself a little more flexible on this point in the last few weeks. I very much hope that is true.
Secondly, the outlook in some of the principal factories in the Swindon area is not at all rosy. The Pressed Steel Works, which has been expanding fast and which employs a large number of men, is said to be one of the places to which men made redundant by the railway closures can go. But it is now on short time; there is a fear of redundancy there, because the outlook for the motor industry is not very certain. The future of the Vickers factory is not very bright. There may be a serious problem when the men in the railway workshops are made redundant.
Thirdly, there is the difficult human problem of the hard core of older railway workshop workers who have been in the works for ten, twenty, thirty and forty years, sometimes more, who are qualified in jobs which do not exist elsewhere in Swindon. I refer to woodworkers, trimmers, polishers, people mainly on the carriage and wagon side—there is a certain number on the locomotive side as well—who will be up against it in finding new jobs if they are turned out next year and the year after. I should like to know what special steps the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Labour propose to take to retain and help these men.
I do not wish to imply that the railway workers of Swindon believe that the railway workshops should be kept open merely to provide jobs for them. Of course, they do not. On the contrary, they have been very understanding in this matter. I sometimes think that they 769 have been almost too understanding of the point of view of the management and the B.T.C. But I must add that they will never believe that a closing of their workshops is really necessary when they see, as they have seen in the past few years, work going out on private contract which they believe that, given a fair chance, they could do as well and as economically as private firms. It is fair to say that the men have been contending with a top-heavy, cumbersome and unimaginative management for some years.
Finally, the arrangements for maintaining good labour relations and for consultation between the management and labour in Swindon are about as ham-fisted and unsatisfactory as they possibly could be. I give one typical example. When the recent redundancies were announced, the works committee was sent for and was told what would happen. Before it even had time to comment, the redundancy notices were posted around the workshops. A new general manager was recently appointed. He has made a very good impression in Swindon and in other parts of the Western Region. I hope that his attention will be drawn to the urgent need to improve labour relations and the methods of consultation with the men's representative in Swindon, particularly during this period of contraction.
One final word about the Swindon railway workshops. It is plain that, if the Government's policy continues on its present course, the only logical conclusion is the disappearance of the publicly-owned railway workshops. Restricted as they are, excluded from export markets and from other work which they are qualified to do, they cannot compete with private firms and in the end they will have to go out of business. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt), speaking for the Liberal Party, made the point that, in the national interest and in these days of high unemployment, the workshops should be allowed to do work for which they are fitted, whether or not it is for the railway system. We get some glaring examples of how obvious that is in Swindon. Only a few miles away, factories are crying out for castings which the railway foundry could make but it is not allowed to do because of the restrictions imposed upon it, and is to be closed down.
770 If these works are gradually to be run down and if they face a future of eventual closure, as I believe will be the case if Government policy is pursued, at least we want to know as quickly as possible what will happen to the unwanted capacity that must be got rid of. Is the Board of Trade taking steps to invite firms to look at this capacity and equipment. Is attention being paid to the need to get to Swindon the sort of work which our railway workers are qualified and able to do?
I want to say a brief word about redundancy in general and compensation. The compensation terms offered by the Commission to railway workers without any proper prior consultation—which is a matter which rankles very much—have been described as relatively generous in comparison with other industries. They do not appear at all generous to railway workers which have spent many years in the railway service in my constituency—nor does the lack of steps being taken to help older craftsmen to find new employment when their lifetime of railway work suddenly comes to an end.
Railway redundancy is part of a much wider problem. The railways and the coal mines are shedding men at a rapid rate. In shipbuilding, textiles, aircraft construction and a number of other traditional industries, drastic reductions in manpower will be made. As industry modernises, accelerated, perhaps, by our entry into the Common Market, by automation, mergers and the rest, many thousands of skilled workers will find themselves out of their traditional jobs and will require to go into jobs where quite different skills and a different tempo and habits are required.
The miserable piece of legislation that we were offered in the Queen's speech at the beginning of the Session about providing more permanence for workers is not adequate to meet that problem. We need a bold, new approach to the whole problem of redundancy and job-changing and the mobility of labour. We ask the Government once again, without very much confidence, to make that new approach.
A good deal has been said in the debate about the need for integration. We on these benches have always taken the view that only a real integration of road, rail and all the other forms of 771 transport will solve the problem. There is, however, necessity for a much wider co-ordination and a wider joint planning of transport with the other bodies concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that when Dr. Beeching's plan is published there will be consultations with various Government Departments—for example, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture, and so on. Those consultations should, however, have taken place before the plan is published, while it is being worked out. All these factors, including density of housing, availability of employment, and so on, should be among the factors which are being considered by the experts of the Transport Commission while working out their future plans.
Paragraph 313 of the Report contains a brief reference to the fact that on the Southern. Region a series of detailed investigations has proceeded into trends of population, industry and other developments which are likely to affect passenger traffic. Consultation on a very wide scale should be taking place while these traffic surveys are being conducted. My belief is that the Ministry of Transport has not had anything like the liaison and contact at working level with other Government Departments that it should have had.
I was glad to see today that the National Executive of the Labour Party has decided to set up a new working party to study transport as an overall problem. It is well timed, and I am glad that that is so. Many of us representing railway constituencies would like a rather more specific statement of policy than we have had so far, not only giving greater details of what the Labour Party intends to do to provide an integrated transport system but stating how it intends to do it.
The main worry of railway workers is about the future and the fact that they must wait for another year or two until the next General Election in order to get a definite policy for the shape, size and function of the railways. That is a very depressing thought for them. I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to tell us a little more than we were told by his hon. Friend.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I am glad to welcome this Report, Which may be the last produced by the Commission but will certainly be its best, because it is bluntly facing the realities. I do not think that that can be said of the Amendment, which seems to have all the defects alleged to have been those of the Bourbons in that it shows that right hon. and hon. Members opposite have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing. It is the old story again, and although one or two hon. Members opposite have not quite followed previous form we have again heard a great number of old arguments.
The point I want to put has not been made before and is a new approach. One of the great defects of our railway system goes back into its history because of the very sudden development at the time the railways were built. One must remember that the whole of our railway construction, or the major part of it, was completed in about fifteen years, between 1835 and 1850.
As it happened so quickly, we are faced with a sort of hysterical railway mania. At that time, many of the lines were planned on no economic ground at all. They were laid according to the prejudices or emotions of those backing them. On the one side we had the parties who demanded a railway for their own town regardless of consequences or of whether there was any real demand for traffic there. On the other hand were the people who wanted to keep the railways away at any cost. In Cambridge, for instance, the dons insisted on the station being as far away from the town as possible.
The result was a railway pattern which was quite extraordinary. One of the well-known railways in the early days was known as the "corkscrew" because it wound from village to village as the promoters had designed it to. The wonder is not that there were defects in the system. The wonder is, rather, that it was so superior to the horse and cart, which was its only competitor in those days, that it not only knocked out the horse and cart within about fifteen years and became the principal form of transportation, but that for many years it did provide a service so universally recognised as desirable that it became 773 thought to be essential. All our ideas about the railway system to this day are coloured by the emotions aroused in the very early days. It is time that we looked at the whole problem again.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am not accusing any particular party. This applies to right hon. and hon. Members opposite just as much as to anyone on this side of the House. We have allowed ourselves to be influenced for over a hundred years by the emotions aroused in the hysterical period when the railways were first built. The first chapter of the Report on this occasion gets down to some of the basic problems, and Dr. Beeching has been putting them forward, almost for the first time, for serious consideration.
The basic fact that was pointed out about the railway is that it has a track which is exclusive, although it is very expensive, and because it is exclusive, we can, therefore, put much more traffic on to it at high speed than we are able to put on a road, which is not exclusive. We can get that advantage for the railway provided that we can get sufficient user. A mistake has been made for a long period that, although this is the advantage of a railway, we have not made the best use of it, but have, in fact, insisted on behaving as if we were acting with horses and carts. We have based ourselves on the small unit, the single railway truck, shunted from point to point, marshalled and remarshalled and put into a train a dozen times in 150 miles, with the result that there was tremendous uncertainty of delivery in railway traffic, as there is to this day.
I am sure that Dr. Beeching is right in thinking that it is certainty of delivery which is a great attraction for the manufacturer. In fact, the report that was prepared by the Transport Road Traders' Association in 1959 as to the reasons for the ruse Of C-licence vehicles stated that certainty of delivery was the chief reason for the use of these vehicles, not that they were cheaper. I welcome the decision of Dr. Beeching to have trains permanently made up of flat wagons into which large containers can be loaded, with the knowledge that the train will be leaving at a certain time and will arrive at a certain time, and that it will 774 be travelling at 60 or 70 miles an hour. I am sure that that will be attractive, and that we shall get a considerable amount of traffic back on the railways and take a good bit off the roads.
All these things will be of great benefit, but only if we recognise that transport is a means to an end, and never an end in itself, and that there is no real point in insisting that we must have a railway which is losing a lot of money and not carrying very many people. It is much better, if we are to provide a public service, that we should provide it by some other means in those circumstances. For that reason, I do not think that we should be unduly apprehensive about the fact that there is to be some closure of branch lines.
I am not quite sure that I understand the arguments put forward by the Opposition about railway workshops. It is most distressing for a man who has worked very many years in a particular trade to find that that trade is diminishing and that he may have to give up his job. It seems to me that the lessening of work in railway workshops is not due to line closures. It is because of the switch-over from steam to diesel, and from the small private wagon to the much bigger wagon. Diesel engines and electric engines are not required in the same numbers to provide the same number of trains as would be the case with steam engines, because of their quicker turn-round, and there is not the same amount of construction work even for exactly the same services as before. Nor is there the same amount of repair work with steel wagons as there would be with the old wooden-sided trucks.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Is it not ironic that railwaymen in the workshops at Caerphilly should be made redundant while 12,000 wagon repairs are required in the Western Region and that in the Darlington area and other places work which could be done in the railway workshops is being sent elsewhere while the workshops are being closed?
§ Mr. Wilson
I have not checked the figures, but I should be very surprised if what the hon. Member says is the whole story, because there is a diminution of work all round. There is a decrease of work with railway wagons because there are fewer wagons, and that is the case 775 for private enterprise as for the railway workshops. There is bound to be a lessening of work in the construction of vehicles of that sort.
Some hon. Members opposite argue that the way to deal with the problem is to keep the same number of men and the same capacity in the workshops and then fill up with work from outside. But that is a poor solution and the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) was getting nearer to a good and permanent solution when he said that what was wanted was to have other industries take over the whole works and substantial numbers of the skilled men.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
I do not want to be misunderstood. What I said was that if the works were to be closed down, which I deplored, the Board of Trade should tell us who was to take them over and should take steps to see that suitable industry was brought in.
§ Mr. Wilson
Some workshops are magnificent sites and skilled labour is available and it would be much more satisfactory if there were other industries which could take them over permanently. That is better than trying to fill the railway workshops with odds and ends of work from other quarters to keep them going.
I do not want to speak for too long, because other hon. Members want to speak. I support the Report anti I do not support, nor do I see the force of, the Amendment.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)
On another occasion I should very much like to take up one or two of the very provocative statements of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), but my time is limited and I shall confine myself to one or two comments.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the Governments responsibility for transport as a whole, but I should like to raise with him the problem of rural transport, particularly in Wales. Some time ago, the Government asked the Council for Wales to produce a report on rural transport, and that Report has been in the hands of the Government since early February. I understand that 776 the Home Secretary is to reply to the debate and I hope that he will return to his old haunts—his ghost still haunts us in Wales—and tell us his views on that report.
The Report contains one or two significant conclusions which have a bearing on rural areas throughout Britain. The principal conclusion is:The Council regard it as important that the most careful consideration should be given to the social consequences, both immediate and cumulative, of the withdrawal of railway services from the rural areas.The Minister will say that he will, naturally, give every consideration to the social consequences and he will go through all the forms and motions. He will say that we have transport users' consultative committees to consider these matters. In the first instance, the consultative committees were competent to decide and consider both economic and hardship aspects of closures. Since the new procedure has been brought into operation they are competent to decide only on hardship grounds.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) and I attended the first inquiry under the new procedure. This was on the closure of the Central Wales line from Swansea through Carmarthenshire to Shrewsbury. The new procedure makes a farce of the whole proceedings, because the Commission's whole justification for the closure was on economic grounds, and yet it was out of order at that hearing to discuss the economic aspects of closures. It seems to me that this is a sort of Star Chamber procedure which makes absolute nonsense of the whole inquiry, and the Minister knows this even if he will not admit it.
For two days we listened to evidence of hardship from the National Farmers' Union, from the Farmers' Union of Wales, from industrialists, and from individuals who brought their cases before us, many of whom had no private transport at all. The Minister will no doubt say, "Well, they did not involve great numbers". Indeed, the question was asked of one witness whether the numbers were very great and he said, "No". There are not great numbers there. After all, a village is not a large unit, and the numbers would be even less if the closure were carried out. Of course they cannot produce impressive percentages, but they 777 can produce evidence of very real hardship, and we must not forget that one of the most important functions of the House is to consider and give due weight to the hardship of individuals.
As a result of this inquiry the consultative committee brought in a strong recommendation that widespread hardship would arise from the closures on the main section, particularly between Craven Arms and Llandeilo, and the Committee was unable to suggest means of alleviating hardship. It is impossible to get a stronger recommendation than that from a consultative committee.
What view do the Government take of this recommendation? I do not expect an answer tonight, but what answer will they give when a consultative committee, after an inquiry, comes to a conclusion of that kind and expresses itself in these terms?
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. J. A. Stodart) said earlier that he had been told by the Secretary of State for Scotland, not once, but two or three times, that there would be no closures unless there was adequate alternative transport. It would be interesting to hear from the Home Secretary what he means by adequate alternative transport. Does he mean motor cars? If he does, in Radnorshire only 40 per cent. of households have a private motor car, and even in those families who have cars the breadwinner generally has it and the rest of the family is left marooned. Old-age pensioners do not have private motor cars, nor, indeed, do many of the younger people.
What about the roads? What about the bus services? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say that to get an integrated system able to carry the people adequately and provide alternative services he will implement the Jack Report and give a subsidy? This is the only way in which he will get bus services in some rural areas, because more than one-quarter of the services in Wales run at a loss.
All these proposals of the Government will inevitably lead to more migration from the countryside. Young people will not stay in isolated communities. The railwaymen who will be thrown out of work by the closure of these railway lines and workshops—are they to find 778 alternative work in the countryside? Industrialists now find it difficult to go there because of inadequate rail services and facilities. Wild they come any mare now that the facilities are even less adequate? No. These railwaymen who become redundant will be uprooted and driven into the towns to join the queue of 500,000 or more unemployed in the industrial areas.
Depopulation, the distribution of industry—all these are not on Dr. Beeching's balance sheet. Perhaps we cannot blame him. He has been given his job to do. He has a one-track mind, but the Minister ought to have this on his balance sheet. He ought to consider the profit and lass which is involved in the countryside, which will be even more depleted than it is now. I hope that the Government will consider what I call the invisible earning of a properly co-ordinated transport system.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Gunter (Southwark)
May I also convey my sympathy to the Minister of Transport, who is not here? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will extend my personal greetings to his right hon. Friend. I am quite sure that if he feels like a long convalescence, he will have our sympathy. Perhaps the railway union will pay his train fare to the South of France for a long stay. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here. The homestead does not appear quite the same way without him in a transport debate, and I confess to the Home Secretary that he does not cause me to react in the same way that the Minister of Transport does.
I feel a little dazed tonight and I am sure that many of my colleagues on the railways will be dazed tomorrow morning. For the first time for a long time some kindly things have been said about the British Railways. For the first time, hon. Members opposite have said some rather charming things about them. I am very glad about that, and I hope that it denotes a change of heart.
The Minister spoke about the future of British Railways. I want to say that those of us who have been most critical of the Government and, indeed, of the operations of the British Transport Commission, are at least more hopeful today 779 than we have been for a long time. We have been arguing for a long time that there was a fundamental place in the transport industry of this country for a modernised railway system. It has been a great tragedy that railwaymen and their industry should have been denigrated for so long and their morale brought so low. I hope that in the changed atmosphere, however great are the problems that have to be solved, the railwaymen can be given some hope and security, as a result of the plans that emerge.
Dr. Beeching in his speech at the Albert Hall, which has been quoted so often during this debate, said that the key to the whole problem was the proper judgment of the right rôle of the railways as a part of the transport system as a whale. Hon. Members on this side of the House have been arguing for years that it was quite impossible to see the railways in isolation, and that they had to be seen as part of the transport system as a whole. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Transport do not like the word "integration". They like us to define what we mean. During all these years in which the railwaymen have suffered what we have meant is that the transport industry must be seen as a whole, and that those traffics which can be most efficiently carried by rail should go by rail, and that those which can most efficiently be carried by road should go by road.
I have said before that Dr. Beeching was going to be a hot potato for the Minister, and at last he has come to the penitent's form. He has realised the truth of the arguments which have raged for over 40 years, that transport must be an integrated system. That is why he is now arguing that if the same surveys as have now been conducted in the railway industry can be made in the other sectors of the transport industry it should be possible for an efficient and economic transport system to emerge in the future.
I have great faith in the railways. That is not to say for a moment that they do not need to be adapted. Only a fool would deny that we must have change. There must be adaptation. But with modernisation, and a patient and proper study of all the sectors of the transport industry, it will be found—as 780 hon. Members opposite have admitted tonight—that railways have an increasingly important part to play in the last 40 years of this century.
Of course we must face the need for change. But it is a somewhat new rôle for the Tory Party to be passionately in favour of change. Far be it from me to take the Parliamentary Secretary back to the philosophy that I am sure he has sincerely imbibed, but there is a lesson to be learned from that philosophy. We must be very cautious. That is what the Conservatives have taught us about change. We must be very cautious and very sure before we change our railway system. We must make sure, as the Minister said, that we have carefully thought about the location of industry, future planning development, and all the issues that are bound up in defence.
We know that the Minister inevitably gave careful thought to the question of the railway deficit. But yet another matter that is of tremendous importance is the need to have regard to the social consequences and human problems arising from change. I know that the Minister of Labour will understand that one of the greatest problems facing us and any other industrial nation is that of bringing about the necessary changes by way of a technical revolution in order to gear the economy to the new age, so that we can compete with other countries and, at the same time, ensure that human beings are dealt with as human beings. That is the major problem, and to solve it successfully is worth a lot of sacrifice and care. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), in the last resort human beings are the capital of this country, and they require the most careful thought.
I am always a little sceptical on this point, but I understand that the Minister knows nothing about Dr. Beeching's plans. I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he was still wearing a white sheet, and was leading a blameless life, and knew nothing at all about Dr. Beeching's proposals. At the same time, he has set up an inter-Departmental committee to study the effects of a report that he has not seen. That is progress for the Tory Party. It is in front of events.
781 In that case, if we have the report of Dr. Beeching in January or February we will then have the committee studying the consequences which may flow from that report. Once again the railwaymen ask, "How long, oh Lord, how long will it be before we get out of the morass?" I do not know, but I imagine that the problems posed by the report are of deep significance, and that it will not be very easy to assess the possible consequences.
If Dr. Beeching decides that Plymouth is to be a terminal station, and that the whole of Cornwall is to be denuded of its railway system, it will take many months of study to analyse the problems and consequences that will arise. I have made this point before, and I plead with the Government on this issue: for 10 years we have been organised, reorganised, centralised and decentralised, until we do not know where we are.
There are men in the railway industry today who have given their lives to the industry. Four years ago their offices, shops and workshops were moved and their homes were moved and now under the new reorganisation they are going back to where they were before—hundreds of them. Five years ago the trade unions pleaded with the British Transport Commission to put the regions into some sort of shape. There was the famous case in Birmingham when we had bi-regional working of G.W. and L.M. which kept men in a state of insecurity for years and which has been put right. But the vested interests had to be safeguarded and men were kept in a state of insecurity, not knowing where the channels of promotion were. Now a decision has been made. I beg the Minister to realise that there is a sense of urgency about this, and if the inter-Departmental committee is to start work next February I ask that it presses on as quickly as possible so that the railwaymen may have some peace.
There is a further aspect of the question of change and I must choose my words with care. When an industry such as the transport industry, or the railways, is reshaped deep human problems arise and they are not only problems regarding technique. Therefore, we should be careful about the instrument used in carrying out the exercise. The greatest care should always be taken that the men who are chosen to carry out what 782 is inevitably a painful process should be—or some of them should be—of the very best quality.
I have never seen anything funny about reflecting on the capacity of individuals outside this House who cannot answer back. But it must be said, nevertheless, that at the present time anxiety arises from the circumstances of these last few months. New men have come into the industry. They are very able people and I do not doubt their ability. Dr. Beeching is one of the most able men that I have ever met. But we want something more than efficiency.
At present the Transport Commission is desperately in need of one or two men who are not just the product of the managerial revolution, men who do not think only in terms of efficiency and of units. The Commission requires men who understand industrial and human relations. I do not cast reflections on anybody. But the desperate need of the Commission is for one or two men who have a deep, and, if I may say so, a kindly knowledge of what is involved. I repeat that the ability of the men in the industry is beyond dispute. They are all fine men. But we must ensure that we have men with deep understanding.
I do not wish to stir up trouble tonight or to rake over old grievances. But never in the industrial history of the railways has there ever been such a flatfooted, ham-handed way of handling redundancy in the workshops. Decent, reasonable, intelligent trade union leaders were driven to the wall and the Government must take responsibility for the official strike that took place. It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary nodding his head or tossing it. The Minister of Labour should take careful note of what happened on that fateful morning of 19th September when trade union leaders were informed, calmly, blithely, by the Chairman of the Board at that time, Sir Stuart Mitchell, that 20,000 men would be involved in redundancy. He then asked for a break of 10 minutes for a cup of coffee, and said then they could return and say what they thought about it. That is not the way to deal with redundancy which involves hardship. The Conservative Party can wrap up unemployment in as many words as it likes. But to the ordinary British working man 783 "redundancy" means unemployment, and therefore I ask—
§ Mr. Bourne-Arton
Would not the hon. Gentleman, in fairness, agree that the total number was known and had been discussed regarding the approximate numbers on two previous occasions, and that it was only the incidence of the break-up in various places which was announced?
§ Mr. Gunter
The hon. Member has got it all wrong. Of course there are joint discussions on the general principles involved in the run-down of British workshops. It did not require £24,000 a year to tell us that when we changed from steam locomotion to diesel traction there was bound to be an alteration in the shape of British workshops. Of course we accepted it and we are prepared to face it, but there is nothing crueller than for it to be told, not to men in the workshops or trade union leaders, but to the Press, that this was the real size of redundancy.
I say to the Parliamentary Secretary, do not frighten men because they then become irrational, and when men are faced with unemployment they are fearful. This problem could have been dealt with in a far different way. It could have been dealt with through the normal decent channels of communication which have been built up over the years. It is all very well for hon. Members to argue that it is necessary to close the workshops and that that means redundancy, but they are not having to tell 2,500 families in Darlington that they are "on the stones". This requires the gentlest handling. I repeat that we have to face change, but this requires the kindliness and decency of men who understand this human problem.
Now we are faced with even more drastic reorganisation, and probably we shall be faced with much more staggering figures of redundancy. I ask the Minister to give us a very clear answer tonight, because I am a little confused. I tried to follow the Parliamentary Secretary very carefully. Do I understand from what the Minister has said that the unions will be taken into consultation on the proposals of Dr. Beeching, or the B.T.C., before the plan is finalised and placed in the hands of the 784 Minister? If so, that is an achievement. I hope I am right in thinking that.
I ask the question which was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). When the plans of Dr. Beeching are presented, will they be made public in toto? Shall we know the full content of what is in that report? Some of us have very sad memories of what happened about the Stedeford Committee. We hope that that will not be repeated on this occasion. I want to allow the Home Secretary as much time as possible to answer the debate. For that reason I promised that I would not speak to too long, but I repeat that this is a matter of urgency. It is a matter of outlook. Men in charge of the British Transport Commission—or I suppose I should say the Railways Board—should understand the humanities and alter their views on the hard things of the past.
I wish to say a word or two about railway superannuitants. Nothing is more shameful than the way in which the Government have treated the old railway superannuitants. We have visited every Minister of Transport for 10 years in deputation after deputation to see if something could be done to alleviate the plight of the old railway superannuitants.
It may surprise hon. Members opposite that there are railwaymen who retired in 1940 and are now old men who would have been better off if they had never paid a penny into the superannuation funds. We must remember that some paid for 40 or 45 years. They would have been better off if they had gone on Public Assistance. That is one of the aspects upon which I hope the new Railways Board will reflect with great sympathy. This is a matter of urgency. I hope that when the plan comes the Minister and his inter-Departmental committee will get to work on it.
May I say one last word about the closure of branch lines? I repeat, we do not resist change. I repeat, those who have given their lives to transport know full well that if there be an alternative, a more efficient service, then it must be accepted. But we cannot withdraw entirely from rural areas where railway lines can never be made to pay. There is and must remain a social element in transport, and we cannot get away from it.
785 I hope that the Government will face the realities of the situation and will not shrink from them. I hope that when Dr. Beeching's plans are received—I understand that they are to be revolutionary—in certain aspects they will be forthcoming in the terms of Select Committee's Report, accepting that there is a social need to be met and that we are prepared to subsidise the railways or that section of them that are to be affected.
I feel a little happier because at last there seems a glimpse of hope for railways. I hope that they can take heart, if now the Government will show that sense of urgency and will appreciate, above all, the human problems which are involved in an industry which inevitably must contract. Indeed, even if it did not contract, it would have to be modernised and automated, and therefore redundancy could well occur from those factors.
In any case, I plead that the deepest consideration shall be given to the human problems which arise, for railwaymen have been sick at heart. I hope that at last they can look forward to a square deal; that Dr. Beeching—without misunderstanding me—will gather around him at least a few men who understand the humanities and decency of proper human and industrial relationships; and that never again shall we have redundancy in such a form, so baldly and so cruelly announced as it was on the morning of 19th September.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I know that there is never very much indulgence for Ministers of the Crown, whichever Government is in power, but if there is any indulgence floating about in the air tonight, I hope that a little of it may rest on me, because this is my maiden speech from this Box in a transport debate. It was only five hours before the debate was due to begin that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport had it proved to him that he was not well enough to take part in it, and I was accordingly asked whether I would take his place. If, therefore, I cannot deal from my personal knowledge with a number of the more technical points which have been raised in the debate, I trust that the House will forgive me.
786 I want to say at the outset that feel a great deal in common with the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) on the human side. He, the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport are all at one in taking as our main object that we should end up by creating a first-rate railway system which provides opportunity and security for people of ambition and ability, and that in the process—maybe the painful process—of getting there, human beings should be treated as human beings.
I accept that to the full, as I know my right hon. Friend would, and if, in the course of my speech, I have to deal with hard facts and financial matters, I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark will accept my assurance that I for one shall not forget the human aspect of this matter for the railwaymen. Indeed, as perhaps he knows, I have personal reasons for caring a great deal about railways and railwaymen.
The hard fact, which none of us can wave away by magic, is that the deficit on the railways last year was £151 million, by which time they had an accumulated deficit of £700 million. In the Estimates, provision was made for a deficit of £160 million on the railways this year. Indeed, I fear that it may well be higher than that. Passenger receipts this year have kept up fairly well, assisted by fare increases, though the increases in fares have encountered consumer resistance, as is entirely to be understood, and it is perfectly clear that fare increases do not bring in proportionately higher receipts.
Freight receipts this year have declined by some £15 million. There is every likelihood they will pick up again as the economy picks up and particularly as the steel industry goes ahead, because there is no doubt that there is a close casual connection between the fall off in freight receipts this year and the fact that the steel industry and the heavy industries generally have been working below capacity.
We have the declared intention of the railways of winning back from the roads a substantial amount of traffic which is suitable for the railways. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) laid stress on the potentialities of that, and I do not think that on either 787 side of the House there is the slightest doubt about the determination of Dr. Beeching and the Transport Commission to do everything in their power to secure it.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) asked about freight rates and the Common Market. I am sure that he appreciates that at this moment it is not possible to give a definitive answer to his question, because we do not yet know for certain what will be the requirements of the European Economic Community in that respect. Whatever they are, there seems little doubt that they will apply equally to road and rail, so there should be no fear of the railways being handicapped unduly as against the roads by anything which may happen under that heading.
On the expenses side, working expenses this year have been running at about the same level as last year, in spite of increases in wages and coal prices. It is impossible to say at this moment whether the expenses can be held to the 1961 figure right up to the end of the year, taking into account the latest wage increase, but, nevertheless, the fact that they have been held steady up to now is clear evidence of the supreme importance of maximum efficiency and productivity if the railways are ever to get out of the red.
We cannot ignore the colossal burden which the railways are placing at present on the taxpayer. The essence of the matter is that the new Railways Board, with the full support of the Government, must take as its aim to bring revenue and expenditure into balance. I do not believe that there is any hon. Member on either side of the House who would deny the importance of seeking to eliminate this deficit, not only for the sake of the taxpayer, but because no organisation works at its best when it knows that it is being subsidised.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
So that this matter can be put into the right perspective, perhaps the Home Secretary would add to what he has already said about the relationship between the deficit of £150 million this year and the taxpayer, which, I agree, is a serious matter. To give a proper balance to his statement, the right hon. Gentleman should also point out that the taxpayer is already 788 paying two and a half times the amount paid to the railways to the agricultural industry by way of subsidies. When we are talking about the taxpayer, let us not forget that if, instead of nationalising the railways in 1947, the Labour Party had decided to nationalise the agricultural industry, today they would be £4,500 million "in the red" and not £800 million.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member has got his figures wrong, but I hope that he will forgive the Home Secretary if he concentrates this evening on the railways and not on agriculture.
The terms of the Amendment to which I should like to address myself are:but views with deep concern the proposed large-scale closure of railway workshops …I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) was quite right in saying that this should not be described as a policy of closure, but as a policy of reorganisation and modernisation—and an essential policy, too. It is a matter of intense importance—social and personal importance as well as economic importance. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) said on that point, and with the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), who spoke movingly about his own railway workshop at Horwich.
The position is that the Commission's proposals are still under consideration with the unions. Let me say how the proposals appeared to the Government when we first learned about them. It was perfectly clear that the peak of railway-equipment and modernisation had passed. It was perfectly clear that the whole of what I might call the railway supply or the railway equipment industry had to contract.
It was also clear that the Commission, after a very thorough assessment of all the facts, had found that the railway workshop system was irremediably under-employed. The Commission had to secure more extensive use of the plant. It estimated that by 1966, if it continued keeping the present number of workshops open, they would be operating at little more than half a shift a day, which is essentially and unavoidably uneconomic, and their costs would, therefore, 789 rise unavoidably. That problem could only be solved by the concentration of available work into a smaller number of shops. I do not believe that there is a party political difference about his. It was unavoidable.
As far back as the summer of 1959, the Commission forecast major reductions in its shops. The plan which was presented to the Government was a phased one. The effects were to be spread over the five years, 1963 to 1967. In framing its proposals it was clear that the Commission had not had regard solely to the economics, but that it had paid careful attention to the need to avoid unemployment in difficult areas, particularly where a town was largely dependent on the railways for employment.
It was clear that Dr. Beeching and his colleagues had made a deliberate effort to push the work away from London, away from the Home Counties and away from Birmingham and the Midlands and to secure a general flow of work northwards. Indeed, I think that it is accepted that the treatment of Scotland has been in this respect particularly favourable in relation to England. That, in my view, is as it should be, because, on the whole, the Midlands, the South and the South-East have experienced relative over-employment in recent years, whereas Scotland and the North-East and other parts have experienced relative under-employment.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) complained that my right hon. Friend had not been willing to receive a deputation from Swindon. The reason for that, I know, was that he considers that this programme of closures is primarily one for the railway management and in particular, while negotiations are still proceeding between the Commission and the unions, it did not seem right to him to receive deputations from Swindon or any of the other towns that might be affected.
The Government have given endorsement to the proposals in general, but certainly not in detail. Indeed, we recognise that the railways have no alternative. The railways have a financial duty under the Transport Act, and they also have a duty to economic sanity and to the interests of the country at large. But there is no question that the Government have 790 a part to play in this throughout. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is anxious that the full resources of his Department should be available for softening the impact of the closures, and, if the hon. Member for Swindon feels that there is any shortcoming in that respect, I hope that he will let me or my right hon. Friend know, because we shall be very glad indeed to look into it—
§ Mr. Gunter
We understand this, but what puzzled us is why the Government are so adamant that workshops that are, in many ways, efficient, and have a corps of skilled workers, should be absolutely forbidden to produce anything for the export trade. Why cannot they be used?
§ Mr. Brooke
That was debated at length during the discussion of the Transport Bill. To reply quite shortly, if the work goes into the railway workshops, it does not go elsewhere. As part of the whole railway system, the railway workshops are heavily subsidised by the State, and it is extremely difficult to see on what fair and equitable terms they could quote for work of that character against unsubsidised private industry.
I was asked whether the Board of Trade was ready to help, and it showed its willingness to help by at once scheduling Darlington under the Local Employment Act. I promise the hon. Member for Westhoughton that the Board of Trade will do everything it can to encourage development in Horwich, Earlestown, or other places that may be affected.
It is interesting to note—and here I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt)—what has already happened in one or two places. One section of the Darlington locomotive works is to be sold to a private engineering firm which manufactures equipment for the oil and chemical industries, and the Commission's representatives and those of the firm concerned are to meet shortly to discuss details of the transfer of the workshop staff. That seems to be exactly what the hon. Member desired should happen.
At Ashford locomotive works, in which I have a special interest, as I am, perhaps, the only Member of the House who attended its centenary celebrations in 1946 or so, and which, 791 unhappily, are to close at the end of the year, of all those hitherto declared redundant, and registered at the Ashford Employment Exchange, only one man has so far failed to find another job.
The Amendment also refers to… the withdrawal of unprofitable branch line services".If the Opposition are arguing that it is profitable to do the unprofitable, I cannot congratulate them on the drafting of their Amendment. The case for closure of most of the branch lines that have so tar come before my right hon. Friend has been glaringly obvious. Frankly, the public themselves have determined to aid the services by just not using them. and my hon Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) was entirely right in asking how we could justify meeting at vast expense a transport need what hardly exists.
It is not unnatural that this should be happening. These lines were built years and years before the days of the motor car. Motor traffic has rendered them obsolete, and we must recognise that fact. while all the time having regard to the hardship to individuals that may be involved. Surely, in the interests of the nation, and of the railway service itself, we should be preparing now for the twenty-first century, and not endeavouring to revive the nineteenth.
As the Commission has pointed out, taking passenger and freight traffic together, 50 per cent. of the railway network is carrying 92½ per cent. of she total traffic, and the remaining 50 per cent. is carrying only 7½ per cent. That is a situation about which action must be taken. When I was Minister for Welsh Affairs, an all-Welsh conference was called at Cardiff by the then Lord Mayor of Cardiff. It was reported in the Press that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box), inquired at the conference how many of the hundreds of people present at it from all parts of Wales had arrived in Cardiff by train, and not one admitted to having done so.
The hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George) spoke about the valuable Report of the Council for Wales. That Report was prefaced by some quite flattering refer- 792 ences to myself which, unfortunately, the hon. Lady did not see fit to quote. But I must say that, having seen the statement of the Welsh Transport Users' Consultative Committee about the line she had in mind, I think that she was unfair in suggesting that that Committee could pay no attention to the hardship aspect.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I never said that it never paid attention to hardship. I said that it was not entitled to pay attention to the financial aspect.
§ Mr. Brooke
We will both read HANSARD.
The fact is that, since 1950, one-fifth of the route mileage of our railway system has been closed. I defy anyone to say that the country as a whole is suffering severe hardship through the closure, which has taken place already, of 20 per cent. of the total route mileage.
It is important to realise that there are safeguards when the Commission propose closure. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. R. Thompson) raised the question of the protection of railway users and mentioned the Selsdon to Woodside line. That is an example. In fact, so far, the Commission has not given formal notice, as it has to do under the Transport Act, before the closure procedure can be set in motion.
The closure procedure enables users to lodge objections with the area transport users' consultative committee, which is required to consider the objections and to make a report on hardship to the Minister which may include proposals for alleviating hardship. The Minister may then give his consent to the closure either unconditionally, or with conditions, or may refuse his consent. That is the statutory procedure.
In a case of the line in which my hon. Friend is interested, the procedure has not even begun. If there are objections when the Commission gives notice, the consultative committee will consider those objections and will then make a 793 report on hardship to the Minister. But, until such a report is received, it would be wrong for me or anybody else to discuss the merits of a particular proposal. Bach proposal must be put forward by the Commission and then considered by the consultative committee.
This is not a matter of closures alone. To save a tree, one must not only cut out the dead wood. One must get rid of the things which crawl slowly along the main trunk. The Commission has estimated that savings by cutting out stopping passenger services may amount to £50 million a year. Both of these have to be looked at.
There is no getting away from the fact that a railway system is bound to have high fixed costs, and, therefore, it is extremely important to secure intensive use. The average train working costs on British Railways in 1961 were 6s. 10½d. per train mile. The average vehicle operating expenses on buses of one of the big groups, the Tilling Group, were 1s. 7d. per bus mile. As I have said, real efficiency and avoidance of waste are much more difficult to achieve when an industry is run, as I think some hon. Members opposite would wish it to be run, on a public service basis without any discipline of the balance sheet.
I wish to refer to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Longbottom) and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), who spoke of railway pensioners. The position is that as recently as yesterday, the Transport Commission submitted proposals to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport with regard to the railway superannuitants. Those proposals will be considered carefully by my right hon. Friend in the light of all the known facts and he will come to his conclusions about them. I think the House knows that this is not a matter that can be dealt with within the purview of the Pensions (Increase) Bill. Equally, it is not a matter to which the Transport Commission is blind. There have been four increases for the superannuitants in the past few years and a fifth is now proposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for York also laid stress on the importance of taking into account regional economic development in relation to any proposals for modifying the railway system. It is 794 the established view of the Government that if we are to get balanced regional economic development very special attention must be paid to the availability of proper communications. It is not simply a railway matter. As the Minister who was responsible at one time for the new towns, I can say that it is remarkable how small a percentage of the total goods produced by the factories in the new towns go by rail.
As I have said, however, the Commission has concentrated its closures as far as possible on the South of England. If I may endorse what was said in another place yesterday by my noble Friend the Minister of State, Home Office—Home Office Ministers seem to be spreading their net wide this week—the studies and efforts of all the various Government Departments concerned are being co-ordinated and concentrated on the problems of under-employment in certain regions along with over-employment elsewhere.
If we are to solve that problem, we must not be afraid of change. The hon. Member for Westhoughton spoke of the hardship that change involved. It does involve hardship. Nevertheless, we cannot revitalise the old industrial parts of the country unless we are ready to accept and encourage change. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall charged the Commission with thinking of nothing but the economies of this. That was precisely what the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries said that the Transport Commission ought to do, and there was no challenge—I have looked it up—from hon. Members on either side, to those paragraphs on the Select Committee's Report.
I accept entirely, with the hon. Member for Southwark, that the human aspect of this is all-important. We have to concentrate our best brains on this, not as a mechanical or drily economic problem. We cannot waft away the economics of it, but we have to approach it as a task of modernising Britain, a task that we must tackle in the spirit of not being afraid of change but of being careful all the time to minimise the hardship which change may cause. We have to create a first-rate railway system with first-rate opportunities for men of efficiency and ambition, but we cannot produce efficiency or see opportunity if 795 we are always looking back over our shoulders. That is what I find fault with in the Opposition Amendment.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Martin Redmayne) rose796
§ in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That those words be there added:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 231797
|Division No. 10.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Ainsley, William||Hayman, F. H.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Albu, Austen||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Peart, Frederick|
|Allen Scholefield (Crewe)||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Pentland, Norman|
|Barnett, Guy||Hilton, A. V.||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Beaney Alan||Holman, Percy||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bence, Cyril||Holt, Arthur||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Houghton, Douglas||Probert, Arthur|
|Benson, Sir George||Hoy, James H.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Blackburn F.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Blyton, William||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Rankin, John|
|Boardman, H.||Hunter, A. E.||Redhead, E. C.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. w. (Leics, S.W).||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Rhodes, H.|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bowles, Frank||Jeger, George||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Boyden, James||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|Bradley, Tom||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Ross, William|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Kelley, Richard||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Kenyon, Clifford||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Short, Edward|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||King, Dr. Horace||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Callaghan, James||Lawson, George||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Carmichael, N. G.||Ledger, Ron||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Small, William|
|Chapman, Donald||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Snow, Julian|
|Collick, Percy||Lipton, Marcus||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Corbet, Mrs Freda||Lubbock, Eric||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dalyell, Tam||McCann, John||Steele, Thomas|
|Delargy, Hugh||MacColl, James||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Diamond, John||MacDermot, Niall||Stones, William|
|Dodds, Norman||McInnes, James||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Driberg, Tom||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Edelman, Maurice||McLeavy, Frank||Thornton, Ernest|
|Edwards, Walter (stepney)|
|Evans, Albert||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Wade, Donald|
|Fitch, Alan||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Mann, Charles||Watkins, Tudor|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mayhew, Christopher||Weitzman, David|
|Forman, J. C.||Mellish, R. J.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Millan, Bruce||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Milne, Edward||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchison, G. R.||Willey, Frederick|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Crmrthn)||Monslow, Walter||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Ginsburg, David||Moody, A. S.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Morris, John||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Moyle, Arthur||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Grey, Charles||Mulley, Frederick||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Oswald, Thomas||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.||Owen, Will||Zilliacus, K.|
|Gunter, Ray||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Hannan, William||Parker, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harper, Joseph||Parkin, B. T.||Mr. Ifor Davies and Mr. Whitlock.|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Paton, John|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Atkins, Humphrey||Batsford, Brian|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton|
|Allason, James||Balniel, Lord||Bell, Ronald|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Barlow, Sir John||Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)|
|Bidgood, John C.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Biffen, John||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Orr, Capt. L. P. s.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Bossom, Clive||Hastings, Stephen||Partridge, E.|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Hay, John||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Box, Donald||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Peel, John|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Percival, Ian|
|Braine, Bernard||Hendry, Forbes||Pilkington, Sir Richard|
|Brewis, John||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Hiley, Joseph||Pott, Percivall|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Brooman-White, R.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hobson, Sir John||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Holland, Philip||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Bryan, Paul||Hopkins, Alan||Pym, Francis|
|Buck, Antony||Hornby, R. P.||Quennell, Miss J. M,|
|Bullard, Denys||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Ramsden, James|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Rawlinson, Sir peter|
|Burden, F. A.||Hughes-Young, Michael|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A. (Saffron Walden)||Iremonger, T. L.||Rees, Hugh|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Campbell, Cordon (Moray & Nairn)||James, David||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Jennings, J. C.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Clark, William (Nottingham S.)||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Roots, William|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Russell, Ronald|
|Cooke, Robert||Kershaw, Anthony||St, Clair, M.|
|Cooper, A. E.||Kimball, Marcus||Sharples, Richard|
|Costain, A. P.||Lagden, Godfrey||Shepherd, William|
|Coulson, Michael||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Craddock Sir Beresford||Leavey, J. A.||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Leburn, Gilmour||Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John|
|Cunningham, Knox||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Currle, G. B. H.||Lindsay, Sir Martin||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Litchfield, Capt. John||Stodart, J. A.|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Longbottom, Charles||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Doughty, Charles||Longden, Gilbert||Tapsell, Peter|
|Drayson, G. B.||Loveys, Walter H.||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|du Cann, Edward||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Eden, John||McArthur, Ian||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||McLaren, Martin||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Elliott, R.W. (Nwcastle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McLaughlin, Mrs. Patricia||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||Turner, Colin|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Farr, John||Macmillan, Rt. Ht. Harold (Bromley)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macpherson, Rt. Hn. Niall (Dumfries)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Foster, John||Maddan, Martin||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Marshall, Douglas||Walder, David|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Marten, Neil||Walker, Peter|
|Freeth, Denzil||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Matthews, Cordon (Meriden)||Webster, David|
|Gammans, Lady||Mawby, Ray||Whitelaw, William|
|Gardner, Edward||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk Central)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Mills, Stratton||Wise, A. R.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Miscampbell, Norman||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Goodhart, Philip||Montgomery, Fergus||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Cough. Frederick||Morgan, William||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Morrison, John||Worsley, Marcus|
|Green, Alan||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Neave, Alrey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael||Mr. Chichester-Clark and|
|Gurden, Harold||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Mr. Finlay.|
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report and Accounts of the British Transport Commission for 1961 (H.C., 1961–62, No. 209)