§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Gunter (Southwark)
I am sure that the choice of transport by the Opposition as a subject for today's debate will occasion no surprise, because, in view of the statements and the reports which are being issued from various quarters of the transport industry, there appears to be a growing doubt among those in the most responsible posts in transport about the dogmatic assertions which have been made by the Minister of Transport over the past two years.
There appears to be, at the very top level of transport administration, an appreciation that this important industry cannot be dealt with section 426 by section, and that it cannot be dealt with purely on a profit-making basis. It appears that the word used in all the statements and reports, particularly of the British Railways Board, is "rationalisation". We had the word "co-ordination", but that has been unfrocked, if that is the right term, and the word "rationalisation" has been sanctified.
It has been submitted time and again from this side of the Committee that while the objective in transport is and always must remain the creation of the most efficient and modern industry, it is not possible to achieve that state if one sector of the industry can have the non-economic units within it stripped off one by one. It is quite impossible for a rationalised transport system to emerge if it is dealt with in this way. I must remind the Minister of this, because of his assertion from time to time that he is clear about the purpose which he has set the Railways Board.
In view of the evidence which over the last three weeks has been submitted by the Board to the Geddes Committee on Licensing, there is a strange contradiction with the attitude of a few years ago. On 12th June, 1961, in one of the first Press conferences which Dr. Beeching ever gave, he stated that it was the intention and the purpose of the undertaking to make railways pay. Three years later, in June, 1964, if I understand the evidence submitted to the Geddes Committee, it is admitted that with the present set-up and the existing inequity between road and rail, and the utter chaos of the licensing system, there is no hope of achieving what was so proudly asserted three years ago.
However it may be agreed by all that the railways have a fundamental part to play in any future rationalised industry—and we all agree that this is so within the foreseeable future—we know from the evidence submitted that the railways cannot be made to pay under the existing circumstances and cannot play the rôle which they ought to play. It has been said recently by the Railways Board—and I quote recent expressions of opinion by transport men—that there is a proper and important rôle for railways to play within a rationalised transport system. Such a system, Dr. Beeching has submitted, must encourage each form of transport to concentrate on those services 427 which it can perform best. In its submission the Railways Board adds that such a rationalised system cannot be achieved unless there is co-operation between road and rail and the development of complementary services.
This is an important part of the evidence, and I beg the Minister to give it his closest attention. After three years the Railways Board has arrived at the conclusion that a rationalised transport system will be unable to function properly unless due and proper regard is paid to the true costs of providing the services and the facilities required. The Board also says that the right pattern of the industry for the last 40 years of this century is unlikely to emerge unless the financial burden which each form of transport is required to bear includes a proper share of the true cost of providing and maintaining the physical facilities and services which are required. This has long been the basic argument of this side of the Committee—that a rationalised and efficient transport service cannot emerge until we have the data and the facts and the costings upon which to base the processes which we wish to undertake.
I am sure that the Minister will recognise the glint of wry humour among some of us on this side, because when we argued that the rationalised industry which we wanted was not possible until the surveys had been done and the Geddes Committee had reported, we were airily dismissed and were informed by the Railways Board and the Minister that sufficient information was in their possession to allow them to proceed with the process of mutilating the railway system.
Now, in June, 1964, the Railways Board, the chosen instrument of the Minister, has confirmed all that the Labour Party has been saying for two years. The tablets have at last been brought down from Mount Sinai, and I hope that the Minister will read them carefully. The Board has asserted—this is an interesting fact—that trunk road system costs are at least twice as great as trunk rail system costs and that the road freight transport operator probably pays no more than one-third to one-half of his road costs, assuming that the whole of the licensing and fuel duties were to be regarded as attributable to the cost of providing, maintaining, signalling and 428 policing the highway and no part of them allocated for general revenue purposes.
This is a crazy situation. However much hon. Members opposite may dispute the statistics and the facts which have been presented to the Geddes Committee by the Railways Board—I am sure that there will be disputations about their accuracy—it must not be forgotten that this evidence has not come from rail-waymen. This is the evidence of the men whom the Minister imported from I.C.I. and Shell. Therefore, I can assume that the Minister believes them to be basically sound. These are the chosen people of the Minister who are submitting the facts of life on transport to the Geddes Committee. The assumption in their evidence is that in present circumstances road operation is being very heavily subsidised from public funds.
One of the ironies of the situation is that probably the biggest subsidisers of road freight vehicles are the private motorists. The private motorist, groaning in travail at being held up hour after hour, at waiting in the sun in the long lanes and queues of traffic, can console himself that he is helping to pay for his own misery. He can be comforted by the fact that, by providing this hidden subsidy to road haulage today, he enables many of these vehicles to remain on the road.
Let us be clear. This is in no way to suggest that freight-carrying by road is so burdensome an exercise for others that it must be eliminated. I do not know any transport man who does not recognise that there is a great and growing place for road haulage. One of the great needs of the country is for our road programme to match the development of the number of vehicles which have been licensed. I hope that we shall look into the future and ensure that those who own private cars—everybody has a right to a private car, if he wants it—are properly and adequately dealt with on the roads.
What Dr. Beeching wants to do is to concentrate on what he believes the railways can do best—bulk commodity carryings, not over short distances, but essentially on long hauls. This is what he has said within the last month or so. The great place and purpose of railways in the future of the transport industry is to concentrate on the long haul and thus 429 relieve the roads of as many as possible of the great vehicles which cause so much congestion. Dr. Beeching asserted in evidence to the Geddes Committee that the carrying of bulk commodities by long-distance haulage provides the railways with a bright future.
Therefore, we arrive at the conclusion—I hope that the Minister will agree with me—that, in the main, long-distance road freight haulage is uneconomic, in the light of the disparity between trunk road system costs and rail trunk costs. It would not be worth carrying on if, in many cases, it did not receive what I have referred to as the hidden subsidy.
Rationalisation—the blessed word which is now used in every speech and every statement of the Railways Board, and to which I presume the Minister subscribes—demands, in Dr. Beeching's own words, a measure of co-operation between road and rail. At this point we must ask ourselves: what are the prospects of co-operation between the road interests and the rail interests so that the desired rationalised industry can emerge? I suggest that they are a bit grim. There is the acknowledged determination recently expressed by Dr. Beeching of the railways to withdraw even further from local movement and distribution, in which their part is already exceedingly small and for which they are unsuited.
I hope that no railwayman will moan about this; these are the facts of life. Short-distance freight—not bulk commodities—can obviously be best carried on short routes by road. However, in the field where modern railways can play their greatest part, and where they must play that important part—the bulk commodities and the long-distance hauls—I see little hope—I know that the Minister must have read certain speeches lately—of an equal acceptance by the road interests.
Much play has been made of the concept of the liner train. That is the fast moving train, speeding with the precision of a modern passenger timetable, with a carrying capacity of perhaps over 500 tons, between our great industrial areas and our docks. This is the concept. This is what could take so much of the heavy bulk traffic off the trunk road system.
430 I am very sorry indeed to see the immediate reaction of the road haulage interests. Instead of saying that this is a contribution to the real rationalisation of the industry, that it is a contribution to removing unnecessary vehicles from the roads, what do they say? On 29th October, 1963, the Chairman of the Road Haulage Association, speaking in Sheffield about the possibility of the development of liner trains with speeds of up to 150 m.p.h. and a capacity of 500 tons, said that it would be very foolish to suppose that the road hauliers would sit on their hands and let the traffic escape from them. He said that the road haulier would immediately review his own lack of resources. The result, he asserted, would be the evolution of a new type of vehicle capable, with ease, of a cruising speed of 70 m.p.h. Tractors of this character, he said, might be found to be ideal for swift transit on our great motorways.
Any sensible transport man who will relieve himself of doctrine must in these circumstances ask this question. If we are to pour £100 million, to start with, into the creation of fast-moving liner trains, the modernisation of track and the dieselisation of engines, is it really necessary that at the same time road haulage interests should require vast capital expenditure to be laid out for great new motorways to carry freight traffic which I thought we had assumed was best handled, in the national interest, by the railways?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Would the hon. Gentleman, in fairness, also agree that the Chairman of the Road Haulage Association, Mr. D. O. Good, has on many occasions welcomed the liner trains, and has gone a long way in co-operating with the railways in seeing how best they can be used?
§ Mr. Gunter
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but it is Mr. D. O. Good who used the words that I have been quoting.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
Is it not also a fact that the Road Haulage Association instituted talks with Dr. Beeching on the development of the liner train, and are not those talks at present in jeopardy because of 431 the intransigence of the National Union of Railwaymen in not allowing free access to the liner train depots?
§ Mr. Gunter
Yes, I shall come to that point in due course, but I would say that flowery speeches and nice dinners are not all that is needed for co-operation. Is this desirable co-operation to which the hon. Gentlemen have just referred, and desired by Dr. Beeching, really taking place? Is there any real intention of private road interests giving up their private interests? For reasons I shall give later, and for which I do not blame them. I doubt it.
I only say that Dr. Beeching has clearly and rightly presented a case that utterly condemns Government policy. What does he say? Six months ago he said that the trouble is that there is a gross surplus of transport capacity for some purposes, and that some forms of transport are strangling themselves and each other. The Chairman of the Railways Board is not a railwayman, but that is what he said, and I suggest that he is at last on the right lines.
So let there be rationalisation. This is the desired end, and to achieve it there must be co-operation. I shall come in due course to the question of how we achieve that co-operation, but in view of what I have already said, voluntary cooperation appears to be impossible. It is clear that, the vested interests being so great, and human nature being what it is, the problem will have to be solved by the State. I hope that the Geddes Committee will have the courage to make really adventurous recommendations—that the job will have to be done by the State itself.
What is the prize? Let us forget our politics and our doctrine for the moment—what is the prize that can be achieved by a rationalised transport system in which each form of transport is doing what it is properly equipped to do? I believe that about £4,000 million a year is spent on internal transport—about 15 per cent. of our gross national product. Approximately half of that amount goes on freight transport.
If we can at last escape from the doctrine of the Minister and let transport men get down to the job, I believe—and I think that Dr. Beeching would agree 432 with me—that by squeezing out surplus and uneconomic transport, and by really making the railways and the roads compete or meet on terms of equity, we could carry more freight more efficiently and more economically in an expanding economy at a cost of less than £2,000 million per annum. I therefore hope that the Minister will give us his views, and let us see whether he is walking in step or out of step with the Railways Board in its thoughts about the future development of rail transport.
On the passenger-carrying side, it seems from recent events that there has been a decline in the Minister's zest for branch closures. Twelve months ago, his energy and powers of prophecy were very great. He spoke with vigour of the reshaping of the railway system that was to be carried out—but with what result? It is only six months ago since Dr. Beeching carefully pointed out that the fall in the railway deficit in 1963 could in no way be attributed to line closures, since they had not been put into effect. This confirms what has long been obvious—that proper working methods of railway operation have far more to contribute than have wholesale closures.
The Financial Time is certainly no friend of my party, but on 17th June it stated that even in 1964 the closures proposed will have little effect. It said:It was originally assumed that decisions would have been reached by the end of this year about most of the 337 services which the Board is anxious to withdraw as uneconomic.It went on:In fact, only a small fraction of these withdrawals have yet been approved by the Minister and several services have been reprieved.It added:The present report is remarkably restrained about the slowness with which progress is being made.I must confess that I welcome the slowness at this stage, but the Minister ought to explain his early passion and his present coyness. The truth is, of course, that the shadow of the General Election obliterates his previous doctrine.
What did we on this side argue? We never argued that out-of-date passenger services and uneconomic working should be kept on—that is daft, irrational—if we had an adequate alternative service that was more efficient and more 433 economic. There would be no purpose in that. I repeat that that would be quite irrational. We said, "First, however, let us have the facts. Let us find out on what basis the costing is taking place." It had not been demonstrated that sufficient thought had been given to the future planning and development of passenger services. It is now borne out on two fronts that the policy of closures was ill thought out and based on insufficient data.
We have the fascinating story of the Central Wales lines and other lines. I hope that the Minister will unfold this mystery in the light of what The Time had to say on, I think, 30th June:Many branch lines services scheduled for closure … may receive a new lease of life as a result of confidential discussions taking place between the Ministry of Transport and the British Railways Board.The Board now apparently wants permission to operate sparsely-loaded services as light railways instead of closing them, and to operate the Shrewsbury-Llanelly line with fast diesel multiple units using unmanned halts and open or automatic level crossings.
That is what we said 18 months ago. We said, "Before you close these lines why do you not look at alternative methods?" Now as a result, I understand, of the genius of a railwayman, the Minister has been brought to give new consideration to the matter, and Dr. Beeching has retreated from the dramatic pose he assumed 18 months ago, when he said, "If my proposals, which are contained in the 'Reshaping of British Railways', are carried out with vigour, we shall be all right."
The vigour has resulted in second thoughts, and today it is very probable that the Central Wales lines, and others, will be saved. As to the remarkably confidential nature of the discussions referred to by The Times, I wish the Minister well in this; he can keep the discussions very confidential, because if he deals with every other proposed closure in the same way I shall give him my blessing.
I should like the Minister to reflect upon the sheer nonsense of the T.U.C.C.s. I am sure that he will not want to continue with this nonsense. He must have seen the observations of the Central 434 Transport Consultative Committee for Great Britain, which were submitted on 10th June, 1964. He knows what the Committee says. It says that it is almost impossible to get objectors to understand that the T.U.C.C.s are not empowered to judge and certainly not to recommend on the merits of any proposed closure. They are only investigating hardship which could arise if the closure took place. Many objectors, it says, still consider that the Railways Board is not interested in improving and modernising marginal lines, but only in shedding, as quickly as possible, lines which are unprofitable, without first trying to make them pay their way, regardless of the public need. A deep suspicion of the Board's facts and figures supporting closures is in the minds of the objectors.
It is not only the objectors. Some of us who looked at these statistics could not make them apply at all. I should like to quote the actual words of the Central Transport Consultative Committee, submitted on 10th June. This requires from the Minister a little explanation. I do not think that the Railways Board is a body of deceitful people. I am sure it is not and, therefore, we should like an explanation of the allegations made by the Committee. It says:Once a notice has been published we hope the Board will only in exceptional circumstances vary any of the services affected before the consent to closure has been given, not only because it is difficult for the Committee to assess the hardship arising when the original service has already been amended, but because it could appear to objectors to be an attempt to reduce the demand for the service by making it less attractive.Then, it says:We have noticed other cases where the reduction of facilities such as cheap tickets, the withdrawal of services from timetables, and even the substitution for the standard corridor stock of trains without through corridor connection between the coaches, has been carried out on lines which are included in the list of those under consideration for closure. There may be operational reasons for doing this kind of thing, but the effect on the Board's public relations is bad. It could appear to the travelling public concerned with services where any of the charges mentioned are made that the Railways are deliberately attempting to run down the demand so that by the time the public hearing takes place they can claim that fewer passengers are likely to suffer hardship because people will have been deterred by the reductions from using the services.435 That is not a proper way of approaching a fundamental problem. It is in breach of even the limited powers of these committees. If these committees are to be allowed only to judge hardship, let them do it properly. Do not let the circumstances of the months before a closure be such that the railways deliberately run it down so that people cease to use the line.
In this period when we are trying to deal with some of the most difficult and complex problems in transport, how can we do it if we adopt tactics of that kind? I say that the Minister ought to ensure that this practice, if it is as the Committee suggests, is stopped. I hope that the Minister will deal with some of the allegations that have been made. Surely it is a point of policy to attract by modern methods as much as possible of road, freight and passenger traffic to the alternative form of transport. I suggest that the T.U.C.C.s are so restricted as to be almost futile. They can make little contribution to any solution of the major problem.
I ask the Minister: why is he so silly and so prejudiced? Any suggestion that publicly-owned transport has a tremendously important rôle to play always seems to arouse the worst in him. He would not let the workshops of British Railways, upon which we are to spend millions of pounds in modernising, build the vehicles that are to run on the railway lines. How stupid can he get?
That is not the only part of the Minister's activities. In the Transport Holding Company's Report, published a few weeks ago, there appeared these pathetic words:The Holding Company's subsidiaries are prohibited from engaging in the manufacture of anything except what is required for use in their own business, or for supply to the Railways, London Transport, Docks or Waterways Boards.… Furthermore, the Minister has by Directions restricted the productive capacity of each of the manufacturing companies to the level of that company as at 1st January, 1963.The Report goes on:The Holding Company is satisfied that the complete bus as produced by these two companies in combination is of high standard as regards quality and performance; and although the artificial imitation on output makes it difficult to produce buses quite as cheaply as would otherwise be possible, and although even the full capacity would still be low compared 436 with the output of the national producers of vehicles, there are advantages in keeping these relatively small works in being. The Holding Company would hope, however, to find some way of sharing these advantages in due course with others and of widening the commercial approach at the same time, thereby maximising the potential of this particular investment.Why does the Minister adopt this attitude on purely doctrinal grounds simply because these happen to be publicly owned? I have come to the conclusion that we must accept—I say this in all seriousness—that rationalisation of the transport industry is essential. If the present surplus capacity is a running sore, as it is, upon our economic life, if it is wasteful and inefficient to operate, as we are now operating it, what are the methods of carrying the necessary surgery?
I can do no better than quote the words—the very wise words—of Dr. Beeching on 31st October, 1963. I say with the greatest respect that this, perhaps, is the total of his conversion to what we knew would take place. He said:When we consider it, 'rationalisation' is one of those words which seems to have a wholly good connotation as applied to any human, group activity, because we regard rationality as one of the desirable human attributes. Usually, however, a situation which is seen to be irrational as a whole results from the rational exercise of free individual choice within the existing framework of circumstances. Where this is so, it is probable that rationalisation of the general situation can be achieved only by some new limitation of individual choice. In practice, therefore, a proposal to rationalise almost invariably leads to a conflict of interests, and this is certainly so in relation to any proposal to rationalise our transport system.With no offence, I would say that road and rail must face the new limitations of individual choice. If this running sore—the deficit from which we now suffer—is to be removed, and if we are to have a transport system which is capable of dealing efficiently and economically with the great modern development we look forward to in industry, free individual choice is not possible under a rationalised system. The contraction of the outmoded and redundant on the railways has to be faced, it may be with some bitterness, but it is imperative to do so in the nation's interest.
Equally, the great road interests should face the primary need of withdrawal 437 in certain areas and in certain respects from long-distance freight-carrying. I understand the anguish which they suffer. I blame no one for this. I understand what it means when my own men are made redundant. They hate to see what is their own disappear. It is a hard experience when they are no longer necessary. They want to hold what they have. The long-distance road haulage interests will also suffer, and in the interests of the nation they, too, will have to be more forthcoming.
I repeat that the condition of the survival of the railways is their capacity in efficiency and economy to fulfil the rôle which transport experts believe they should. It can be achieved only as there is rationalisation, particularly in longdistance freight haulage. We can ask how and when. I shall not be as arrogant as some people who have assumed that they know all the answers about modern transport before they have assembled the facts. The lesson which we have learned over the past 12 months is that it would be far better for the reshaping of British Railways if the Buchanan Report, and the Geddes Report, which will be available now by the end of the year, had been brooded upon and decisions arrived at as a result of the end picture that they presented before we started on the exercise which has caused so much unnecessary disturbance.
There is a conflict of interests of which Dr. Beeching rightly speaks, and I suggest that these interests cannot be reconciled by voluntary co-operation. It will not work out. It is for the State, in as flexible a manner as possible, to take the lead in tracking our future course in transport. I emphasise that the one industry about which we cannot be rigid is transport. We cannot set up a multitude of committee and then decide what we will do. I suggest that, with a general directive on the processes by which rationalisation should be carried out, it would be as well to let good transport men do the job for us.
The argument rages whether road vehicles should be made to pay by taxation their proper share towards road costs, or whether restrictive mileage should be placed upon road operatives. Should the C licences be dealt with much more ruthlessly? I do not know the 438 answers as yet, but I hope that when we come to the end of this year, with a new Government and with all the data which will then be available, we shall be able to see emerge a really rational, efficient industry carrying with it the knowledge and experience of men who were strangers to transport only three years ago but who have progressed so quickly and have got to Damascus much more rapidly than many of us thought they would.
I suggest to the Committee that the plans and policies of the Opposition during the past two years have been fully vindicated, not by the actions of our friends but by the Buchanan Report and the wiser reflections of the Railway Board over the past six months. The contributions made from those quarters now give us hope that at last that which was so shameful only three years ago can be brought on to the right path under a Labour Government.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
In my view, and I do not say this arrogantly, the hon. Member for Southward (Mr. Gunter) has made a reasonable, constructive speech and it gave me a glimmer of hope that we may take this subject of transport away from the acrimony which surronds it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I was impressed by what the hon. Member said. He was allowed to have his say and I should be greatly obliged if I were allowed to have mine. The hon. Member is a Welshman, with all the passion and eloquence which that country produces, and he employed a number of striking phrases. "Early passion and present coyness" was one.
I assure the hon. Member that there has been no slowing down of closures. They are all treated on their merits as and when they come before us. I give him my word of honour that there has been no slowing down and that we shall do all we can until the General Election. We shall then have the election and we shall see what happens after that. The hon. Member said that publicly-owned industries aroused the worst in me. I do not think that that remark was justified, for the reason that in the almost five years during which I have been Minister we have given to the railways over £680 million for investment.
439 It cannot arouse the worst in a man if such a sum of money from the taxpayer is allocated to the railways for this sort of investment. It is far more than the party opposite ever gave to the railways. I am not complaining about that. All I say is that I do not think that hon. Members opposite should accuse me of not trying to make publicly-owned industries work when sums of money of that magnitude have been going to one of those industries.
The hon. Member said we cannot deal with transport section by section. He did not mention it today, but he has said that we ought to have had a comprehensive survey of transport including pipelines, sea, air, road and railway transport, before anything happened. At the beginning of my term of office I considered a comprehensive inquiry of that character. I rejected it because it would be too big and would take too long and would be out-of-date before it was finished. This has been shown by what happened in Sweden where, with a population of one-seventh of ours, a committee was appointed in 1953 to inquire into the principles of national transport policy. It took over nine years to report.
Hon. Members will remember that during the last nine years the number of private cars in this country has gone up two and a half times, so that the situation at the end of that period is not the same as it was at the beginning. In the end, the Swedes came to the conclusion that each form of transport should do what it was best suited for, and that there should be competition even within each form. This is precisely the line which we have taken in the last four and a half years. I decided that we could move faster by taking them separately, but in such a way that they could be related to each other and added up. This is why we had the Buchanan Report on towns, the Beeching Report on railways and the Rochdale Report on ports.
The hon. Member made a point about road and rail costs, and the comparative nature of the true track costs which road and rail should bear. We want to find out those costs. I can prove that on two grounds. First, we set up the Geddes Committee to go into the matter dispassionately and impartially, as I hope it will. Secondly, in the Department we 440 set up a branch so that we can submit to the Geddes Committee the Department's views in trying to hold the balance between road and rail. We shall try to give the true costs between road and rail.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I am surprised at what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, because the terms of reference of the Geddes Committee have nothing to do with comparative costs between road and rail. Its terms of reference are that it should consider the licensing system of road vehicles. What has the Geddes Committee to do with comparative costs?
§ Mr. Marples
Surely these costs are relevant to what the licensing system should be. I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is wrong. If there is to be a licensing system it must necessarily take into account the true costs, otherwise it is irrelevant. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, there is here a split of opinion on the Front Bench opposite. Anyway, we shall give all the evidence that we can.
I am not doing what the hon. Gentleman did. I shall not draw conclusions until all the evidence has been given to the Geddes Committee and the Committee has made its report. I shall not select just one piece of evidence, as the hon. Gentleman did today, a piece delivered by the Railways Board, and then say that this has destroyed a lot of other ideas. I want to look at the whole picture and, like a judge, have all the evidence before I arrive at a verdict.
The hon. Gentleman made a point about co-operation between road and rail, and quoted the road hauliers to the effect that they would not take part in the liner train scheme. He made a quotation which implied that they would be reluctant to take part in the liner train activities and that they would build special vehicles for themselves.
§ Mr. Gunter
I did not say anything of the sort. I said that the Chairman of the Road Haulage Association had said that the road hauliers would answer the liner train by the creation of a new type of road vehicle.
§ Mr. Marples
If I am wrong, I apologise, but I took the impression from the hon. Gentleman that they 441 would not patronise the liner trains. If I have misunderstood, I withdraw my remark, because I have no wish to impute to the hon. Gentleman something which he did not say.
What I would point out in this connection—I must be careful at this point in what I say—is that Mr. Ballantine said at the N.U.R. conference that the liner train service ispotentially the best-ever fast freight service".There is no doubt that this is so. I believe that, if the system is adopted, it will, properly handled, be able to take a lot of freight off the road and on to rail. I think that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me on that. I say to the Committee and to the nation that I want this to happen. For this purpose, we as a Government are prepared to give the Railways Board the actual cash it needs for capital investment in the project. It would start off in a small way, say, £6 million, and then go on to £70 million, £80 million or £90 million, if it gets under way.
I want both sides, the road hauliers and the unions—I do not care who it is—to co-operate. I am sure that the road hauliers will co-operate, but the N.U.R. has so far been opposed to private hauliers, A licensees, taking goods to and from the railway terminals. If the N.U.R. declares that certain parts of the road haulage system will not be allowed to use the new liner trains, then no Minister of Transport in charge of the taxpayer's money could invest large sums with an artificial restriction on their use in that way.
Therefore, I say to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that I hope that they will use all their influence—I think that they will, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman is greatly in favour of the liner trains—both on the road haulage side and on the union side to induce a reasonable attitude in this respect.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
If the right hon. Gentleman is really sincere about this, he should make his gesture and remove the ban which he has imposed upon the Railways Board being able to tender for wagons to run on the railways. This has an extremely important bearing upon the attitude of the union. If he 442 is sincere in what he says, he should direct his Department at once to inform Dr. Beeching that the Railways Board may be allowed to do such tendering.
§ Mr. Marples
I should not have said that that was a particularly relevant point to raise in this context. The railways can build for themselves what they want. If they want to own wagons, they can build precisely what wagons they like. There is no restriction placed on them.
I should like now to survey the whole subject of transport. By October this year, I shall have been Minister for nearly five years. There have been 22 Ministers of Transport during the last 45 years, an average of two years each, so perhaps I have not done too badly in what I call the "hot" seat. I know that the hon. Gentleman realises it, but I am not sure how many people outside the House of Commons appreciate the magnitude of our transport services. As he said, 16 per cent. of our gross national product, a very large percentage, goes on transport, and half of that goes on freight. During the time I have been Minister, we have given £1,460 million for investment purposes to the nationalised transport industry, road, rail, waterways, docks and harbours, and so on. Now, after spending that time at the Ministry I should like to give some of my thoughts to the Committee.
To my mind, three trends stand out at present and will continue over the next 10 or 15 years. The first is that the total movement of goods and people is rising steadily and will rise steadily. We must cater for it. Taking the period 1959–63, which is, virtually, my term of office, goods traffic by road and rail, in millions of ton-miles, rose by 13 per cent. Secondly, the share of traffic between the different types of transport is rapidly changing. In 1959, road took 61 per cent. and in 1963 it took 67 per cent. Personal travel by rail, bus and car, in million passenger miles, has risen 15 per cent. in the same four years.
The third trend—this is possibly the most crucial factor of all—is that the whole picture is dominated by the increasing ownership and use of private cars. There has been a 50 per cent. increase in my time as Minister, a quite extraordinary increase.
The hon. Member for Southwark knows transport as well as any of us. He has 443 been in it a long time. I agreed with so much of what he said today that I felt a stranger in this Committee. I agree with him that the technical characteristics of each form of transport should be the dominating factor. The different types of transport offer varying services because of their technical characteristics, and each type has inherent advantages and disadvantages.
In my period of office, I have tried to aim at two things. First, each type of transport must develop and exploit its full possibilities of technical development. Secondly—I think that this is, to some extent, where I part company with the hon. Gentleman—each type must do only what suits it best technically and must not be forced to provide services which can be better supplied by some other type. Nor must people or businesses be forced to use types of transport which are not the best for their purpose.
How can this be achieved? Transport needs are rarely the same. One family which is going on holiday may take price as their main concern. Another may be prepared to pay more for speed, for comfort, or for an easier journey for the children. When I went on a diesel-hydraulic train from Paddington to Bristol, I spoke to the fireman, and he told me that he was going to Cornwall for his holiday. I said, "You are all right; you will get a free pass", but he told me that he would be going by car, not by rail. I did not blame him in the slightest. He made that choice, even though he could have gone on the railway either free or at a reduced rate.
It is the same with goods. One exporter may need to get his goods to their destination quickly, to secure a contract. Another may be able to face a longer period of transit if the cost is smaller. Another may regard it as vital to avoid risk of damage to his goods. Goods from a factory near the railway terminal in Birmingham might well be best sent to another factory in London by rail, but, if the Birmingham factory were moved to the outskirts of Birmingham and the destination in the London area were moved to the North Circular Road, the goods might be better sent by road.
As the hon. Gentleman said, one cannot always visualise what the right 444 answer is. Therefore, the choice of transport service must be left to the user. Only he knows what he wants in price, speed, comfort and reliability, and the sum of many individual choices on this basis gives a clear indication of what is needed. Our transport system will then be sensitive to changes in what people want and in what transport operators can provide.
The only alternative to this, as I see it, is to have a central body to decide what services will be provided and to regulate, directly or indirectly, their use. I do not believe that anyone or any single organisation can do this. It would substitute one choice for the choice of many. It would be rigid and inflexible. It could not reflect the many different factors or the different individual needs for transport. But I say all this subject to the proviso that each type of transport pays the true cost. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. This is why one wants to search for the truth as to what the true costs are. There will be long arguments about it, but at the end of the day we shall be nearly right.
The second thing which I have always had in mind is the question of the structure of the nationalised transport undertakings. The Opposition have judged me a little unfairly in this respect. I believe that in the nationalised sector there is a built-in tendency to make units too big, with too many different activities to control. The argument starts very simply. There is, first, a call for integration. If the bus has to meet the train, the argument is that it can be done only if the buses and trains are owned and managed by the same organisation. This grows until all forms of transport must be under a single control.
This was the theory which was held before the 1947 Act. The argument is attractive superficially, but it is false, because where does one stop? Let us look at the parallels elsewhere. The motor car industry, for example, depends on the delivery of tyres and electrical equipment at the right time to meet the endless belt system. But, if we accept this argument, the motor car manufacturers should own and control the electrical equipment and tyre industries and everything else which goes to make a motor car. Then 445 it would be too big to be efficient. This is one of the difficulties. The Government are increasingly taking a hand in the running of our industry, and it is one of the dangers which must be faced, whichever party is in power. That is the second fundamental which I have had in mind.
The third fundamental—and I think that the hon. Member for Southwark will agree with me on this—is the compilation of basic information. Policy decisions must be based on comprehensive, factual information, systematically assembled. That is what we have done on a scale hitherto unknown in transport. For example, we have extended and improved our statistics and forecasting. The Hall Group brought them together in "The Transport Needs of Great Britain in the Next Twenty Years"; the Report on "The Reshaping of British Railways" was based on a massive study of goods and passenger traffic; the Rochdale Committee collected the basic information necessary to formulate a policy to modernise our ports; and the Buchanan and Crowther Reports, to which reference has been made, have also improved our knowledge.
Those are basic reports and landmarks, but the search for information must continue all the time. Our latest research is in the comprehensive transport surveys which relate transport, both public and private, to land use. The one in London which began in 1962—I then had an inkling of what the Buchanan Report would say, so we started early—will cost £750,000 and will be the most sophisticated transport survey ever made.
Having said that those are my fundamental considerations, let me deal with how they should apply to road and rail transport and shipping, because we cover a fairly big field at my Ministry. In my view, in 1959, the British Transport Commission—I do not think that hon. Members opposite quarrel with me about this—was too big and was controlling too many different activities. In other words, its size was such that first-class administrative principles could not be carried out, no matter who did the job. The Commission had 725,000 people working: for it and controlled many different activities. The 1962 Act set up the 446 separate British Railways Board. It is still a very large organisation, with 460,000 people, but it has a set task plus a clear brief.
The Commission was freed from the old restrictions on commercial freedom. There were still many restrictions on the railways in 1947, and I do not think that any hon. Member opposite has uttered a thankful word to me for removing some of them. The reshaping of the railways, which was Dr. Beeching's contribution, has been brought about very speedily considering the magnitude of the task, and Dr. Beeching should be congratulated on it. He said that the railways had been trying to do some things which other types of transport were, technically, more suited to do. A streamlined system was proposed which concentrated on those tasks which the railways could exploit and develop, such as the liner trains. There are others—for example, the special goods trains from Ford's, at Dagenham, to Hailwood and from the Hillman plant in Scotland to the Midlands. These trains travel at a tremendous speed every night, and they are to be encouraged.
The Government, and the next Conservative Government, are prepared to supply the investment for those purposes because it is perfectly proper that the railways should exploit their natural technical advantages and should refrain from doing things to which they are not suited.
Publicity, especially political, has centred around proposals for passenger closures. These must be carefully—
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member, but I am trying to follow his line of argument. He has told us about the many committees which he set up and with which we are all familiar. The Conservative Party has been in office for 12½ years. We have had all these Committees. Can the Minister say when we shall get a transport policy?
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Gentleman wants a transport policy, he should look at "Socialist Commentary" to see what it says about the Socialist Party's transport policy. We have had a policy for some time. It may be a policy with which the hon. Gentleman does not agree in some respects, but that is not to say 447 that it is not good. That is probably the reason why it is a good policy.
As I was saying, publicity has centred round passenger closures. I understand why they arouse great passions. Closure proposals are carefully considered. We have had several Adjournment debates when we have given chapter and verse. We go into these matters very carefully. If there is no demand for railways, and it is proved that there is no demand, we do not want them. But if there is a demand for them, we have provided the investment. The electrification of the line between Liverpool, Manchester and London and the construction of the Victoria-Walthamstow line for the London Transport Board show that we are not frightened to provide money if people use the services. The mere fact that we are prepared to go ahead with the Channel Tunnel shows that we are not timid in providing new facilities if people will use them.
I hope that we will allow Dr. Beeching to get on with his work of modernising the railways and of trying to bring the new conception of liner trains and big goods trains into operation. I hope that they work, because one of the great hopes for the railways of the future is that they do those things which they are technically best suited to do.
We should also consider that part of the Transport Commission which was not concerned with the railways. The 1962 Act set up separate Boards—the Waterways Board, the Docks Board and the Transport Holding Company. Each of them, like the railways, was given a set task, a clear brief and an effective and concentrated management. All these concerns have done extremely well since they were set up in 1962. The Docks Board has done well under the separate management, concentrating on docks and not being distracted by the mammoth problems of the railways. The Waterways Board has done well, and so has the Transport Holding Company.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West) rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I have given way before. I have a lot to say. It would be very much better if the two hon. Members 448 catch the Chairman's eye so that they can make the points that they want to make. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) has made the point about the workshops before. No doubt he will be able to make it again in his own inimitable manner.
I should like to come to road haulage.
§ Mr. Marples
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen to what I have to say about road haulage.
In 1952, there were just over I million goods vehicles. In 1962, there were 1½ million. I agree that the licensing system which was appropriate in the 1930s is no longer appropriate to today's circumstances. That is why we set up the Geddes Committee, and I hope that we shall get somewhere with it.
We have made a big effort to step up the road programme. Government spending on new roads in 1954–55 amounted to £5 million. In 1964–65, it is £145 million. It is planned that in 1968–69 the figure will be £200 million.
I have always said in this Committee that there are two aspects of the road problem. One is between the towns and the other is in the towns. I have said that between the towns—that is, where the car moves—it is a relatively easier problem than in the towns themselves. Of course, the problem with the car is when it stops, especially when it is outside one's house. In between the towns we get access to the site and build relatively easily, although construction is slow in this country because of the safeguards which Parliament imposed, and very rightly imposed, on the Ministry of Transport. The figures of motorway mileage built are: by 1959, 81½ miles, by 1964, 292 miles; and in the early 70s there will be 1,000 miles. The same happens with trunk roads, like the A.1, which has improved out of all recognition.
I am quite certain that those hon. Members who are motorists will notice tremendous activity over the whole country. In the towns this is the challenge of all time, whichever party is in power. We have today three policies—short-term, medium-term and long-term. In the short term, we have to make the best use of traffic engineering. We have 449 not done that to the same extent as in America, largely because the Americans are a generation ahead of us with the motor car. We started first in London in 1959 with the Pink Zone and in 1960 we established the London Traffic Management Unit. Parliament gave the Ministry of Transport power for five years to control London traffic. Those powers will expire in April next year when the whole set-up for traffic engineering will go to the Greater London Council. It is not the function or the responsibility of the central Government to do this. It was only by a freak that in the 1934 Act the Minister was made responsible for London.
We have 25 to 30 per cent. more traffic in London today than we had in 1959 and yet the traffic is moving faster. We are introducing one major scheme a month and there are 40 minor schemes going on in London as well. There is also a number pending for introduction over the next two years.
One thing worries me. London has been successful because we have central control over a very wide physical conurbation. The same principles do not apply in some of the other big conurbations in the country. We sometimes get seven or eight local authorities who are asked to get together on a voluntary basis in the matter, and it is sometimes a little difficult. We have had a lot of trouble even in setting up the comprehensive surveys because certain local authorities feel that their status is greater than that of another local authority.
I believe that if the local authorities in the major conurbations do not measure up to their responsibility it will be up to the central Government to make sure that they do. We must be careful because the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) is here. Birkenhead Corporation is not always as reasonable as its Member of Parliament. In Liverpool we get every local authority agreeing that the second Mersey crossing should be between points A and B, except the Birkenhead local authority. I am not really getting at Birkenhead.
§ Mr. Collick
The Minister says that there are occasions when the hon. Member for Birkenhead is not in agreement with the Birkenhead local 450 authority. I would like him to give me one example.
§ Mr. Marples
No, I did not say that. Indeed, I paid the hon. Gentleman a tribute. I said that he was more reasonable than Birkenhead. However, if he cares to have a private chat with me afterwards, I am sure that I shall convert him on this as I did on the railways.
In the medium term, I think that we can help in the towns by increasing road investment. New motorways and trunk roads help a lot, as do by-passes, and keep traffic out of the towns. In the towns straightforward road improvements can do a lot. We are spending a great deal more money on them now. In 1959 we spent under £20 million; in 1963–64, £50 million and in 1968–69 we propose to spend £140 million on urban roads.
Now I come to the long term in the towns, and this is going to be a dilemma not only in this country but in every other civilised country in the world, and it does not matter what money is spent. In San Francisco the authorities have said that there shall be no more expressways built because they are destroying the town. There is great controversy in America about the merits of private cars and public transport in urban areas.
The Buchanan Report said that we needed a radically new approach. I am glad to say that that Report has been a best seller all over the world. It was reproduced in America and sent to every single State. That is something of which Britain can, be proud. We are following up the recommendations of Buchanan as quickly as possible. We have set up a joint urban planning group to give advice to local authorities. Secondly, we have started in each major conurbation a comprehensive land use and transport survey. Thirdly, we are discussing with transport operators how to make public transport more attractive.
The Buchanan and Crowther Reports considered how to alter the towns, to rebuild them, in order to come to terms with the motor car. But the other side of the coin is that if we are to redesign and spend a lot of money on the towns so that they may come to terms with the motor car, we must also try to redesign the vehicle so that it may come to terms with the towns. Therefore, we have set 451 up a new group of a similar structure and with similar methods as Buchanan, with a steering group, and a working party. In the steering group we have people who are normally too busy to serve on a committee but whose advice is wanted; and the working party will be working full-time on the details. We have Sir Harold Roxbee Cox as Chairman, and the group is going to examine the problem of motor cars in the cities.
I now come to the one thing on roads which is the most baffling problem that any Minister can face, and that is the problem of road safety. Last year 7,000 people died on the roads in the United Kingdom and many thousands more were injured. I am always appalled at the misery which these road accidents cause, particularly when I visit hospitals and see some of those who have been injured when riding motor cycles, very often because they were not wearing a helmet.
Civilised countries all over the world suffer from this problem. Let us take the fatal casualties per 10,000 vehicles. In Britain in 1960 the figure was 7.8; in Western Germany it was 15.5 and in Sweden 6.9. Discussions are going on in the Ministry now on the subject and we hope to be taking very shortly some measures of a nature that will help. As I say, it is one of the most baffling of all problems because ultimately it is a question of personal responsibility and social conscience. Too often it is thought to be the right thing to do to get away with it in the motor car. What really will be the most wonderful factor in this will be when the man next door thinks that you are wrong in getting away with a motoring offence. At present he thinks it a good thing to do because he says to himself, "But for the Grace of God there go I".
One of the encouraging things in this respect is the success that we have had with children. We have had more success in teaching children road safety than in any other direction. In 1930 1,685 children aged under 14 were killed; in 1938 1,130 were killed and in 1963, 809. So we have halved the number killed in 1930. We really are having success with the children and I only wish that we could have the same success with the grown-ups.
452 Now I come to another part of my speech, and that is shipping.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Gentleman wants a progress report I will give it to him. It is hoped that the elevated section on the Great West Road will be opened late in 1964 or early in 1965 and that in September the year after next the Severn Bridge will be opened; but the part which will not be opened will be that in Berkshire. We are having a little difficulty in Berkshire.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question which is troubling many people and which has been asked several times? It is about the control of heavy vehicle licences and those large vehicles which line the road and cause so many accidents. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about the design and size of motor cars, is he also thinking of the commercial and heavy vehicles?
§ Mr. Marples
Yes, and we are trying to get standard dimensions with the Continent of Europe so that we all go together. Those vehicles not only operate here, but they go to Europe, too. When all the European Ministers of Transport meet at our regular meetings, we are engaged on the problems of trying to get the right size, weight, axle loads and power-to-weight ratio.
I come now to ports and then to shipping. When arguing about cost, the curious thing about shipping is that almost 50 per cent. of the cost of transporting goods over long distances by sea is accounted for by the cost in the ports. This is the case in England. When I was in America, I asked whether it applied there, too, and I have some figures from America which bear out that exactly the same experience occurs there as we have here. For example, 49 per cent. of the cost of canned meat going from Chicago to Dusseldorf is port charges. In sending synthetic fibres the long distance from Cleveland to Strasbourg, port costs account for 48 per cent. of the cost. Therefore, if we can bring down the costs in the ports by a quick turnround, using proper facilities, we will go a long way to help our export drive.
453 We have had the Rochdale Committee and the Harbours Act. I am grateful to the Opposition for their assistance with that Act. Hon. Members opposite will, I think, agree that we have wasted no time in setting up the National Ports Council. It has made up its mind on the broad outline of reorganisation and I hopee that in the future, from the money which we have made available for investment, we will get great and imaginative port development schemes.
On shipping, I made an announcement at 3.30 this afternoon. I will not dwell on it now, because it would be out of order to do so. We have the greatest and the largest merchant navy in the world. As a Government, our main concern is to defend the concept of shipping as a free international service, because this free international service has created shipping services cheaper than any other system would have done. Here again we have moved, because we have a shipping advisory panel and our relations with the shipping industry are closer than ever before. We made our announcement today to show our willingness as a Government to stand up to any country which wishes to interfere with the jurisdiction of Her Majesty's Government, whatever its political complexion might be, in this matter. That shows an earnest of our intention.
In shipbuilding, despite foreign competition, orders have not fallen off. The credit scheme helped and it at once brought a reaction. It gave the industry a good period in which to reorganise itself. I am glad to say that in the first six months of 1964, the shipbuilding firms obtained orders totalling 605,000 tons. Their total order book is now 2½ million tons, or nearly ¾ million tons more than at this time last year. That must not, however, blind us to the very great issues that our shipbuilding firms face. Everything depends upon their progress in rationalisation and the more efficient use of labour. I am having discussions with the leaders of the industry next week.
Therefore, to summarise, on railways we have had the reorganisation of the management structure, the technical Reshaping Report and massive investment. In road haulage, we are looking at the whole structure of licensing under the Geddes Committee. On roads, between 454 the towns we are making great progress. In the towns, for the short-term we have introduced traffic engineering and in the long-term we have Buchanan. As to ports and the sea, we have the Rochdale Report and the National Ports Council and, again, large investment. In shipping, we are closer to the leaders of the industry than ever before. In shipbuilding we are giving the firms time to reorganise. We have done such things as starting the Channel Tunnel.
When coming to my Ministry in 1959, it was my aim at least to try to tackle every aspect of what is a fairly heavy job. Some things, of course, are not yet done. There are lots of things to be done—there always will be. There will never be a point in time when we have a transport debate and there is not a lot to do. Any Minister of Transport who was satisfied should go at once, because in this rapidly moving industry one can never be satisfied. I think, however, that what I have said today is an impressive catalogue. I am not ashamed of the contribution that the Government have made and I am sure that the next Conservative Government will do exactly the same in the next Parliament.
§ 5.35 p.m.
Mr. W. H. Alldritt (Liverpool, Scotland)
I should like, first, to express the hope that hon. Members will extend to me their usual courtesy in this my first speech in the House of Commons and forgive me if I tend to use rather copious notes. They are, in fact, a mark of respect to you, Dr. King, and to hon. Members. It is not my intention, in accordance with the custom of the House, to be controversial. I listened with care, however, to what the Minister of Transport had to say, and it may, therefore, appear at a certain point that what I have to say is, in fact, controversial. I hope it will be accepted that this was not my intention.
It would be fitting that I should first refer to my predecessor, the late David Logan. He was the oldest Member of the House of Commons. I was reminded on my first day here that he was much loved. Indeed, that can be understood. He championed the cause of the underprivileged and, in so doing, he did not hesitate to have his own Government defeated in the cause of social justice.
455 Those who knew David Logan—and I was privileged to be one of them—knew that one could not talk or listen to him without his mentioning the importance of the home. It was his ambition to see the eradication of social injustice and that man should have his inherent right to shelter. It was, therefore, typical of him that, although his last speech in the House of Commons was in an education debate, during the course of it he said the following:We want men, women and children to have the benefits of good social conditions. No nation can be great unless the home is happy and unless the children have good moral character and fibre. Fancy schemes are of no use; it is the fibre of the home that counts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1959; Vol. 598, c. 481.]I could not hope to emulate that much-loved man. Nevertheless, I shall do all in my power to eradicate social injustice.
Perhaps I might also mention at this point that I am only the third Member for the Scotland constituency who has come to the House of Commons. The first was T. P. O'Connor, who served for 34 years. He was followed by my predecessor, who served for 35 years. That is 79 years in all, records which, I hope, will not be broken by me.
I want to talk about my constituents and the problems which have arisen because of certain proposals which have been made. We have little or no amenity within the Scotland Division. The amenity lies along the banks of the Mersey to Southport. It is now proposed that this amenity shall be denied to the people and, in addition, that industry shall also be embarrassed by the closing of the Liverpool-Southport Railway.
Only this week, when talking on cost at a Press conference, the North-Western lines manager stated:This line has a heavy morning and evening peak.That, of course, is not a profound statement. It is a fact which is well known and common to all transport undertakers. It seemed to me, however, that because of this we might look at the implications of this closure. It would seem that the first is alternative transport and the second highways.
The alternative transport will, of course, be public service vehicles, but 456 who will provide them? Will anybody? Because whoever provides the service will be involved in heavy capital costs, and, indeed, will face a heavy loss—that is, of course, if we accept the reasons for the closing of Liverpool-Southport line. Assuming, however, that passenger service vehicles are forthcoming, who will provide the crews? Already the bus operators are short of crews. Indeed, the City of Liverpool requires some 300 additional drivers, and even if the foregoing difficulties can be overcome, what is to happen in bad weather—snow, fog and ice? Is the national product to suffer because many thousands of workers will be late or absent through no fault of their own? At least the railways got them to work, even in those conditions.
Now I come to the highways. The right hon. Gentleman, as I well know, has an intimate knowledge of this area. He will, therefore, know that all the traffic this closure will generate must pass through the Scotland Division. Already the roads are congested and serious delays take place; the accident rate is high. Are we perforce, in these circumstances, to make the lives of those who are forced to live along those roads worse than they are at the moment, when the conditions are bad already? It may well be said that improvements can be made which will eliminate these particular problems which I have outlined, but the elimination of one problem creates another. Road improvement on the scale required would, in fact, mean the demolition of homes, new and old, and already Liverpool has the worst housing problem in this country.
The improvements would require the consent of the Minister of Transport, and it may be interesting to note that in a report produced recently it is estimated that to resolve some of Liverpool's road problems the following will be necessary, firstly, an inner motorway costing £31 million; 22 miles of primary motorways outside the central area and costing £50 million; district distributors costing £15 million; and a second Mersey crossing at £8 million, and probably a third crossing at an estimated cost of £14 million; in all, to satisfy Liverpool's basic needs, £118 million worth of expenditure.
457 Now perhaps we can look at this figure in relation to the provision which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman for the whole Merseyside conurbation. The allocation for the years 1965–66, 1966–67 and 1967–68 is £3.5 million per annum. Indeed I have cause to wonder, I think quite reasonably, whether the £3.5 million will be achieved. For example, the Ministry of Transport indicated to the City of Liverpool last year that if it were prepared to make a substantial start on certain major projects and those schemes were spread over three years, loan sanction would be forthcoming. The City of Liverpool has carried out its part of the bargain, but the sanction has not been given, and the result is that we shall find it necessary to revise our five-year capital programme and to reduce our estimates for 1964 by £19,500 and for 1965 by £763,000, and this in a time of great need. I would, therefore, suggest that it would be unwise, in view of what was said, for the Liverpool—Southport line to be closed, particularly at this juncture, and a burden added to road congestion which, it would appear, will not be overcome during the course of the next few years.
The people of the Scotland constituency suffer atrocious conditions, but they are warm-hearted and responsible. I hope that they will have cause in the future to respond and to show their warm-heartedness to this Committee because it will not allow social considerations to be overridden by financial considerations.
In conclusion, let me thank you, Dr. King, and the members of the Committee for their tolerance to me this day.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
It falls to me to have the pleasure and privilege of congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt) on the admirable maiden speech that he has just made to the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know that he has already achieved distinction in local government on the Liverpool City Council, particularly with his interest in roads, as his well-argued speech has well demonstrated now.
458 I believe that when the hon. Member's great predecessor, T. P. O'Connor, was sitting in the House, George Bernard Shaw used to have "cracks" at O'Connor and, in "John Bull's Other Island", quipped him, "This was the sort of stuff which would only go down in the Scotland Division of Liverpool".
I can assure the hon. Member that the stuff he has delivered today goes down very well here. He referred to the remarkable—indeed, the unique-record of his constituency in having had only two previous Members of Parliament with an immense longevity of membership of 44 and 35 years each, and he hoped not to beat those records. I think that after hearing him today we hope he will, and that we shall hear him many times in the future.
I would refer to two achievements of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport during the past five years. Throughout that time he has been at the centre of the battle, with brickbats flying in all directions, and again today we have skirmished on the traditional battleground, the railways, with which we are all familiar. It may be that we sometimes lose sight of the major things which have been achieved in this time, and the first one I want to refer to is one which, I think, is not controversial, and that is the achievement, over these five years, in establishing that transport is an essential part of planning. This is summed up in the name of Colin Buchanan and his admirable Report. My right hon. Friend referred to it, but I should like to say a few words about it.
I was sitting this morning as Chairman of the London Regional Planning Conference, which, substantially, covers the South-East Region. There, we now accept as quite commonplace that we have a panel of the planning officers of each county, a panel of the clerks of each county, and, in addition, we have a sub-panel on transport which has on it representatives of British Railways, representatives of London Transport, and the officer of the L.C.C. who deals with the survey of London traffic. We accept as normal now that any county making its plans for population and employment automatically takes into consideration transport needs at the same time.
During those five years the ideas that now seem completely obvious to us have 459 only just finally been brought home by the massive impact of the remarkable Report by Dr. Buchanan. He has brought home to us the realities of living with the universal motor car, which he so aptly called "this beloved monster", which everybody wishes to have and cherishes, but what problems it makes for the whole community! Just to mention a detail, his Report has shown that town planning is a function of the activities of each building in the town. He produced a brilliant analysis of the six categories of building for this purpose, as well as some very valuable feasibility studies. There is no doubt that the Report will have a decisive influence on urban development for the next generation at least.
My right hon. Friend appointed the Buchanan Committee. I am sure that he would be the last person to wish in any way to reduce the great credit due to Dr. Buchanan. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend appointed the Committee and gave it the right terms of reference, and, therefore, there must be great and lasting credit to him and to our Government for having done this. Today every planning authority in the country is reviewing its development plans in the light of Buchanan, and is grappling with the ever worsening problems of urban congestion and redevelopment.
Broadly, there are four methods by which to do this. One is to move out some of the activities of the town—industry, commerce, and so on—and start new towns. The second is to redesign urban centres. The third—my right hon. Friend referred to this as the short-term solution—is the new disciplines of traffic engineering which he himself has demonstrated so ably in respect of the London traffic problem. This is not just a short-term solution. I am certain that the disciplines of traffic engineering are a necessary part of whatever we do with our towns in the future. The fourth is improved public transport, which must play an ever greater part in the life of our towns. Let us not forget that to the extent to which we fail to use these four methods, we shall end up with a fifth factor, which is the residual chaos.
All this covers what is really a revolutionary change in planning. We now have to face that we are changing from 460 the old system of planning by negative control, which, very broadly speaking, said that people could do what they like and build what they like provided that they did not infringe certain established amenities, and rights of other people. It is no longer possible for people to have such scope to build and do what they like. We are changing to a world where, living with the universal motor car, we have to evolve positive comprehensive plans. This is the only way in which we shall be able to live comfortably and safely with the universal motor car and the great densities of population now growing up.
That is a revolutionary change and presents the most enormous problems to every planning authority. My right hon. Friend has referred to the planning group that he set up and to other bodies which are carrying out further studies for him, but I am sure that he would be the first to agree that at present there is an enormous lack of knowledge of what to do and what the implications are if planning authorities follow this plan or that plan. I should like to suggest a thought to my right hon. Friend which I hope will appeal to him.
In the engineering world, with which my right hon. Friend is very familiar, when new projects are being attempted it is customary to set up models in order to investigate how the project might work out when it is tackled in different ways. A very good example of that is the project for the Concord supersonic plane. The Zuckerman Committee was set up to construct a number of models, and, as a result of it, the Concord was evolved. This is a common technique in the engineering world, and I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is one which might usefully be applied to the planning and the providing of the needs of modern traffic.
I suggest that my right hon. Friend should set up a top-grade team capable of constructing models of this kind worked out in final detail, including costs. To illustrate my point. Dr. Buchanan, in his admirable Report, considered the application of his ideas to four cities or city areas. That was the beginning of what might be called a feasibility study, but it needs to go beyond that, working it out into the ultimate costs of each project, so that 461 the planning authority and the local people, who will have to live with what is done, can have some idea of what choices are laid before them in this extremely complex picture. Professor McKenzie admirably described this by saying that what we want is a series of alternative Utopias from which we can choose which one we like best and that we are prepared to put up with the contra-indications which will inevitably go with whichever one we choose.
We have already some useful examples in the new towns, Birmingham and Coventry have already done some massive and imaginative central city renewal, and there is a great deal in the cities of the United States. As my right hon. Friend very probably knows, in America a good deal of this has been done, not so much by Government as by private research foundations, such as Ford, which have set up teams to study the subject and produce models.
I pass this thought on to my right hon. Friend. I believe that it is a valuable one. If he and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government would set up such a team and give a lead to this idea, possibly universities and some of the charitable foundations might set up similar ones so that we could begin to give a picture of what this means, what it is worth and what the implications are. If this could be started, I feel that it would be very valuable to all of us.
In leaving this topic, I should like to record my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on what I believe is a very major achievement in making the community as a whole aware that transport today is a basic part of planning and in starting the process of thought of how we are to meet the massive problem that we now have.
The second achievement to which I should like to refer—here I am on more controversial ground, ground over which the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) has already trodden—is the Beeching Plan for the railways and the modernisation of our railways. I had some personal experience of this when I was serving in my right hon. Friend's Ministry. I found the railways a fascinating subject and became to some extent acquainted with it, though no more than as an amateur.
§ Sir R. Nugent
We had then made quite a useful start. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on picking Beeching, getting him into the job, setting him to work preparing a plan for the modernisation of the railways and then putting it into action, which he is now doing so successfully. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Southwark that Beeching's survey was incomplete. I believe that it was a very remarkable survey. All the railway experts said that it was quite impossible to make a survey of this kind. Nevertheless, this man, of great ingenuity and energy, devised the necessary techniques to do it. The survey was very convincing and a sound base for the plan which he put to the country and which my right hon. Friend adopted.
The losses on the railways at the time were running at a totally unacceptable level—as they still are. In 1962, there was an enormous annual loss of £160 million, which, in terms of Income Tax, would mean an extra 6d. on the standard rate. The cash aspect is bad enough, but one must add to this the waste of manpower and capital installations through under-use. This cannot be afforded by a country where the needs both of developing industries and of other industries which are short of manpower make it totally unacceptable to see such enormous waste on the railways.
It must also be miserable to the men themselves to be idle, or to seem idle most of the time. I am sure that hon. Members opposite who are expert about trade unions will agree that, inevitably, an industry in that situation finds that its workers are always at the end of the wage queue. Whatever increases they may manage to get they are still at the end of the line. The situation is bad for everyone.
When the Beeching Plan came out, I supported it. I thought it right, although closures are unpopular and unpleasant when they occur. But one cannot justify retaining branch lines which are scarcely used. After all, even if only one person uses a line he can claim that it should not be closed. One can always, indeed, claim that people might want to use it. But there 463 are safeguards against hardship when a closure is proposed. I am quite sure that road transport is adequate to meet the needs. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] By putting on additional bus services. That is a far more efficient way of doing it and is certainly a better use of resources.
On the positive side of the Beeching Plan, passenger and freight services have been improved and modernised. No one hopes more warmly than I that Dr. Beeching will succeed with his longdistance liner services, which I am sure are directly designed to get the full technical advantages of modern railways.
§ Mr. Collick
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that alternative bus services are adequate for the use of his own constituents affected by the closing of railways?
§ Sir R. Nugent
My views are well known in my constituency. Naturally, I do not like having to oppose the feelings of many of my constituents, many of whom are normally my supporters. But I have made it plain that I support the Beeching Plan and have confidence that my right hon. Friend will take a fair decision after he has had the report of the transport users' consultative committee. On that I must rest. I think that is a fair enough answer and I am content to hear what is said.
I was saying that Dr. Beeching's positive contribution is to improve freight and passenger services to top modern standards so that they will meet the needs of the community and will, I hope, attract back traffic that they have been losing.
Again, his achievements in management are already to be seen by the reduction of the deficit last year by £18 million, despite the fact that he had to cover an additional wage claim. This is remarkable progress. This is an enormously difficult industry in which to improve the whole tone of management, to get the team working together, but I believe that Dr. Beeching is doing something greatly to the benefit of the community as a whole and of the railwaymen themselves.
I was astonished when hon. Members opposite decided to oppose the Beeching 464 Plan. I know that they said that there must be a new survey of transport, but that was only a smoke screen. Their conference with the railway unions on the matter was a most retrograde step. They claim to be the party of modernisation, but here, when the first real test came in something unpopular and unpleasant, they lost their nerve and backed out. This attitude is not worthy of their aims and policy. The modernisation of the country is basic to prosperity and that must mean shifting men and resources from one industry to another as one industry fails and another expands. Here was the basic test. What did hon. Members opposite do? They ran away.
I am with both my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Southwark in saying that the right approach to the question of road haulage is that the Geddes Committee should ascertain the cost of road transport. I agree that this is basic. No investment policy for the country can be accurate unless we know what each kind of transport uses in resources both of capital and maintenance.
is to give traders the kind of transport they want to use for their particular circumstances. The solution proposed by hon. Members opposite is to bring road haulage into a great nationalisation scheme under the heading of an integrated transport policy, but that is Having done this, the right answer really a pipe dream.
When I was at the Ministry I saw the relationship between British Road Services and British Railways. They worked in almost watertight compartments. There was no bridge between them. That sort of thing does not happen in business. The right way is to let the trader decide what he wants, having first made sure that each system of transport is properly competent in terms of national resources.
It is for these two broad reasons that I am glad to put on record my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on two massive achievements in transport—the modernisation of our towns to deal with traffic and the modernisation of the railways to meet the needs of the country.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I join the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) in saying that it is a great pleasure to express warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt). We congratulate him on an admirable maiden speech. My hon. Friend was right about one thing. We all loved his predecessor and I feel certain that we shall soon come to feel for him the same warm sense of affection and respect. I hope that we shall hear him soon again and often.
The Minister knows that I hold him in personal regard and that I have a high sense of admiration for his sporting achievements in the mountains, both on rocks and skis. I hope that he will therefore forgive me for some other things that I shall say.
On Monday night, he told the Institute of Transport that, with his many preoccupations as a Cabinet Minister, he had had no time for thinking out questions of policy. I am sure that his audience greatly appreciated his candour, and so will the Committee. Many people had already reached the same conclusion about him without his help. Not that he has had no policy. He has had a great deal of policy and almost all of it bad. He has had a great deal of policy based on a minimum of thought. He will be remembered as the true author of the Beeching Report.
Hon. Members will recollect that within three weeks of his appointment to his present office he instructed his Parliamentary Secretary to use the following language:The second feature is that the whole railway system will have to contract … we have to have a smaller type of railway system than in the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1959; Vol. 613, c. 371.]What humbug it was to say that the Beeching Report was a scientific study of the railway problem! It was a political pamphlet written to support the arbitrary and uninformed instructions which the Minister had given to Dr. Beeching before his work began, and with all its main conclusions preconceived.
The Minister will be remembered as the man who, when the transport needs 466 of the country were to multiply by four or five times in the next few decades, did much to reduce and hamstring the best and most important part of our transport system, British Railways.
What was the problem which the Minister faced when he took up his office? There were three facts of supreme significance, all known to him. First, the population of the country was increasing fast. We are told by the Government that by 2000 A.D. we shall have 74 million people in our islands; 22 million more than we have now; an increase of 44 per cent. in 36 years.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Cleveland)
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the population of these islands has doubled in his own lifetime.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Not quite. My lifetime has been rather long, but the population of the country was a little less than 40 million when I was born.
The second fact which the Minister had to face was one which he has mentioned today, namely that the number of our motor vehicles will repaidly increase. In 1948, 16 years ago, there were 3,500,000 such vehicles on the road; in 1964 there are 11,500,000; and in another 16 years, by 1980, there will be 22 million, double what we have now.
The third fact, which he mentioned himself this afternoon, is that, whatever party is in power, even the Conservative Party, the standard of living of the people will rise. The progress of science and engineering will see to that. The Government have set a target for the growth of the gross national product by 4 per cent. per year. At 4 per cent. per year, the output of wealth will have doubled by 1980. Personal incomes will have greatly risen and there will be far more personal travel than there is now. There will be 500 million to 600 million tons more goods to be transported from the factories to the users and from the factories to the ports.
With this prospect facing us in less than 20 years—the prospect of a vast increase in population and in the number of motor vehicles and the doubling of personal travel and the transport of freight—the Minister has proposed to close two-fifths of our railway system; to tear up the lines and to sell them for 467 scrap; to close down many hundreds of stations and many hundreds of goods depôts; to cut off rail connections with the holiday towns and districts; and to cut out stopping trains. If that policy were pursued, all the vast new traffic, which the increase of population and G.N.P. will inevitably cause, will have to go by road, as well as a good deal of what in recent times has gone by rail. The Minister has the effrontery to call this the modernisation of our transport system.
Of course, it suits some people very well. It suits the big contractors who build the roads. It suits the hauliers. Above all, it suits the oil interests who seem to have so sinister a power with the present Government. But for the nation it spells disaster, disaster which cannot be averted simply by increasing the mileage of motorways. As Dr. Beeching has belatedly discovered, motorways cost a lot of money and involve the nation in all sorts of hidden costs which will inevitably mount in years to come.
Of course the railways need modernisation. They needed it desperately when they were taken over from private enterprise in 1947. In 1952, the British Transport Commission had made plans for many things which are still required today. Do hon. Members recall the Commission's protests against the Government's folly, protests made in its Report of 1952 when it said:The announcement of the Government's policy on transport … brought to a halt a number of schemes designed to produce a rationalised internal transport system. … In some minor directions it has still been possible to effect economies and promote efficiency by co-ordination … but the advancing prospect of realising major economies in this field disappeared so far as the carriage of goods was concerned, or has at best been very seriously constricted.The Commission said much the same about the carriage of passengers. Alas, the Commission's protests went unheeded. Its schemes, which would have revolutionised our transport system, were abandoned because of what we believe to be the unpatrioitic, doctrinaire hostility to public enterprise of Ministers and hon. Members opposite.
What should modernisation of the railways have meant since right hon. Gentlemen opposite came to power in 1951? I mention only a few salient 468 points. There should have been a far larger and more ambitious provision of vehicles for what the Americans call the "piggy-backing" of goods—vehicles which take their loads from door to door but which do their long haul on rail; vehicles which could be driven on to a truck and driven off again, or which could have double wheels, one set for road and one for rail.
§ Sir R. Nugent
This is almost impossible because of the gauge of our railways, a penalty of the work of our pioneers. In America there is a very much higher rail gauge and the piggyback system is possible there, but in this country it has proved almost technically impossible.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
With great respect, I do not believe it.
Modernisation should also have meant far swifter and more comprehensive mechanisation of the loading of freight, by the methods adopted in Japan—I have seen them at work. There should have been a major effort to improve the riding qualities and comfort of passenger stock. There should have been the provision of intercom telephony for engine-drivers and radar apparatus for warning of blocked lines ahead. If we can afford such instruments for bombers, surely we can afford them for passenger trains as well? Indeed, I think that we should provide every useful instrument for those who have the great responsibility of driving locomotives of any kind.
There should have been far greater improvements to the permanent way, especially the very large-scale welding of rails which has been carried so far in other countries. There should have been a concerted drive, in co-operation with local authorities, chambers of commerce, heads of industries, and so on, to try to improve the services of branch lines, and stopping trains—efforts to make the service fit the need, and to attract new passengers to travel by rail.
The Minister has just decided to close the line from Derby, Friargate, to Nottingham, Victoria. I am certain that the kind of action which I have suggested could have attracted a large volume of new traffic to that line, and it would have been well worth the effort, if he had only made it.
469 But far more important than any of these is the electrification of the main lines. I make bold to say that, without electrification, there can be no real modernisation in any significant meaning of the word. In 1952 the B.T.C. had already decided to carry electrification very fast and very far. Later, Sir Brian Robertson, now Lord Robertson, after visiting France and other countries where they had electrified, and after visiting the United States where they had dieselised, said:We are going in for complete electrification of British Railways, using diesel locomotives as a temporary expedient until the work of electrification can be carried out".What are the advantages of electrification which have so attracted all our railway leaders except the Minister and Dr. Beeching?
The trains are faster. One can travel from Paris to Brussels every hour, on the hour, faster than one can fly. Rail travel from Paris to Munich competes with air in speed, and the trains are incomparably more comfortable and well equipped.
The electric locomotive costs much less than the diesel. I believe that the figure is about £85,000 for the electric locomotive, and £120,000 or £130,000 for the diesel.
The electric locomotive does 600,000 miles of running without major overhaul. The diesel does 250,000.
Electricity can be produced from British coal which is in ample supply. Diesel locomotives need imported oil, paid for in foreign exchange.
Electricity gives far greater flexibility of service, especially for commuter traffic.
But, above all, the costs of operating electric trains are far lower than those of diesel traction. In Germany and Japan they have proved to be less than two-thirds of the cost of diesel, an economy which would go very far towards meeting the deficit which British Railways have made.
I understand that the electrification of the Manchester to London line is going forward. The Minister spoke of it this afternoon. It is going forward, after a very hard fight by those who tried to scrap it in 1961. But in his report Dr. Beeching made no mention of any 470 further electrification at all. On the contrary, in the summary of his proposals on pages 59 to 60, he says in point 14:Continued replacement of steam by diesel locomotives for main line traction, up to a probable requirement of at least 3,750–4,250 …If we have 4,000 diesels in operation on main line trains, this means a bill for imported oil of £60 million a year—£60 million on our balance of payments, when we might be using British coal. This decision not to electrify the railways is by far the worst of the many bad decisions which the Minister has made.
In a few weeks he will be leaving his office. In our debate on the Buchanan Report a few months ago I tried to show what his policy has meant to the average citizen, by taking examples from the town of Derby. Last year, 40 million tons of coal were carried from the pithead by road. As a result, four lorries a minute, each carrying 10 tons of coal, passed through Derby every working hour. The noise, the fumes and the dirt constitute an intolerable nuisance, which the people of all parties bitterly resent. Now to coal there has been added a heavy traffic in steel, all of which should go by rail.
There is great traffic congestion in Derby. The incidence of road accidents is very high. I shall not elaborate on what I said in our last debate, but since then there have been other examples of the Minister's policy which have aroused the keen hostility of my constituents. There is his discrimination against the railway workshops, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker). I will only recall that there are more than 14,000 railway workers in Derby, South, and on this question they were against the Minister to a man.
There is strong feeling in Derby about the closure of the Derby, Friargate to Nottingham line, to which I have referred. There is still stronger feeling among people of all parties about the new proposals to close most of the intermediate stations on the lines from Derby to Manchester, from Buxton to Manchester, and from Derby to Sheffield. I took part in the proceedings of the 471 Consultative Committee a week or two ago. I assure the Minister that, if he goes forward with these lamentable plans, many people in Derby and Derbyshire will vote against his Government as a result.
I raise one other Derby point on which the Minister's policy has aroused great indignation. He proposes to close, at 3½. months' notice, seven railway depots in Derby for coal distribution and to concentrate the coal at a single depot, St. Mary's Wharf. This wharf is on the other side of the River Derwent, away from the main area of the borough, which constitutes 80 per cent. of Derby.
There are only two bridges across that river. They are constantly congested at almost every hour of every day, and at the peak hours the congestion is very severe. I heard of a pile-up on Monday morning which was two miles long. The Minister now proposes to move nearly 50,000 tons of coal to this single depot at St. Mary's. The Derbyshire Coal Merchants' Association immediately protested to me against this decision. The members of that Association are not my supporters, but they feel very strongly about this. They say that there will be an average increase of six miles per round trip for their lorries. That means 1s. 1¼d. per ton additional cost, which coal consumers will have to pay. They will also need more vehicles, because each lorry will do fewer trips per day.
Although this will obviously aggravate the borough's traffic problems, neither the town clerk nor the chief constable were consulted at all. A high civic authority made representations to Dr. Beeching's regional office. He told me that he received what he thought wasa flippant and impertinent reply".The county borough corporation asked the Minister to receive a deputation; he never answered the town clerk. Eventually his Private Secretary answered a strong protest by me, saying that under the Transport Act, 1962, the Minister had deprived himself of all powers in respect of coal distribution depots. Dr. Beeching now can do exactly what he likes. If that is true, it goes far to justify the harsh things that I have said about the Minister this afternoon.
But can it really be true? If Dr. Beeching does something to which the 472 coal merchants, the coal consumers, the chief constable, the watch committee, the mayor and all parties in the borough council violently object, cannot the Minister listen to their grievance and try to understand the problems which they are asked to face? Of course he can. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give me an answer tonight: will the Minister receive that civic deputation? Will he receive the hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) and myself to discuss this question with him, and the effect that it has on the life of the constituents whom we serve?
In all these minor problems of which I have spoken, and which make up so much of the life of the nation, we should be looking 20 years ahead. We cannot do that if we drift along, "leaving it all to the customers to decide". We should be bearing constantly in mind the three great overriding facts of which I spoke when I began. We should urgently and steadfastly pursue a policy that will keep our towns and cities fit to live in, and which will preserve from motor devastation our lovely countryside. It is by these tests that the Minister's policies should be considered—and condemned.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I promise that I shall not detain the Committee for long.
I want to add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt). We all appreciate the enormous strain of making a maiden speech, and I am sure that he feels a great deal happier now that he has got it out of the way. He must feel extremely pleased that his speech went off so successfully.
The hon. Member represents part of the proud and ancient City of Liverpool, which has been rather in the news lately because of a "pop" group called the Beatles. I represent part of the proud and ancient City of Newcastle, and I give him warning that the Liverpool Beatles had better be on their guard because the Newcastle Animals are very hot on their tails.
It was my intention to speak on the need to amend the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955, but I have 473 had to scrap my original speech because I have had a Written Answer to my Question from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I am grateful for the announcement that he has made in that Answer. He has stated that he will get in touch with the local authorities concerned to try to reach agreement, so that their powers to grant travel concessions under the 1955 Act are not eroded.
I always felt strongly about this issue, although I realised that there were difficulties and anomalies. I have always felt that something could be achieved to try to get rid of what I considered to be an injustice, and I am most grateful for the fact that the Government are now acting on what I consider to be a very human problem. I know that this will be greatly appreciated by elderly people in big cities all over the country, and particularly those who live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
The problem first arose in 1954, when a Birmingham ratepayer challenged Birmingham's scheme for free travel on the city's buses during off-peak hours.
§ Mr. Montgomery
He was not. The hon. Member had better get his facts right. He is usually wrong and he is wrong in this case. He should rise if he wishes to interrupt me.
The gentleman was a Mr. Prescott, who stood as an independent candidate against a Conservative candidate in the Birmingham City Conncil's elections. Mr. Prescott is not a member of the Conservative Party. Mr. Prescott raised this matter and the result was that the Court of Chancery ruled that the Birmingham Corporation had neither the power to grant nor to prohibit such a scheme.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)
The hon. Member is straying from the Vote, and is talking about something that might require legislation.
§ Mr. Montgomery
When this matter was raised in the House on Thursday by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), we were told that this point could be raised in the debate, because it affects the 474 Ministry of Transport. We were told that it would be quite in order to discuss it.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I understand that, but nothing which involves legislation must be discussed in this debate.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Surely the hon. Member is entitled to say that A, B and C should be done by the Ministry of Transport if certain things are to be achieved. At the end of the day that may require legislation, but surely this is a debate on what transport is and what it should be, and it must follow that certain legislation might come about. If that is not the case, we shall be very restricted in our arguments.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Hon. Members may make passing references, but they must not go into details on subjects which involve legislation.
§ Mr. Webster
If the Leader of the Opposition were to suggest that we should nationalise the road haulage industry, would not that require legislation?
§ Mr. Popplewell
Is it not the fact that the Government have been making specious promises to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery) for many years? Now that the hon. Member has got something in writing, surely he is in order in pinpointing these specious promises, particularly after 12 years of Tory Government during which nothing has been done and nothing will be done.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The trouble is that since I have been the occupant of the Chair I have heard no promises, specious or otherwise.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The position was that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central brought in a Bill—
§ Mr. Montgomery
—which was taken over and became the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955. This Act gave local authorities the power 475 to keep their concessionary fares, but they were not allowed to extend them in any way. That was all right as far as it went, but it made no provision for new routes which were introduced to serve new housing estates, or for a change in the type of vehicle. This point was of great significance in the City of Newcastle, because there had recently been a change in that city from trolley buses to diesel buses. As trolley buses have disappeared and diesel buses have replaced them concessionary fares on those buses have not been allowed.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
Does not the hon. Member intend to deal with the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell)? Is it not a fact that on many occasions my hon. Friend tried to bring in an amending Bill, which the Tory Party consistently opposed, with the active support of the Government and the Minister of Transport?
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Member had better wait and read the Answer to the Question which I put to the Minister of Transport today. Whatever other hon. Members may have done, I have consistently pressed for alterations to be made in the law, as have many of my hon. Friends.
The situation was that those people who lived on trolley bus routes were allowed the benefit of the concessions while those who lived on routes where diesel buses had taken over were not. As we shall see the complete disappearance of trolley buses in Newcastle in the near future, this would have meant the loss of all the concessions. I believe in the old adage that what you have never had you never miss, but once people have had the benefit of a concession it hurts all the more if it is taken away.
§ Mr. Montgomery
With great respect, I am not proposing legislation at all I am merely trying to point out that today my right hon. Friend has given me an Answer which has a great bearing on the matter. I shall not say anything about legislation which might follow.
476 Some time ago I put this point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and mentioned the anomalies which exist under the provisions of the 1955 Act. I do not know whether it is because of the subsequent discussion that I had with my right hon. Friend that now we have had a change of policy. I do not really care who is responsible. I am delighted that the step has been taken and I consider it to be a step in the right direction.
§ Mr. Collick
I am in complete sympathy with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery). He is referring to an Answer which he has received today from the Minister and which is not in the possession of the House. I am exceedingly interested in this matter. As I am sure the hon. Member knows, hon. Members on this side are wholeheartedly in favour of this concession to old-age pensioners. The Government have stood in the way of this concession being applied universally and I should be obliged if the hon. Member could tell us what reply on that he has received from the Minister.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am sorry. I must have been so boring at the beginning of my speech that the hon. Member does not recall that I said clearly that my right hon. Friend is entering into negotiations with the local authorities concerned to try to find a way to allow local authorities to keep the power to give concessionary fares—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]. I also explained that I have had to change the content of my speech drastically. Originally, I had intended to attack my right hon. Friend for not doing anything—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I am not going to attack him now, after what he has done.
§ Mr. Montgomery
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that it means nothing. The point is that something has been done. The Minister of Transport and the local authorities are trying to reach agreement to get rid of some of the anomalies—
§ Mr. Popplewell rose—477
§ Mr. Montgomery
The hon. Gentleman says that it is just in time for the election. That is the trouble with hon. Members opposite; they are never satisfied with anything. Had my right hon. Friend wished to help us in that way, he would have given us this answer in time for the municipal elections.
I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have now looked closely at the anomalies which arise under the existing legislation. I wish to suggest to my right hon. Friend that there is one item which should be discussed when he meets the local authorities. I hope that he will not think that I am being unnecessarily carping.
To be eligible for any concessions under the Newcastle scheme, a person must produce a retirement pension book. Some elderly people—often it is through no fault of their own—are not entitled to a retirement pension although they are of pensionable age. It is hard for these people to accept that other people in receipt of retirement pensions—often in better circumstances than themselves—should obtain concessionary fares while they have to pay the full fare. The number of such people is not great. I think that they should be considered. I realise that there are difficulties, but I do not think that they are insuperable. I have spoken mainly about the problems of the elderly which I consider to be largely bound up with the prosperity of the country. The more prosperous we are the more we can do for our elderly people.
The problems of the North-East are still with us and we believe that prosperity in the North-East depends a great deal on the provision of good transport facilities. I have always been disappointed that my right hon. Friend never saw the need for a motorway to link the North-East with the bus route to the Midlands. We have, however, gained a certain amount in the last two 478 years and that is appreciated by the people of the North-East.
Time after time industrialists have complained about what is known as the long haul. Often this is regarded as one of the greatest disadvantages of the North-East. The fact that we have a doubled road programme, and improvements have been made, has helped to get rid of part of the problem. Interesting figures were announced not long ago indicating that the coal carried by train had increased compared with that carried by coastal steamer. The view is that the railways will go on increasing their share of this trade.
I welcome the Rochdale Report. Its recommendations are vital to the export trade of the North-East. The point was made some years ago that it costs twice as much to load a ton of material at a North-East port as at the modern port of Rotterdam. With the implementation of the Rochdale recommendations all the North-East ports will be modernised and synchronised with modern inland transport methods. I particularly welcome the decision regarding the Tees Port. This new deep-water port will prove of tremendous value to the thriving Middlesbrough area as well as to the whole of the North-East.
May I again offer my thanks to my right hon. Friend for the announcement which he has made today. It is said that there is not much gratitude in politics. We are ready to battle for what we want, but when we get it we seldom remember to say "Thank you"'. This time I should like to say "Thank you" to my right hon. Friend. I am certain that most fair-minded people would agree that the decision of the Government is absolutely right.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery) either in attack or praise. I wish to deal with the comprehensive survey made by the Minister in which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with a number of reports. There have been the Buchanan Report, the Geddes Report and the Rochdale Report. We have received innumerable Reports during recent years and I think that it would have been better had there been 479 fewer Reports containing recommendations which were implemented. Seldom have any Government in any sphere of policy failed so completely as have the present Government in respect of transport. There is chaos on the roads. The death and accident rates increase. On the railways we have had more conspicuous losses. Since the 1953 Act, which went all out for road-rail competition, the crisis in the transport industry has been gathering momentum. As the public knows to its cost, now we have crisis and congestion on the road, less frequent rail and bus services, and in the big cities there is nightmare commuting in the rush hours.
The growth in the number of road vehicles has reached alarming proportions. There are 1½ million lorries on our roads. In my opinion we have reached the point of near saturation. This problem of ever-increasing road transport intensifies the financial difficulties of the railways. If rail and road were given even-handed justice, more goods would be conveyed by rail and there would be fewer injuries and accidents on the roads. I recall that in a previous debate my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) said that more people were killed in this country in 12 months than died during the whole period of the French Revolution. That is an appalling situation.
The Report on the reshaping of British Railways proposed that 266 passenger service routes should be withdrawn and a further 55 should be considered for withdrawal. The route mileage represented by those proposals was about 5,000, or about one-third of the total route miles in Britain. About 2,500 stations and halts, it was stated, were to be closed and the saving to be effected by all this was estimated at between £125 million and £250 million.
Dr. Beeching assumes that as a result of the policy he is pursuing, the modernisation plans and so on, the railways' deficit will be completely eliminated by 1970. I have endeavoured to check his figures and I can only describe them as sheer guesswork. I cannot accept many of Dr. Beeching's assumptions. Consider, for example, the deficits before including interest 480 charges. Consider, too, the position in 1956 compared with 1962. We can arrive at only one conclusion, that interest charges are ever increasing and that the problem of resolving the financial position of the railways will never be solved by the methods adopted by the Government.
What is the true situation? In 1956–57 the railways had a deficit of £57.5 million—that is, before including interest charges. By 1962 the figure was £159 million. Interest on advances made by the Ministry of Transport in 1957 amounted to £2.6 million, but by 1963 the interest payments had risen to £14.8 million. Figures of that magnitude do not augur well for the future of the railways.
It is important to remember that it is admitted that the railways paid their way between 1947 and 1952. I do not know whether that happened by accident or design, but the salient truth is that they paid their way in those years.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Is not the short answer that there was petrol rationing at the time; that people could not use their motor cars and that commercial vehicles were restricted in their activities?
§ Mr. Monslow
That is not the answer. The hon. Gentleman has an erroneous impression and should ascertain the facts before speaking again.
§ Mr. Monslow
As a result of coordination and integration, which was begun by the Labour Government, the railways paid their way from 1947 to 1952. That shows that the system worked, paid and was an unqualified success. There is no need for Dr. Beeching and his highly paid army of supporters. The fact that the railways paid their way during those years is proof enough that the remedy is at hand.
The financial rot set in for the railway industry when the Tories denationalised road transport in 1953 and with the continued rape—I use that word because nothing less will do—of the railways to the benefit of private road hauliers, enriching the petrol and oil tycoons, in whom the hon. Member 481 for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) seems particularly interested, and providing additional profits for land speculators and road builders.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
Does the hon. Gentleman have the statistics of the total ton-miles carried by the railways during the years he has mentioned and, if so, will he compare those figures with the figures for last year or the most recent year for which he has statistics?
§ Mr. Monslow
I have all the statistics with me, but since many other hon. Members wish to speak I do not propose to fall for that one.
Dr. Beeching has made no secret of the fact that he intends to implement his proposals. If they are implemented in full the staff, the public and industry will suffer. The Minister of Transport knows this, but he cares not for the suffering and hardship imposed on thousands of people, the disturbance caused to their way of life and the social consequences to the staff of the railways as a result of stations being closed down. The right hon. Gentleman is more concerned with seeing the railways making a profit on paper. To him that is far more important than the consequences to the industry. I want to make it clear, even to my hon. Friends, that I am not suggesting that no railway lines should be closed, just that in recent years the Minister has stuck to a policy which is bound to cause hardship to all concerned.
I have made some criticisms and I now wish to put forward some positive suggestions to cure the ills of the industry. What needs to be done? Let us consider the whole question of integration and co-ordination. We did not have a fully integrated and co-ordinated transport system even under the 1947 Act and unless we bring C-licences within the ambit of our transport legislation we will not have a complete policy of integration, and we will never resolve the difficulties of the industry unless a fully co-ordinated and integrated system is evolved.
What was the result of the denationalisation of the road haulage industry? The privately operated transport system in 1953–54 took away £65.9 million in profits from the industry. In 1962 the figure rose to £134.7 million. I submit 482 that had the industry been fully co-ordinated, the financial problems of our railways would not be as acute as they are today.
§ Mr. Monslow
That may be the hon. Member's view, but I am giving the financial position as it was and as it is. Dr. Beeching can prate that we shall reach solvency by 1970, but I do not accept—and if the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt) does, I fundamentally disagree with him—that the railways can survive as a separate entity.
The Government should also look at the possibility of carrying the costs of maintaining the permanent way on the Defence Estimates. I have always regarded the railways as an integral part of our economic life, and this has been amply demonstrated in two world wars. Let us look at the cost of the maintenance of the permanent way in relation to the subsidy we pay on the roads, now in the region of £1,500 million. Permanent way maintenance costs are very illuminating, and if any hon. Member opposite wants to peruse the figures I have he will find that a dispassionate examination will give him a better understanding of the problems of British Railways.
In 1963, the cost of the maintenance of the permanent way was put at £45,440,000; signalling at £37,775,000, and the figure for all forms of track and signalling maintenance at £92,914,000. To have that sum transferred to the Defence Estimates would mean a very great easing of the financial strain on British Railways.
There should also be a more equitable taxation of road vehicles. The present system means a constant drain on the taxpayers and ratepayers. It is true to say that the flood of private transport, both freight and passenger, has submerged public transport, both road and rail, private and State managed, in all industrial countries.
Examination of the fare structure—the incidence of ever-increasing fares—might also prove worth while. It may be thought that nothing can be done about fare increases, but it has been done in Canada, where they had a problem 483 not dissimilar to our own. On the route from Montreal to Halifax the Canadian National Pacific Railway slashed its fares, with a resultant increase in traffic of 66.2 per cent. There is no reason why we, too, should not make a common sense approach to this problem.
I have suggested that we should have a completely integrated and co-ordinated transport system. I have intimated that we might examine the possibility of putting the cost of the maintenance of the permanent way on the Defence Estimates. I have suggested that we might examine the structure of fares to see whether some means of getting stability or reductions would not mean a greater volume of traffic carried. I have suggested that we might look at the inequity of the present road vehicle taxation system. I want to conclude by paying a tribute to the Minister. Whilst I have never accepted the policies he has adumbated, I do not deny that he has been a man who has at least played a part. He has tried to make a contribution, and has served his office with marked fidelity. I pay that tribute because I think that he has earned it, although I believe his policies to have been completely wrong.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I join the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) in complimenting my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, whom we recognise as a Minister of great vitality. I was interested to note that the hon. Gentleman came out much more boldly than did the Opposition Front Bench over the integration of the transport services. If hon. Members opposite feel that way, it is right that they should honestly say to the electorate that they intend to abolish C licences.
The hon. Member said that railway fares had been reduced in Canada, but he did not mention that in Canada there is competition between the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National Railways. I have often travelled from Montreal to Ottawa and witnessed the race to do the journey ahead of time. It is by competition that we get reductions in fares—
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what the 484 integration is to which he is referring, where it is taking place, and when?
§ Mr. Costain
I was not referring to integration that is taking place but to this extraordinary argument of the Opposition that if we integrate all services we get more efficiency. The policy that I advocate, and the policy of the Conservative Party, is that we get more efficiency by competition.
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness spoke of big profits being made by road builders. I at once declare an interest. I am a road builder, and I only wish that the hon. Gentleman was more correct about the profits made out of building roads.
When the hon. Member spoke of closing opportunities for individual firms to use C licences in the most efficient way, he reminded me that in my early youth, as an engineer, when I was working on the Trans-Persian Railway—now the Trans-Iranian Railway—we had to make a service road to carry the materials for building the railway. It was laid down by the then Shah of Persia that if we did not destroy that road no one would use the railway. The order was therefore given that all the bridges on that road had to be destroyed as otherwise the railway would not have a fair chance. The main basis of Opposition arguments is that we must give the railways a fair chance by seeing that no one else can properly compete with them—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
May I point out that it was also the policy of the Emperor of Japan, who owned the railways, to have a very primitive, inferior road system so that there would be no competition with the railways. That was in the last century.
§ Mr. Costain
Yes, that was last century thinking. But, of course, hon. Members opposite carry on with it—
§ Mr. Monslow
Will not the hon. Member at least anticipate my thinking that both he and his hon. Friend are in the eighteenth century?
§ Mr. Costain
I cannot anticipate what the hon. Gentleman is thinking. I listened to his speech with great interest, but I am more confused about this thinking now than before he made it.
485 We have to look at this problem in terms of how it affects the economy. Everyone must accept that our factories are the heart of our industrial life and the means of transport are their lifeline. We should appreciate that one-tenth of the total cost on average of every product is the amount which it costs to transport that product from the manufacturer to the consumer, whether for export or for use in this country. We are spending on transport alone about £5,000 million a year. It is a figure somewhat beyond my comprehension, and to bring that down to a figure more in the scheme of things I would say that it represents £500,000 an hour, if my arithmetic is correct.
I believe that the Minister's approach of having a number of committees to study the problem carefully is much the best way to get an overall picture. I cannot believe in an integrated transport service which would be rationalised. The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter), when he opened the debate for the Opposition, used the word "rational" at least 12 times and I did not start to count until he had got well on his "rational" statement. I believe that we should have a rational approach to transport, but I do not think that a co-ordinated service is a rational approach. We have to look in our transport system to the future. I do not believe that any person in Whitehall can foresee the trend of transport in the future. We should bear in mind, for instance, that today 20 per cent. of our total exports are items which we never exported 10 years ago. Who is to be the soothsayer in Whitehall to say, "We will not put this transport in or that transport in because we do not think it will needed?"
Reference was made by my hon. Friend for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery) to the Beatles. Who would have said that the advent of the Beatles would have given a new impetus to the sale of gramophone records and corduroy trousers? I am always frightened when the control of any one item is in the hands of somebody in Whitehall.
Reference has been made to the question of railway workshops. Hon. Members opposite have suggested in almost every speech that railway workshops should be allowed to manufacture.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Can the hon. Member advance a case why publicly-owned enterprise should not be able to produce wagons in competition with private enterprise, or is it his intention, through the Minister, to give private enterprise complete protection in order that it can charge as high a price as possible?
§ Mr. Costain
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would probably fall for that one. I am not talking about private enterprise. I am speaking as a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I would draw the attention of the Committee to page 59 of the 1961–62 Report of the Public Accounts Committee, when the Leader of the Opposition was Chairman of that Committee and when I had the privilege to sit on it. We investigated there the cost, when the Royal Ordnance Factory at Nottingham was given the job, in competition with private enterprise, of converting vehicles into armoured vehicles. In point of fact that little happy experiment cost the taxpayers £1 million.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
Is the hon. Member not aware that the railway workshops at Swindon and Derby are incomparably efficient, and that Dr. Beeching made the request for the building of these vehicles and was supported by the courts?
§ Mr. Costain
I understood that when the right hon. Gentleman was interrupted by the Minister earlier on the Minister made it quite clear that these workshops could produce any vehicle which is necessary for railways. What we object to is that they should produce articles for sale overseas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]
§ Mr. Webster
Does my hon. Friend recollect the Opposition when they were in Government in 1947 allowing the railway workshops to manufacture for sale?
§ Mr. Costain
I take my hon. Friend's point. I think that in this debate we should look to the future and only look to the past inasmuch as it gives us a guide for the future. The fact that we have at the present time built 300 miles of motorways and have half as many again under construction is something of which we should be extremely proud.
I think that our increase in the road building programme requires some 487 alteration in road specifications. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has recently been to America, and I know that he will have seen the road building methods in America. I know from Press reports that he has accepted that the American plans should be brought into this country. He will, of course, realise that to adapt this type of plan to British road conditions complete changes of specifications for our roads will be necessary. We in this country pay much more attention to the thickness of the concrete slab, whereas in countries overseas, particularly America, they pay more attention to the sub grades and use less concrete on surface. By that method I am certain that we could speed up our road building programme.
I believe that we could speed up our road building programme even more by taking a more industrial building approach to our bridges. Possibly we are still living somewhat in the past in our bridge building programme. We should do much to emulate the work which is done on the Continent about standardising bridges. Here again we have to take care that we keep the amenities of the neighbourhood, but I think that there is possibly too much concern about the amenities of the neighbourhood when there is a bridge over a motorway. I cannot see that it makes a tremendous amount of difference.
I congratulate the Minister on the work that he has done for road safety. I had the honour to introduce the Road Safety Act, and the Committee is aware of my interest in this matter.
I was delighted when the Minister made reference to the smaller number of deaths of children. It shows that education has a great bearing on these matters. My own view on road deaths is that a great number are caused by the impatience of drivers, particularly drivers who are following vehicles which are being driven too slowly. I believe that as many accidents are caused by people trying to overtake slow moving vehicles as by fast moving vehicles. The answer to this problem is to arrange for part of the road-widening programme to go ahead of schedule, because if the impatient driver appreciates that he can pass a vehicle in a mile or two he will 488 not take the same sort of risks as when he knows that he has to wait for some 10 or 15 miles. I commend to my right hon. Friend a suggestion on this matter which I made on an earlier date, namely that when the roads are widened particular preference should be given to widening roads on hills. If the roads on the hills are widened it will be found that this is a point where the lorries slow up and it will be possible, for a matter of perhaps 100 yards, to secure twice as much space for overtaking because of the reduced speed of the lorry.
I believe that hon. Members opposite have been more than unfair to my right hon. Friend in suggesting, hinting and even saying that he has an anti-railways bias. I believe that I am correct in saying that no other Minister of Transport has given the railways bigger funds. He has adopted a realistic approach to the railways problem, and the appointment of Dr. Beeching has put a businesslike look on the whole railway set-up. There must be constituency problems when railways are closed. I have them in my constituency, but I do not wish to press constituency points in a wide-ranging debate. I have written to the Minister and I am hoping for the best.
There is one point, however, in connection with the closure of little-used branch lines which I should like to make. We should emulate what is done on the Continent. These lines could be turned into light tramways carrying diesel or electrically powered vehicles. They could be leased to a local authority or a bus company to be run as tramways. There is a good deal of concern at the moment about unmanned crossings. If we had a system similar to that operating between Ostend and le Zoute or Vienna and the Lakes and these lines were run like ordinary tramways they would be subject to the ordinary rules of the road and where there were dangerous crossings there would be no reason why their vehicles should not halt in the same way as the ordinary omnibus does at an ordinary crossing.
I am somewhat prejudiced on this subject because there is a privately-owned railway in my part of the country, the Hythe-Dymchurch line is in my constituency. It is not only a privately-owned railway, but one which has changed hands in recent weeks. A willing buyer has been found for a competitively 489 run railway. I do not think that there are any willing buyers for British Railways.
Reference has been made in the debate to the need for transport for the purposes of recreation. In a recent debate one of my right hon. Friends referred to the greater use of leisure. I believe that the roads will be used a great deal more in the future for leisure purposes. The hon. Member for Southwark said that everyone had a right to own a motor car. I agree. As a young boy, when possibly hon. Members opposite were reading the works of Karl Marx, I was reading the works of Henry Ford and I remember his saying in an early book that every man who made a motor car should have the right to own one. How right Henry Ford was and how wrong Marx was.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport spoke today about the large increase in the number of people who go sailing at weekends. He gave the fantastic figures of 13,000 ten years ago and a quarter of a million now. I hope that when my right hon. Friend is considering transport problems, particularly in the next Government, he will give due weight to the fact that increased marine facilities take a great number of people off the roads.
We have every reason to be proud of what we have done in our transport policy. I hope that the nation will realise what will happen if we have the integrated transport service suggested by hon. Members opposite which would stop the ordinary person from being able to deliver goods and to use transport for his own merchandise as and when he wanted. If he does not have that facility he cannot remain efficient.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
It is always a pleasure to follow in a debate the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), although I have been in disagreement with most of what he has said today. I agree with him that we should look to the future and I hope that what I have to say will be taken from the point of view that I agree entirely that it is the future that matters rather than the somewhat murky past.
British transport presents one of the greatest problems of our time. The question 490 which is being asked today is how best we can use the various forms of transport to serve more fully the needs of industry and of the travelling public. The Transport Act of 1947 was designed to provide, secure or promote the provision of an efficient and adequate, economical, and properly integrated system of public inland transport and port facilities within Great Britain and to extend and improve that system. It was an Act conceived by men who had a remarkable foresight about the future needs of the country.
Events have proved overwhelmingly how right they were. During the past 10 years the Conservative Government have tried to destroy the purpose underlying the Act. Most transport experts with whom one talks now recognise that we must get back to the principles of the Labour Party Act of 1947 if a solution of our transport problems is to be found.
§ Mr. McLeavy
The high toll on our roads of killed and injured, the traffic congestion, the decline in railway and bus traffic, and the ever-increasing cost of road freight and passenger transport call for very serious examination and action. The Tory policy of free-for-all has been undoubtedly profitable to a few, but it has been disastrous to the nation. Road freight services are jamming our roads while the railways are being starved of traffic.
The Minister of Transport has set up a committee to consider the possibilities of producing a small car with the object of relieving the congestion on the roads. At the same time, he has authorised the construction and use of wider, longer and heavier lorries which will inevitably add further to the congestion. What madness this is.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke rose—
§ Mr. McLeavy
No, I will not give way.
The explanation given by the Ministry is that this is being done because of pressure from Continental traders. In normal circumstances, with adequate road space, this might well be desirable, but it does not make sense today when we have serious problems of congestion on our roads.
491 The present crisis in our transport system is not something which has suddenly overwhelmed us. It is the consequence of years of deterioration. Two powerful trends have been at work, the rapid spread of motor car ownership, and the continued shift of freight traffic from rail to road. Private car ownership is a great social benefit and will steadily grow year by year. It is the duty of any Government to provide adequate and safer road conditions. In this, the present Government have failed. The trouble with the Minister of Transport is that he talks too much and does too little.
It is estimated that road haulage traffic will rise by an average of 4 to 6 per cent. per annum up to 1970. As a road man myself, I can speak about the difficulties of the railways without being accused of looking at only one side of the picture. In the national interest, it is vital that we put back on the railways a greater volume of freight traffic. The railways are essential to the industrial and social life of the nation, and they are also an important factor in national defence. Because of their tremendous importance to our country's well-being and security, it is stupid to allow the railways to remain in their present financial position.
The railways, through their influence on transport costs, can be a factor in keeping down the costs of production. Industry and the Railways Board should get together in a real partnership to find the best method of using our railway capacity and keeping the cost of transport down to a reasonable level.
The Beeching plan for railway closures, so far as it relates to major services, should be held over pending a national survey of transport requirements. The whole Beeching Plan should be given much more careful consideration in the broader framework of the industrial and social requirements of the people. Until we have a clearer picture of the type of transport suitable and necessary for the development of our industrial areas and the life of the country in general, it would be foolish to take drastic steps in railway closures.
Now, the roads. Whatever we do in the planning of British transport, there 492 will still be an urgent need for more road construction. The British Road Federation is very critical of the Government's failure to provide the necessary roads. It has said:For too long have Governments sat on the fence and allowed conditions in Britain's urban areas to deteriorateand it went on to say:In August, 1960, 46 per cent. of all the trunk roads in Britain were overloaded beyond their design capacity. And the situation must be a good deal worse now. The Federation estimates that capital expenditure on trunk roads and motorways, however, will rise by only 26 per cent. in England and Wales in the five years till 1969, from £93 million to £117 million. On the physical side: Where are all the motorways? The Government says more than 500 miles will be open by 1968. The Government promises 1,000 miles by the early 1970s. And this year, 1964, the Government will bring 7½miles into use.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the financial year as distinct from the calendar year, he will see that it is very much more than 7½ miles. I must point that out because, otherwise, it is not a fair picture.
§ Mr. McLeavy
I am quoting from a document issued by the British Road Federation, and I assume that its figures ought to be nearer the mark than what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] The Federation's criticisms are very strong and come from a quarter which is usually not unfavourable to the Conservative Party. They represent a view which demands the careful consideration of Parliament.
The growing number of vehicles on our roads demands more and better roads. These roads should be built without the delay which is inevitable in our present method of planning and land acquisition. Parliament should set up a national road planning and construction board to deal with new roads of major importance. The board should have power to acquire land while the question of the purchase price is under consideration, with reasonable safeguards for the vendor. In addition, it should be the planning authority for all major roads.
Road construction should be financed at least partly by loans or the issue 493 of bonds, and construction should proceed as fast as the available land and labour force will permit. An important factor in road construction is the retention of the workers who specialise in this work. A break in employment could result in difficulty in the recruitment of labour, so it is wiser to arrange the work so that the workers move from one job to another. We must try to avoid the break between contracts so as to prevent the dispersal of the workers and ensure that road construction is not held up.
During the Committee stage of the Finance Bill, I had something to say about our bus services in both rural and urban areas. I have been rather despondent for many years because of the lack of action by the Minister of Transport to ensure that services in the urban and rural areas matched the requirements of the community. For many years the service has been deteriorating, even in the capital city, London, and particularly on the outskirts of the City centre. The service has almost disappeared in the countryside. The public is seriously inconvenienced because of the lack of adequate services, Time and again hon. Members opposite representing rural constituencies have made out cases for immediate attention being given to the rural bus problem.
The Minister appointed what was commonly called the Jack Committee to go into this question, although all the facts which he required were, more or less, available to his Department. The Jack Committee made a majority and a minority Report. In spite of the views expressed, as far as I know, nothing tangible has been done to meet this growing problem in the rural areas I have said time and again in this Chamber that the bus problem is not simply a rural or City of London problem; it is a national problem of deterioration arising from various factors.
The factors briefly are these. The mode of life of the people has changed. Television has kept them in their houses instead of their going to cinemas and theatres. As a consequence of this, and through the development of the private car, the volume of traffic on public service vehicles has been considerably reduced.
494 However, the bus service operators still have a responsibility to the communities, whether they be in urban or rural areas. They are charged by the traffic commissioners to run an appropriate time-table of services. They are supposed to provide this service whether the number of passengers that they carry is large or few. In spite of this, they are taxed to the hilt. Taxation today is making their task extremely difficult.
It is no good thinking that we can deal with one section of transport in isolation. The transport problem is extremely complicated and vital. Somehow, and some day, we must get together some people capable of examining the trend of our transport, whether it be by rail, road, sea or air, and of giving Parliament some guidance on how we should deal with it.
In looking at our transport problems, we must also think of the cost factor, not only to the person who pays the fare but to the nation, of providing the roads and railways so that the community can be provided with a service. Industry will shortly come to the view that, because of the keen competition in the export market, it can no longer afford an extravagant and costly private transport system. This is why I feel that it is essential that industry and the railway boards should get together to see how, by common agreement, they can get more traffic on the railways and reduce costs from a manufacturing point of view.
This is the last debate on transport that we shall have in this Parliament. I think that it will be a worthwhile debate. I have been very interested in some of the speeches by hon. Members on both sides. I am sure that, like me, most hon. Members feel that something must be done to find a permanent solution to this problem. I believe that it can be found if we are prepared to make sacrifices on both sides. I believe that it should be found in the interests of the prosperity of the nation.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I agree with some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). In particular, I think that there is a case for considering the fuel 495 tax as it affects the bus services, particularly in the rural areas. I will cover some of the other remarks of the hon. Member in the course of my general observations.
One of the basic differences between the two sides of the Committee is that right hon. and hon. Members opposite are inveterate deductive thinkers. They draw inferences from general principles and apply them to particular instances and despise the Tory habit of being inductive thinkers inferring a general law from particular instances. Hon. Members opposite start with their slogan and then look round for facts which lit it and which happen to suit their particular theory. We tend to start by dealing with each particular instance on its merits as it appears to us from our experience and allow the sum total of our experience to build up a theory which we accept.
In no respect is this more clear than in transport, because, anchored as they are to Clause Four in their constitution, hon. Members opposite, naturally enough perhaps, look round for an excuse for nationalisation at every opportunity. They find such an excuse in the slogans of 30 years ago which were invented not by Socialists but by public relation officers in the Square Deal campaign of the railways. There were slogans like "creaming off the profits", "unfair competition", "integration", and so on, the validity of which I always doubted. I was in the railway service at the time and I always thought that the campaign made this mistake. Instead of seeking to remove the restrictions on the railways, it sought to put restrictions on the roads by these rather specious slogans, which if they ever had any relevance have none today.
I was astounded when the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) made a quotation which indicated that he seemed to think that there was too much transport. He was answered by facts mentioned by one of his own right hon. Friends, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker), who gave many statistics indicating that in these days of full employment, with a rising population and growing productivity and growing exports, there was a shortage of road space, so that it seems to me that the theory which was so popular in the 1930s that we had too 496 much transport and would have to ration it between one form of transport and another is not valid now.
I shall not attempt, as did the hon. Member for Barrow in Furness (Mr. Monslow), to produce a mass of statistics. It is almost impossible to follow them in a debate without having the figures before one. I should, however, like to submit two or three general propositions with which I do not think hon. Members opposite will disagree. First, it is, I believe, accepted that during the last 20 years there has been a general and steady decline in goods traffic on the railways, which has, in fact, increased during the last 10 years. The decrease in traffic on the railways has not been matched by a corresponding increase in the traffic carried by road hauliers, particularly by A and B licence holders.
The statistics show that there are two reasons for that. One is that a lot of the traffic which has been lost to the railways has not gone to the roads but has ceased to exist. A good example is afforded by the domestic coal traffic, which formerly was an important part of the goods traffic. It was the bread and butter traffic which paid for the maintenance of many small stations and depots, particularly in the West and South-West.
That traffic has largely disappeared, not because it has gone to the roads, but because it is no longer there. Many houses, even in rural areas and certainly in country towns, no longer depend on coal for space heating or cooking and the demand for domestic coal is nothing like what it used to be. Electricity, gas and oil for central heating, or even oil stoves for cooking, have to a large extent replaced the coal traffic which formed such an important part of railway haulage in many country districts.
Another example is from the City of Birmingham. Those who remember pre-war days will know that Birmingham used to be called the city of 1,000 trades and was derisively referred to by some people as the city of the dolls' eyes trades, referring to the many small industries and trades which then existed in the city, none of which had its own transport facilities and all of which depended upon the railways for cartage and delivery of their raw materials and 497 finished products. Now Birmingham is connected with motor manufacture, either vehicles or components, and, naturally, the raw materials and finished products travel by road. This traffic of the past, has, therefore, ceased. This is one reason why there has been a marked decline in the haulage of goods by railway.
Another instance to which several hon. Members have referred, but to which only one hon. Member opposite has cared to suggest a solution, is the large increase in the number of C licences. It is not the A and B licence vehicles which have increased to any marked degree.
What is the reason for this very large increase in C licences? This was dealt with in a report issued in 1959 by the Traders' Road Transport Association, the organisation representing C licence holders, which sent a questionnaire to its members asking why they used a C licence. The answers were significant. Cheapness of travel came quite low down on the list of reasons. The prime reasons were the certainty of timing of delivery, avoidance of breakages, the fact that excessive use of packing material was obviated, the collection of cash by the drivers and even advertising on the sides of the vehicles.
None of those reasons would be met merely by introducing a tax upon C licence vehicles or restricting their limit of user if the reason for using a C licence vehicle is not so much its cheapness as a matter of convenience. Merely to tax C licence vehicles to prevent people using them, to limit their radius of action or to require an applicant to furnish proof of need before obtaining his licence, would not meet the needs of traders but would merely obstruct their methods of transport and, therefore, obstruct trade.
It is no solution, therefore, to apply to these people the slogan about creaming off the traffic, because they provide for themselves a service which happens to suit their needs, and the only way in which their competition can be met is to provide for the railways to provide a service that will meet their needs themselves. That is the sort of thing Dr. Beeching was proposing with the liner trains. I was taken aback by the hon. Member for Southwark when he quoted a statement by Mr. D. O. Good, the 498 former Chairman of the Road Haulage Association, about liner trains. I have no doubt that the quotation was accurate, but the hon. Member surely knows that Mr. Good has on many occasions indicated his willingness to co-operate with the railways. I believe that he has had conversations not only with the railways but with British Road Services on this matter and has indicated that his organisation would welcome the liner trains. That is exactly what one would expect.
It is no advantage to a haulier, especially a long-distance haulier, to have his vehicle away for the night, to have his vehicle parked, perhaps, in a parking place over which he has no control and where it is more likely to be stolen. It might be a great advantage to him to earn his money on the short haul by taking his customers' goods in a container to the railway station and putting it on the truck of a liner train and arranging for it to be met at the other end. This implies, however, that the railway unions would permit this to be done; otherwise, of course, the traffic would not go by the liner train.
If this is prevented, of course, Mr. D. O. Good and his friends would provide an alternative service of their own. I cannot understand the objections of the railway unions. They seem to me to be deliberately driving away business which would help to keep them in employment. There is no likelihood of drivers of the cartage and delivery vehicles being thrown out of work. The tendency is towards a shortage of labour in many grades on the railways.
To object to a certain number of private hauliers arriving at a railway station to deliver their goods is extraordinary. But for a Conservative Act, the railway unions could not have done this, because while the railways were common carriers they had to accept everybody's goods, and they would not have been in a position to refuse somebody who arrived at a depot and wanted to deliver his goods for carriage by railway. It is an extraordinary position.
The statistics show that although there has been a general decrease in passenger services over a period, for the last year or two they have remained almost static at around 1,000 million a year, mostly commuters or long-distance travellers. The big increase in passenger traffic has 499 not been by bus or by coach—in tact, after increasing, the bus and coach traffic has decreased slightly in the last few years—but by the private motor car. Therefore, merely to integrate the bus services with the railway passenger services would not answer the problem. Unless we are prepared to put some limitation on the private car we shall not answer that sort of situation in the least.
I was rather expecting that someone among hon. Members opposite would have mentioned "Signposts for the Sixties". They are very fond of quoting it, and they could quote it very often, I suppose, in the belief that we have not read it. The few sentences in that document which deal with transport seem to me rather tendentious and vague nonsense. They are to be found at the bottom of page 8 and the top of page 9. It says:Investment in publicly-owned railways has been wholly inadequate.That seems to me the most extraordinary statement in view of the fact that £580 million has been put in by this present Government. That document goes on:But public enterprise is not allowed to build the roads on which to drive the cars.I do not understand that statement at all. It goes on to misquote the figure—perhaps the document was written some time ago—by saying that only 258 miles of modern motor roads have been constructed. The figures, as we heard today, are 292 miles of motorways in use, 150 miles under construction, 600 miles will be constructed by 1968 and 1,000 miles by the mid nineteen-seventies. Those figures give a rather different picture.
That Labour document goes on to various matters connected with the Road Research Laboratory and casualties and it says:Yet still the Government takes no effective action.I should have thought that spending £147 million a year on new road construction, as we are at present, answers that. It is the biggest figure ever achieved in this country at any period of our history.
§ Mr. Wilson
That record can hardly be described as one of doing nothing. 500 However, I only mention that in passing because I thought somebody probably would say something about that document.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the question of the survey, and that has been dealt with also by speakers on my own side. There have been comments about experience in Sweden, about how long it takes to get a general survey and about particular surveys which have already been undertaken in this country. It seems to me that this is a most important example of what I think is the difference between deductive and inductive thinking and building up theory which emerges from an examination of a whole series of different instances. Hon. Members opposite want endless delay till they get the whole picture, leading on from general principles. I think that that is the quite wrong way to do it.
Our transport policy, I think, is effective. Many of us here have seen a great number of transport services in Europe and some of us will be going to see some more next week. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who pays?"] I think there is some misunderstanding about this. Members on both sides of the Committee go. This is paid for by an organisation which is interested in the roads. There is no pressure put on us to go. Nor do we have propaganda thrown at us about the roads, only the facts.
I think that, comparing our own road programmes with those on the Continent, we can say that if we did make a late start we are making very good progress.
§ Mr. Wilson
We have been to Germany many times. I would advise the hon. Member to look at the autobahn south of Frankfurt which has a double two-lane highway, with no high shoulder. There are traffic jams because if vehicles break down there is no hard shoulder for them to drive on. This happens quite frequently on the autobahnen. It certainly will not happen on our roads.
I think a great deal of progress has been made, and I think the Minister is to be congratulated on the policy 501 which has been carried out, and I wish it every success for the future.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all that he has said, but I will reply to his view about the Labour Party's policy on nationalisation. If he wants an answer, I will certainly give it to him. This does not come from any public relations officer. I remember the policy of the Square Deal campaign for the railways, to which the hon. Member referred. I remember it because I was one of those who then were working on the railways, as I did for a good number of years, and I had a bellyfull of private enterprise on the railways.
We were suffering then from the worst conditions of any, in any industry in the country, and that was under private enterprise. Private enterprise did not even provide a decent dining room for railwaymen to eat in. I have seen men dining in a room during inclement weather with water dripping on to the very table from which they were eating.
I have seen the serious lack of drying facilities, so that a railwayman would come in from the marshalling yards, on an eight-hour shift, and have to eat his meal in his wet clothes, which were still wet when he went out again—but the bosses expected the men to maintain normal health standards. That was the kind of health and safety standard which private enterprise was prepared to pay for. I know something about that.
The Labour Party had to take into public ownership a number of basic industries because they had failed under private enterprise. They even failed to pay their shareholders, and they had to reduce services.
§ Mr. G. Wilson rose—
§ Mr. Spriggs
Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that the privately-owned railways were in need of capital investment, and because that investment did not bring in huge dividends it could not attract the necessary capital. The country as a whole was having to suffer for it. We in the Labour Party saw the great social need for the State to step in to provide the necessary capital and manpower. As a railwayman for many years 502 I can speak of the health and safety standards which were brought in under nationalisation, and I give credit where credit is due, and I would vote for public ownership any time where these industries are concerned.
We had an intervention from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who attacked the National Union of Railwaymen for its attitude, which he called intransigent. I am afraid that he did not know what he was talking about. Had he really understood what the railwaymen were opposing he would have kept his mouth shut. I thought his attack was prejudiced, unjust and cowardly. If he would only read the railwaymen's journal, the Railway Review, he would be informed. The hon. Gentleman is chairman of the Tories' transport committee. As such he took the place of the hon. Member for Truro. Since he took over that post in that important committee, he should at least keep himself well informed.
§ Mr. Webster
One of the reasons why one is not informed of these negotiations is that the National Union of Railway-men admits the Press only at the most innocuous part of the discussions and tells them nothing of substance. If it would come out with a definite statement of its policy on this most important matter the whole nation would be better informed.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I am sure the hon. Member is wrong. The N.U.R. is one of our most forthcoming trade unions. I can do no other than give credit to it for its work and patience. Long months of patience during the negotiations with the management side have, I think, proved that sometimes we have too much patience.
I now turn to the Minister's reply to me about Judge Ungoed-Thomas's ruling in the High Court about the right of the Railways Board to tender for railway tank wagons for use on British Railways. The right hon. Gentleman's reply gives a clear indication that political prejudice will continue as long as we have a Tory Government. He rejected my question and said "No" out of hand. This can be nothing more nor less than political bias or prejudice. Here we have a High Court ruling that the Railways Board has a right to tender for railway tank wagons to be used on British Railways, but when I asked the Minister of Transport what 503 the Government's policy was in view of that ruling, he says that there is no change in policy. We all know what the Government's policy is in relation to the public sector when it wishes to tender.
I believe that the railway workshops—I accept what has been said about the Labour Government; I believe that we should have done it, and I believe that we shall do it as soon as we get the opportunity—have a wonderful capacity which can be applied to the British economy when required. I think of the workshops in Derby, Swindon, St. Helens, Gorton and Horwich. These could play an important part. Yet the Minister, or the Board on his behalf, has decided on the closure of these workshops and others. These workshops have played an important rôle not only in peacetime but during the national emergency. They did magnificent work during the war, building tanks and guns, and they helped to keep our transport system going.
Only those inside the industry can tell the House what actually happened and the difficulties that the men worked under. Even when there were air-raids, the traffic was kept flowing. I well remember that when the Second Front was being prepared German aircraft followed the trains down the main line to the South Coast, doing their damndest to stop them reaching the ports to unload the materials for the final attack on Nazism. The railwaymen knew what they were doing and were loyal to their country. As a railwayman, I expect reciprocation by hon. Members when the railwaymen and the trade unions ask for a fair deal. We do not talk of square deals. We are asking hon. and right hon. Members to play the game and be fair towards the railways, the railwaymen and the railway users.
I now want to give the House some idea of what my constituents think of the proposed withdrawal of passenger services between Liverpool, Lime Street, St. Helens Shaw Street Station and Wigan North-West stations. I cannot do better than give an account from one or two of the many letters that I have received from people who oppose the closure. I will first read one from a young lady employed as a nurse in a district hospital. She writes:
I understand that you are to help us to try to stop the closure of the Wigan-Liverpool railway service. You will, I know, be conversant 504 with the full main facts, but may I tell which British Railways regard as an 'adequate you of my own experience of the bus service alternative service'? I feel that they are determined to carry out the Beeching Plan without regard to the public who use the trains, and that they will brush aside all objections by saying that there is a good bus service. However, they are judging the adequacy of the service by the frequency of buses, not by the speed with which all passengers are carried home. I feel our only hope lies in convincing them that the alternative service is too poor at present to cope.I work at Broadgreen Hospital, and for the first month there I travelled in by bus. The nearest stop for me is Queen's Drive, and I have waited there for a bus from 5.15 p.m. until as late as 6.30 p.m. and even up to 7.30 p.m. The buses were always full coming out of the city. After working on my feet all day, it was exhausting to wait hour after hour, unprotected in all weathers, hoping for a bus which would have room left just for one more passenger. With the extra influx of passengers from the trains, this situation will worsen impossibly. There will be workers from Hunters and Lucas Ltd. also waiting at the Queen's Drive stop. The alternative is to get a bus into Liverpool (only a half hourly service) and queue for a bus in the city. This takes time and costs me 9d. per day more in fares. Conversely in the mornings, the nearer to Liverpool the harder it is to get a bus, and many are left standing at each stop even now.In addition there are extra passengers before Christmas (shoppers), in the New Year (sales), during children's school holidays, at Easter, and every Thursday (early-closing day in St. Helen's). From this experience I know how exhausting and frustrating it is to travel by bus on this route, and I most sincerely hope that British Railways can be convinced of this. The trains never leave anyone behind, are quicker, warmer, more comfortable, and there are waiting rooms at each station. The trains, too, run much more reliably in bad weather.During last year in the snow and frost I was five minutes late for work on only two mornings in three months. During this time I believe the buses ran consistently late and on three mornings did not run at all. Furthermore, they were extremely cold to travel in. I know you will do all you can in this matter, but it is only the voices of people of influence like you that have any chance of being heard. May I thank you for your concern and help in this matter.Yours sincerely,Miss Patricia Lancashire.That is one example of the views of the ordinary traveller.
Another letter is from a man who is badly crippled but tries to be independent by earning his own living. He relies upon the railways because only the railway service provides the necessary space for his wife, himself in his 505 invalid chair, and his wares. This gentleman writes:I read your article in Monday's Echo and in response to your request for support against the closure of Shaw Street Station I would like to add mine.I am 80 per cent. disabled as a result of an accident and use the trains as my only means of getting about. I have used the Wigan-Liverpool line for the past 9 years since I was discharged from hospital as incurable. I travel in the guard's van from Prescot to Broad Green from whence I call on customers in outlying districts of Liverpool, my wife pushing me some ten miles a day in the invalid chair. I am barred from having a self-propelled chair owing to the nature of my disability…Should it become law for this line to close it will mean great hardship to me as my small business could not be carried on …He asks me to give this my earnest interest and to do all I can to get the Minister to retain the passenger service between Liverpool Lime Street and Wigan North West. He adds:I am also a frequent visitor to St. Helens and Wigan, and also from Wigan to Southport on days other than business…These are two letters among many. I am obliged to the Committee for its patience, for I know how boring it can be if many letters are read. But I think it necessary that, on both sides, we should know what ordinary people are thinking. What has struck me very forcibly is that when we are debating in this Chamber we are sometimes caught up completely in economics and political issues. On this occasion it will be to the good if we can take our minds off these issues for a few minutes and think of the people. If it were not for people we would not be here, and I believe that the only worthwhile thing for us in the House is the people when considering matters of this kind. We should do nothing which will harm our people, but do everything in their interests.
I want to give some information about this line. A few weeks ago I decided to have a survey of every road between St. Helens and Wigan Central Bus Station, for my constituents and I take these proposals very seriously. I greatly doubted the feasibility of carrying out the Railways Board's plan for this stretch of line. I know that some of my hon. Friends are also concerned and will not be slow in putting their case if given the opportunity.
506 I had the help of about a dozen young men and women, none of whom has ever been employed on the railways and, as far as I know, never will be. An outstanding factor was that, whilst we could measure the roads and take observations in the centre of the urban districts and the County Borough of Wigan, we lacked any information about the bus trailer which the Minister referred to on 11th February last. No one seemed to be able to advise us about the kind of trailer to be pulled by buses in the event of the railway passenger service being closed.
I have telephoned the Ministry asking for details. The Minister mentioned a prototype on 11th February, but I have not had the pleasure of seeing the type of vehicle he referred to. From our observations, I can say that an average of three prams in each direction would have to be carried, and if the trains were taken off the young women with their babies who frequently go home to their parents and relatives would no longer be able to travel in the district, unless the road passenger undertaking was prepared to provide the kind of trailer the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.
When my young friends and I had finished our survey, I sent a report to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. Apparently its chairman was very interested in it, and I was able to tell him that the roads in many places were exceptionally narrow. Our survey also took us over many road, rail and canal bridges, most of them very old and narrow.
I want now to pay tribute to those young people of St. Helens who turned out to help save their railway passenger services. It took two full weekends to do the survey, and on one of them it rained heavily nearly all the time. Yet they came out, stuck to the job and completed it. All hon. Members will be gratified that St. Helens has such wonderful people living there.
We questioned transport workers about the Railways Board's proposals. We went into a transport cafe in the centre of Wigan and questioned the customers. We did not ask them where they lived but what routes they used. We questioned them about the safety of having trailers behind the huge buses which will have to be used on these routes if the railway line is closed. We 507 gave an estimate of a trailer or about 8 ft. long and 6 ft. wide which could be used for carrying prams and luggage in safety.
We asked whether the Minister or his officers had ever consulted their union about the use of trailers behind the buses. The reply was, "We know nothing about it. We have never been consulted and we would not accept responsibility for something we could not keep our eyes on." These narrow roads are very busy. Much industrial traffic uses them, even at weekends. On Sunday, many motorists use them travelling between East Lancashire and Southport and other places.
We tried to look at this matter from the economic point of view. We tried to see through the eyes of the Government. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what it would cost the Railways Board to subsidise privately-run bus companies on services replacing railway passenger services.
These proposed closures will cost the Railways Board millions of £s. In 1960, it paid £45,000 to the bus companies for running uneconomic bus services. In 1961, that figure was £47,000; in 1962, £63,000 and in 1963, £92,000. If the Railways Board is allowed to go ahead with the closing of more services, more alternative passenger road transport services will have to be provided, and many of them will be uneconomic. We believe that the people are entitled to an adequate passenger service on the railways or on the roads. If any hon. or right hon. Gentleman would like to refer to what the Minister said about bus trailers, he should consult HANSARD of 11th February, 1964, columns 52 and 53.
I now want to deal with some of the domestic problems of railwaymen. On page 41 of the Report there is a short reference to pensions. I am surprised that the Board dares to mention pensions, especially for many of the wages grades on the railways. A driver with 41 years' experience on the main line in the district where I was stationed as a railwayman handed me a document which was sent to him from his regional office to tell him what he would draw on retirement. In all, he had 51 years' service on the railways, and he was to retire on the princely sum, the private rail wages pensions 508 scheme, of 11s. 2d. a week. I shall be paying 6s. 4d. a week to the pension scheme for many years, and when I retire I shall draw the princely sum of 30s. a week, unless something is deducted by the tax inspector.
I shudder when I consider these amounts in relation to the golden handshakes about which we read until quite recently for loss of office and so on. When right hon. Members opposite criticise the N.U.R., I wonder whether they appreciate what work the union has to do and the time it takes to negotiate and what railwaymen get at the end of it. Year after year the railway trade unions come forward with wage claims and claims for better conditions of service. Year after year they are told by the Chairman of the Board that while the unions have made out a first-class case—as one chairman told them—there is nothing in the kitty. There never will be anything in the kitty if we allow the Government to dismantle the transport service which we were developing until we went out of office. The railways were paying their way until 1952, but after the disintegration of the transport services, when the Government sold out the profitable side of the industry, namely, road haulage, that was no longer the case.
We now have to consider the so-called reshaping of the railways, conceived by the Tory Government and conducted by the management headed by Dr. Beeching. The management is slowly but surely realising that its intentions have not always been firmly grounded. Trying to do a deal with private road hauliers was a dead duck from the beginning. When the Railways Board accepts the facts of life, perhaps we shall see a new effort to fight for the traffic which the railways should have.
Too often in the past the Government and the management have ignored the voice of the unions. I recommend the Government and the management to give the unions more responsibility and to make consultation really live. The present so-called consultations are a contradiction of the word. Too often the management presents the unions with a fait accompli, whether at local committee level, or at the top. This is no consultation but, telling the unions what is to be done.
509 I am sure that after the General Election Labour will give the nation an integrated transport system which a Labour Government must give it. If we are to save the transport system and to pull it out of the present chaos and to do everything to help to reduce the loss of life on the roads, this is what we will be required to do.
The Minister told us that 7,000 people were killed on the roads last year, and yet he refuses to do anything to provide incentives to encourage more and more motorists to leave their cars at home and to use buses and trains. The nation is waiting for the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) sits on that side of the Committee and when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will see that what Labour says it will do it means it will do.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), because he followed me by one day into the House. We were elected on the same day, and I listen to his speeches with interest. I remember listening with particular interest to his maiden speech. Opposition speakers always make their speeches before we do, which gives us a chance to say to the Member concerned, "What an excellent speech. Do you want a pair at any time?". That is very convenient, but I do not think that I shall have much success in achieving that this evening.
The hon. Gentleman modestly said that he had bored the Committee with boring letters. I have done worse for him. I have sent him boring letters from my constituents and he has answered them most ably and helpfully. He is an authority on many of the matters which were raised.
We both want the best system for the railways, but I think that we differ on how to get it. The hon. Gentleman was formerly an official of the N.U.R., and I followed carefully what he said. I shall attack him later, but I thoroughly agreed with every word he said about the alleged pension scheme. The way in which it has been handled, and the way in which the pension fund was invested in the stock of the company concerned, was almost nothing short of criminal. 510 I have criticised it in the past in the House. I have no hesitation in agreeing with what the hon. Gentleman said about it today, but that is the end of my agreement with him.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the time when the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was going to lead the troops to victory, and about how he was going to have a properly integrated transport system. I have listened to almost every word of the debate, and I have wondered more and more just what is meant by an integrated transport system. What does it conceal? The Leader of the Opposition is on record as saying that he regards the battle of the future of the British transport system as political, and that it should take place in the House and ultimately at the polling booth, but we have not heard a word from the right hon. Gentleman today on this subject. He has not graced the Chamber with his presence.
§ Mr. Webster
The right hon. Member for Huyton is the only Socialist who speaks with authority from the benches opposite on the subject of an integrated transport system. We have heard so much about this, but so little about exactly what it means.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on the way in which he has handled the activities of the American Federal Maritime Commission in its efforts to interfere with the contractual obligations of shipping companies. I was tremendously impressed to learn that my right hon. Friend managed to get international co-operation on a considerable scale, and I compare my right hon. Friend's achievements with the endeavours of the right hon. Member for Huyton to get international co-operation, which he seeks only with countries which are ideologically suitable for him. I think that it is very fortunate that it is my right hon. Friend who has been conducting these negotiations.
This vague and innocuous generalisation about a policy for an integrated transport system is like a Portuguese man-o-war. It is rather innocuous on the surface, but underneath there are 511 some vicious stings. What do we mean by creaming off the profits of an integrated transport system? What does it mean when the Opposition, who considers themselves to be the party of the 'sixties and 'seventies, talk about creaming off the profits? It means taking all the profits from the one profitable section to subsidise the ailing and static limb of a transport system which is losing a tremendous amount of money.
§ Mr. Gunter
The accepted word now is "rationalisation". The Minister accepts it, the Railways Board accepts it, and, indeed, we all accept it. Will the hon. Gentleman define what he considers to be the difference between integration and rationalisation?
§ Mr. Webster
Perhaps I might be allowed to continue to use the word "integration". They are creaming off the profits to subsidise the mass of that part of the transport system which is not profitable. They are keeping it in action when it is not serving the people. In fact, they are straining and draining the profits of the dynamic part to maintain in existence that part which is not being used. I am referring to one-third of our railway system which carries 1 per cent. of the freight and less than 1 per cent. of the passengers. That is what the Opposition mean. They want to cream off the profits to maintain this inert mass of a railway system which is not being used.
That is not a dynamic policy. It is static and inert, and it is certainly not leading to a Britain which can compete with other countries. The Government's policy has been successful. By the 1962 Acts we have divided the British Transport Commission into functional parts, each of which is financially more successful today. We are not simply bound by a balance sheet, as the decision to build the Victoria Line amply proves, and we are reducing the deficit of the railways by £22 million. During this time we have increased railwaymen's pay quite sizeably.
§ Mr. Collick rose—
§ Mr. Collick
I always give way. If the hon. Member had been in the 512 House longer he would know that. He said that the Minister's policy had been successful, but when Dr. Beeching took over responsibility for British Railways deficits were running at rather less than £60 million; during the period in which Dr. Beeching has been in control they have increased to about £160 million. Is that the hon. Member's measure of success?
§ Mr. Webster
I am coming to that point a little later. I must be allowed to make my speech in my own way, without the assistance of hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will give ample answer.
We also took from the railways the restriction of the common carrier liability. We took away from it the necessity to publish all its fares, and its terms and conditions for carrying goods. We give it greater freedom than it had ever had before.
This was done by a Minister whom hon. Members opposite attack as being anti-railway. It is right that he should be paid tribute for what he has done to free the railways so that they can reduce their deficit without having to have many closures. Every time they can, the Opposition resist any attempt to scrap that part of the system which is no longer of service to the community. They resist the voluntary fusing of the speed of the railway system with the manœuvrability of both the free and the nationalised road services. They resist all this, as we have seen in our discussions on the negotiants regarding the liner plan.
They insist upon an overall plan, despite the fact that in Sweden—a country only one-seventh the size of ours—considered adopting an overall plan, but took seven years to discuss it, during which time the number of vehicles on the road increased by 2½ times. In the end, the plan had to be scrapped. We have been much more wise in discussing each part of the system in its functional relationship with each aspect of the vast railway and road problem that exists today.
The right hon. Member for Batter-sea, North (Mr. Jay) said that the Swedes and the Canadians look for the moment like becoming the commonsense pragmatists of Socialism and the British the psalm-singing dogmatists. We know 513 the right hon. Gentleman's views on the subject of C licences. The essential differences between the two sides of the Committee is that my hon. Friends and I stand for planning by voluntary cooperation whereas the Opposition stand for planning by compulsion. They believe that the gentleman in Whitehall knows what is right, and they wish to impose this decision upon an unwilling electorate.
The Opposition attack the Government for being unkind to the railways. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) attacked us on the ground that we did not invest enough in the railway system. I would point out that we invested £115 million this year, which is well over double the last figure of investment when the Opposition were in office. The Beeching Plan is a reshaping plan. I do not think that Dr. Beeching would claim it as his own personal achievement. Whenever there is a success to announce he is very quick to say that it is the result of team work and co-operation.
§ Mr. Webster
The reduction of the deficit by £22 million is, I think, an advantage to us all as taxpayers. From what hon. Members opposite seek to do during debates on the Budget and the Finance Bill it is obvious that they, too, have the interests of the taxpayer at heart.
It is interesting to note the violent opposition that is always shown to the reshaping plan—we are experiencing it again tonight—the resistance to it, and the determination to have an overall survey. We continually hear that hon. Members on this side of the Committee are supported by subscriptions from some unknown bodies. Hon. Members should be aware of what Mr. Harry Nicholas, Treasurer of the Labour Party and Assistant General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said:We in the unions have a special responsibility. Our union gave birth to the Labour Party. We largely sustain it financially and greatly influence its political decisions.
§ Mr. Spriggs
On a point of order. Is what the hon. Member now saying relevant to the subject under discussion?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Grimston)
I think that no more than a 514 passing reference should be made to subscriptions to either political party.
§ Mr. Webster
I have made my passing reference, Sir Robert.
The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) has rightly said that the unions must face the facts of life as they are in the late 1960s. He took an excellent stand on that and was publicly rebuked by Mr. John Boyd and by Mr. McGarvey, who said:If the Labour Party wants our support, then Mr. Wilson must control those under him, particularly those in the Shadow Cabinet.This is relevant to the problem which we are facing today and I am sure that the whole Committee will take note of it. The representatives here of the National Union of Mineworkers seem to be concerned at the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Spriggs rose—
§ Mr. Webster
The Opposition run a continuing vendetta against the private enterprise road haulier and the right of the businessman to choose his own method of transport. They blame the denationalisation of the road haulage system for the down-turn in our finances. Yet during the last four years, while the traffic has increased by 35 per cent. on the roads, the number of vehicles has increased by only 5 per cent.
When we talk about cost I think that we should remember that during the time of nationalisation, between 1947 and 1952, the cost per haul per ton on 105 miles rose from 23s. to 31s. 1d., a rise of 35 per cent. During the next 11 years it was reduced to 29s. 3d., a reduction of 5 per cent. That shows that under a private competition system costs are reduced most drastically. For a haul of 190 miles the cost rose from 30s. 3d. per ton to 43s. 9d. during the five years between 1947 and 1952. There has been a reduction to 40s. 3d. during what had been called 12 wasted years.
What has the Labour Party in mind for this highly efficient and competitive industry? The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) is very concerned about road safety. He should be aware that the drivers of heavy vehicles have the best road safety record of any class 515 of road user. That is on the official record of this House. The industry is under the threat of nationalisation. It has lived with it for years. The people in the industry—the drivers, owners and others who rely on it for their livelihood—want to know the method of nationalisation to be imposed on them.
The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said not long ago:The fewer detailed commitments we have when we enter office the greater will our opportunities be.The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is reported as saying in Washington, 16 months ago, that the Labour Party wouldrebuild this integrated system, not so much on the basis of buying off every lorry, every truck, every little back-street garage that's got four or five broken down lorries together with the good will and pay enormous sums for them as we did last time—but on the basis of taking the lid off the already nationalised British Road Services.
§ Mr. Webster
This is not a question of shackles. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite would not keep interrupting me I could complete my remarks and sit down. I am talking about the prospects of unemployment in the industry—
§ Mr. Webster
—because the longdistance drivers and others are worried about their future. They are worried about what will happen if a Labour Government take office. In these conditions it is only right that those who are concerned with the industry should be free to contribute to the party which they consider will resist this monstrous form of theft.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Webster
I am talking about a form of compulsory acquisition without adequate terms of compensation. Hon. Members opposite may care to recall what the Attorney-General, in 1949, then Sir Hartley Shawcross—with whose policy hon. Members opposite may not agree, but who, they cannot deny, was a Law Officer who is far above reproach 516 —said. He stated that one was entitled, by law, to defend one's interests whether one was a worker in or owner of the industry concerned.
§ Mr. Webster
The people in the industry fear a Labour Government taking things over and putting on distance limits, as they did before, taking licensing restrictions off the B.R.S. and bringing about a gradual withering away of the private road haulage system. That is what they are planning. [Interruption.] They would take away from the individual, from the businessman, the right to choose the method of transportation of his goods. Everyone knows that the last time it happened people went in for C licences so that they could transport their goods in their own vehicles and so maintain their efficiency. They sent their goods by road, in their own vehicles.
§ Mr. Webster
We hear veiled threats about the C licensee and about the restrictions that will be placed on him—and the hon. Member for Southwark has on many occasions said things of this kind. We are given to understand that the right hon. Member for Batter-sea, North would restrict their activities—[Interruption.] I wish that hon. Members opposite would remain silent for a moment. Instead of sanity and competition, as we have had during the term of office of the present Minister of Transport—
§ Mr. Webster
—we would have compulsion, tacked on to a system that would not be competitive—nationalisation not only by the backdoor, but down the drainpipe—followed by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) going on about his wealth tax and creaming off the riches of the nation.
§ Mr. Spriggs
On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is now talking about a wealth tax. Surely that has nothing to do with the subject under discussion?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I was about to stop the hon. Gentleman. A wealth tax has nothing to do with the subject under debate.
§ Mr. Webster
I am pointing out that all these things are creamed from profits. Only a profitable industry in a profitable economy can bring any of these things about. The Opposition's proposals are like a Portuguese or Spanish man o'war. They would lead to no profits and would give no wealth to the nation. There would only be prophets of gloom and despair.
§ Mr. Collick
On a point of order, Sir Robert. May I have your guidance on whether there is any way in which this debate can be extended? Many hon. Members who have been sitting here throughout the debate have been hoping to catch your eye, have never left the Chamber, and have not had an opportunity to speak. In those circumstances, would it be possible to extend the debate for an hour?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Although I may sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, there is no possibility of such an extension.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
Whatever one may think of the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), one thing we can say with certainty—and on my part with gratitude—and that is that he has raised the temperature of the debate. That was a worth-while thing to do and, if I can, I propose to keep the temperature up.
This has been a very interesting debate, in which a number of important speeches have been made. In particular, we have been fortunate in hearing a very remarkable maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Alldritt). Everyone who heard it will agree that it was first-class. We hope to hear him frequently in our debates.
We have heard differing views from different parts of the House about the Minister of Transport and the stewardship of his Department during the last five years. Naturally, the views expressed from the Government side have been laudatory and those from this side have been critical, but the views expressed by the Minister of Transport himself were 518 perfectly clear. He thinks that he is a marvellous Minister of Transport, and he is also convinced that his term of office is rapidly coming to an end. I agree with him entirely on his latter proposition, but not on the first one.
I suggest that the views which the right hon. Gentleman holds of himself—which he probably holds because he has repeated so frequently on public platforms praises of his own administration that he has now come to believe them himself—are a little distorted. If one considers his record, one finds that he has certainly been a very active Minister of Transport. He has been rushing about all over the place, here and abroad, and he speaks a great deal in the House and on television. He is an exceedingly active Minister, but activity is not enough—after all, every ant is active. The question is what has been the outcome of all his activity, and whether, apart from words, his record has not been as I suggest, largely one of procrastination and indecision—too little, or too late, or both.
I take, first, as an example, the Minister's belated decision to allow the construction of the new Victoria-Walthamstow Underground line to proceed. This decision was taken only after years of pressure by the London Transport Executive. The House gave authority for the undertaking in 1955, and the line should have been in operation by now. Those who travel in that part of London, and the industries located there, will have to pay dearly in delays and frustration for the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to act earlier.
As far as I know, there is no indication that he is considering the other equally necessary Underground extensions in London. There is urgent need for one in south-east London, for one going to the north-west of London and for an Underground serving some of the central stations and forming a new cross-river link. All of these are badly needed. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether any study or consideration is being given now to such extensions of the Underground system because, as he knows—or ought to know—much as they are needed now, they will be much more needed in a few years' time. I should have thought it essential to prepare plans now, so as to use the construction equipment and the 519 trained labour force employed on the Walthamstow-Victoria line when the present work is completed.
There have been similar Ministerial delays in the provision of rural transport. Ever since the Jack Committee reported a few years ago on the urgent need for action and suggested various remedies, the Minister has done nothing about it at all, except set up a number of further inquiries, the latest of which has only recently been launched—and heaven knows when it will report. Meanwhile those people who live in areas where public road transport is scarce and who need such transport continue to suffer.
Then there has been his refusal to take any really effective action to reduce the number of accidents on the roads caused through drunken driving. I agree that in other safety matters he has taken useful action, but I do not think that even he would claim that the minor amendment of the law in the 1963 Traffic Act could make any significant impact upon this problem. On this issue, he has used, not once but twice, his favourite device of setting up a committee of inquiry as a substitute for action.
In 1959, the country was shocked when 215 people were killed over the Christmas holidays. What did the Minister do? He said:It is obvious that the first thing to do is to make a scientific assessment why the deaths were caused. I have asked the Road Research Laboratory to investigate".Everyone except the Minister knew what the cause was; it was perfectly obvious—it was drink. The Road Research Laboratory considered the matter, made investigations and reported accordingly.
Last year, the country was again shocked by the appalling number of Christmas road deaths. What did the Minister do then? He again told the House that nothing could be done until there had been a scientific investigation into the cause of all those deaths. He again asked the Road Research Laboratory to make an investigation, which it did and published its report last month, and, of course, came to exactly the same conclusion as it did four years ago. Still the Minister, as far as we know, is doing nothing about it.
520 In one of the right hon. Gentleman's recent farewell speeches—and the Minister has been making as many as any prima donna on the eve of her retirement—he said, in retrospective mood, that he had funked no problem. In fact, he has funked a large number of problems, but none more blatantly than this one. His actions have been confined to expressing indignation, condemning the drunken motorist, and telling the House and the country over television that something ought to be done about it. But he has consistently refused to enact the one obvious deterrent, that is to make it an offence for a motorist to drive when he has more than a certain amount of alcohol in his blood. He has refused to do this in spite of overwhelming evidence from abroad that such a law has a marked effect in reducing accidents caused by excessive drinking.
Let us consider the Government's action in road building. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies will not, as some of his back benchers have done sometimes, say, "The Labour Government did nothing between 1945 and 1951." That is perfectly true, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that during that period when our resources were overstrained in transforming our economy from a wartime one into a peacetime one and repairing some of the ravages of war, we could not do anything more than we did. In fact, at that time Conservative Members and the Conservative Opposition Front Bench were constantly criticising us for trying to do too much too quickly. We did everything that was possible. We brought before Parliament and passed the law under which motorways have since been built, and we prepared an outline plan for those roads.
What is the record of the Conservative Government? It was six years after they took office before there was any appreciable increase in road building. There was no excuse for that delay, and ever since then they have been building new roads on a wholly inadequate scale and comparatively much below that of all other European countries.
The Minister tries to convey the impression that all is well by telling us every now and again, as he did today, of an increase in the road building programme during the coming years, but 521 what he does not say is that it is being increased from a miserably low base figure and that the new sum proposed will still be wholly insufficient to meet the nation's needs. Those needs are to provide road facilities which will enable essential traffic to move freely in 10 years' time when the number of cars on the roads will have been doubled.
We know that recently the Minister visited the United States. He announced on his return, with his well-known modesty, that he discovered there a number of remarkable things. Most of the things he discovered had been long known to everyone else, and I think that one of these days the right hon. Gentleman will watch a kettle boil and discover steam. Among the things he told us he had discovered was that large and expensive road-making machinery was enabling roads to be built quicker and cheaper, and he said that the Government might buy such machinery and loan it to contractors here.
This may be a good idea, but why did we have to wait for this to be considered until the present late stage in our road construction programme? If his Department is not aware of the new techniques for road building and increasing traffic flow, many of them exceedingly ingenious and being constantly developed in America and in European countries, it ought to be. If it is not, the fault and the responsibility is the Minister's. I should like to know why this machinery, which we all know is first-class, was not brought here and loaned to contractors very much earlier.
The Minister's programme for urban motorways, where as we all agree the needs are greatest, envisages the expenditure, as he has told us, of £140 million a year by 1970. The right hon. Gentleman appears to be satisfied that this is adequate. That satisfaction is not shared by anyone with a knowledge of the problem, and certainly not by Professor Buchanan, our greatest authority in this matter whose knowledge and foresight has rightly been extolled by the Minister in the highest terms on many occasions.
This is what Professor Buchanan wrote in "Traffic Engineering and Control" last May:I find it difficult to sympathise with the Minister of Transport when he announces that investment in urban motor roads is likely to 522 advance to £140 million a year by 1970, as if it were a very large sum indeed. I can see that expenditure needs to be stepped up gradually, but do not let us pretend that £140 million a year is anywhere near the investment required.I hope that the Government will no longer foster that pretence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) said a great deal about the railways and I do not want to repeat anything that he said. But there are one or two questions which I should like to ask. One of these was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) and it is an important one. There is a grave danger, and this is a fear shared by coal distributors all over the country, that under the Beeching proposals to concentrate the number of coal depôts, coal will have to be carried far greater distances by road, with the result that the cost to the consumer will rise steeply. Indeed, there is fear in some areas that if the existing coal depôts are closed, in bad weather no delivery of coal will be made at all.
It would be a most regrettable consequence of the attempt to save money on the railways if all coal consumers, industrial and domestic, outside the large towns had to pay far more for their coal. It would mean that those consumers were subsidising the railways, and the net social effect would be bad. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary—I have given him notice of the question—will give us an undertaking that no such thing will happen and that, if there is any danger of it happening, the Minister will interfere and give the Railways Board the direction which he is entitled to give and tell the Board not to proceed further with their coal plans.
I was interested to read in the newspapers that £17 million is to be spent in modernising the railway workshops, those which are left over after the concentration process is completed. But is it not a frightful waste of resources to refuse to permit the existing manufacturing facilities, most of which are very good, up to date and of a high standard, and the skilled workshop staffs, to produce equipment for which there is a demand, wherever that demand may come from? I am referring, of course, as did several of my hon. Friends today, to the Minister's refusal to accede to 523 Dr. Beeching's request that the railway workshops be permitted to tender for the manufacture of oil wagons—I understand that the contracts would be worth millions of pounds—required by the oil companies to run on British Railways lines.
The Minister's arguments in favour of his decision are quite ludicrous. The first, that it would interfere with the Railways Board's prime task of running the railways, is plainly nonsense. If that were right, Dr. Beeching would not have made the request. His second argument, that workshop costings are not sound enough to ensure that prices would cover real costs, including depreciation and a reasonable profit margin, is just not true. It may have been so in the past, but it is certainly not so now.
One can only conclude that the Minister's decision stems from his prejudice against publicly-owned industry. His embargo on permitting these workshops to compete on fair terms with private industry will, of course, be reversed by a Labour Government.
Fares are shortly to be raised by the Railways Board for commuters in the London area, and the London area alone. Season tickets are to go up by 7½ per cent. I should like some enlightenment on the principle underlying this decision. A Railways Board spokesman said that the increase would bring in about £1 million, equal to the sum paid out in wage increases to railwaymen in the London area last December. But those wage increases were not confined to London. Why, then, is it proposed to confine the increase in fares to the London commuter? Is it because he is a captive traveller in the sense that he has to use the train, whereas in most other parts of the country he can use alternative transport, including the private car?
If that is the reason—and I can think of no other—the Board's policy is, I suggest, grossly unfair. It discriminates against London commuters, very many of whom live a good way out of London and already have to pay more than those living elsewhere in travelling to and from work. In my view, they have good reason to resent being picked out 524 in this way to make a special contribution to meet the railway deficit. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can give a better excuse for this discrimination than the one we have been given so far by the Railways Board.
In the earlier part of the debate, there was considerable reference to Dr. Beeching's submission to the Geddes Committee that heavy vehicles do not pay their proper share of the cost of new roads and that they should be more heavily taxed, with the object of putting them in a state of fair competition with the railways. There probably is a case for increased Excise Duty for heavy vehicles, but I admit that I was not myself much impressed by Dr. Beeching's arithmetic and arguments, and I have not found any economist or expert—I have consulted many—who has been.
It seems to me extraordinary that Dr. Beeching should have presented this case at all in public, particularly in the way that he did. Taxation on road vehicles, in spite of what the Minister said today, has nothing whatever to do with the Geddes Committee, which, by its terms of reference, is confined to considering the present licensing system. Nor has it anything to do with the cost of transport by road compared with the cost of transport by rail.
I find it rather invidious that one element of our transport system—the railways—should, with great publicity, try to make a case for penalising another element, which, incidentally, includes a considerable section under public ownership. The body which should be doing this research is plainly the Ministry of Transport, acting impartially and being concerned only with the national interest. The Minister told us today that such calculations are being made in his Department. Did Dr. Beeching know that they were being made? Did he consult the Ministry officials about the work that they had done before he issued his own conclusions?
As Dr. Beeching's conclusions have been made public, may we have an undertaking that those made by the Ministry will be made public, too, when they are completed? If so, we may get nearer to the truth when we see the figures produced by the Ministry and 525 the Railways Board and also by British Road Services, which, finding their carrying trade threatened by the possibility of new taxes being put upon it, will no doubt want to put in their own estimates and figures.
Certainly the problems of the transport industry—the relationship of road to rail, the extent to which the railways should be a service to the public and industry and not just a commercial enterprise—are formidable. But the trouble with the Government is that, by philosophy and temperament, their approach to these problems is all wrong. They believe in competition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and private enterprise, and they dislike public ownership. That is why they sold most of the British Road Services vehicles to haulage companies. They would have sold the lot—that was their declared intention—if the pressure of industry expressed through the National Chamber of Trade had not prevented it.
That is why the Government even contemplated at one time a measure of competition between the various railway regions—a folly which Dr. Beeching immediately stopped. That is why they disintegrated the publicly-owned transport system in the 1962 Act and left the various elements which comprised it in deliberate competition linked together only by the spurious National Transport Advisory Council. We said at the time that the Bill was before us that this body was only a facade, a pretence that there was to be co-ordination at top level. I understand that it has done nothing of any importance whatsoever. In view of its present lack of powers, it is a complete waste of time.
It is the very opposite of disintegration and the free play of competition that is needed. It is integration, planning and control—all anathema to the Conservative mind—which alone can bring order and prosperity to transport. That is implicit in all the authoritative surveys which have been presented to us recently—the Hall Report, the Rochdale Report, the Buchanan Report and even the Beeching Report. Gradually the Minister and his colleagues are giving grudging acceptance to these ideas. In their speeches they accept them in 526 principle, but to carry them out is too great an affront to their ingrown prejudices. The Minister hails the Buchanan Report and has taken some steps of approval, such as circulating local planning authorities and setting up an interdepartmental board.
The Minister, by constantly telling us that he discovered Professor Buchanan—a favourite theme of many speeches to which I have listened—tries to attract to himself much of the credit for the Report and to bask in some of the public acclaim with which it has been received. When, however, it comes to doing those things which the Report states are essential if its conclusions are to be implemented—setting up bodies such as regional development councils and enacting planning controls on a comprehensive scale—the Minister baulks at the prospect and says "No".
Over the whole field of transport, the Minister and his colleagues are inhibited by the outmoded philosophy to which they still cling from taking coherent and effective action along the lines called for by modern conditions. The Times of 18th June put it this way:In transport, the need for greater public investment, planning and control is indisputable. It is for the electors to decide if Labour's natural zeal for such measures is preferable to Conservative caution.Fortunately, it will not be long before the electors make their decision, and there can be little doubt what it will be.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)
I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Alldritt) on his maiden speech. He spoke with assurance and made his points reasonably and I am certain that we all hope that our debates will be enlivened by frequent contributions from him in the future.
As to the points raised by the hon. Member, the £3½ million represents the grant allocation from 1965 to 1968 and it has been increased to £6¼ million for 1968–69 and covers schemes which have been put forward mostly for the new Mersey Tunnel. The £118 million which the hon. Member mentioned 527 probably refers to Liverpool's requirements for all classified road schemes in the long term, but so far we have not received any proposals about them. As to the Southport—Liverpool line, the question of which the hon. Member raised, if he has any points of a non-hardship nature I hope that he will communicate them to my right hon. Friend the Minister.
I was rather surprised when I heard that the Opposition had chosen to discuss transport on one of their rather precious Supply Days. At the end of the debate, I am even more surprised at that choice, because they have clearly failed to sustain the attack which they tried to mount against my right hon. Friend and his record. What hon. Members opposite have done is to show themselves utterly out of touch with opinion in the country, and in their assessment of my right hon. Friend's record they have shown, as usual, that they are living in the past.
It is true that at one time my right hon. Friend's drive and determination to get things done was misunderstood and that he was, let us face it, for a time unpopular. That, however, was in the past. My right hon. Friend is no longer unpopular. The good results of his policy are clear for everyone to see, except, apparently for hon. Members opposite.
In the Gallup poll which was published in the Daily Telegraph last winter, to the questionDo you think that Mr. Marples is doing a good or bad job as Minister of Transport?came the answer, from 55 per cent., that he was doing a very good job indeed. What is clear to the public is, unfortunately, apparently hidden from the transport pundits on the benches opposite.
My right hon. Friend received the other day a letter which said:If Wilson, Brown and company do get in they will solve the traffic problem on the roads in twelve months. No one will have any money to run or buy a motor car.Having, however, decided to discuss transport it is very surprising to find that some of the matters raised most vehemently and with the greatest passion in the debate have, strictly speaking, very little to do with transport at all. They reflect the doctrinaire views of the party opposite. Indeed, a considerable proportion of the debate has been concerned 528 less with the solution of practical problems than it has with ideological dialectics.
An example of this is the manufacturing powers of the railways, to which many hon. Members have referred. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) led off on this, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) finished on the same note. It is always extraordinary to me how right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite come back again and again to the same theme. It is not as if we had not made our views perfectly clear in the debates on the Transport Bill of 1962, and more recently in the short debate we had before Easter.
Hon. Gentlemen say that we on this side of the Committee believe in competition, but will not allow freedom to the railways to compete. Manufacturing, however, is not competition in the transport world, which is what we are anxious to encourage so far as the transport undertaking is concerned. This amounts to an extension of nationalisation into a manufacturing, non-transport field.
The argument normally used to justify the nationalisation of an industry is that private industry has fallen down on the job. That is what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite always say. In this case, however, private industry has not fallen down on the job. It is quite capable of doing the job. Indeed, private industry might well retort to this charge that if anything it is the railways which have fallen down on the job, and that they could not exist for one moment without the vast subsidies which the taxpayers are paying towards them, and towards those the private manufacturer has to contribute his share. Surely it cannot be regarded as normal competition that manufacturers should be forced through taxation to help keep in existence an industrial organisation which is then free to launch into competing in non-transport manufacturing activities.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall referred to excess capacity, but when, as we all know, there is reduced demand for wagons due to modernisation it seems to me to be very odd, and, indeed, not quite fair, that an alteration like this—because it is an alteration—should be proposed in the arrangements which have existed 529 for so long, simply to insulate railway workshops from the processes of change. This is a case in which, if the facts require adjustments, and if they have to be made by private industry, they must also be made by State industry as well.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Mr. Galbraith
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have already crossed swords with him on a previous occasion.
§ Mr. Galbraith
As we see it, this is primarily a transport undertaking seeking to enter a manufacturing undertaking. Our policy and purpose is simply to ensure that nothing stops the Board from concentrating wholeheartedly on making its section of the transport industry the most efficient system of any in the world, and the more that it can concentrate on that, undisturbed by ancillary activities which are well catered for elsewhere, the more likely is it to succeed in the vital job which only it can do.
One of the main strands running through this debate, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, has been: how are we to live with the motor car? There is the safety aspect of this, on which I propose to say a few words later. There is also the amenity aspect, and here my right hon. Friend is preparing regulations controlling noise along the lines recommended by the Wilson Committee, and he is also seeking to find a reliable technique for measuring excessive smoke. But the main aspect is congestion, to which a great many hon. Members have referred—the problem of simply getting about when there are so many other people in cars trying to get about at the same time.
So far as inter-urban roads are concerned, there is no doubt, whatever hon. Gentleman opposite may say, that we are in the process of solving the problem. On any computation, we are engaged on a massive programme of building a first-class network of motorways on a scale which, I am sorry to say again, makes the efforts of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power seem very puny indeed.
530 What their position is now I do not know. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall said tonight what he said in the Scotsman not long ago, that the programme is "completely inadequate". Yet his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), when referring to schools, hospitals and roads, said that such programmes could not be exceeded. Who is right? Is it the right hon. Gentleman or is it his hon. Friend? This is the trouble with the Leaders opposite; they will not say clearly and categorically what their policy is.
Inside the towns the problem is, of course, much more difficult. It says very much for the perception of my right hon. Friend that the moment he took office he realised this, and that one of his very first actions was to appoint the Buchanan Committee. He has been praised for this speedy action, but now there is a tendency to criticise him—the right hon. Gentleman gave voice to this, unfairly I thought—for not doing what is described as "getting Buchanan off the ground" quickly enough. I could understand this impatience from ordinary people, but not from hon. Members opposite who are afraid to do anything on railways until they have examined the minutiae of every section of other forms of transport, including even pipelines. I should have expected greater understanding of all that is involved in implementing Buchanan.
As my right hon. Friend made quite clear in his opening speech, we have not shelved Buchanan, nor are we slowing down on it. What we are doing is making sure through transport land use surveys, which are the very heart of the matter, that local authorities have available to them the data necessary to make the right decisions. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) said, this is absolutely vital to a right decision.
In cases of particular difficulty—balancing, for example, the value of two alternative routes—we shall use the new costing techniques for assessing total benefit which, with the aid of the universities, we are now developing. All this will obviously take some time, but Buchanan is looking ahead for 40 years, and for the immediate future the solution lies in new and improved forms of traffic 531 management. The good results of my right hon. Friend's energy in this regard are visible for everybody to see.
The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) referred to buses and the need to make use of them and for improved facilities. Traffic management is particularly important to public transport, which we believe will have an increasingly important part to play in the large conurbations. The recently announced decisions of the London Transport Board with regard to innovations for greater efficiency, such as the use of standee buses, will also help.
Hon. Members opposite offer subsidies as a solution for transport difficulties, and, indeed, for every other kind of industrial difficulty. We do not believe that there is any general need for this and that a speedier and more reliable service is what is really wanted. A subsidy will not provide that, but traffic engineering will.In any case, if the Government, on behalf of the community, allocates indiscriminate general subsidies to particular forms of transport there will inevitably be that much less for other objects of expenditure. Transport after all is not a social service. It is a consumer good.I will enlighten the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) about that. I am quoting from the Socialist Commentary of 1963.
§ Mr. Manuel
Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that certain basic lines serving scattered rural populations in the Highlands have escaped the axe because the Minister does not agree with the analysis the hon. Gentleman is trying to make?
§ Mr. Galbraith
Not at all. We agree in this respect with Socialist Commentary. Equally—and this meets the point the hon. Gentleman puts—we have no doctrinaire objection to subsidies. The railways are already paying subsidies to unremunerative bus services which have replaced even more unremunerative railway services. But, as a general solution to the problem of public transport, subsidies are not a workable alternative to higher efficiency and better traffic management, and it is on these lines that we intend to proceed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) referred to 532 safety. The record over the past 12 years is not too bad. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall would, I am sure, agree with that. But he has changed his opinion about my right hon. Friend. Only on 24th January last, in referring to my right hon. Friend, he said:I think that he has done a great deal. He has taken many actions which have been wise, but unpopular, and I repeat my view that, on the whole, his record in this respect"—that of safety—is a very good one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1498.]I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that tribute to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Strauss
It is true, and it is what I think. But there is, nevertheless, this important section in which the right hon. Gentleman has ducked taking action where such action would have been most valuable.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I do not think that I can agree. My right hon. Friend gave more figures today showing the improvement that has taken place. For the past few months we have been reviewing the whole apparatus of road safety to see what scope there is for improvement. One thing is quite clear. There is no simple solution.
Road accidents happen because of a whole host of different factors, and we must analyse these systematically and develop measures to eliminate them or reduce their effect. It is a question of making a large number of small advances on a broad front. Because all these accident statistics and investigations are fundamental to solving the road safety problem, we set up last year, with a view to improving services, two experimental area road safety units in Warwickshire and Hampshire. They have been trying out new ways of getting information about accidents. We are also reexamining the present machinery for collecting and analysing accident statistics to see whether we can improve on the present arrangements. I hope that the experiments by these two units may help in this regard.
In an interjection, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire referred to heavy lorries. I would like to have said something about this, but I have not time. I refer him, therefore, to the recent 533 Adjournment debate on this subject, when it was shown that my right hon. Friend is, as one would expect, extremely active in this direction. Next week, in Edinburgh, the hon. Member will see one of these blitzes taking place.
§ Mr. Galbraith
On lorries, to make certain that they are properly maintained.
Safety is not just a matter of vehicles on the roads. It is, first and foremost, a social problem involving people's attitude to the car. As the Buchanan Report put it, we have to develop a sixth sense of motorised responsibility. But this is not a problem that the Government can solve on their own. It is impossible to impose a solution on the community and on the community's way of living. It must be acceptable to the people and it must deserve their respect and their co-operation. This is what is so difficult about the drink problem.
My right hon. Friend recognises this problem and because of this he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland have decided to set up a small high-level road safety advisory council to advise them on this—
§ Mr. Galbraith
Yes, another one, and another one which will produce results.
This council will replace the existing much larger departmental road safety committee which is chaired by my noble Friend Lord Chesham, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking its members on his behalf, and on behalf of my right hon. Friend, for the excellent work which they have done since the war.
The new council will have an independent outside chairman and will be given every encouragement to take the initiative and to explore any solution, however novel, which it thinks might be profitable. It will work through a series of functional sub-committees on particular aspects of the problem with a wider membership including people expert in their particular fields. The council may come up with recommendations which are critical of the Ministry or of the Government, but this is something 534 which we do not mind, because the important thing is to get an entirely new look at the problem and to try to develop an approach which is both practicable and acceptable to road users. My right hon. Friend hopes to be able to make a further announcement about the appointment of the council and its chairman before the Summer Recess.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked for an assurance that the railways' concentration of coal depôts would not result in higher prices because of longer and more expensive road deliveries, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) asked much the same sort of question. In so far as they are the responsibility of any Minister, coal prices are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power. There is no control over the retail prices charged by coal merchants. The future level of costs in different areas will depend upon the types of depôts agreed locally by British Railways, the National Coal Board and the coal merchants, the rebates on freight which the railways are able to allow in each case, the possibility of road haulage and other local circumstances.
It is obviously in the interests of the Board, the railways and the trade to avoid increases in coal distribution costs. The committee which they have set up to plan the movement of coal in the light of Dr. Beeching's proposals aims at avoiding, so far as possible, any increase in the average costs of distribution. What is certain is that there are very big absolute economies to be obtained from coal concentration, and that the benefits of these economies cannot be gained, and so cannot be passed on to the consumer, if concentration schemes are not allowed to go ahead. I hope that that satisfies both right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. P. Noel-Baker
As the Parliamentary Secretary is dealing with coal distribution depôts, will he answer my question? Will the Minister receive the civic deputation from Derby and the two Members of Parliament for that borough?
§ Mr. Galbraith
My right hon. Friend is always delighted to receive the right hon. Gentleman, but in this case, when the matter refers to freight, for which my right hon. Friend is not responsible, and 535 when this is a nation-wide change, my right hon. Friend must decline the pleasure.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper) rose—
§ Mr. Brown rose—
§ Mr. Brown rose—
§ The Chairman
Order. The Committee knows quite well that a right hon. Gentleman and an hon. Gentleman cannot address the Committee at the same time.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I have not given way because the right hon. Gentleman has not shown sufficient interest to attend the debate until just now.
That brings me to the vexed question of railway closures, in which I think we are all interested. In fact, I know that we are all interested in them, because this Session we have had no less than eight Adjournment debates on this subject at which I have tried to explain the Government's policy. Usually there have been only a couple of Members present, and with so few people present to hear what I had to say I thought that there was no chance of ever bringing to a conclusion these dreary midnight matinees in which I have unfortunately had to be the reluctant star. But this evening, with the House so relatively full, I now have an opportunity of being able to show that when we agree to a closure we do not act in any harsh Draconian fashion, but with a due sense of responsibility for all the issues involved.
I think that the House knows what the procedure is. First, the railways on their own initiative—and I must stress that it has nothing to do with the Minister or the Government—decide in the light of their own commercial judgment which lines they wish to close. Dr. Beeching made it clear in his Reshaping Report that the railways put forward a service for closure only when they have studied every way of making it pay, and when they have concluded that there is no hope of the service ever 536 becoming remunerative. I think that that answers the point made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South.
Dr. Beeching stated at page 56 of his Report, and this is very important:It is not thought that any firm proposals put forward in this Report would be altered by the introduction of new factors for the purpose of judging overall social benefit.When the railways make a proposal, they have taken account of costs in the very widest sense. The calculations which lead to this decision are clearly a function of management, which the Transport Act of 1962 laid fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Board. It is this responsibility and nobody else's which it has freedom to exercise.
What do hon. Gentlemen opposite consider to be wrong with the procedure that we carry out? I know that it is anathema to them to mention money, but in spite of the magnificent reduction in the deficit this year by £22 million, the deficit still represents about 6d. on the Income Tax.
§ Mr. Monslow
I put a number of questions to the Minister to which I have had no reply. I think that instead of reading a Civil Service brief he should reply to the debate.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am trying to answer some of the points, but the hon. Gentleman knows that it is getting late. What I am trying to say is that if one has this money to spend, is it right to spend it on keeping open lines which inquiry has shown are little used, where there is no hardship, and where there is no damage of a social kind? That is what I cannot understand about the party opposite.
Writing in the Scotsman, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall said—and he will be interested in this because we are going to agree—that if any socially desirable part of the system cannot pay its way it should be kept going from public funds. What are we quarrelling about? We on this side of the Committee have no wish to close lines which are socially desirable.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that we have kept open the Highland line? Why does he think that we have kept open the Central Wales line, the commuter lines from Coryton into Cardiff and the line from Sanderstead 537 into London, when they are losing vast sums of money, without their being any social reasons for keeping them open? Why do we close the rest? Because it is a sheer waste of public money to keep them open.
We decide these matters in the public interest, balancing social need against the cost to the citizen. In some cases that have come before us the taxpayer is actually subsidising each traveller to the extent of over £200 a year. When there are adequate alternatives, when there is no hardship, and when the roads are sufficient, we cannot see why the State should support in unnecessary luxury these privileged classes, and the party opposite—the champions of egalitarianism—should surely be with us in our endeavour to achieve social justice for all. Whatever they may feel in their hearts, however, I suppose that they have to be careful not to offend their powerful financial supporters.
The hon. Member for Southwark pledged his fellow union leaders in transportnot to shrink from the necessity of change,but he quickly hedged in this bold statement with an undertaking to do nothing until they hadseen the problems of every other section of the industry.What possible need is there to investigate the problems of other sections of the industry before taking a decision, for example, on the Elgin-Lossiemouth line—5 miles long, in respect of which there was one written objection, and when not a single person turned up at the public inquiry—bearing in mind that the line is losing the taxpayer £5,000 a year.
§ It is facts like this that make the protests of the Opposition such utter nonsense. We in the Government are proceeding in a scientific and humane manner to streamline yesterday's railway system so as to suit it to the needs of today. Where it is shown to be socially desirable we retain services which do not pay, but where these reasons do not exist, we get rid of them. The alternative of the Opposition is to keep them open but to make them pay by having what they call an integrated system, with the right balance between road and rail. That sounds all right at first, until we realise that the right balance is not to be what the customer or traveller wants but what the Opposition think that he should have.
§ The cat was let out of the bag by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow), who has just been chiding me. Our way of doing things satisfies social need, and consumer choice and the national economy, but the Opposition, in the name of a theoretically right system, will squander the taxpayers' money and, what is far worse, deny people the freedom to travel how they want. I am glad that we are having this debate tonight. Transport is the touchstone that shows the Opposition in their true colours—well meaning, no doubt, but at heart tyrants, just the same.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 199, Noes 256.541
|Division No. 132.]||AYES||[10.0. p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Bradley, Tom||Dempsey, James|
|Ainsley, William||Brockway, A. Fenner||Diamond, John|
|Albu, Austen||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Doig, Peter|
|Alldritt, W. H.||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Driberg, Tom|
|Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Duffy, A. E. P. (Coine Valley)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Callaghan, James||Edelman, Maurice|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Carmichael, Nell||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Beaney, Alan||Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Evans, Albert|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Chapman, Donald||Fernyhough, E.|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Cliffe, Michael||Fletcher, Eric|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Collick, Percy||Foley, Maurice|
|Benson, Sir George||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)|
|Blackburn, F.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)|
|Boardman, H.||Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Forman, J. C.|
|Boston, T. G.||Dalyell, Tam||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W.(Leics, S. W.)||Darling, George||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Davies, Harold (Leek)||George, LadyMeganLloyd (Crmrthn)|
|Bowles, Frank||Daviee, S. O. (Merthyr)||Ginsburg, David|
|Boyden, James||Deer, George||Cordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Delargy, Hugh||Gourlay, Harry|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Melnnes, James||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Grey, Charles||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Short, Edward|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McLeavy, Frank||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Gunter, Ray||Manuel, Archie||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mapp, Charles||Small, William|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Marsh, Richard||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Hannan, William||Mellish, R. J.||Snow, Julian|
|Harper, Joseph||Millan, Bruce||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Milne, Edward||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Hayman, F. H.||Mitchison, G. R.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Healey, Denis||Monslow, Walter||Steele, Thomas|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Moody, A. S.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Hewitson, Capt. M.||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Stonehouse, John|
|Holman, Percy||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Stones, William|
|Holt, Arthur||Moyle, Arthur||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Houghton, Douglas||Mulley, Frederick||Stross, SirBarnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Hoy, James H.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Swain, Thomas|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Oliver, G. H.||Symonds, J. B.|
|Hunter, A. E.||O'Malley, B. K.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Oswald, Thomas||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Owen, Will||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Padley, W. E.||Thornton, Ernest|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Paget, R. T.||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Tomney, Frank|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pargiter, G. A.||Wade, Donald|
|Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Parker, John||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Pavitt Laurence||Watkins, Tudor|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Weitzman, David|
|Kelley, Richard||Peart, Frederick||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Pentland, Norman|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Whitlock, William|
|Lawson, George||Prentice, R. E.||Wigg, George|
|Ledger, Ron||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Randall, Harry||Willey, Frederick|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Rankin, John||Williams, LI. (Abertillery)|
|Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Redhead, E. C.||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Reynolds, G. W.||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Rhodes, H.||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Loughlin, Charles||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Woof, Robert|
|Lubbock, Eric||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|McCann, J.||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|MacColl, James||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|MacDermot, Niall||Ross, William||Mr. Ifor Davies and|
|Mr. Charles A. Howell.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Foster, Sir John|
|Allason, James||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (Stafford&Stone)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Julian||Cleaver, Leonard||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Anderson, D. C.||Cole, Norman||Freeth, Denzil|
|Arbuthnot, Sir John||Cooke, Robert||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Cooper, A. E.||Gardner, Edward|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan|
|Barber, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Corfield, F. V.||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)|
|Batsford, Brian||Costain, A. P.||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Coulson, Michael||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)|
|Bell, Ronald||Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos &. Fhm)||Crawley, Aidan||Goodhew, Victor|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Critchley, Julian||Gough, Frederick|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Crowder, F. P.||Gower, Raymond|
|Bidgood, John C.||Cunningham, Sir Knox||Green, Alan|
|Biffen, John||Curran, Charles||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Currie, G. B. H.||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Dalkeith, Earl of||Grosvenor, Lord Robert|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Dance, James||Gurden, Harold|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)|
|Bossom, Hon. Clive||Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Doughty, Charles||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Drayson, G. B.||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Duthie, Sir William (Banff)||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Eden, Sir John||Harvie Anderson, Miss|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Hastings, Stephen|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Hay, John|
|Bullard, Denys||Emery, Peter||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Henderson, Sir John (Cathcart)|
|Burden, F. A.||Errington, Sir Eric||Hendry, Forbes|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fell, Anthony||Hiley, Joseph|
|Campbell, Gordon||Fisher, Nigel||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John|
|Hocking, Philip N.||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Speir, Rupert|
|Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)||Stainton, Keith|
|Holland, Philip||Mawby, Ray||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Hollingworth, John||Maxwell-Hysiop, R. J.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Stodart, J. A.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P,||Miscampbell, Norman||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Montgomery, Fergus||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Morgan, William||Talbot, John E.|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Tapsell, Peter|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Iremonger, T. J.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Jennings, J. C.||Neave, Airey||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Temple, John M.|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Orr-Ewing, Sir lan (Hendon, North)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. Peter (Conway)|
|Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Partridge, E.||Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Korans, Cdr. J. S.||Peel, John||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter|
|Kerby, Capt. Henry||Percival, lan||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Peyton, John||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Kimball, Marcus||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Turner, Colin|
|Kirk, Peter||Pitman, Sir James||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Kitson, Timothy||Pitt, Dame Edith||Van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Lagden, Godfrey||Pounder, Rafton||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Lambton, Viscount||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Prior, J. M. L.||Walder, David|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho||Walker Peter|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wall, Patrick|
|Lilley, F. J. P.||Pym, Francis||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Linstead, Sir Hugh||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Webster, David|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Whitelaw, William|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.)||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Longbottom, Charles||Rees-Davies, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ronton, Rt. Hon. David||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Ridsdale, Julian||Wise, A. R.|
|MacArthur, lan||Robertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|McLaren, Martin||Robson Brown, Sir William||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|McMaster, Stanley R.||Roots, William||Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher|
|Maddan, Martin||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Maginnis, John E.||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)||Woollam, John|
|Maitland, Sir John||Russell, Sir Ronald||Worsley, Marcus|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Seott-Hopkins, James||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Marlowe, Anthony||Shaw, M.|
|Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Shepherd, William|
|Marshall, Sir Douglas||Skeet, T. H. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marten, Neil||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)||Mr. Finlay and Mr. J. E. B. Hill|