§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
If ever there was a Bill which ought to be non-controversial, the one which I am recommending to the House this afternoon is it. After all, we have the classic conditions of harmony here. We have a Bill introduced by the Government to deal with a situation created by their predecessors. And yet, with a shamelessness unparalleled in political history, the Opposition have put down an Amendment criticising the necessity for the salvage operation on the wreck produced by their policies. I simply cannot wait for the solemnity with which the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) will belabour me for not yet having cleared up his mess.
But I ought to be heartened, and indeed I am, by the terms of the Amendment, because it goes to show that conversion can come even to Conservatives. The Amendment admits that they had no solution to our public transport policies, and that they simply cannot wait to hear ours. I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will not have to wait for very long. I shall be presenting my White Paper to Parliament in a few weeks' time. I would have presented it this morning if we had not had to go to the country to get a five-year mandate to make sure that these new policies will be carried out.
What has made the Bill necessary? It is simply the fact that our predecessors in office played politics with this country's transport system, with the disastrous effects with which we are having to deal today. Let us look at the history of the matter. British Railways were the creation of the Labour Government of 1945, and we are very proud of that creation. They began life in 1948, and until 1953, under our integrated transport policy, they made a flying start. Although after paying interest there was, over the six-year period, a £40 million deficit, it was an average of less than £7 million a year.
1353 During the last three years of that period the railways' revenue entirely covered their costs, but, alas, in 1953 we had the first Conservative attempt at a transport policy, and as far as the railways were concerned it was simply disastrous. Indeed, this is how their 1953 Act was described a short time ago in the Daily Telegraph by Sir John Elliot, Chairman of the Railway Executive from 1951 to 1953. He said:Then in 1953, when solid progress had been made towards forging a national system, earning a surplus of about £40 million, the Conservatives, in one of the most ill-thought-out, starry-eyed pieces of legislation for years, which never had a hope of succeeding, ordered the break-up of the central management and the nearest approach to a return to pre-war 'four-company' organisation they dared.He added that thisfit of political bad temper … cost the nation millions of pounds.The effects of this absurd attempt at decentralisation in 1953 was immediately reflected in the railways' deficit. It rose to £21 million in 1954 alone, and to more than £38 million in 1955. By 1955, the Conservatives had another change of heart and of policy. They launched their modernisation plan, certainly a welcome change and long overdue, but it was not based on any careful assessment of what part a railway should play in a national transport plan. There was no plan. In those days planning and integration were dirty words indeed, and so, in this unplanned situation, the railways' deficit continued to rise relentlessly, until by 1962 the revenue deficit had risen to the astronomical figure of £159 million.
Undeterred by the consequences of their policy, in the 1962 Transport Act the Conservatives brought non-planning to a fine art. By that Act they wound up the British Transport Commission. They set publicly-owned road haulage in cut-throat competition with publicly-owned British Railways and then with a pious admonition, gave the railways the duty to break even at the earliest possible date. It is a miracle that they did not break down instead.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I agree with everything that the right hon. Lady has said, but may I ask why she has not taken steps to repeal, or at least to amend, the 1962 Act?
§ Mrs. Castle
Patience! I know that the hon. Gentleman cannot wait for relief from the sufferings caused by Conservative Transport policy, but, as I said earlier, he will not have very much longer to wait.
Even the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) realised that these new terms of reference for British Railways were a bit steep, so he gave them a breathing space, and under Section 22 of the 1962 Act, which we are amending by this Bill, he empowered himself, as Minister of Transport, to make grants to meet British Railways' deficits on revenue account during a period of five years which will expire on 31st December, 1967. He fixed a maximum of £450 million to cover these revenue deficit grants during that period. To help him to achieve commercial viability, he brought in Dr. Beeching as the chairman of the Railways Board, who produced the Beeching Plan of which we have all heard.
We would all agree that Dr. Beeching did a very effective job within his limited terms of reference. We would agree that there are some valuable analyses in his report and some information of which we can all make use. But, in deciding whether the Bill is necessary, I think that the House should notice two interesting facts. The first is that Dr. Beeching's reshaping report never visualised British Railways breaking even before about 1970. So even if the Beeching policy, the policy of the right hon. Member for Wallasey, had been fully implemented, the Bill would still have been necessary, because it would still have been necessary to extend beyond the end of next year the period during which revenue deficit grants could be paid.
The second thing which I want hon. Members to note is that hon. Members of all parties have never wanted to see the Beeching Plan fully implemented—never. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Wallasey himself repudiated parts of it and in the five months since I became Minister of Transport I and my colleagues have answered no less than 44 Parliamentary Questions criticising closures, the majority of them—26—being from the benches opposite. A large part of my time during the recent General Election campaign was spent in answering telephone calls from Labour candidates who 1355 told me that their Conservative opponents were going round the constituencies complaining about the closure of railways under the 1962 Act.
This is the reality which underlies the Bill, whatever debating points the poor, desperate hon. Member was trying to make—[Laughter.] I am sorry that he does not like the ruthless facts of history. At any rate, Beeching Plan or no Beeching Plan, the deficits have shown no signs of melting away—
§ Mrs. Castle
I am sorry, but if the hon. Gentleman would allow me to deploy the full facts of the situation, he will find that that is not so. He was very careful to qualify his interruption, at the second attempt. A year after Dr. Beeching took over, the deficit went up, so we can see that factors are at work which are beyond the control of even that maestro.
But the facts are these. Of the £450 million which was voted for the five years, 1963–67, £255 million had been exhausted in the first two years—an annual rate which indicated that the sum would run out in 3½ years, which is, in effect, what it has done and why the Bill is necessary. That is why I have to ask the House, first, that the period during which revenue deficit grants can be made should be extended for another year, that is, to December 1968 and, second, for an additional sum of £350 million to be provided—enough this time to cover all possible contingencies.
Of course, by voting this sum, we are not assuming that it will be spent. On the contrary, I hope, and I know that the whole House hopes, that British Railways will be able to do with much less. But when we are dealing with a railway system which has certain irremovable social obligations to the community, it is extremely difficult to budget with certainty as to what it will need to discharge that obligation, particularly when hon. Members opposite will be doing everything possible to impede its becoming commercially viable. I would point out 1356 to the House that a 5 per cent. variation in either revenue or expenditure on the railways could add £25 million to the deficit, so we must give ourselves, this time, sufficient elbow room.
We do not want any more of the inaccurate forecasting of our predecessors. We will leave ourselves a proper margin this time. We must allow time for the policies which I shall be announcing in the White Paper shortly to be translated into legislation—as they will in the next Session—and for their effects to work through the transport system and produce results. To assuage the curiosity of the hon. Member for Worcester about what policies I am laying down in the White Paper to deal with the financial problems of railways, I will say that I believe that it is wrong that losses on services run for socially essential purposes, such as carrying commuters to and from work, should be reflected in the Board's revenue account as part of its general deficit.
I believe that it is time that the House got away from the old mythology which has bedevilled the drawing up of an efficient transport system and transport policy. Let us face the realities. We know that London's traffic would come to a standstill tomorrow if we were to close commercially unviable commuter services. We know this from what has happened in other cities. Only a week or two ago, I refused certain closure proposals put to me by British Railways under the Beeching Plan for commuter services in Manchester and Liverpool. I refused them because I knew that it would be commercialism run mad to turn those people on to the streets of Liverpool and Manchester in their private cars.
Of course, British Railways had immediately to say that this would add to the deficit and what would the House of Commons do about it. The interesting fact is that I said to the regional manager for Manchester, "We know the figures of people using these services at peak hours. Since thousands of people are using them, how is it that they make a loss?" He said, "The answer is perfectly simple. All the traffic is concentrated at the peak periods and the off-peak traffic has been lost to the private car."
It does not matter what kind of management techniques one puts in, or 1357 how many Dr. Beechings one employs, one cannot get away from that basic problem, which this House must face and face realistically—
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The right hon. Lady referred to losses on commuter services. Could she say what those losses are and especially what they are on the London commuter services?
§ Mrs. Castle
I think that we can identify them to a certain extent. I am taking steps to see that all the social losses are identified—an operation which was not carried out by my predecessors. Hon. Members opposite hunger for information which was denied them by their own Government. I am taking steps to identify the social losses and, having identified them, we have to put them fairly and squarely where they belong on the shoulders of the community and give British Railways realistic operating targets which we can then expect them to reach.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Will the right hon. Lady tell us on the shoulders of which community she will put them?
§ Mrs. Castle
I shall be delighted to do that in due course in the White Paper, but this is not a debate on the White Paper yet. I look forward to that occasion with very great relish.
All I am saying to the House at this stage is that we have to find a new and realistic financial basis for the railways. Until we do, we cannot possibly visualise allowing the services to come to a full stop next month because they have run out of their revenue deficit grant.
The Opposition say that they will vote against the Bill tonight. Go ahead, and good luck to them. I know that many passengers in the British Isles will realise that this is a piece of irrelevant folly. It will reduce their own personal conditions of life to an unbearable extent. What the House has to face is that the Conservatives, in the 1962 Act, estimated inaccurately and drew up wrong policies, 1358 and that we have to have an interim Measure to see us through. This is the major element in the Bill which I am asking the House to approve this afternoon.
I ask the House to approve it to give us a breathing space for an entirely new policy to be debated and decided by this House and put into operation. In the meantime, the modernisation drive of the railways must go ahead, and I am encouraging it. The present investment rate is running at about £100 million a year. Funds for this investment are being provided substantially from depreciation provisions shown in the revenue account. The Board is borrowing only comparatively small sums from me for capital investment, so far only £50 million in total since the Board was set up almost three and a half years ago.
The costs of modernisation policy—which I hope we all support—are largely being carried on the revenue deficit account. If the Conservatives succeeded in defeating this Measure this afternoon, modernisation would come to a full-stop. I suggest that it is time we stopped knocking British Railways. Let us pay credit to the large achievements they have chalked up. Let us rejoice in the great success of the London-Manchester-Liverpool electrification scheme, the beginning of the electrification of the Bournemouth line and the Glasgow suburban line, and for the drive towards the modernisation of the freight services, a fuller use of which will be an integral part of the new policy.
I have just authorised a major new scheme for modernising Parkeston Quay and providing better facilities both for roll-on and roll-off and container traffic to the Continent. I believe that British Railways can be, and will increasingly be, in the van of a revolution in the modernisation of railway techniques, and more and more of them are needed. I hope that the House will show its confidence in the efforts of British Railways, both management and men, by passing the Bill not only by the usual majority, but with unanimous enthusiasm. Let the House give a vote of confidence in our railway system and the men who work in it.
Let us send a message from the House saying, "We are backing you and will do so to the extent that is necessary to enable you to produce a modern, efficient essential service to the community." This 1359 is the reason for the part of the Bill which extends by one year powers to make grants to meet the deficit on revenue account and to increase from £450 million to £800 million the limit placed on the amount of cash made available for that purpose.
A second important part of the Bill refers to London Transport. Once again, some fundamental reappraisal of the transport situation in London is needed, and I am undertaking it. The lessons of our transport situation in this country are clear for all to see. This small crowded island will never come to sensible terms with the motor age unless we deliberately set out to strengthen and to extend public transport in all its forms.
This is not to be against the private motorist. Of course, the private motorist who tries to commute to work in his own car in crowded cities is his own worst enemy. It is no good either admonishing him or restricting him unless we are also taking positive steps to improve the public transport system. Wasting no time, this is what we are proceeding to do.
As the House knows, last summer London Transport warned us that it was finding it increasingly impossible to reconcile its statutory duties laid upon it by the 1962 Act—two conflicting duties, on the one hand, to provide an adequate service, and on the other, to pay its way—which were totally impossible in the traffic conditions of London. Anyone who imagines that that can be done under the 1962 Act had better have another think. The Board said to my predecessor that it believed that even the maximum additional revenue it could get from increased fares would be insufficient for it to pay its way.
This warning has been quite clear. That is why the Government, last year, postponed the fare increases for as long as reasonably possible and reimbursed the Board for the loss of that revenue. This was never expected to deal with the situation beyond 1965. We knew that we had to put London Transport on to a different basis. That is what we are doing in the Bill. What I am asking Parliament to do is to assist London Transport on revenue account in the same way as British Railways have been assisted under the 1962 Act and 1360 to place on London Transport the same general statutory obligation to pay its way as soon as possible.
I am asking the House to do this to the tune of £16 million up to the end of 1968. I am not pretending that this is a final solution to London Transport's problem. It is not. Once again, it is a breathing space while we can seek to carry out fundamental changes of policy which are needed in the London area and fundamental changes under the review which Greater London Council has been carrying out with great urgency on the rôle which private cars can be allowed to play in London.
The G.L.C. has announced a very courageous extension of parking controls over 40 square miles of the central area and is proceeding to discuss these urgently with the boroughs with a view to getting them into operation as soon as possible. We all know that without them the buses will not be able to move smoothly enough to give the service which the travelling public needs.
However, this action will not be enough. There will have to be, and there are now taking place, urgent reviews of ways by which public transport can be made to operate more smoothly in the London area. That is why I have set up the Transport Co-ordination Council for London, on which sits the chairman of London Transport, the chairman of British Railways, the chairman of the G.L.C., the chairman of the Highways Committee of the G.L.C., a representative of the London boroughs, the chairman of the South-East Regional Economic Planning Council and my good trade union friends Harry Nicholas and Sid Greene. They all sit under my chairmanship to see that we take every possible step to improve the interchange facilities, get operational co-ordination and generally make public transport more attractive.
We will have to take some fairly far-reaching measures and I hope that, when I introduce them to the House, I will get the enthusiastic support of hon. Members, because the present situation is in danger of bringing London's mobility to a standstill.
On the question of finance, I am already reviewing, with London Transport, its commercial policies. Here again, 1361 there will have to be long-term solutions found, but, in the meantime, we must enable London Transport to go on operating. It is pathetic, the kind of financial targets which our predecessors set these public transport bodies. When in power, hon. Gentlemen opposite set a financial target under which the London Transport Board had to aim at earning an average balance of revenue of £4 million a year over the five-year period 1963–67. That represented a net return of about 5 per cent. on average net assets, after depreciation but before interest. That was to be the minimum return which the Board was to produce.
In practice, the target has proved impossible to reach. In the first year, 1963, the London Transport Board earned a surplus of £2.1 million. In the second year the surplus was only £1.3 million while in the third year there was a deficit of £1 million, even after the compensation the Board received from the Government as a result of the delay in putting up fares. This target was, and is, quite unrealistic and I have, therefore, to ask the House to give us these funds to enable the public transport system to operate in the capital.
Also in the Bill are provisions relating to waterways. As the House knows, the British Waterways Board has been reviewing all the waterways in this country, with particular reference to the future uses of those which are no longer needed for transport purposes. The Board has published its finds in a most exciting report entitled "The Facts about the Waterways". This is being urgently considered by the Government, and I will be making references to it in the White Paper.
The British Waterways Board has achieved economies since it was set up. The Transport Act, 1962 envisaged that the Board's revenue deficit might average up to £2 million a year over the five-year period, but, in the event, its annual deficits have been considerably less and great credit is due to the Board for this achievement. On average, its deficit has been £1½ million a year and almost half of this has been interest on the completely unrealistic capital debt of over £19 million which it inherited under the 1962 Act. Again, if we are talking about commercial viability, let us remember some of the capital debts with which 1362 some of these undertakings were saddled under the "phoney" financial orthodoxy of the 1962 Act.
Owing to the Board's success in keeping down its deficit, it is not necessary to legislate in the Bill for further cash to be provided to meet its deficit. The Bill merely extends the period in respect of which revenue deficit grants can be paid to extend it from the end of 1967 to the end of 1968—in line with the extended period provided for both British Railways and London Transport.
This is in the nature of a stopgap measure which will be replaced in due course by the major transport Bill which, I hope, I will have the pleasure of presenting to Parliament next Session. That Bill will give effect to the Government's decisions about capital reconstruction and other matters arising out of the British Waterways Board's report.
Clause 2 is of a technical and limited character and relates to the maintenance of the inland waterways. The background to this Clause is that section 64 of the Transport Act, 1962, gave the Waterways Board certain protection against legal proceedings for the enforcement of its obligations to restore unnavigable waterways to a navigable state. This protection was given for the first five years of the Board's existence, which is the same period as the one during which it could receive deficit grants from the Minister. This protection must also be extended in the Bill.
In addition, Section 64 of the Act provided that, during the same five-year period, any nationalised inland waterway which had not been statutorily closed to navigation should be deemed to be a watercourse for the purposes of the Public Health Acts. The effect was to enable local authorities to deal with any waterways which might have decayed into a state which might involve a risk to public health. The Section also extended certain provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, to the Board's waterways during the interim five-year period so that local authorities could take action to deal with any waterways which deteriorated into a nuisance. These are all minor, but important, provisions to safeguard public health, amenity interests and the financial interests of the Board and the Exchequer, 1363 which could have to meet any losses falling on the Board if Section 64 were not continued.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite should remember that if they are so shortsighted as to vote against the Bill, they must carry on their shoulders the grave risk of being willing to endanger the public health of the community.
I have described the scope of the Bill. I suggest that it represents the absolute minimum that is required so that the necessary finance will be available for the three Boards in question in the period to the end of 1968—a period during which they will inevitably be in deficit. It means that for the time being I am having to ask the House to continue to accept the unsatisfactory framework of the 1962 Act. Unfortunately, we need a little more time to undo the follies of the policies which we inherited. Meantime, these vital public services must go on and it is, therefore, with confidence that I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to insert instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which seeks to make provision for using £366 million of the taxpayers' money for the purpose of meeting the deficits of the British Railways Board and the London Transport Board for the period ending on 31st December, 1968, when the Government have failed to provide the House with details of their future transport policy, have failed to take the necessary action to reduce the deficits of the two Boards and are now seeking to make grants of a size which indicates that they anticipate further increases in the deficits of the two Boards.The right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport was at her party political best this afternoon. We have all come to appreciate her sarcasm, wit and enthusiasm for making the points of her political party. Indeed, I have never seen the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) so contented since the Prime Minister resigned from the 1950 Labour Government. There he was, cheering every piece of partisan party political vitriol that the right hon. Lady produced.
I have heard nothing like the right hon. Lady's history of the railway deficit since 1364 Hans Christian Andersen stopped writing fairy tales. It was a remarkable performance for her to stand at the Box and with a straight face say that in the latter years of the Labour Government, under a Socialist Administration, British Railways started to make a surplus, but then came those sad Tory years when they found it difficult to make a surplus.
The right hon. Lady knows full well that if we went back to those happy days of a Labour Government, and if we were to take four out of every five motor cars off the road—which we would have to do to get back to the days of a Labour Government—and if on the one-fifth of the cars that remained we then imposed petrol rationing, certainly public transport would again start to make a surplus without difficulty. As the right hon. Lady knows, there have been considerable changes in the whole pattern of the country's travel, because during the 13 years of Conservative Government millions of families were able to afford to buy a motor car. This has transformed the situation for British Railways.
The history as given by the right hon. Lady is typical of her attitude to the whole transport problem. One of my tasks in recent weeks has been to read all the Press hand-outs that the Minister has made through her Ministry and through the Labour Party since she has been Minister of Transport. They all follow the identical formula to her speech this afternoon. They consist as to 50 per cent. vaguely referring to the terrible mess of the Tories, 30 per cent. is an explanation of why the Minister is unable to do anything at present, and the remaining 20 per cent. is vague promises for the future. That is the composition of all the right hon. Lady's speeches. The 50 per cent. about the Tory mess and her general implication of the facts of the situation is virtually always wrong or a misrepresentation of the facts, so much so that I have decided that the only course available to me is to follow each of the right hon. Lady's hand-outs by one of my own, which I shall entitle the "Castle corrections" and number them one after the other, replying to each of the complete misinterpretations of the past which the right hon. Lady issues from her Ministry.
The right hon. Lady knows full well that our Amendment is not an attempt 1365 to see that the Transport Board and the Railways Board have no further funds. The detail of our Amendment is clear. We criticise the right hon. Lady for asking, for £350 million, plus £16 million for London Transport, before the House or the country has any concept of the type of policy which she is producing for those two Boards. It is absolutely unreasonable for the right hon. Lady to do this. She is asking today for these enormous funds, which will last until the end of 1968, before the publication of the 1965 Accounts of British Railways, which are due in about ten days' time.
We are asked to agree to this enormous sum of money two, three or four weeks before the publication of what the right hon. Lady tells us will be a most important White Paper outlining her policy. To expect the House of Commons to provide, not a small sum, but £366 million, which can then be used under the influence of a policy which the right hon. Lady refuses to reveal to the House before asking for this money, is irresponsibility on her part.
There was an easy alternative for the Minister. Had she come to the House and asked for a sum of £60 million to carry through to the end of this year, so that we could debate what she wanted thereafter after we knew her policy, that would have been reasonable. Instead, the right hon. Lady is saying, "No. I want £350 million, enough to meet enormous deficits until the end of 1968. I am not telling you how we shall use this money or what policies we shall pursue, but I ask for a blank cheque for this enormous amount." That is something to which it would be very irresponsible for this House to agree.
We know very little of what will be in the White Paper. We know that the Minister has taken on many advisers. We are told that Mr. Christopher Foster now has a staff of 50 working in the Ministry. [Interruption.] That at least was stated in a recent article, which may be wrong. Perhaps we can be told. It was stated that 28 of that 50 were graduates working in his new department.
With the Treasury we are always afraid—alas, with justification—that the advisers will influence the Minister. With the Minister of Transport we are always afraid that she will take note only of 1366 those advisers who agree with her. We have already had the sad case with this Ministry of the Hinton Report, which has not been published. Lord Hinton has now disappeared to the United States because, seemingly, his advice was not very acceptable to the right hon. Lady and her predecessor. All the indications are that the White Paper will be much more concerned with the general Socialist theories of the right hon. Lady than with the practical problems of transport.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale nods with happy contemplation of this moment when a good Socialist policy will emerge in the White Paper. If, however, the right hon. Lady wants to pursue new policies which fit in with her Socialist theories, she has no right to ask for this enormous sum of money with which to do it before giving us the details of those Socialist policies. That, however, is what the right hon. Lady is endeavouring to do today. In the whole of her speech, there was no justification whatever for an extension of one year.
§ Mrs. Castle
If I had merely proposed continuing the hon. Gentleman's policies, would he have been willing to finance the deficit incurred by his Government?
§ Mr. Walker
Certainly, if the right hon. Lady was sensible enought to adopt my policies, I would be willing to agree to the expenditure that was necessary for pursuing them. At the moment, however, we are discussing the right hon. Lady's policies—or, rather, we are unable to discuss them because they must remain secret until the Government have £366 million of the taxpayers' money safely in their hands.
No justification was given by the right hon. Lady this afternoon for the year's extension. There was no justification or defence of the amount for which she is asking. When the right hon. Lady tells us that she is asking for this amount, although the Government hope that they may not need it, but that it is a nice, safe amount for them to have and it will give them plenty of margin, this House should not provide money that gives plenty of margin for a relaxed attitude on the part of the Ministry or of the Boards concerned. The predicted railway deficit for this year is £115 million. Sixty-three million pounds was still available from the previous provisions. 1367 Therefore, all that was needed to meet this year's deficit and to take the right hon. Lady and the Railways Board up to the end of this year was £52 million instead of the £350 million currently mentioned.
This sum is of frightening proportions, particularly in view of the whole change which has taken place in Government expenditure over the last 18 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) received in a Written Answer on Monday a statement of what Government expenditure will be for the coming year. This showed that Government expenditure as a whole will have risen in the first two years of a Labour Government by an amount equal to 50 per cent. of the rise in Government expenditure during 13 years of Conservative government. There will be an increase of £2,000 million in Government expenditure. I am glad to see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is shocked. I hope that he will consider this matter with some care.
The nation will be shocked when it recognises that this enormous increase in Government expenditure is taking place. It is partly taking place because of the introduction of measures such as these, introduced by the right hon. Lady to the House only a few days ago. The right hon. Lady hopes that within ten days, before she has announced what her policy it, the Bill will have passed all stages in the House and that she will have secured, to spend in the way she considers fit, the enormous sum of £366 million. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will recognise that this is a very bad way of seeking this enormous expenditure without proper authority and control.
Think what this means in terms of the ordinary person. It means that the right hon. Lady is budgeting for a deficit for the Railways Board equivalent to £149 million a year for the years 1967 and 1968. This is the provision which is being made in the Bill. If the Railways Board's estimates are right for 1966, the right hon. Lady is asking the House today to provide her with enough money to meet a deficit of £149 million in both 1967 and 1968.
That amount of money is equivalent to putting 7d. on the standard rate of 1368 Income Tax for those two years; or it is equivalent to putting 10d. on a packet of 20 cigarettes; or it is equivalent to increasing the private car licence by £5 and all goods vehicles by 66⅔ per cent. The right hon. Lady is asking for enough money to inflict those levels of taxation on the nation without in any way explaining what the Government are to spend it on and what policy she will pursue in spending this money.
If the right hon. Lady had had to come to the House today and not only ask for the money but also stipulate how it was to be paid for, if, for example, it had been proposed that such expenditure should be met perhaps by the payment of a stamp by all employees, she would have been very much more hesitant about coming forward and asking for this sum, because she would have been telling the House, "I want the House to agree to the payment of a railways' deficit stamp by every family of four equivalent to 4s. 3d. a week". If she had done that, it would have been very controversial legislation. Hon. Members on both sides would have expressed their concern. This is what the hon. Lady is, in fact, doing by the manner in which she is presenting the Bill.
There are two main features of the Bill—first, the subsidy required for the London Transport deficit and, secondly, the much more major amount required for the British Railways' defict. As to London Transport, I am sure that both sides will agree that there are very difficult problems. Let me assure the right hon. Lady that I recognise that she will have to make, as any Minister of Transport would have to make, difficult decisions affecting London Transport and the future of traffic. Some of them will be costly decisions and some of them will cause complaints from various sections of the public. In so far as they tackle the problems, I can assure the right hon. Lady that she will have my support and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, because it is a difficult problem. It is one which must be faced. I do not deny this for one moment.
London Transport has suffered in recent times from the increasing congestion caused by the motor car. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) became very unpopular 1369 because he took measures in regard to the motor car. Every time he took measures—for example, by installing parking meters—many protests were heard from throughout the Greater London area. When he took measures on one-way streets, there were always complaints. I do not remember there being a great deal of sympathy from the then Opposition, but these measures had to be taken. They had some results, but further measures will have to be taken. There is a great problem.
As to labour relations in the past in London Transport, what has happened is that services have become unpopular due to a lack of manpower necessary to provide the full services. At the same time, for six or seven years there were great delays in providing labour-saving schemes because of the failure to reach agreement with the unions.
London Transport suffered from a very bad record of stoppages, both official and unofficial. The overtime ban in 1963 cost London Transport no less than £4 million. Although since the Phelps-Brown Report there has been some sensible progress in increasing productivity, there is still enormous progress to be made. The fact that 76 per cent. of the costs of London Transport are labour costs means that in the sphere of laboursaving a great deal of progress needs to be made.
There are signs. We hear that there is to be the introduction of the driverless train. There is the whole impetus of automation. More recently, one-man buses and the standee buses have been introduced. We welcome all of this progress. The objective here must be to have a much more highly mechanised and automated system in London Transport with a smaller well-paid staff. This should be the objective of both sides of the House. Any progress in this sphere will have our support.
There is much reason to look sensibly at the financing of certain London Transport projects. We did this on the financing of the Victoria Line. There is probably more scope. The right hon. Lady mentioned the social studies connected with this and the alteration it makes in congestion up above if an underground is built below. She argued that it was correct to make some contribution to the cost 1370 because of the effect it had of reducing congestion in London streets.
Any such suggestions as these will be examined sympathetically by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I personally think that there is scope for looking at the incidence of the fuel oil tax on transport bodies such as this. It is worth looking at schemes under which priority to public transport could be given on new specially built roads at certain times of the day, thus bringing about a greater movement of public transport. All such schemes will certainly have our sympathetic attention and, if we consider them right on examination, our support.
What I object to strongly is the type of open-end subsidy being asked for in the Bill. I believe this to be the wrong method of doing this. If the right hon. Lady thinks it is a wrong method of doing it, she should not have asked for this method to be extended to the end of 1968. She should have come forward with her suggestions in more positive and detailed terms.
The size of the sum required comes as somewhat of a shock. The right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), when he was Minister of Transport, clearly implied—I direct attention to col. 689 of HANSARD of 9th December, 1965—that, having agreed to the fare increase in London, there might be need to meet a deficit in the coming year, but the implication was that it was a marginal decision and perhaps there would not. Therefore, it comes as somewhat of a disappointment that we are asked to provide a subsidy of these dimensions.
I turn to the major subject of British Railways. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) pointed out that there had been a period of progress in reducing the deficit. I thought that the right hon. Lady was less than generous in her comments on Lord Beeching. I personally think that he was a person who by his Report produced a policy for the railways which for the first time for many years, even including the free enterprise days before 1945, gave the feeling that a modernised railway would have a very positive and a very real rôle to play in our economy. Of course, his suggestions were controversial. It is easy for the right hon. Lady to say that many of my right hon. Friends have 1371 complained about closures in their constituencies and that Tory candidates complained at the election. Indeed, we know that the Liberal Party almost won seats on this issue.
This is an easy point to make. But the right hon. Lady knows that she has got to go ahead with closures. She will not stop all closures. She has already approved some, and on every one of those closures there were supporters of her party and of my party who genuinely felt a grievance. Of course closures are unpopular acts to take. It is very easy to become a popular Minister of Transport by saying, "I am going to be far easier on closures than my predecessor was." That is what the right hon. Lady is doing at the present time. There are cases where a change of decision is required. The suggestions for the present closures were made some years ago, and, of course, there have been some changes since then. There have been changes for reasons of regional and economic planning and things of that nature.
It is easy for the Minister of Transport to decide that, because of a future development in a particular area, changes are necessary. But the right hon. Lady knows that if the railways are ever to become an efficient machine they have got to follow the general principles and lines laid down by Lord Beeching. In 1962 the deficit reached its peak of £158 million. In 1963 it dropped to £134 million and in 1964 to £121 million. Last year, in 1965, the position was reversed. I believe that much of the responsibility for the reversal rests firmly with the present Government and not with the Railways Board. I have considerable sympathy for the present Railways Board, and I join in the tribute that the right hon. Lady paid to British Railways. I though it was an incredible tribute for her to pay, after her previous criticisms of the way in which the wicked Tories treated the railways.
What has happened to British Railways as a result of Tory action? The right hon. Lady mentioned the London and Midlands main line electrification scheme which was finished three years ahead of the original schedule. I pay tribute to the engineers' electronic skill involved in the operation. The right hon. Lady knows that the whole scheme was instigated 1372 and got under way by a Tory Government, and very imaginative and right it was. More recently British Railways have benefited from some of the more enterprising methods of marketing and advertising their particular services; from the freedom to fix prices of certain tickets and special excursions, made possible by the 1962 Act which the right hon. Lady deplored; from some of the most progressive changes in the volume of traffic carried by British Railways, changes in the Eastern Region and in the electrification scheme. The railways have had the freedom to price their services to attract the customer—another important freedom given by the 1962 Act passed by the Tories.
Then there is the enormous technical revolution. Do not let anybody underestimate the achievement of British Railways, aided and financed by a Tory Government, in bringing about this technical revolution. Ten years ago British Railways had 18,000 steam trains and only 80 diesel and electric trains. Today 90 per cent. of the trains are diesel and electric. This has involved enormous retraining problems. It has involved an enormous investment programme. Both were done during periods of a Tory Government. It is a pity that the right hon. Lady does not pay greater tribute to this having happened, because when she constantly goes round the country suggesting that she has inherited a most appalling situation in British Railways after 13 years of Tory neglect, it is the right hon. Lady herself who is attacking the railways and all that they have achieved.
They have achieved this revolution, and it meant a tremendous reduction in their staff. The staff has been reduced from 515,000 to 365,000. May I point out that that reduction has taken place in five years, and this merits great tribute to the National Union of Railwaymen in its responsible attitude towards assisting this revolution to take place.
But during 1965 the progress of the previous years was suddenly retarded. The position went into reverse. Why was this? Views were expressed by the Chairman of the Railways Board, speaking on 4th January, when he said:The position would have been improved if the Board had not to continue to bear the cost of maintaining unremunerative services where closures have been refused and if there 1373 had not been an accumulation of delays, each comparatively small in itself, which prevented the railways from pressing on with the reshaping plan. There has been delay because of the new sifting procedures introduced by the Minister of Transport before cases can be submitted to transport users consultative committees, delays in obtaining decisions on closure proposals, delays in implementing some closure proposals through bus service difficulties with the Traffic Commissioners, delays in starting the freight liner services and delay arising from the ministerial intervention in our proposals for increases in fares in the London areaHe went on to comment that they had also had to meet a 9 per cent. increase in wages at the beginning of the year and a 3 per cent. increase in October. He said:All this, as I say, is accompanied by an unexpected failure of revenue to raise as we had hoped and a slowing down of tempo in the implementation of the reshaping plan".There are two factors concerned with this. First of all, there are the closures on which I have commented and the attitude to them. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary what has happened to the Marplan Survey on closures which was mentioned by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in another place and was supposed to be ready by the beginning of this year. I do not know whether anything has been published or made available, but we would like to know if it has.
I should also like to point out that the policy pursued by the right hon. Lady is in complete contradiction to the Government's policy for the railways as stated in the National Plan. In the National Plan the Government's policy is quite clear. On page 129, paragraph 12 the Government's policy for the railways till 1970 is outlined in the following words:British Railways' working deficit on railway operations before payment of interest was £67 million in 1964, out of a total deficit of £121 million. They estimate that they should be able to eliminate the working deficit by 1970, provided that, in addition to early inauguration of freight liner services,I suggest that almost every one of those principles outlined in the National Plan have been broken by the present Minister of Transport.
The Ministry of Transport is reviewing the Board's estimates of the savings in manpower 1374 and the reduction in the deficit, and the underlying assumptions, in the context of the Government's current review of transport policy. The elimination of the working deficit and the increased productivity, and the associated lower costs and lower manpower requirements, would be a significant contribution to the nation's economic growth objectives.
- (a)substantial progress continues to be made in implementing closure proposals,
- (b)a start is made within the period with the process of concentrating on selected trunk routes,
- (c)co-operation of the unions is secured in increasing productivity and in particular on the question of train manning.
What of productivity? There has been a failure in this sphere not only on the part of the right hon. Lady but also on the part of the First Secretary and the Prime Minister himself. In February there were important negotiations with the threat of a railway strike. I think that when we are discussing this size of deficit it is very important for us to remember that a big factor in this connection is the increases provided, but a much bigger factor is the increases which could have been provided. A meeting took place between the National Union of Railwaymen Executive, the First Secretary, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Transport.
Previously, the offer has been made by the Railways Board and had been conditional upon the railway unions agreeing to measures to raise efficiency and productivity and to start talks on these subjects. After the meeting, with, seemingly, the First Secretary of State doing most of the talking, Mr. Greene, the general secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen, informed the Press that another concession proposed by the First Secretary was to make the offer less conditional on the railwaymen's taking part in talks to raise efficiency and productivity. Mr. Greene was reported as saying that,The Minister"—meaning the First Secretary of State—had declared that he did not want the position fouled up with productivity".Any interest in productivity was, therefore, thrown away by the First Secretary on Thursday, 10th February. On the Friday, the Prime Minister intervened to make some further concessions but to make no attempt to bring the question of productivity back into the negotiations. Thus, by this action, the Government have undermined their own National Plan. They have failed to set 1375 the right atmosphere of increased productivity in British Railways. There has been no clearer evidence of this than the history of the liner trains.
I should have thought that the right hon. Lady would spend quite a lot of time this afternoon on the subject of liner trains. The country might consider that this is just a minor disagreement with the unions, but, in fact, the liner train programme, a programme which would bring the speedy passage of freight from one terminal to another, is a vital part of the whole future progress of British Railways. It is so important that, although only four paragraphs of the National Plan are devoted to the railways, one is devoted to liner trains:The railways cannot hope, however, to maintain, let alone increase, their carryings of general merchandise on an economic basis unless the new concept of liner trains, or freight liners, proves successful. This will depend on these trains providing services of a quality and at a price which will induce road hauliers, among other customers, to make use of them to carry a substantial quantity of longer haul traffic between main centres. The Government look forward to the inauguration of the first group of these services later this year.That is what is said in the National Plan, a complete paragraph devoted to the importance of liner trains.
In financial terms, we have only the original estimates, and those show that with an investment of £100 million British Railways could eliminate an existing loss of £32 million and substitute for it a profit of £18 million. So this one programme could result in an improvement of £50 million a year for British Railways and, therefore, for the taxpayer.
Let us look at the history of it. The scheme was published in March, 1963, more than three years ago. The first consultation with the trade unions took place immediately. Two years ago, after the railways had interested traders and road hauliers in the prototype equipment, the National Union of Railwaymen foreshadowed that they would agree to acceptance of goods carried to the terminals only in nationalised lorries.
What possible sense can there be in this view? I ask that because it is an absurdity for the publicly owned railways running a deficit to come to the House of 1376 Commons and ask for £350 million to beat that deficit and say at the same time that they will not accept goods from 86 per cent. of the lorries in this country. This is what is comes to when they refuse to take private lorries at the terminal. I should like an explanation. It is as absurd as refusing to take passengers who are not delivered to the stations on nationalised buses. The principle is the same.
We do not hear from the Minister what she thinks about it. This week, the Railway Review made some comment on the Minister's position:The Minister of Transport said she was not afraid. She was confident of a happy outcome from the new relationships she was now establishing with the unions. All the same, she hoped for a decision in favour of open terminals. Why? That is the question all those who know something about this greatly distorted issue will want to know. The protagonists for private enterprise cannot be expected to acknowledge the points which have been made. The Minister of Transport could be better informed on it.What explanation has the Minister of that article? Should she be better informed on it? Does she suggest that it is a nonsensical restriction on the part of the unions? Why did she not take the opportunity this afternoon, as the Minister asking the House for £350 million, to condemn a restrictive practice which resulted in a continuing deficit of £50 million? Not a word have we had from the right hon. Lady. She is failing in her duty to the nation when she allows this restrictive practice to remain uncondemned, with the comment that, "I am happy with the new relationships I have established with the unions." It is not good enough when these relationships result in continuation of the restrictive practice. Of course, there is an even more suspect motive for the right hon. Lady's attitude.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that he would have had greater success than the present Minister of Transport in seeking the co-operation of railway workers? I speak as a member of the N.U.R., but not now a railway worker.
§ Mr. Walker
I am grateful for that intervention. I hope that the hon. Gentleman catches the eye of the Chair later and explains why the N.U.R. is refusing to take traffic from 86 per cent. of lorries 1377 in this country. I shall be very interested to hear, and I hope that he will explain it to the Minister because, obviously, according to its journal, the union wants it explained to the Minister. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate will comment upon the arguments of the N.U.R. in refusing to allow 86 per cent. of lorries to unload at these liner train terminals. It is a very serious question, and the railwaymen's refusal undermines essential progress in this direction.
From the standpoint of development, the situation is that the unions continue to sabotage this attempt at progress. In July last, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, the former Minister of Transport, was attacked by the National Union of Railwaymen at its annual conference. Railwaymen called for his resignation. They said at their conference that they did not want a Minister of Transport who would agree to accept goods from private lorries. They condemned him and said that they hoped that the Prime Minister would replace him for trying to force the free entry of private enterprise lorries into the terminals. What happened? Their request was fulfilled. The Minister was sacked and replaced. Presumably, judging by the lack of progress by the right hon. Lady, he has been replaced by somebody who will not criticise the unions as courageously and openly as he did for this had restrictive practice.
The right hon. Lady now tells us to wait for her national freight authority. I believe that that is likely to be the moment when the railways announce that they will give free access to private enterprise lorries, and it will be done because the right hon. Lady will have introduced a national authority under which the rate for the use of nationalised road haulage is a subsidised and lower rate than that offered to the private haulier. Therefore, one will be able to go through the national freight authority on exactly the same basis but at a rate subsidised by the £350 million the right hon. Lady is asking for today and in competition with the private haulier. The private haulier, of course, will then be pushed out of business.
We expect this because we have been threatened with it before by the Prime 1378 Minister. In an interview by Mr. George Ffitch, when questioned on the subject of road haulage the Prime Minister said:We have a system today where all the profitable traffic is cleaned off by road haulage. We have said in our policy statement that we shall rebuild the integrated system, not so much on the basis of buying off every lorry, every truck, every little back-street garage which has four or five broken-down lorries, together with the goodwill, paying enormous sums for them as we did last time, but on the basis of taking the lid off the already nationalised British Road Services.I believe that the right hon. Lady is thinking of a system whereby, with the taxpayers' money, she will subsidise the nationalised service against the private service and, when the private service has ceased to make profits and finds it difficult to continue, along will come the Transport Holding Company to buy up the fleets. This is a process which has already been allowed for in the legislation. It is at this point that the unions will agree to accept business from the private haulier provided that the nationalised haulier is so subsidised that the private haulier can compete.
Another reason why we will vote for the Amendment is that we have no intention to give the Minister the money to nationalise road haulage by the back door which she may well be doing by means of this Bill. If this is not so, the Parliamentary Secretary has a classic opportunity to deny that the nationalised road haulage concerns will obtain no advantage over the private haulier. We shall be interested to see whether he is willing to make that denial as far as the national freight authority is concerned.
If we are talking of the integration of transport, particularly between road and rail, it is far more sensible to talk of the integration of 100 per cent. of the vehicles and the railways than of 14 per cent. of the vehicles and the railways which is being talked about in the general discussions on the national freight authority.
The Government have failed to give any valid reasons for asking the taxpayers to pay a tax equivalent to 7d. on the standard rate or 10d. on cigarettes in order that the Minister can pursue policies which she refuses to give the House before this provisions is made. I hope that all those interested in responsible discipline in public expenditure and in the reorganisation of the railways on sensible 1379 lines and co-ordination on realistic lines will support the Amendment in the Lobby tonight.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I am glad to be able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at this moment so that I may make my maiden speech on this Bill, which is of great importance to my constituency. I hope that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) will forgive me if I forgo the pleasure of following his arguments too closely, but I assure him that I listened with great attention to all that he said and that I shall be expressing my views on the merits of his arguments in a more positive fashion in the Division later.
Like all new hon. Members, I faced the ordeal of making my maiden speech with mixed feelings, rather like one of my constituents felt after he had had a dream in which he saw the whole Board of London Transport aboard a double-decker bus shooting off Beachy Head—a feeling of elation and at the same time horror. I was glad that as I came into the Chamber I met my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), who has displayed a great deal of kindness to many of us new Members. He said to me, "You are looking extremely preoccupied". Indeed I am", I said. "I am about to make my maiden speech." He said, "Don't worry about that. For the first six months you are in this place you will think that all the people who sent you here were extremely foolish. For the rest of the time you will think that all the people who sent everybody else here were extremely foolish". I thought about this as I sat trembling on these benches, and I had it in mind to try to postpone my maiden speech for another five months, but perhaps I had better be brave and press on.
I have the privilege to represent the constituency of Harrow, East, a comparatively new division, but one which is part of an area with a rich political history. In the early part of the 19th century we had a sort of "Cliveden set" at Bentley Priory, where Lord Aberdeen—may the Lord rest his puny soul—used to entertain such interesting political personages as Wellington and Pitt. Another former Prime Minister who has associations 1380 with the area who will find much more favour on these benches is Lord Attlee, who for many years lived near the London Transport Underground terminal at Stanmore, near my home. There are many people in my constituency who have benefited considerably from the social revolution which Lord Attlee pioneered when he sat on the Treasury Bench in the House. There is also a great feeling of affection in my constituency for Lady Attlee, whose work for the local Red Cross, in particular, is remembered by many people there.
The political novelist Trollope also had a slight connection with my constituency. I hope that if my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench espy me in the Crypt with a volume of Trollope they will acquit me of foolish and unworthy ambitions and will think that I am merely trying to advance a constituency interest.
My area has been represented by many men of distinction in the House. Hon. Members will forgive me if, being a member of the Press, I say that perhaps the greatest was John Wilkes, who sat in the House for many years with one or two colourful interruptions at the start of his career One cannot think of history and this Bill without recalling that Queen Boadicea fought many of her most famous battles in my constituency. In her ancient Briton chariot she was able to get across my constituency with far greater dispatch than the modern British housewife in a London Transport bus.
For these reasons, I must regard the Bill as nothing more than a necessary evil. I fear that my right hon. Friend the Minister has been cast far too much in the rôle of fairy godmother and not enough of stern stepmother to London Transport. I regret that the Bill has no strings attached to it to guarantee efficiency by London Transport, which is a most inefficient monopoly. I am sorry that there is nothing in the Bill which will cause London Transport to improve its staff relationships. A virtual state of civil war exists in that organisation between its staff and management.
I regret that there is nothing in the Bill to direct attention to the appalling sick pay conditions in London Transport. The men and women conductors in London Transport enjoy equal pay. But the women have to wait until they have 1381 served five years before they can draw sick pay whereas the men have to wait only one year. I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer to this matter later. I regard it as an outrage against the 20th century and something which the progressive elements in the House should do something about.
I regret that there is nothing in the Bill to ensure that London Transport becomes more sensitive to the views of its passengers. There is nothing in it to give confidence to the people in my constituency that the bus services will be improved. I do not underestimate the complexities and difficulties, but London Transport must be made more enterprising and more flexible before this House gives it any more money. My right hon. Friend referred to the Bill as being a holding measure, as a temporary expedient. My constituents have been holding on for far too long.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend said that she would shortly introduce a White Paper. She was given certain warnings by hon. Members opposite. I should like, with the utmost respect, to issue a warning from this side of the House. I tell my right hon. Friend that, unless the White Paper proposes radical Socialist changes in the organisation of London Transport, she will be in much more trouble from this side of the House than from the Opposition side.
The fact that the present difficulties of London Transport have been caused by the doctrinal follies of right hon. and hon. Members opposite will not save my right hon. Friend from our righteous anger. I want to hear no more about the 13 wasted years. The electorate has passed judgment upon that. That is why I and many more of my hon. Friends are now here. What we expect now from the Front Bench is effective Government, and I am sure that we shall get it. I urge my right hon. Friend not to tinker any further with London Transport. There is only one solution to the problem of public transport in the London area and elsewhere—a democratic socialist solution—and I hope that she will get on with the job.
I hope that nothing that I have said will be taken as criticism of my right hon. Friend [Laughter.] I have some personal knowledge of the tremendously 1382 hard work that she has put in during the last five months, and I want her to know that it is very much appreciated by hon. Members on this side of the House. There will be bold backing for her plans when she produces them in the White Paper.
I have, perhaps, said one or two little things slightly sharply for a maiden speech, but I have not done so out of a desire to offend against a pleasant custom. Not all of those who are new to this House want to sweep away many of its useful traditions. Not all of us want to see this Chamber changed from the foremost debating forum in the world into a glorified version of the television programme "Juke Box Jury", with hon. Members giving tingling smiles to the cameras and pressing buttons to decide a hit or a miss.
But no one in my constituency can discuss transport without becoming violently controversial. I hope that the House will accept that I have rather toned down my remarks on this occasion. If I have earned a bad mark for being controversial, I hope to earn a good mark for brevity by now sitting down with my thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for your indulgence.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
It is always a privilege to follow a maiden speaker and to be able to congratulate him as warmly as I now congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). We have enjoyed his fluency and wit, and those who live within commuter distance from London are glad that he has joined the two other hon. Members from Harrow to speak up warmly on behalf of the commuting public. We miss the full character of his predecessor, but welcome the hon. Gentleman for his wit and look forward to hearing him frequently in future.
I want to address myself mainly to Clause 2. The right hon. Lady dealt with it purely in passing, but it is important that the House should realise that the Clause by extending the provisions of Section 64 of the 1962 Act also preserves the British Waterways Board. Section 64 protected it from acts or attacks by waterways enthusiasts. Clause 2 continues those protections and 1383 preserves the Waterways Board for a further year.
It is unfortunate that the right hon. Lady has not brought out her plan for the Waterways Board before this Bill. She has had since December to consider the excellent document to which she has referred, "The Facts about Waterways", published by the Board last year and laid before Parliament in December. The facts set out are clear. If the waterways are to continue as they are for a further period, it is essential that at least £600,000 be found every year before one begins anything else, for that is the basic and unavoidable charge. In addition, a further £340,000 must be found each year if the waterways are to be of any real use to anybody.
In its manifesto, the Labour Party said that it intended to maintain the provision of recreation on the canals. The Government are, therefore, pledged to continue to make the canals useful to people for recreational purposes. The two main recreations are angling and boating. Unless there is boating, the fishing deteriorates very rapidly. If there is to be only the bare minimum expenditure of £600,000 a year, there will be no boating, however, because the minimum does not allow for the continuance of the waterways as boating canals. If a greater sum is not spent, boating will stop and within a short period of years fishing will also stop. We on this side and many older hon. Members opposite still miss the presence of the late Jack Jones, former Member for Rotherham, a very well beloved figure, for all he did for the British angler. He would have urged the right hon. Lady to have produced her White Paper before she came to the House with this puny Bill.
The right hon. Lady has promised a White Paper and says, "Wait and see". But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) said in dealing with the railways, it is most unfortunate to ask the House for a blank cheque for great expenditure and promise us a White Paper in a few weeks' time. The right hon. Lady really could have got a move on. It is no good pleading the General Election as an excuse. Civil servants are there to get on with the drafting. She has been aware of the 1384 situation for well over six months, and it is deplorable that we have not been offered more concrete proposals today. I hope that before the Bill reaches the Committee stage we shall have the White Paper so that we may be able, if need be, to put down Amendments to Clause 2 in the light of what may be said in the White Paper.
In looking to the future of the waterways, the proposed necessary expenditure of £1 million a year in order to provide happy recreation for perhaps a million or more anglers and a large number of boating enthusiasts is a very modest sum to pay. Furthermore, the Government should be aware that a vast sum of private investment will be available for the inland waterways as soon as they make up their minds.
Many firms of boat builders and boat operators are holding back investment because of the uncertainty. That uncertainty has gone on too long. Clause 2 merely prolongs it for another year. But not only is there private investment in boat building. The Rural Industries Loan Fund is putting out considerable sums of Government money for boat enterprises in the inland water areas. In the year ended March, 1964, there were 13 cases of payment from the fund to boat yards, and in the year ended March last the figure rose and out of a number of loans to boat yards nine were in the inland areas. This is only a small sum of public money, and it will, of course, make a return. If there is to be public and private investment of this sort, people want confidence. In the 1962 Act there is the very unhappy phrase that the duty of the British Waterways Board is to:… provide to such an extent as they may think expedient—(a) services and facilities …It is most unfortunate to leave this vague uncertainty. When the Parliamentary Secretary comes to wind up tonight, will he give us a clear, categorical assurance that this uncertainty will be brought to an end once and for all in the near future? I know that there are a number of proposals which have been put before the Minister, whether or not to have a trust and so on. I do not ask for an answer on that tonight, but I do ask for an assurance that the Minister will look sympathetically at the proposals for keeping the minor waterways open for recreational purposes. Will he also give the 1385 industry and potential investors, and perhaps a million or 2 million potential clients—that is to say the anglers and the boaters—an assurance that in future they can continue to enjoy these pleasures and recreations throughout the heart of the country? My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester made the point about the difficulties of the motorists. In these waterways we have a marvellous source of recreation which people can enjoy without having to go to the seaside. I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us these assurances this evening.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
In rising to make my maiden speech in this House, there are two traditions that I enthusiastically support. The first, naturally enough, is the one by which the indulgence of the House is extended to the new Member during his maiden speech. I hope to respond to this courtesy by avoiding controversy. This is something that I do not always find too easy to do, and some of the remarks made by hon. Members opposite have tempted me very much to enter into controversy. However, controversy without opposition is a sterile and worthless thing, and I will resist these temptations.
The second tradition of this House, which I have very great pleasure in following, is that by which the new Member can pay tribute to his predecessor. For me to do this is no idle exercise, because in Harold Hayman I had a predecessor who was admired and respected on both sides of the House. I knew Harold Hayman for eight to nine years and had the pleasure of working with him. I know that the respect and admiration in which he was held in this House was felt equally in his own division and home county of Cornwall. He was Cornish born and bred and he was respected by numbers of people, including many who did not support him politically but admired him as a man.
Harold Hayman was a good and kindly man. He was conscientious and considerate and compassionate in everything that he did. I hope that his record will be my example in everything that I do in this House. There was only one tragedy in Harold Hayman's political career, and that was the way in which he gave all that he could for his political beliefs and 1386 the way in which eventually he gave his health and his life. By doing this work that meant so much to him—his work for the Labour Party, for his constituency and for his county, and above all his work in Parliament—he affected his health. He loved this House, and it was an irony that his devotion to the proceedings and practices of Parliament played a part in ending his political career. I hope that if on occasions I may seem to be a little over-enthusiastic for Parliamentary reform, it is because, although Harold Hayman was not the first to pay this price, I would like to think that he might be the last.
This afternoon's debate is on the problems of transport, and it is interesting to look around the Chamber to see the very high proportion of Members on both sides of the House who represent South-West England. This shows the importance we attach to this topic. The development of an effective transport system is essential if we are to have economic expansion and if social progress is to be maintained over the whole of the country. The development of an integrated transport system is especially important in the regions, in those parts of our country that have been neglected for far too long.
This social and industrial neglect is not something of recent years, of the last 17 months or the 13 years before that. It is something which has been going on for 50, 60 or even more years. In the transport sphere we are facing in the far South-West, particularly in the counties of Devon and Cornwall, an exceedingly difficult problem, demanding an urgent solution. I want to argue the case for the South-West not from a purely parochial standpoint or on the emotional basis which is all too often put forward. I want to look at the problems we are facing in the South-West from a realistic and factual point of view. There are special factors which have to be faced in this area.
The first is the size of the region, which is a large and straggly one. From one end of our region to the other is as far as from London to Carlisle. This is a big region, and I am afraid that all too often people in London, in Westminster, do not realise the size of it. The second 1387 special factor in our region is the distribution of population and industry. Unlike many other of the peripheral parts of the country, there are concentrations of population and of industry in distant parts of the region. For example, Plymouth is the largest isolated city in England, and it is a long way down the line. The constituency that I have the honour to represent, Falmouth and Camborne, is an isolated industrial community, situated further from other industrial communities than possibly any other in the United Kingdom. The way in which there are concentrations of population and industry at the far end of the region is quite different from the distribution of population and industry in areas such as Wales and Scotland, and other parts of England, where concentrations of population and industry are nearer to other concentrations.
This is an extra reason why these special factors have to be considered when talking about the South-West. The third special factor is that the southwest of England, and Cornwall in particular, is one of the most popular holiday resorts in the United Kingdom. I hope that in the years to come it will be one of the most popular holiday resorts in Europe, because we should like to welcome many more tourists from overseas.
The problem we face every summer, when millions of tourists flow into our region, is that of congestion on the roads and overcrowding on the railways—the problem of access to a comparatively small region down a long corridor of roads and railways. It will not be very long, we are beginning to find it already, before we shall be reading in our papers and hearing on the television, stories, sometimes exaggerated, of congestion on the roads and vast queues of cars. We had this dreadful bottleneck on the Exeter bypass, but I will not go into the problems of that bypass in any detail. It is something that I should prefer to leave to that good lady whom I believe I should now call the hon. Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody).
These are the reasons why I think that the problems of the South-West deserve special consideration. I want to say a few words about some of the things that I think should be done, and 1388 I want to talk first about the roads in our region. Although there have been welcome improvements in the A-class roads in recent years, we have seen the South-West increasingly lagging behind the rest of the country. As the motorway programme has developed—I welcome it—in the Midlands, the North Country and the South-East, the contrast between road conditions in those areas and the conditions in the South-West has become greater and greater.
I believe that we must demand, as a minimum, a road up to first-class dual carriageway standards extending throughout the region. We ought to look into the more distant future and realise that a time will come when a road to motorway standards into the far South-West will be essential. In asking for a road to dual carriageway standards throughout the region, I would add that I should like to see it being built from one end of the region to the other, so that we do not have little bits of dual carriageway interspersed with the original road. As a motorist who drives a considerable amount in the region, I find that this continual alteration between dual carriageway and original road is a source of irritation and, I believe, a danger to motorists.
We have heard a great deal today about the problems of the railways in Britain. Those problems in the far South-West are all perhaps exaggerated by our geographical isolation. I welcome the sense of change and the new progressive attitude that we are seeing from the Minister. I welcome the fact that social and economic considerations seem to be taken increasingly into account, and that we no longer look at railways purely from a crude commercial point of view.
But we must not blind ourselves to the magnitude of the problem. We can see this perhaps more clearly from the other end of England than some people can from Westminster. In the far South-West the morale of the workers on the railways is very low indeed. There are doubts on the part of not only railwaymen but railways users about the future of the railway system in our part of the country. I implore the Minister to outline as quickly as she can the new approach that I think is becoming increasingly evident towards the problem of branch lines in the area. Perhaps 1389 equally important, she should give us her views on what I believe to be the vital importance of guaranteeing the continuation of the main line west of Plymouth into the indefinite future. Rumours—unsubstantiated rumours, I believe—continually come to the ears of those who are active in the political world in the far South-West about the survival of the main line.
I have talked about road services and railways. I come now to the problem of the integration of transport. I look forward confidently to the integration of transport being converted in the next few years from a political slogan into a reality. Looking at it from the point of view of the South-West, if integration of transport is to be a reality we must think a great deal more about air transport. It seems illogical that domestic air services do not appear to come within the responsibilities of the Minister of Transport. I am particularly concerned because the only regular service that we had in the south-west of England has suddenly apparently folded up within the last fortnight. There appear to be economic reasons for this. However, if private enterprise has failed to provide what I consider to be an essential social service to our region I should like to think it possible for the Government to stimulate one of the public corporations to step in.
The road services, the rail services, and, I think, increasingly the air services are the arteries on which our economy will depend. It is through those arteries that industrial and social progress must go. In my previous occupation, which ended a few weeks ago, I learnt that when one obstructs arteries one causes gangrene. We do not want industrial and social gangrene in Cornwall. What we want is an effective, modern transport system which will enable us both to contribute to and to share in the prosperity and progress that will be Britain's in years to come.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I am very glad to be able to follow my neighbour, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody), and to have this opportunity to congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. If the Boundary Commission has its way, 1390 his division and mine will be rather mixed up, as they were some 18 years ago when I was first adopted as the prospective Conservative candidate for the old Penryn and Falmouth division.
I knew the hon. Member's predecessor, Harold Hayman, well. I think I could call him my friend. At any rate, I used to pair with him on a number of occasions. Both in this House and in Cornwall he was notable for the diligence of his attendance on every occasion. The hon. Member has spoken eloquently and with originality, and we all look forward to hearing him again, and if he attends the House as diligently as his predecessor did and with the same assiduity, he will have a great future here.
It seems wholly wrong that the House should be asked to give a Second Reading to this Bill before having had an opportunity to study in detail the Minister of Transport's policy of integrated transport services. We all gather that this policy is fundamentally different from that which lay behind the 1962 Act, which the Bill amends, and it also appears that it is very different from the policy of her predecessor the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser). Although she gave some indication of some of the points of her policy in her speech, we should like to know exactly where she differs in policy with her predecessor. Perhaps she regards the whole of his policy as 13 wasted months, as so many hon. Members opposite regard the period of 13 years of Tory rule.
Having regard to what has transpired since the 1962 Act, I do not think that anybody on this side of the House disputes that some further provision is necessary to cover the railway deficit. As I pointed out in an interjection, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) pointed out, under Dr. Beeching the railway deficit was falling. It was £158 million in 1962, £134 million in 1963, and £121 million in 1964. Then Dr. Beeching went, or was sacked, as the Minister of Technology put it, and the deficit began rising again, and in 1965 it was £132 million.
But, as others have pointed out, the Beeching Plan has not been carried out in full. The closures of little-used intermediate stations and uneconomic branch lines have been delayed, and as my hon. 1391 Friend pointed out, the liner train service, which was a very vital part of the Beeching Report, has been frustrated by the refusal of the N.U.R. to allow private hauliers to deliver and collect at liner train terminals.
I do not know whether all hon. Members appreciate exactly how much—apart from the actual sums of money involved—this has added to the railway deficit by discouraging the private haulier and making him wish to have nothing to do with the railways. When the Beeching Plan was first proposed, very many of the hauliers welcomed the proposal, because many hauliers—there are great numbers of small hauliers in the country—do not like the long haul. They prefer the short service, because it gives them greater opportunities of control over their drivers and the maintenance of their vehicles.
It is sometimes forgotten that if the driver of a long-distance lorry is prosecuted for an offence a long way from home—say, for having defective brakes, or something of that sort—the owner of the vehicle is liable to be prosecuted for permitting the offence, and although he may not have been within hundreds of miles of the spot where the offence was committed, and probably had not seen the vehicle for several days, he can be convicted of permitting the offence with the vehicle. That conviction can be endorsed on his private licence, and if three such endorsements appear on it his private licence can be forfeited. So there are very good reasons for hauliers not being too keen on the long haul.
For this and other reasons many hauliers would like to deliver containers to a terminal and arrange for their collection at the other end, even if it meant paying the railways for part of the service. But if one tells a haulier that he cannot go into the station at all and that all cartage and delivery must be carired out by the railway servants, he will, of course, continue to compete to the best of his ability with the railways service and not have anything to do with it at all.
No doubt some further support for the railways is necessary, but why should it be £350 million, and why should it continue until the end of 1968? My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has 1392 pointed out that this means assuming that the deficit will be about £149 million for the years 1967 and 1968. How does all this fit in with the rest of the proposals that the right hon. Lady has in mind, and what exactly is going to appear in her White Paper? Why could she not have had a rather smaller interim Measure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester suggested? These very large sums of taxpayers' money raise doubts as to whether some of it would not be better spent on other services. Whether this is so depends very much on what the right hon. Lady proposes to do.
The Minister has given some slight indications of her policy. We were told something about subsidising commuters in London, Liverpool and Manchester, but she has not given any other clear indication of the intentions of her policy. She gave a much more explicit explanation of her basic theories in a public speech at the annual dinner of the Road Haulage Association on 11th May. I had the privilege of being present, and of hearing the right hon. Lady make a most able speech, in the course of which she said that there were three fundamentals to her basic policy. She said that we must tackle transport as a whole, that transport planning must be part of our national and regional planning, and that transport must meet social needs as well as economic needs.
These are laudable sentiments, and sound fine, but they are dangerous without clearer definition. I should like to know whether these are the principles that the right hon. Lady has in mind in bringing forward this Bill, because if she has I should like to make some comment on those principles which I think are dangerous.
One cannot plan transport as a whole except as a ruthless dictator imposing intolerable frustrations on many people, because the pattern of transport alters all the time and very rapidly in all sorts of most unexpected directions. For instance, 40 years ago anybody would have said that steam and the diesel engine had finished off sail and that it was stupid to invest any money, or to spend time in developing any industry in any way dependent on sail. Yet, today, the trades of sail-maker, rope-maker and boat-builder are booming, because there has been such a vast and unexpected 1393 increase in the sailing of small pleasure craft, which is no longer a pleasure of the exceptionally rich people but is now a pleasure of the masses.
The petrol-driven internal combustion engine is now obsolescent in the air or for road haulage, but its use is still increasing rapidly for private motoring. The electric engine with overhead wire is obsolete on the road, but is increasingly used on our railways. These paradoxes can easily be explained, because the choice of transport, like the choice of a wife, depends not only on an infinite variety of special circumstances but also on individual taste.
It is all very well for the Minister of Transport to decide that an extra £350 million is needed for British Railways for the next two years—and presumably other fixed sums for other forms of transport—but she would have been much wiser to be a bit more fluid in her prognostications. Given the free choice, a person basically chooses transport for himself or his goods by one means rather than another, for one or other or a combination of two reasons. He thinks that the transport of his choice is cheaper than some other form of transport, he thinks it is more convenient, or he combines the two motives in some proportion which it is impossible to discover, because it will vary from individual to individual.
One man will gladly travel in the middle of the night by a most uncomfortable excursion train, or trundle all day in a long-distance coach, in order to save himself a few shillings that he could easily afford. Another will order out a chauffeur-driven limousine to make a journey which would cost him 4d. on a bus. It is just the same with the haulage of goods, and there is just as great a variety in the reasons why people wish to use a form of transport for goods.
The Traders' Road Transport Association carried out a survey in October, 1959, as to the reasons why its members used C-licence vehicles. The results showed quite clearly that cheapness was not the sole, or, indeed, the chief, reason for the choice of C-licence vehicles. Members gave all sorts of reasons, such as speed of delivery and certainty of timing; avoidance of breakage or damage; avoidance of pilferage; reduction of packaging material; prompt return of empties; 1394 collection of cash; or even advertising the name of the firm on the side of the vehicle.
All these varieties of reasons vary from time to time, and not even the Gallup poll or a computer could find out for certain what proportion of reasons people give for desiring a particular form of transport for more than a very short time, because the choice depends on taste, and taste changes as quickly as the fashions in Carnaby Street.
Therefore, if this Bill, requiring £366 million, is part of the Minister's plan to carry out her three fundamental policies—planning transport as a whole, planning it regionally, and meeting social needs—I should like to hear very much more about the details, because I regard the principles with great suspicion. As a West Country Member, I am particularly suspicious of the second and third points, namely, planning regionally and social benefits. We in Cornwall, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Falmouth and Camborne said, certainly want to keep our branch lines and we are very keen on keeping and maintaining an improved main line railway service. In passing, I would add that I have on many occasions been assured by Lord Beeching and by both the present and former Chairmen of the Western Region, that the railways have no intention of closing that line.
We are keen on keeping it, but we have an even more desperate need for roads. Our ratio of cars per head of the population is above the national average, and we get 2 million extra visitors in the summer, many bringing their own cars. The Cornwall County Council has maintained excellent road surfaces, with cats' eyes at many points, and Mr. Drake, of Los Angeles, one of America's leading road traffic engineers, is on record as having praised the Cornish roads for these reasons.
During the 13 years of Conservative Government, many major and minor improvements were made. The annual expenditure rose from next to nothing in 1950 to over £2½ million in 1964. These sanctioned improvements went on into 1965, but they were slowed down last year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, particularly in the case of minor improvements, and a backlog is accumulating. There are many such improvements that I could mention, but I shall 1395 refer to only a few. It seems to me very questionable whether they ought not to be dealt with before we start giving £16 million to London Transport. I should like to know very much more about the right hon. Lady's policy before I agree to those figures, because there are such desperate needs in our own area.
First, in Carlyon Bay there is a private housing estate with 150 houses, where the frontagers paid for the making up of the road, but, unfortunately, the builder went bankrupt. They are willing to pay again, but some of them are unable to pay cash and the local authority is unable to get loan sanction to borrow the money to lend them £10,000 to £15,000 to make up the road, which is at present in such a bad state that children are paddling in permanent pools in the middle of the road.
In the village of Probus, there is a point where the pavement ceases and pedestrians have to walk in the carriageway round a sharp bend of the main Truro-St. Austell road. The corner is blind. No motorist can see across the corner to what is beyond. The county council tells me that nothing can be done. It does not have any money to deal with the problem, except, perhaps, to erect a warning sign.
In the village of Mitchell, there are two points where a woman with a pram going in the direction of Camborne must leave the pavement to push the pram round a slight obstruction in the pavement and step out on to the carriageway, which is the main A.30 road carrying a heavy volume of traffic from London to the West. She has to step out with her back towards oncoming traffic. Sooner or later, a woman and baby will be killed at this point. Again, the county council states that it can do nothing.
In the village of Stenalees, which is the worst case of the lot, small primary-school children have to walk a considerable distance down a busy road with no pavement. Some have to cross the road at a blind corner on their way to school. One of them was killed at this point some years ago. There is no pavement. The county council has an approved scheme to deal with the difficulty and will widen the road. The county council 1396 wants £4,700 but cannot get loan sanction for it. It states that it will be two years before anything can be done—that is, two years of children's lives at risk.
Under the Conservative Government, road grants were increasing and the railway deficit was diminishing. Now, it appears that road grants are delayed and we are being asked to subsidise an increased railway deficit. Have we got our priorities right? Who is to decide?
If transport is tackled as a whole and social needs are decided by regional planning, what does that mean? Does it mean for us in Cornwall that a professor, who may be an estimable person but whom certainly none of us knows and hardly any of us have seen, will decide in the City of Bristol, where most of us have never been, what are the priorities for Cornwall? If that is what it means, we do not regard this as a good way of dealing with the problem. Local problems should be advised upon locally.
I am not saying that there should be no provision for meeting the railway deficit, nor am I saying that there should be no planning. Whatever may be the views of the Liberal Members behind us, we on these benches do not believe in laissez faire. What I say about planning, however, is that it should be in broad outline only designed to encourage each form of transport to make the most of its own opportunities in an endeavour to pay its way in competition with others, leaving the price mechanism to disclose how much of which form of transport the public most need at any time. It seems to me that only by such means can we avoid the pitfalls of arbitrary decisions which are made at a distance by people who are not familiar with the local conditions. It does not seem to me that the Bill fits into that pattern. For these reasons, it should not be given a Second Reading.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I frequently follow the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) in debates on transport, and it is always a pleasure to do so, although I rarely agree with his comments. One observation by the hon. Member with which I agreed wholeheartedly, however, was his appreciation of the maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and 1397 Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) in his maiden effort. It was as gracious, fluent and persuasive as the speeches made in the House by his predecessor—and that is high praise.
If I may add a note of personal interest, my hon. Friend represents a constituency which for some time was represented in this House by my father. 'That was a long time ago, in the latter part of the last century. I was, therefore, particularly interested to hear such a well-informed speech from the present representative of that area. It is certain that my hon. Friend will make further equally valuable contributions to the debates in this House.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
Might the right hon. Gentleman like to complete the trilogy by saying that I am his hon. Friend's constituent?
§ Mr. Strauss
We are today debating two things. One is the Bill which has been presented to us by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and the other is the Amendment moved by the Opposition. When I read that Amendment, I thought that it was one of the silliest I had ever seen on the Order Paper of the House of Commons. My view was not altered after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). He made a very able speech. It was a good Parliamentary political knockabout speech, which he was perfectly entitled to make in view of a similar speech by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I do not deny that.
I do not, however, think that the hon. Member would seriously contend that it is unwise or wrong to provide now the moneys that the railways are bound to want, whatever happens and whatever the contents of my right hon. Friend's White Paper may be, during the next two years. This is a convenient time to bring forward such a Bill and no damage is done by introducing it before the White Paper is published. Moreover, it gives the hon. Member for Worcester an opportunity of making two speeches on the transport position, one as he has done today and one when my right hon. Friend's White Paper is introduced.
Today's Bill is really a holding operation. My right hon. Friend is doing what 1398 is necessary pending the declaration of her policy in the White Paper. Therefore, it is inappropriate—at least, I do not want to—to speak on general policy matters this afternoon. All I can say is that we are looking forward to my right hon. Friend's White Paper with high expectations. I certainly do not expect it to contain any final or dramatic solution of our transport problems. They are far too complex and difficult, as I know too well having followed transport matters closely over many years.
We hope, however, that the White Paper will reach certain broad definite policy conclusions about the transport industry and, in particular, how the rapidly increasing conflict between road and rail and between public and private transport can be resolved and their socially damaging consequences mitigated. After all the inquiries that we have had, it is time that we had, at last, some definite conclusions and advice which a Minister of Transport can put before the House of Commons. In particular, we on this side at least hope that the conclusions will be based upon the principle that transport is primarily a service and only secondarily a profit-seeking industry.
I want to comment on one or two broad principles concerning the proposition which is before us this afternoon. The Bill recognises the fact—and I hope that all hon. Members recognise it, because many have denied this for a long time—that if we are to have an efficient railway system, substantial subsidies will be required from public funds for years to come.
The chairmen of the Transport Board or of the Railways Board and Ministers of Transport have constantly deluded themselves, the House and the public for many years past by suggesting that in a few years' time all would be well and the railway accounts would balance. All these are pipe dreams, and in the age of the motor car are impossibilities—those propositions which have been put forward, and put forward also—I admit it and regret it—in the National Plan. They are all based on assumptions which never in fact come into operation. We are told that the accounts will balance in a few years' time if, as expected, the freight revenue rises—in fact, we know 1399 that usually it does not rise; if there is no substantial increase in wages, when in fact there have been substantial increases in wages, increases which everybody recognises to have been necessary. In particular, all these proposals are put forward on the supposition that there will be a complete or almost complete elimination of unremunerative services—in the stopping of passenger trains and in other directions.
It is an old theme of mine, and I am sorry to repeat it, but on all these occasions, from the time when General Robertson put forward the reorganisation plan, it has been said that the railway accounts would balance, I and others have said that this is really nonsense. In no industrial country in Europe is it possible for railway accounts to balance. They all require to be subsidised, and that is a fact which, I hope, is now fully recognised by the Government and the House.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
Would the right hon. Gentleman say that about Holland? Is it not a fact that there the railway accounts are in balance?
§ Mr. Strauss
The hon. Gentleman knows that for peculiar reasons, very special reasons which do not apply to any other country—I do not want to take up time by going into the reasons, and the hon. Gentleman knows as much about them as I do—Holland has got that balance, but it is the only European country to have it.
The acceptance of the fact of the inevitable need in the railway system, if it is to continue effectively, to require substantial public subsidies is important for two reasons. First, because unless the Government do recognise the fact, this Government, like their predecessors, will, as inevitable crises arise, be taken by surprise, and stumble from expedient to expedient, and pursue a zigzag course of improvisation. The second reason, which is consequential, is that unless this fact is accepted as a permanent feature of the railway's position there will be further postponements in making the fundamental decisions and devising new policies which are urgently needed. There have been postponements over and over again in the 1400 past. Of course, they are exceedingly tempting, because new policies are difficult to devise, and what is also inevitable is that when they are devised they are bound to be unpopular with some sections of the industry or the public.
Another thing which I think should be said on this occasion—it was said, indeed, by the hon. Member for Worcester—is that it would be most unfortunate if the public came to the conclusion that because the railways are in deficit, and will be for a number of years, that is the fault of the Railways Board, of the technicians, or of those people who work on the railways. The evidence is to the contrary. The railways have done a really remarkable job in modernising themselves during recent years. As I think the hon. Member himself pointed out, whereas 10 years ago there were 18,000 steam engines on the railways, now there are only 3,000. The changeover has meant an enormous effort by the technicians, by the managements, by the railwaymen—in rethinking their systems, in signal box changing, in many and various ways.
The Railways Board and all who work on the railways can take credit for what they have done, and no one should think that the deficits which are taking place today are due to lack of efficiency in the railways' technical staff or in the managements, whose drive has been admirable, or that they are the fault of the railwaymen. It is perfectly true that there have been some matters on which the public and many of us in this House have thought that the railway unions have not been as co-operative as they should have been, but they have co-operated in reducing staffs by 150,000 in five years, and there is no reason to doubt that that co-operation will continue in the future.
The public in this country is apt to relate efficiency to profits, and apt to think that any company or body which makes a loss is therefore inefficient. Of course, it would be wholly untrue to apply that idea to the railway service—no more true than it would be to apply it to the hospital service. The facts of the situation make losses absolutely inevitable.
I would say this, particularly to the hon. Member for Worcester, that when we are considering the losses today it is right to bear in mind the instability and, in the past at any rate, the low morale brought 1401 about in the railway service by constant restraint and foolish changes which have taken place under Conservative Governments. The hon. Gentleman tried to argue that everything which happened during the 13 years of the Conservative Governments was lovely, and that anything which is wrong has been the result of the Labour Government today. Those of us who were active in transport matters during that period remember the very many interventions by the Conservative Governments in those days; they may have thought them the best things to do, but now we can see that they were exceedingly damaging, and those Conservative Governments must bear some responsibility for bringing about the very serious deficits today.
The first and outstanding thing they did was the hiving off of the road haulage section of the British Transport Commission which was making very large sums of money. It was sold back, remember, to private enterprise, and that process was the cause of indignation to Chambers of Commerce, who said that doing that was damaging to the industry. It certainly did considerable financial damage to the Commission.
There were many occasions when those Conservative Governments intervened. They did it with some sections of the modernisation plan; improvements were held back because of the economic situation of the country; and thereby they did considerable damage to finances of the transport industry.
I should like to ask one question of the Minister who is to reply to the debate. It is closely connected with the deficit which we are dealing with today. Dr. Beeching, in his Report, laid a great deal of emphasis on the savings likely to take place through the introduction of what are called the merry-go-rounds, that is, the cartage of coal, to the power stations in particular, by the establishment of far better equipment and facilities at the collieries, and elsewhere. There was some question about who was to pay for that equipment. It was regarded as likely to make a very real contribution to the finances of the railway industry. I understand that this has been very much held up and that money has not been provided for the new equipment. I do not know who was responsible for this, or what is happening, but I think it would be very 1402 interesting if we could get the Minister to tell us why this has been held up and if there is any likelihood of the difficulties being overcome.
Whatever financial benefits may accrue from this, or from other changes which are taking place in the railway system—from the full working of the liner train system, which, let us hope, will come before long, and the further electrification of the railways—whatever changes and improvements and economies are brought about, it is inevitable, in the national interest, that the railways will have to run unremunerative freight and passenger services. That means that the railways are bound to make big losses.
We are talking, in this respect, about financial losses, but we know that there is another side to the picture, and that these financial losses are largely counterbalanced, on any cost benefit calculation, by a great social gain. Much of the expenditure on the railways today is taking place not for the benefit of the railways, or for the users of the railways, but for other sections of the community, and I should like to draw the attention of the House to a recent comment on this matter by Lord Hurcomb, the first Chairman of the British Transport Commission, and a very brilliant one, too.
Shortly before Christmas he said:Whatever we may have thought twenty years ago about public transport being completely viable, it has now surely become clear that the capital costs of expensive improvements like the Victoria Line, largely undertaken for the public benefit, indeed for the direct relief of surface transport, cannot be borne wholly by those who use the new services. Moreover, these works are undertaken in the interests of private motorists who do not, or will not, use the public services, and by refusing to do so enhance the financial difficulties of the public undertakings.It has been suggested, and I am not sure how much the Minister agrees with this, that it may be necessary to identify and separate in the transport accounts those moneys which are paid to the railways by the Government in respect of losses arising from social considerations. It is said that these should be regarded as entirely separate from the ordinary railway working accounts, and that the Government should say, "Here is a national interest, as opposed to a railway interest, and we will subsidise you to that extent". I do not believe that that is possible. I do not believe that it is 1403 possible to identify those workings of the railways which are essential for the railways, and those which are essential for other interests.
As an example of that, let us consider the Victoria Line. It will benefit thousands of people who will use the line every day. It will therefore be of benefit to some extent to railway users but it will also be of benefit to those members of the public who use the roads, because there will be less congestion on them. I therefore do not believe that it is possible, or even necessary, to try to institute such a separation.
Money has to be provided for those services which are run in the national interest, but also in the national interest there is a need to have a railway system as a reserve and stand-by for those who normally use private cars or lorries, but who on occasions may want to, and in fact must, use the railway system. The problem in this respect is similar to that which arises during the peak hours in the electricity industry. There must be a reserve of first-class transport facilities, which may be unremunerative, but which can be used when occasion demands. Indeed, it is probable that as the years go by, and the roads become more and more congested, there will be a diversion from the roads on to the railways. We have to ensure that when that happens the railways are there, and are working efficiently.
It is no good trying to meet the losses now being incurred other than by a subsidy out of some form of public fund. Whether it should be national or partly local is a matter for dispute, but we know that the money cannot be raised by increasing fares or freight rates, because to do so only has the reverse effect of discouraging passengers and freight transport from using the railways, and sending them on the roads instead.
We hope that when we next discuss this matter we shall hear the end of the discussion which has been going on since the war on how to deal with the situation. I believe that the problem will be faced squarely, and that there will be an end to improvisation. It is essential to stop pretending that the Railways' deficits are temporary phenomena, and hoping that everything will be for the 1404 best in the coming years. We need a coherent, logical, and socially fair plan which will deal with the situation, and we hope that the White Paper which my right hon. Friend is to produce will show how future deficits of the railways will be dealt with. We are eagerly looking forward to the publication of the plan in the near future.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) described what he called the effects of the denationalisation of a section of road transport. Naturally he would not expect me to agree with him in his account of that, or the effects that it had, and certainly I do not agree with him.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of this Bill as a holding operation. I would call it just plain bad business. It is a continuation along the slippery slope of insolvency, getting nearer and nearer to the precipice of bankruptcy. Four years ago this House voted £450 million, which was supposed to meet railway deficits for the years 1963–67, inclusive. Only three years of that period have elapsed and we are very near the limit of that sum, and today we are being asked to put a rubber stamp on a total vote of £800 million to cover one additional year. This is just a continuation of the stupid system of open-ended subsidy renewed at short intervals. We shall never in this country, or in any other country in the world, make our railways an economic enterprise, clean, punctual, efficient and convenient if we continue along these lines.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that in part railway services are a social service, but in a large part they are an economic and commercial enterprise. If services which are not economic are required for any reason, the Government must give an undertaking to meet the additional cost for that specific purpose, and for no other. Until we move to this, we will never get an efficient railway service in Britain.
I want to pass for a moment to a more parochial matter. I suppose that in my constituency, of all constituencies in the south of England, a greater length of branch lines has been closed to passenger services than in almost any other constituency. I have not measured the 1405 mileage, but I think that I am fairly accurate in saying that. We have had the T.U.C.C. procedure, which is good in a way, but which is still, I regret to say, misunderstood and criticised by the public. My attitude in this has been that if railway services are insufficiently used, they cannot survive unless there are very special circumstances, the sort of circumstances to which I was referring earlier, and that where they exist, a specific subsidy must be given for that purpose, and for that purpose alone. These are the sort of circumstances to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—the commuter services to and from our big cities which are obviously uneconomic because of their inconsistent volume. I cannot see how, in the foreseeable future they can be made into a commercial enterprise. Half the day trains are empty and the line is unused, except for getting people into and out of the big cities.
For those specific purposes, public money must be given to the railways to meet these uneconomic burdens. Nevertheless, in our present economic plight, it is very foolish to waste resources of manpower and materials where they are not used or needed and where the public have demonstrated, by their lack of use, that they are not needed. However, there are cases where there is scope for modifying closures in the light of experience as the whole railway system contracts. There is one such case—there may be more—within my constituency. It is a case to which I shall shortly be drawing the right hon. Lady's attention and providing her with full details.
It concerns the threatened closure of a village station upon a main line. When one talks of a village station, this sounds a very small matter, but this is no obscure branch line. It is on the main line and the permanent way has to be maintained. The station is Witham Friary, between Westbury in Wiltshire and Castle Cary in Somerset. An alternative bus service is being offered to meet the needs of the public when the passenger service from this station is closed. The service will be much poorer than the present railway service and inadequate for the purpose. The bus timetable is inconvenient for shopping in nearby towns, for visits to hospitals, doctors and dentists, and for the collection of prescriptions from chemists.
1406 It is inconvenient for purposes of entertainment, for football and cricket, and for visits to the cinema or other evening entertainment. In fact, for evening entertainment, its value is almost nonexistent. On the average weekday, about 25 passengers take tickets at this station. In addition, there are 19 regular season ticket holders. The proposed alternative bus service, operating often at unsuitable times, will not provide for the mid-day return of people doing a half-day's work—on the early closing day in the local town, for instance.
Also, 16 children at present use the railway daily to school and return. If the station is closed and the proposed bus service is put in its place, the provision for babies' prams, push chairs and bicycles on the buses will be quite inadequate. All this sort of paraphernalia is the come-and-go of a rural area of this nature. The roads in this locality are winding and narrow, the hedges and banks are high and visibility is poor. It would cost an enormous sum to make the roads safe for large public service vehicles. Apart from these narrow lanes, the roads generally are over-crowded enough, without forcing further traffic upon them.
It is an area which, during hard winters, suffers very badly from snow. These narrow roads, with their high hedges and banks, are vulnerable to the severe winter weather, and a village under these conditions can be, and in recent years has been, completely isolated. This has happened not only to the village, but to a large area of farms and isolated houses around it. Under these conditions, the people are deprived of all means of movement. Up to the present, they could at least foot it across the snow to the railway station and get somewhere. But if the railway station is closed to traffic, this will be impossible and the public service vehicles and any vehicle except a farm tractor will be unable to ply along these roads. Household requisites and food will run out, farm requirements will not be met.
This is the sort of problem which people in many rural areas, not only in my constituency, face. These are the sort of special cases which need special consideration. I agree that a special sum of money would have to be allocated, probably by way of subsidy. I do not know 1407 what the economics of my solution would be, but it is to make the existing railway station into an unstaffed halt. It has been done before in other localities at other stations. I do not know what the practicality is of doing this at this station, but it could easily be investigated. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to inform his right hon. Friend that I shall shortly be bringing some of those affected by the intended closure to see her and demonstrate in person what are their difficulties. I hope that she will give them her usual courteous reception.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
This is my second speech in Parliament. I do not expect to enumerate every speech which I make hereafter, and I do not put it forward as an excuse, but I felt a little provoked by the suggestion of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) that I ought to stay a while in order to take part in the debate in view of my background as a railway worker, although I pointed out in my intervention that I am not a railway worker now and have not been for some years.
I was in the industry, however, from boyhood, in the railway operating grades, and I felt that there were several serious mis-statements in his speech. I enjoyed the sharp exchanges between my right hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Worcester, which I thought represented debating at its highest level, and which were very enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps it would be difficult for anyone coming upon the scene at this moment to realise that what we are discussing is a proposition to find £366 million to finance the deficit connected with the operations of British Rail and the London Transport Board. I find it very difficult to understand the opposition of hon. Members opposite to the proposition. Does that mean that if their wishes prevail this evening the railway workers can have no more wages in the coming weeks?
If there is any validity in the statement by the hon. Member for Worcester that this amount of money is not required in order to finance the deficit up to the time of the awaited White Paper on transport, which is to put the whole picture 1408 before us, why has not some lesser sum been proposed in the Amendment? Or is this just a matter of form? I am inclined to the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) that this Amendment is a very silly proposition to put before the House.
In my short contribution, I want to speak about the transport problem as a whole, because we are having a little canter in relation to the major debate which is yet to come on the Government's White Paper. May I say how pleased I am, as an ex-transport worker and a former trade union education officer, to see how much energy is being put into the job by the new Minister of Transport in attempting to understand not only the history of British transport, not only the management problems of the transport industry, but also the attitudes and problems of the transport workers. No one should obstruct the employment of more and more transport economists and experts in such studies, because an intelligent and sensible transport development is most urgently needed if we are to survive as an industrial country, if we are to cease slaughtering each other on the roads as we are doing at present, and if we are to have more electrification of the railways system.
It is appropriate to pause here and to point out that railways represent the safest transport system yet devised and, on that account alone, they should be given considerable weight in any consideration of transport policy. In addition, we have the greater reliability of the railway system. Although many hon. Members oposite have talked about this rich motorcar owning age—and they claim the credit of having ushered it in—I would remind them that many motorists are struggling to run second-hand cars, under which in my view they spend far too much time every Sunday morning. Many of them would settle for the occasional use of a motor car, and certainly the wear and tear on their nervous systems would be much less if we had a properly developed public transport system of all kinds of conveyance.
May I add a word about an old friend—the railway industry—for whose future welfare I feel very much. When listening to what I have described as an enjoyable exchange between the hon. Member for Worcester and my right hon. Friend the 1409 Minister of Transport, I wondered what the position would have been if the hon. Member for Worcester had won the last election, had been appointed Minister of Transport and had been confronted with these massive transport problems. I believe that he would have been obliged to handle the problem of obtaining the ready co-operation of the transport workers, in the major changes which are so vital, much more gingerly, sensitively and sensibly than he suggested today.
On the one hand, he praised the National Union of Railwaymen for their co-operation in accepting the massive redundancy which has been inevitable in much of the proper run-down of the railway system. But, together with his hon. Friends, he would agree with many of the Beeching methods as they were adopted within Dr. Beeching's terms of reference. If it did not pay, if it were losing money on a wholesale scale, cut it out: this kind of rough surgery represented Lord Beeching's terms of reference, and no one can blame him for carrying out the job which he was commissioned to do.
As railway workers, we used to think that he was rather an expensive item on the Transport Commission's wages bill, and we struggled, without much success, to get the rate for the job for the rest of the railway workers. When Sidney Greene—and I do not necessarily always see eye to eye with the General Secretary of the N.U.R.—used the phrase "fouling up the discussion", when at one stage there was an insistence that productivity in the railway industry had to be discussed as one of the strings in the wages negotiations of his members, what he had in mind was the history connected with railway wages negotiations and the general background of comparability with other industries, as shown in the Guillebaud Report. "Fouling up" might not have been the most appropriate language to use.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I was not quoting Mr. Sidney Greene as having said "Fouling it up". He did not say that. He was quoting the First Secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs, which made it more surprising. It was the First Secretary who said that he would not "foul it up" by talk of productivity.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I imagine that the First Secretary had some knowledge of the background to negotiations and, realising the delicacy of the situation at a critical time, he wanted to keep the subjects apart, because of the fierce attachment of the railway unions to the idea that railway workers' wages must be compared with those of other sections of industry.
In my interjection I asked the hon. Member, in a challenging way, whether he thought that he would have more success than the present Minister in getting the co-operation of the workers in the changes which I feel must come about. I am not sure that they have to come about in exactly the way which is being proposed at present, but obviously, as with all sections of industry, considerable changes must take place in transport methods. In view of the history of co-operation of the N.U.R. and the other railway workers' unions, and the very finely developed machinery of negotiation in the industry from just after the First World War—at one time it stood out in front of any other system of negotiations and joint consultation in any section of industry—we had reason to hope that there would be full consultation. I suggest that not only in transport but in other sections of industry there must be considerable changes of attitude if the new technological and scientific age is to be introduced in an atmosphere of co-operation between management and workers.
I have many ideas about that which I hope to put before the House extensively on some other occasion. The workers' representatives must have places on the top boards, where the changes are first discussed, at the very beginning, so that they gradually become a party to the changes and the changes are not thrust upon them as a fait accompli with the expectation that they will co-operate. Workers are sometimes asked to move their homes great distances. The trouble is that too often it is a fait accompli because they are not asked to move until decisions have already been taken and the necessity to move is thrust upon them. Industry would get more willing co-operation from workers if they are informed of possible changes before decisions are taken.
I recall my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour saying recently that 1411 people do not like changes. This is true, although people are willing to accept them if they know that they are for the better. One must understand the psychology of workers when faced with this problem, and my hon. Friends and I understand the trade unionists and workers much better than hon. Gentlemen opposite. I therefore assure the House that there is considerable optimism among railway workers about the future, despite the fact that many of them have been so sorely tried in past years. The whole industry hangs together because of the optimism of workers in the supervisory grades and everyone concerned with making the railways successful. They want to see a future for the industry, and it is therefore urgently necessary to give them a pointer. I believe that the forthcoming White Paper will act as a pointer for the railways and will result in men being prepared to take on the responsibility of being signalmen, the men who work at the front and at the back of trains, and the others who perform multifarious duties to keep the trains running.
Our chances of doing that, considering the actions of hon. Gentlemen opposite during 13 years of Tory rule, are much better than theirs. We take a different social view of the problem and we understand the philosophy of these workers. That is why the present Government will get greater co-operation from workers generally.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The hon. Member for South-all (Mr. Bidwell) said that to a certain extent this was a preliminary canter, and I agree. We have been studying the form of the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport, and I do not know that we particularly like what we have seen. [Interruption.] She is too expensive. The Bill is certainly an expensive item and is proof, if proof were needed, that at the last General Election the party opposite really meant, "Vote now, pay later".
I wonder if the right hon. Lady mentioned during the last election that she would be asking for expenditure of this kind, expenditure which is equivalent to 6d. or 7d. on Income Tax. If she was not asking for this money the Selective 1412 Employment Tax could be about half its present rate or the disabled people and charities, who will now suffer, could get off scot-free. That is the price we are having to pay for the right hon. Lady's expensive tastes.
After all, this always happens when the party opposite is in power. Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about providing socially necessary services, as does the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), but do they consider the cost? They tend to forget that the price must be paid. They just say, "We must have these socially necessary services" and nod in acquiescence without totting up what they will cost.
In any event, people have different ideas about what is necessary. The right hon. Lady—or, if not her, her predecessor—closed the railway line in my area. The right hon. Lady obviously does not think that it provided a socially necessary service, but, speaking as an individual, I take an entirely different view. I might say that the line fulfilled a high social purpose. What irritated Conservatives during the election was the fact that the party opposite had won votes in 1964 by saying that it would not close railway lines and then, upon taking office, promptly closed them. Incidentally, I was only having a bit of a joke about the railway line in my area, because I agree that it should have been closed. However, many people complain about the duality of hon. Gentlemen opposite in the sense that they always say one thing and do another.
Not only do we require an agreed definition of the phrase "socially necessary", but each of these so-called socially necessary services should be identified from the cost point of view so that we can make up our minds about whether or not they are worth while keeping open. We also require a glossary or definition of certain terms that are used by hon. Gentlemen opposite for example, "co-ordination" and "integration". They are freely bandied about by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but what do they mean? Are they not polite synonyms for "direction" or "requisition"?
For example, the present Prime Minister said on 30th April, 1963, that the more profitable and less profitable sections of transport must be more closely integrated. So, for the Prime Minister, 1413 "integration" means robbing Peter to pay Paul. Taking the more profitable away and adding it to the less profitable merely means making a hotch-potch of the whole thing, because it becomes impossible to know what is and what is not paying.
On the same occasion the right hon. Gentleman, with that felicity of expression for which he is renowned, made the position even more specific by referring to profits being creamed off from the rail to the road which should be brought back into the transport pool where they belonged. One can imagine the right hon. Gentleman facing the future and walking backwards as fast as he possibly could 100 years ago—when it was the canals which came under pressure from competition from the railways—and calling for the profits creamed off from canals to the railways to be brought back into the transport pool. Would the Prime Minister consider that that would be the right way to behave?
The voice of the right hon. Gentleman is not the voice of modernisation speaking but the voice of stagnation. Anything that is profitable must be penalised so as to subsidise what is old and out of date and no longer fulfils the needs of the present. That is the policy of the Prime Minister. He has stated it in the House, and we want to know tonight from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the policy of the Minister of Transport.
The Prime Minister has also spoken of the need to have an effective means of securing the right division between road and rail traffic. But, like beauty, "right" in this sense depends on the eye of the beholder. The present Minister of Transport and her planners may easily have an entirely different view of what is right from the merchant who must use the service.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) said when he was Minister of Transport that it was technical progress which had attracted traffic from the railways to the roads. And if it is to go back again from the roads to the railways it must do so because it is attracted back by greater technical advance and not because it is directed by a lady in Whitehall who thinks that she knows best what is the right division between road and rail.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That is absolute bunkum.
The grave doubts which I have about the right hon. Lady's policy for the railways become even stronger when I consider what she proposes to do for London Transport—handing out a subsidy of £16 million. Why should Londoners have this subsidy? The right hon. Member for Vauxhall spoke about the peak load on electricity and how one needed extra electricity to supply that peak. But nobody is subsidising me when I use electricity, so why should the commuters who commute at peak periods on the railways in London be helped in this way? If there is to be subsidisation of local municipal transport, why not for Glasgow, a city which I represent, or other provincial cities? Why should London be cossetted in this way? Now perhaps the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) will support me. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) wishes to intervene, he must intervene in a Parliamentary way.
§ Mr. Manuel
You will recognise, Mr. Speaker, how difficult it is to do so when one is directly challenged to answer questions.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The right hon. Lady, referring to losses on commuter services, said that they must be borne on the shoulders of the public. What public did she mean—the general public? She titillated our curiosity but did not satisfy it, and for that reason alone she should not have this money.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Can the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) enumerate the capital cities of the world which are able to support a public transport system without subsidy?
§ Mr. Galbraith
The answer has been given by my hon. Friend, several.
I may offend some hon. Friends from London constituencies, although I do not see any present at the moment, by 1415 criticising this subsidy to London Transport. It does not seem to make sense to bewail the growth of population in the South-East and thereby having special salary scales in London and by subsidising commuter travel in this way at a cost to the general taxpayer to remove any incentive for people to go to the less congested areas. I thought that we were to have a tough, strong Government. Instead we get featherbedding and the encouragement of people to come into the London metropolis rather than other parts of the country. In fact we have had muddle and retreat.
Earlier in the year the Prime Minister gave way to the railway unions on the question of pay, and the series of retreats over the question of liner trains was nothing short of a scandal. The fact that the right hon. Lady did not refer to this problem in her speech shows how inadequate she is as a Minister of Transport. We were told that because so many of its members are members of unions the Labour Party would be able to speak to the unions; it would he like speaking to like in a language which they understood. Far from doing that, all that the Government have done in the person of the right hon. Lady has been to make a pretty curtsy to the unions and to do what the unions asked.
It is only too true that, as the right hon. Lady said, she can say to the men who work "we are backing you", but is she backing them in the right way? It smacks more of a Fascist corporate State than of a modern democracy. First Dr. Beeching was got rid of and then Lord Hinton's Report was pigeon-holed. The way in which hon. Members of the party opposite have to go chasing round to find someone who will produce a Report which is satisfactory to them is quite pathetic. I feel sorry for the right hon. Lady that she has not been able to get an Hungarian to do the dirty work for her.
The right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) found that his sense of responsibility in regard to transport resulted in his getting the chopper, too. The right hon. Lady, I am sorry to say, has produced a policy which seems to involve co-operating with her party's paymasters at the cost of stinging the community good and hard with extra taxation. 1416 She said that transport should not be involved in party politics, though how she could say that when making her speech I do not know. Unless the right hon. Lady kicks over the traces as she is capable of doing—we remember how she behaved when she was on this side of the House—the traces which bind her and her party to the unions, and allows the industry to develop in the way natural to it, she will impose a double burden on the people of Britain by creating a transport system which is both costly and inefficient.
All that I heard today from the right hon. Lady fills me with forboding as to what her White Paper will contain. The only consolation is that the new policy has been promised for so long that with any luck we may reach the safety of the next General Election before she actually clothes her party's prejudices with the seal of her Government's approval.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
I preface my remarks by joining with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) in a tribute to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) on his maiden speech. As a Member who also represents a Cornish constituency I feel certain that when his constituents read the reports of his speech they will feel, as I feel, that they are by no means under-represented in this House and that he will make many very valuable contributions to the fight which some West Country hon. Members have been sustaining on behalf of Cornwall and the far West. I too, like the hon. Member, remember his predecessor Mr. Harold Hayman and the great sense of loss we all felt at his death, but I am confident that the constituency will be happy in Mr. Hayman's successor.
Some of the points which have been raised by the Opposition about the Bill before us I find almost impossible to treat seriously. It is true that one cannot look at a Bill which asks that we shall authorise a possible expenditure of £366 million without some reservations. It is right that the House of Commons should examine carefully the implications of giving its blessing to a Measure of this kind. It is reasonable also that we should want to know in perhaps greater detail 1417 than we have had this afternoon from the Minister how this money is intended to be spent. But it is also true that we must recognise the necessity for additional financial assistance to British Rail and to London Transport. If no provision were made by Her Majesty's Government for additional subsidy for Brtish Rail many of the present services would have to cease at the end of this year. To suggest that there is anything wrong in coming before the House with a Bill of this kind is quite ludicrous.
None the less, I should, as I have said, like to have heard greater detail about the way in which this money is to be spent. I take consolation from one remark which the right hon. Lady made. That was that it did not necessarily follow that because this sum was being authorised the whole of it would be spent. We have confidence in this matter and hope that before any part of the additional expenditure takes place it will be examined very closely by the right hon. Lady and her advisers.
I find the Amendment proposed by the official Opposition extremely interesting because part of it reads:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which seeks to make provision for using £366 million of the taxpayers' money for the purpose of meeting the deficits of the British Railways Board and the London Transport Board for the period ending on 31st December, 1968.On examining that carefully we are left with no alternative but to comment that the Amendment is saying, "Back to Beeching", because, unless the money is provided, there is no doubt that not only the first part of the Beeching Plan would have to be enacted—and pretty smartly, too—hut also the second phase, because, unless the second phase was enacted, the deficit which would confront British Railways would be such that they would literally be unable to continue to operate their services.
If the Opposition are saying, "Back to Beeching", let them say it honestly, because "Back to Beeching" means that we have to go into the second phase of the Beeching Plan. The second phase of the Beeching Plan means, at least in the South-West, the complete closure of all branch lines, and in Cornwall it means an end to the main line, because that is clearly spelled out in the second phase 1418 of the Beeching Plan. If that is the position, let us hear this from the Opposition; let us hear it now.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
It would be improper for me to make a speech now. The hon. Gentleman will find when he reads HANSARD tomorrow that I made very clear our attitude to Beeching. Further, the hon. Gentleman quoted part of the Amendment. The part he quoted, taken by itself, without the rest of the Amendment, puts it completely and utterly out of context.
§ Mr. Bessell
That is a very fair point. I shall pass on to the second part of the Amendment in a few minutes. I have it in my notes to do so. I repeat that, if the Conservative Party believes that the right policy for British transport as a whole is to return to the policies which they advocated in 1962 and which are contained in the Transport Act, 1962, this is very interesting. Throughout the recent General Election the Conservatives were extremely coy about the whole question of transport and rail closures. Indeed, we have heard speeches from this side of the House this afternoon, as we have in previous transport debates during the last 18 months, about rail closures in constituencies represented by Tory Members. I am frequently left with the impression that every Conservative Member believes in the Beeching Plan for every constituency except the one that he represents, and in that particular constituency there is always a very special reason why that particular branch line should remain open.
Some of us remember very distinctly before the 1964 General Election how a number of proposed branch closures were postponed for a matter of two or three months. Some of us who subsequently represented former Conservative constituencies had the difficulty of dealing with those closures when they took place so conveniently after the election was over.
One point in the Amendment which is constructive is its reference to the fact that the Minister of Transport has not yet produced a statement of the future policy of the Government on transport. Just over a month before Christmas I raised this point with the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), who was then Minister of Transport. I asked him when the Government would 1419 produce their co-ordinated transport policy. The right hon. Gentleman assured me that a statement would be made before the Christmas Recess. I remember commenting that I was prepared to wait what was then a matter of 35 days.
Although we on this bench accept the necessity for the right hon. Lady's Bill today and will certainly give it our support, we expect to see this co-ordinated policy produced within a reasonable time. I know that the right hon. Lady has held her office for only a matter of five months, but the continued delay in producing the policy for which the Labour Party has campaigned for many years is a source of justifiable irritation to hon. Members on both sides.
While the right hon. Lady is still going through, I was going to say the birth pangs of this policy, might I ask her for one assurance tonight? I ask her for an assurance that she will not authorise any further rail closures, because I believe that it is vitally important that the existing railway lines, whether they are main or branch lines, should remain in operation until the co-ordinated transport policy has been produced.
I am certain, for example, that one of the closures which has taken place in my own constituency—the branch line between Fowey and Lostwithiel—is one which the right hon. Lady would very much regret if she examined the facts herself. She is in no way responsible for it, nor is her immediate predecessor. It was authorised by the last Conservative Minister. The result of the closure has been not only a matter of inconvenience to the people of that seaside town but also a matter of grave public danger, because the road connection is totally inadequate and double-decker buses and other vehicles have to pass each other on a road which is no more than 13 ft. wide in some parts. This is an extraordinary position. It is one which could be repeated if further closures take place, before a co-ordinated policy is produced.
I should also like an assurance from the right hon. Lady that she will not authorise the closure of the main line between Plymouth and Penzance. The hon. Member for Truro referred to this, as did the hon. Member for Falmouth 1420 and Camborne. The hon. Member for Truro stated that Dr. Beeching had given him an assurance that there was no intention to close this line. I am glad to hear that, because it is in direct contradiction to the remarks made by Dr. Beeching to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) when we visited him shortly before his resignation. Dr. Beeching then said that he did not consider that the main line would be likely to remain in operation for longer than 10 years. A very similar statement was made to me by the then General Manager of Western Region, Mr. Fiennes, who is now no longer in that position. He told me at that time that, unless a very substantial additional amount of freight traffic could be provided, the future of the main line would be most uncertain beyond a period of 10 years.
This is a matter of grave concern to the people of Cornwall. I know that the hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne and Truro and my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) will support me in this. We want an unequivocal assurance on this matter, because the transport conditions in the South-West are such that, if this main line were removed, the Government's plans for the development of the county would become meaningless. This is why it is a matter of such real concern to all of us who represent constituencies in the far West.
With the provisions of the Bill and the amount of money which will be available to the right hon. Lady, I hope that it will be possible for her to encourage British Railways to go ahead with policies of modernisation. I am certain that, if we are to win passengers back on to the railways, it is absolutely essential that we should provide them with a really good service and that there should be not only cleanliness but comfort. This is an aspect in which our railways do not compare favourably with many Continental services or even with services in the United States, where it is reckoned that the passenger services in general are being run down. If passengers could be won back, it would assist in relieving the congestion on the roads, because many people would travel by rail rather than by road if the services were better.
1421 I hope, too, that the right hon. Lady will bear in mind the necessity for keeping down railway fares. The high fares are causing people to consider using other methods of transport, simply because they cannot afford the excessively high rail fares which have often been imposed, particularly for short journeys. I will not detain the House on this, but I could give the right hon. Lady many examples of people in my constituency who have clubbed together with friends to buy a small car to take them to and from their work in Plymouth, simply because they cannot afford to use the railway, as a result of recent increases in rail fares.
I therefore say that whilst we are still a little in the dark about the future plans, I believe from the right hon. Lady's speech that she intends to tackle the whole problem of British Transport and particularly the problem of British Rail in a realistic and, I hope, very hardheaded and unfeminine manner. I have confidence that she will do so. For that reason I certainly could not advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the Amendment which has been moved by the Opposition this evening.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) said that he had read Press statements by the Minister since her appointment and that he was proposing to issue what he called, I believe, "Castle corrections". I would venture, if I may with respect, a little advice to the hon. Member for Worcester. The record of the Conservative Party in respect of British Rail is very similar to that which was described by the Minister in her opening speech. For that reason, I believe that the hon. Member for Worcester would be wise to look at his Amendment again and remember the words of a very eminent leader of his party, Disraeli, who once said, "In political life never complain, never explain."
Certainly, it would be very difficult indeed for Her Majesty's Opposition to explain satisfactorily, either to the electorate or, indeed, to many of the hon. Members on their back benches, the reasoning behind their policies towards British Rail in the 13 years in which they were in office. We have not heard either what is their policy for British Rail now. I have asked the hon. Member for Worcester whether it is "Back to 1422 Beeching", with, of course, the reservation of most of his hon. Friends, "Not in my constituency".
If that is not the policy, I am sure we can look forward to a speech from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), who I understand is to wind up the debate for the Opposition, in which he will tell us clearly and concisely what the Conservative Party would do now about branch line closures, how they would finance British Rail if they intend to keep the branches open and, furthermore, precisely what policy they would advocate for meeting the difficulties which are confronting the railways in terms of modernisation and meeting the demands upon them by the public. We look forward to this very much.
I feel bound to say in conclusion that as we go into the Lobbies tonight it will be interesting to see how many Conservative Members of this House vote for this Amendment, for if they vote for the Amendment they will be voting for branch line closures in their own constituencies.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) will not blame me If I do not follow him too closely. I agree with much of the case that he made, and I compliment him on his speech.
My reason for speaking in the debate arises from the contribution of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). He makes most curious contributions. He is one of the two last Tories left in Glasgow, and one can understand the reason for that after hearing him. They are a dwindling race in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman has had a fairly good education but he does not make much use of it.
I should like to refer to the opening part of the hon. Gentleman's speech when he referred to the Minister of Transport. He did not like her form too much. She was too expensive. One would have thought that he was dressing her. After all, it was not his wife whom he was talking about. He should think out his phrases before he utters them. He is much too emotional.
As the hon. Member for Bodmin just said in his excellent speech, what is the alternative for the Tory Party to granting 1423 the sum of £366 million that is being asked for the London Transport Board and British Railways? They cannot slide out of the position in which they have placed the House of Commons. I was a Member of this House during the long Committee stages of the 1962 Act, as was the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), so I should not need to educate him. Sections 22 and 23 of that Act give to the Minister the necessary authority to bring before the House an application for any moneys needed to keep British Railways, the London Passenger Transport Board and, indeed, the canal system operating in this country. That stems largely from the 1962 Tory Act.
Of course, we spoke against much that was contained in that Act, and we realised all through the Committee stage that what the Tories were deliberately doing was to weight the whole transport arrangements in this country against the railways. They were conceding in every way possible concessions that would bring more traffic on to the roads, and consequently the present situation has arisen.
I was very sorry to hear the hon. Member for Hillhead scoffing and calling it piffle when I intervened to talk about the death toll on the roads, the deaths that occur every day and every week, the totals mounting up to a tragedy of huge dimensions. No matter which party is in power, it will have to face up to this question of road safety. The hon. Gentleman ought not to have treated the matter so lightly, because part of the blame for this increasing tragedy on the roads lies with the 1962 Act which the Tories put on the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I should like to get this put straight for the sake of the record. I did not say it was piffle. I said it was bunkum, because the amount of extra traffic that goes on the roads as a result of the closures of railway lines is a drop in the bucket and makes little or no difference. I would like to add that in saying what I have said, it does not mean that I do not take a very serious view of road deaths.
§ Mr. Webster
Perhaps I may add that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) and I both served during 1424 the Committee proceedings on the 1962 Bill. I remember that the hon. Member intervened in a lively fashion on a number of occasions. I would remind the hon. Member, who spoke of restrictions that the Conservative Government put on the railway system, that we took off the common carrier liability with which the railways had been saddled for many years. We gave freedom of charging and freedom from publishing the charges. These are things which have benefited the railways considerably.
§ Mr. Manuel
I concede these financial benefits. That is why I am so amazed at the Amendment today. Far greater sums have been spent by the Tory Government in order to keep the railways turning over as much as possible, by means of the 1962 Act. Now that the Tories are in opposition, they turn their backs on their own Act and put down an Amendment such as we have on the Order Paper today. I want the hon. Member for Hillhead to recognise that I was not thinking of rail closures and the amount of traffic that is going on to the roads as a result of those closures. In my opinion, that is not so much the cause of the situation. It is the amount of traffic which is and has always been on the roads, while more is coming on to the roads with the greater industrialisation that is taking place in many areas, and which ought to be conveyed by British Railways, particularly on the long hauls.
But it is alarming today that our system involves the use of huge and dangerous vehicles on our roads. Hon. Members know the type of vehicle I mean. It blocks the road completely, one cannot see round it, and one takes a dangerous chance in moving out to try to see whether the road is clear. Much of that traffic, the long-haul traffic, ought to be conveyed on British Railways, the safest means of transport one can find anywhere in the world. That was the dangerous type of traffic about which I was speaking.
I have in mind also the carriage of coal by road. Large amounts of coal now carried by road could much more suitably be taken by rail to the docks for bunkering and elsewhere in the congested areas of the country. If it is possible to take 1,000 tons at a time by 1425 train, it is ridiculous to have hundreds of lorries every day carrying coal along our roads. Yet this happens in much of the country, and, as I know from having questioned them in the House about it, it was supported by the Conservative Government.
I wonder how much attention the hon. Member for Hillhead pays to the preparation of his speeches. I had not much time to prepare mine, but, in contradistinction to his effort, I think that I am making not too bad a job of it, speaking factually. The hon. Gentleman referred to our election pledges at the 1964 election and, rather wilfully, suggested that we promised that there would be no more rail closures. Did he read the Labour Party manifesto and did he read our pledge at the time? We said that there would be no more major rail closures.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, there is no doubt about that. The hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) is a newcomer, and I want to be easy with her—her form is quite good, too—but I must remind her of what was said in our manifesto. I understand that she takes an interest in these things, especially at Tory Party conferences. She will find the word "major" there, not with reference to any rank but with reference to rail closures.
I wanted to correct what the hon. Member for Hillhead said about what he calls "his" railway. He told us that it was closed. It is not.
§ Mr. Manuel
It is not. The station is closed. [Laughter.] I know that his railway is still open. Passenger and freight traffic is still conveyed on it in considerable volume, but the station near his estate—I am not sure whether it is his father's or his estate—at which he used to drop off is closed. So he cannot drop off there now, although, of course, he did not travel by rail much anyway in getting home from London. I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman referred to it as "his" railway but, his or not, that section of British Railways is not closed although the station at Mauchline near where he resides is closed. It is a fair distance from my constituency, but I know that to be the fact none the less.
§ Mr. Bessell
Will the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the weaknesses of the 1962 Act is that the Minister's powers are so limited in respect of station closures, and this is one of the matters needing to be looked at by the Government?
§ Mr. Manuel
I agree entirely. Some of us who took part in the long Committee stage of the Bill pointed that out. I took it further and referred to locomotive depot closures. We have had continual complaints from people about the powers of the transport users' consultative committees and the inability of objectors to obtain statements regarding finance or any really satisfactory information. We did what we could but we were unsuccessful. The Minister of Transport at that time was a naughty little fellow, in more ways than one, and we could make nothing of it.
I am sorry to be devoting so much attention to what the hon. Member for Hillhead said, but he is one of those rare creatures, one of the few Tories left in Scotland, so we ought to be clear about what he says. He told us that he has great fears about what the Minister of Transport might do, quite apart from what he thinks of her form. He said that she was much too expensive for the country and she was likely to do things by giving directions. There are powers of direction in almost every Act of Parliament, of course. The hon. Gentleman would have no qualms in directing human beings. If it were conscription, he would direct all right. But he is very much against direcing inanimate things in British transport. I know the type of animal he is. He is one of the most hard Right-wing Tories in the House, and it is best to try to correct and educate him on every occasion.
I am looking forward hopefully to the White Paper. Once it is published, we shall, no doubt, have a debate on it. It would be too bad if we were to proceed to legislation without debate on the principles enunciated in the White Paper, and I hope that we shall have ample opportunity. The time taken to prepare it in the Department has been too long already for some of us. We have been anxiously awaiting it, and I hope that it will be published before long, within the next month or two.
I hope that the White Paper will show some new and deep thinking on all 1427 aspects of transport. I hope that it will cover road safety, raising new thoughts about what Parliament itself can do in this connection, directing attention to the flimsiness of vehicles on the roads today. The construction of many vehicles is nowhere near up to the standard which the House would wish to lay down. It might well be a good idea to have a standard set by a Select Committee which went into these matters and satisfied knowledgeable people about chassis strength, braking power, and so on, including within its recommendations safety standards for commercial vehicles, too. So often today, commercial vehicle drivers involved in accidents have virtually no protection from such dangers as the sliding forward of a load. Where strength and support is needed, there is often no more than a flimsy construction. I want something to emerge from the White Paper which will satisfy people that we are concerned about all aspects of safety on the road.
Above all, I want there to emanate from the White Paper a clear statement of principles embodying what we mean when we speak of—the hon. Gentleman scoffed at this—a co-ordinated and integrated transport system, a system unified in its purpose in our dock areas, in road and rail connections, in easy access and communication, and in the linking of coastwise shipping into an integrated system. This is what we are all looking for, and I am sure that the vast majority of hon. Members would support it if they realised that the basic principles were, as they knew they ought to be, designed to serve the maximum purpose for the maximum number of people, giving each area or section of the community the most suitable form of transport to meet its needs.
I apologise to the House that, because of other commitments, I did not hear the opening Front Bench speeches. It is a liberty to speak later in the debate without having heard those speeches, but I should have been here if I had not had other engagements.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
This is a short Bill, and, I believe, an important one because it demonstrates that the Government are expecting the British 1428 Railways deficit to rise over the next few years. When Dr. Beeching was appointed in 1962 the deficit was £158 million. By 1963 he had brought it down to £134 million and by 1964 to £121 million. Then he was sacked. In 1965 it rose to £132 million. The proposals now before us allow for an average deficit of £137 million per year from 1966 to 1968.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) that it will not be possible to eliminate the deficits on the railways in the foreseeable future, but the trend is of tremendous importance. Under Dr. Beeching the trend was of falling deficits. Under the present Government it is one of a rising deficit, and that trend is reinforced by the very large provision of funds made in the Bill.
We live in difficult times, so difficult that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has found it necessary to tax scientific research, charities, almshouses, Dr. Barnardo's Homes and old-age pensioners. The increase in the cost of distribution is bound to affect food and the cost of living of old people and people on fixed incomes. I cannot help contrasting The difference between the generous treatment and increased subsidy to be given to British Railways under the Bill and the Chancellor's treatment of the sections of the community that I have mentioned.
Is it right to feather-bed British Railways instead of insisting on financial discipline? It seems that the Government are providing a cushion which will be used to allow continuing indecision by the Minister and her Department about the part which is to be played by Dr. Beeching's proposals in the National Plan, which contains acceptance of much of what he suggested. Will the cushion be used to make possible continuing ineffectiveness on the part of the Minister in dealing with the N.U.R. over liner trains? Will it be used as a continuing feather-bed in respect of the N.U.R's restrictive practices? These are important matters on which we should have some assurances from the Minister before we vote this money.
Chapter 12 of the National Plan, dealing with transport, says:British Railways … estimate that they should be able to eliminate the working deficit by 1970, provided that in addition to early 1429 inauguration of freight liner services, … substantial progress continues to be made in implementing closure proposalsanda start is made within the period with the process of concentrating on selected trunk routes.This is what is in the National Plan. It is not something dreamed up by Tory economists. It is the Government's own plan for the country for the next five years.
I ask emphatically and clearly whether the Government intend to carry out these proposals in the National Plan, because they seem to be in conflict with the attitude of the Minister in so much of what she has been doing. But it is not only that. Perhaps worse still is the indecision of the Minister. An enormous number of proposals for closures put foward by British Railways have snarled up in the Ministry. The best estimate that I can get is that it is costing about £10 million a year in extra deficit as a result of indecision over services on which no decision has been made by the Minister. The resulting chaos affects many other sections of planning.
I can give an example from my constituency. There is a railway line running from Newbury down to Whitchurch and to Winchester. The line has been closed, and British Railways will never reopen it. There is no possible reason why British Railways ever should reopen it. There we have an under-utilised available alternative route from Newbury through Reading down to Basingstoke and on to the main Winchester line. But there can be no possible prospect of British Railways opening that additional alternative route.
Yet the closure has been agreed. In fact, it was agreed under the previous Government. The then Minister said that the line should be closed but the track should remain. What happened? On one section of that railway we had a weak bridge carrying the main A34 and traffic to Southampton Docks. We sought the permission of the Minister as to whether we should rebuild the bridge or fill in the railway line underneath. Then we had a judgment of Solomon. The Minister said "You may fill in the cutting and make a solid road over it, but you must leave the track underneath." There it is today.
1430 But the asinineness of it is that further down the line there are county proposals for eliminating dangerous bends on the A34 at Lichfield, and these proposals cannot be brought forward because we do not know whether the line can be disregarded or not. We do not know whether we can knock down the bridges and straighten the road or whether we must adhere to the Minister's basic plan that the track must remain. Until we can get a decision from the Minister, the dreadful bends on the road have to remain.
The financial aspect of this, which concerns the House at the present time, is that there we have a track and facilities and land is tied up—capital assets belonging to the nation which could be sold off and the money used to reduce the deficit on British Railways. I have tried to get out of British Railways and the Minister the cost to the nation represented by assets which are tied up in British Railways and unused because closures have been decided upon but the track remains in place while the Minister is indecisive.
So, first of all, are we to subsidise the indecisiveness of the Minister? Also, why should John Citizen subsidise the ineffectiveness of the Minister in persuading the N.U.R. to allow the opening of liner train terminals to the road haulage industry?
The expenditure to which British Railways is committed under the National Plan seems to amount to about £16 million on depôts, £35 million on wagons and £24 million on containers, a total of £75 million, and already more than £3 million of that has been spent. Yet the N.U.R. is adopting a dog-in-the-manger attitude and still refusing to allow private enterprise road hauliers to bring business to the railways—to the liner train terminals. As a result, we find that the liner train service between London and Manchester is operating at about 30 per cent. capacity. The break-even point—the Minister refuses to give it in this House but has not denied statements in the Press—is said to be 80 per cent.
If that is so, that emphasises the situation on this service which is running at 30 per cent. capacity largely because the N.U.R. refuses to allow private road hauliers to bring business to the railways. In these circumstances, it is utterly wrong that the House should vote money to 1431 allow this sort of thing to continue, because that is where the money we are being asked for in the Bill is to be spent.
I listened spellbound to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). He called for more traffic to go on the railways to end the slaughter on the roads.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I certainly agree. But I find it incomprehensible that the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady can support, and be supported by, the N.U.R. which is deliberately preventing that policy being achieved because it is preventing private road hauliers from using railway transport through the liner trains.
§ Mr. Manuel
Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman is in full agreement with the point of view I put and that he would like all bulky and dangerous traffic to be removed on long hauls from the roads to the railways?
§ Mr. Mitchell
What the hon. Gentleman means by "removed" I find a little uncertain. If he means whether I think that the railways should be made so efficient, cheap and attractive that they attract such loads off the roads. I agree.
§ Mr. Mitchell
If he means that they should be directed, then I do not agree. I draw his attention to the fact that many of the loads which go by road are too bulky to get through the tunnels or under the bridges of British Railways. It is not so simple as he suggests to direct traffic from one to the other.
The point is simple. A substantial amount of public money has been devoted to the liner train service. There is an increasing commitment to future expenditure on it. What assurance has the Minister had from the N.U.R. that it will co-operate in allowing the freight to be brought in by the road haulage industry to use this service? If such an assurance has not been obtained, then we are being asked to spend public money, taken from the pockets of people who can ill-afford it, in order to subsidise nonsensical opposition from the N.U.R.
1432 The N.U.R. is, of course, affiliated to the Labour Party and contributes massively to its funds. I hope that the right hon. Lady has some influence with the union, but I am somewhat fearful that the reverse may be true and that the union has influence with her.
Why should we vote this money while restrictive practices continue to be operated on the railways? I remember the White Paper in which the Government said that they were determined to root out restrictive practices. I do not see much sign of this being done on the railways. For example, what about the £5 million a year being wasted on nighttime double manning of locomotives? It seems incomprehensible that we should be asked to vote increased deficits for British Railways while nothing is done about that sort of thing.
Again, why should we have such restrictive practices as having both guards and ticket collectors on so many trains? The job could perfectly well be done by one man acting as both guard and ticket collector on many services. On a Pullman train there has to be a special person who clips the tickets for the Pullman and he is not allowed to clip the tickets on the British Railways wagons. That is another small but obvious restrictive practice. There are demarcation agreements as well. In a situation in which the country's economy is being held back by a shortage of labour, it is nonsensical that these practices should continue and that this House should be asked to vote unnecessary money for British Railways deficits.
It is much easier for the Minister, British Railways and the N.U.R. to save money in the ways I have outlined than it is for the charities, the elderly and other sections of the community to raise this money, as they are now asked to do, that the Minister is now spending so gaily in these proposals. With this sort of thing in mind, I for one shall oppose the Bill tonight.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I wish to put the case of the men most intimately involved in the running down of British Railways. I am, therefore, glad that I follow the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) who has made the key point of his speech an attack upon the attitude of the N.U.R. I would agree with 1433 anyone in the House that the attitude of the N.U.R. towards the liner train proposal is indefensible—I concede that at once, but I do not concede that it is inexplicable.
The railwaymen are in an occupation—some of them would regard it almost as a profession—which has been bitterly attacked and has been pushed about from pillar to post over the last 20 years. They have never known for any long consecutive period whether their jobs were going to be secure or not and inevitably—and we have seen the symptoms also in the shipbuilding industry—this has led to the kind of introverted reaction resulting in their attitude to the liner train proposals.
What is required in the industry is stability for a fairly long period so that the men can recognise their place and understand that they have a future for that period and that they can reduce restrictive practices without necessarily finding that they will be out of a job. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the grace to recognise that, in the last four years, employment in the industry has gone down by over 25 per cent. During that time, the N.U.R. has contributed to the discussions which have eased the way for the reduction in staff. Indeed, last year the staff was reduced by as much as 8½ per cent. The hon. Gentleman must take this into consideration when he also attacks the union for failing to respond to the liner train proposal and giving it full co-operation.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he asks for. I wished to be brief and had I had time I would have happily sketched in much of the N.U.R. background and a substantial understanding of why restrictive practices have grown up in the way they have. But what in the 1930s saved a man's job is today holding back the economic growth and prosperity of this nation and it would be wrong if I were not to voice that fact as well.
§ Mr. Lyon
I would agree with the general background of the point made by the hon. Gentleman, but I would not go so far as he does in saying that this is the only thing holding back the development of the industry. This is one of the ways in which the industry could be assisted and I hope that the N.U.R. 1434 will drop its opposition to taking private road hauliers into the terminals for the liner trains. Before we can get its co-operation we must show it that the position will be stable in the future. This is why I welcome the way in which the Minister is developing her transport policy.
It is very noticeable, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to concede this too, that the attitude of the N.U.R. in recent weeks has shown some signs of softening. Indeed, this was forecast from the Opposition Front Bench during one of the opening speeches in the debate. There are signs that the attitude will be considerably softened in the coming weeks, possibly to coincide with the introduction of the White Paper. There have been some speeches at recent conferences suggesting that the staff side is reconsidering its attitude towards these proposals.
That is because it now recognises that its interests are being considered by the Government in their new transport policies. It recognises that, for the first time, it is going to be given an efficient industry which is not going to be dependent simply upon commercial accounting principles. As my right hon. Friend said earlier, one thing must surely be plain from the experience of the last 15 years in public transport, and it is that we cannot have a service to the public and at the same time expect the railways to make a profit. We must come to terms with the fact that there will always be some degree of subsidy.
Underlying all the party points which have been made is the acknowledgment, now from both sides, that some degree of subsidy will be required. The question now is how much. After that the only question is what principle one applies in order to determine whether the industry is efficient. I would say that it is by the service which it gives to people who use it, both for freight and passenger traffic. This is an indefinable and amorphous principle. It is not as easily recognised as the profit at the bottom of the balance sheet. Obviously there will always be some cause for dispute about whether the industry is truly efficient. One thing which we must recognise is that the consumer in this industry wants his interests considered 1435 even though it might mean—and this is surely reflected in some of the election results—a loss.
Much play has been made in some of the speeches by hon. Gentlemen opposite about the cost to the taxpayer of these deficits. The great public opposition to the Beeching Plan has been enough to suggest that the public is willing to pay provided it is given a decent and efficient service.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
I can understand the argument that one should subsidise a commuter service, because it might cost more to build a road to carry the alternative passenger services. But what is the excuse for subsidising a freight service? Why should a trader expect the general taxpayer to pay for the delivery of his goods?
§ Mr. Lyon
I concede that in some cases that would be indefensible, but in others there is a case for subsidising freight and the case has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), who said that this was one of the ways in which one could reduce congestion on the roads, which might in turn affect the number of accidents. This is one of the reasons why one might wish to subsidise some kinds of traffic on the railway.
The case for subsidy is even stronger with regard to passenger traffic. I was not thinking simply of commuter traffic in the highly congested suburban areas. I was thinking also of some areas such as the Whitby line, for instance. When the line was closed as a result of the Beeching proposals there was great difficulty in the winter in reaching some of the isolated villages on the Yorkshire moors. Some of the villages were cut off in snowbound conditions, but the train could have got there when the bus could not. British Railways must pay greater attention to novel techniques of keeping a service going. The Whitby line could be reopened and could provide a diesel bus service. This service, simply because it could operate in winter conditions when a normal bus could not, might be the answer to the demand for public transport in that area.
I welcome unreservedly the comments of my right hon. Friend the Minister when she said that in future there will not be 1436 any closure until British Railways have proved that no means, novel or otherwise, could be used to keep the line open. Many of these lines will, I believe, prove not only to be necessary in the public interest, but could even pay their way provided that these new experiements are approached with real relish by the British Railways Board. I am bound to say that, from some of the information coming to me, some of the officials of British Railways appear to have approached the problem by saying, "We will tend to run down the services and then put up a case for closing them."
What we now have to do is to encourage the management of British Railways to try to find ways, perhaps novel in some cases and unpopular in others, of keeping services open so that the essential public interest can be met. In this way we shall have a stable and viable industry, dependent to some extent on public subsidy, but knowing what its future is. Once we have that, and an assurance is conveyed to the unions to that effect, we shall have their full co-operation in experiments like the liner trains. When we get that, this problem might very well be put behind us.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I hope that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) will forgive me if I do not take up his arguments. However, I admired the very reasonable way in which he approached this whole subject, and particularly the question of liner trains. I agree with a very great deal of what he said.
We have not had a major debate about the railways for a very long time. I may be wrong, but I think that the last occasion was in April, 1963, when we discussed the Beeching proposals in a two-day debate. That was one of the most disappointing debates we have had for a very long time, but in a way it was typical of the House. Instead of having contributions on the basic principles involved, Member after Member spoke with very great fervour about his own constituency and fought with all his strength against the modernisation proposals as they affected his area. I do not believe that this was the fault of hon. Members. It is the system itself which has to be changed.
1437 I should, therefore, like to begin with a plea for an extension of specialist committees Lo include the whole field of transport. I realise that this may not be popular with some of my hon. Friends, or, indeed with some hon. Members opposite. I am sorry about that. But let us look the facts in the face. This short Bill of three Clauses enables Parliament to provide a further £350 million to the British Railways Board. This is a colossal sum, and yet there has been a very thin attendance in the House for this debate.
I imagine that every hon. Member would claim that the function of Parliament is to control the Executive and that the control of the country's money is at the heart of our Parliamentary system. The truth is—and we must all face this—that control by the House of spending money is absolutely non-existent. This is because the function of control involves detailed criticism of Government policy and of the administration of that policy. We simply do not have the information upon which to base that criticism. In the debate today—and I am sorry that I did not hear all of the Minister's speech—we have heard very little of the Government's new policy on transport.
I would say in passing that this criticism should be exercised on two levels. On the lower level, it consists in raising individual and local issues. I have always felt that this was a function which we as Parliamentarians exercise extremely well—almost too well. That was the weakness of the last debate: everyone raised their own constituency problems. We do not succeed—in fact I would say that we fail—on the higher level because criticism of policy cannot be properly carried out by hon. Members without adequate information being made available to them.
One of the dilemmas of back-bench Members on both sides of the House is that in trying to assess any action or proposal of the Minister we are largely dependent on the Minister for the amount of information which he or she is prepared or chooses to give. Today the Minister chose to give us very little information indeed. Therefore, the time has come to set up specialist committees so that hon. Members interested in these subjects can be given a great deal more of the background information on which they can make up their minds. Surely 1438 these committees should have the power to ask the experts and civil servants to explain their thinking. The civil servants might well welcome this; certainly I do not think that they would object to it.
This is particularly true of transport. We are told that a good deal of thinking has been going on in the Ministry over the last 18 months. Many experts have been called in to advise the Minister. Research work is being done. Lord Hinton, who has been referred to several times today, was asked to advise the Minister on certain aspects of policy. But what we do not know, and what we are entitled to know, is what advice Lord Hinton gave. Unless back-bench Members are given this information, they cannot possibly pass a proper judgment on the Minister's proposals, nor say whether the Minister has taken the right decisions.
Of all the qualities which distinguish private Members from the Ministers, ignorance is the most striking. This is bad for democracy. No doubt I shall be told, "We cannot have specialist committees on transport because that is a highly political and controversial subject and it is bad for specialist committees to deal with controversial subjects". I do not take that view. It is perhaps a pity that transport has become such a highly charged political subject. For example, the private operators in road haulage have a very genuine feeling today that the Labour Government are entirely prejudiced against them. Indeed, on past form they are quite justified in that view, and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he winds up the debate, will do something to reassure the private operators.
What we should all be trying to do is to get the best result for the country as a whole. When I was recently reading the Official Report of the debate on the Beeching proposals I noticed that the Prime Minister took an active part. He said:… I regard the battle on the future of the British transport system as political".He then went on to make a highly political speech, and said:The railway crisis began from the moment that a doctrinaire Government scrapped the idea of a national integrated transport policy, and the Beeching Report is the consummation 1439 of that policy. These closures, with all that they mean, are the direct consequence of political vandalism.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1963; Vol. 676, c. 908–17.]Those were the words of the present Prime Minister in that debate. They are the words of a very prejudiced party politician because, whatever else one might say or think about Dr. Beeching, he is certainly not a political vandal. This sort of obsessional political approach to transport has done a great deal of harm to rational thinking on the whole of the transport problem. It was very wrong of the Government to bring this Bill forward at this present stage, before they told us their thinking on the whole field of transport policy.
I am very sorry that the Minister did not pay a more handsome tribute to Dr. Beeching. I hope that she read the brilliant articles that he wrote for the Observer early in 1965. I commend them to the Minister. He described planning as a multi-stage process, saying that the first stage is the acquisition of comprehension, and that this means collecting accurate information. We should be deeply indebted to Dr. Beeching for the way in which he collected and presented the basic facts, on which proper judgments can be based. For example, he made it his business to find out the proportion of the total freight carried by various means of transport which is potentially suitable for rail movement, and which might in future be drawn back from the roads, if suitable rail services were provided.
He found that this proportion was surprisingly small, and this is a point that I do not think was fully realised or is yet realised by politicians. I believe too, that Dr. Beeching was absolutely right when he stated—and these are his own words—that the needs of the country should be met by the mode of transport which provides an adequate standard of service at the lowest true cost. I should like to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with Dr. Beeching in that definition.
I now turn to the main question, which has hardly been referred to in the debate tonight. It must be faced by the country that we must determine the true costs of hauling freight both by road and by rail. The crucial fact is that we cannot 1440 afford to subsidise all forms of transport, and there really is no dodging this question. Until the problem is solved, until we really can determine the true cost, we shall not, as a nation, make the right decisions, and all the talk about rationalisation of transport, integration of transport, and a national transport policy, will remain just political claptrap.
I do not want to develop this theme any more tonight, because other hon. Members wish to speak. I think, however, that the time really has come to try to judge these questions with clear minds, away from the mass of political prejudice that still exists in the party opposite. We have a new House of Commons. Can we not have a new approach to the whole national problem of transport?
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I apologise for intervening in the debate, having heard far too little of the proceedings since half-past three. To my great regret, I was engaged in taking the chair at various meetings from which I could not escape.
I rise because I was reminded vividly by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport of certain personal memories of long ago. It was my privilege to serve in the Ministry of War Transport in Sir Winston Churchill's Coalition Government during the war. In 1944, when was Parliamentary Secretary, I urged strongly upon my Minister, Lord Leathers, and upon Lord Attlee, that the railways should be nationalised during the war by the common agreement of all parties, so that they should not become the plaything of politics after the war ended. I urged upon Lord Leathers that we were certain to win the General Election when the war was over, that the Labour Government would nationalise the railways, and that many misfortunes could be avoided if my plan were adopted. I still think that I was right.
I remember vividly the splendid progress, of which my right hon. Friend the Minister has spoken, which was made by the Railways Board between 1948 and 1952. Last week I was discussing with Lord Hurcomb, the former Sir Cyril Hurcomb, the Civil Service head of our Ministry of War Transport, what a disaster it was that the Transport Commission 1441 system was broken up by Conservative action in 1952.
I have with me this evening the Report of the British Transport Commission for that year, dated 31st December, 1952, in which, at paragraph 12 on page 7, the Commission stated:The announcement of the Government's policy on transport as outlined in the White Paper and later expanded in the Transport Bill, 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 of the Commission's services, where this did not involve the transfer of staff or heavy expenditure on new works, 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.On the next page, the Commission explained in detail the various schemes which it proposed but was not able to carry out.
Much the most serious of the results was that plans for electrification of the main lines were delayed and ultimately destroyed. Anybody who has travelled on the new electrified service from Euston to Manchester or Liverpool will agree that this is a great new step forward in railway history. We are now beginning to catch up on that line the progress made in France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia by the modern types of electrification. I regard it as a great disaster that this was not carried out on our main lines long years ago. I am delighted to know that my right hon. Friend is now considering much greater schemes of electrification and I hope that she will be encouraged to go forward and carry them out.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will visit the Institute of Railway Research, which has been set up in my constituency of Derby. There, scientists and technologists are carrying out work on signalling and on the improvement of the permanent way, bogies, rolling stock and locomotives which, I am convinced, within ten years will make British Railways the greatest system in the world.
The plan on which the Institute is now working is to have very many trains on all the main lines, travelling at high speeds of 100 m.p.h. or more, at intervals 1442 so short that one does not have to use a timetable but simply goes to the station and catches the next train if a train happens to be going out as one arrives. This kind of system, with trains of a small number of coaches on electrified lines, could bring an enormous volume of traffic back to British Railways.
I venture to think that there are very strong reasons for adopting as the basic principle of Government transport policy the idea that any traffic, passenger or goods, which can possibly be diverted from road to rail or water should be so diverted. I think the unseen costs of road haulage are far greater than they are usually appreciated as being. The cost of the roads themselves is very heavy, not only in money, but in the amenities of our countryside which, in time to come, will be very precious to us, for reasons which I shall later expound. In the second place, there is the cost of accidents.
When I was at the Ministry I took a hand in instigating the first inquiry into the cost of road accidents. We carried out the inquiry by two teams, a team of economists led by a professor of economics from a northern university, and a team led by the Auditor-General. The two parties agreed that in that war year of 1943, when traffic was very small compared with what it is today, the minimum cost to the nation of accidents was something like £70 million a year. The late Minister of Transport in the Conservative Government estimated it in 1963 at £250 million. I do not believe for one moment that the real cost of road accidents today is less than £400 million, and in ten years from now, if we go forward with present trends, the cost may be £600 million or £700 million. And that is an annual recurring charge. It is not a capital sum. It is something which the nation has to pay every year for accidents.
That makes relevant the fact that many of the heavy goods vehicles—and of the lighter goods vehicles—take to the roads in an utterly unfit condition. I want to read to the House the results of an investigation made by the Chief Constable of Derby in September 1964. Over two days he examined on the roads vehicles coming into or passing through Derby—
§ Mr. John Wells
On a point of order. Are we not getting an awful long way from the transport Bill to do with railways and canals financing?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would say to the hon. Member that I am arguing, as it is arguable, that on grounds of public policy all possible passenger and freight traffic should be moved from road to rail or water, and I am arguing now that much of the road haulage is extremely dangerous, is a major cause of the accidents which, as I have just explained, are now costing the country a great sum and will cost much greater sums in time to come.
The investigation made by the Chief Constable of Derby gave the following results. Of 1,302 vehicles, 139 were prevented by his officers from moving from the place where they had examined them until defects had been made good they thought it was not safe for 139 to move even to a garage a few hundred yards away. The drivers of 582 were told to get defects put right and to report back to the Ministry within a very short period of time. That is a total of 721 out of 1,302, which means that 55.6 per cent. of the vehicles were defective. I have urged my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend to issue a White Paper on this business of vehicle defects, the overloading of lorries, and the payment of lorry drivers by the number of journeys they do, which is a most dangerous practice, never adopted by British Road Services, and which, I am convinced, is the cause of many fatal accidents.
There is one other factor in the unseen cost of traffic on the roads, and that is congestion. In 1944 I induced an experiment to be made by the London Passenger Transport Board. The Board made tests on the average speed of its vehicles within the Greater London area. It was 10.4 miles per hour, and the Board calculated that if it could raise that speed by one mile per hour to 11.4, it would make an annual saving of £2 million. This is only a small indication of the fact that 1444 congestion on the roads is a major cause of waste to the nation as a whole.
Railway investment, on which the Minister is now engaged, has to be considered not in terms of five or ten years ahead, but 30 or 40. We hope that much of what my right hon. Friend proposes to do in the way of capital investment will serve the nation for at least 30 years, that is, up to the end of the century.
What are the factors which have to be taken into account when considering general transport policy from now to the year 2000? First, there is the increase in population. Experts in the late Conservative Government used to urge that it was a minimum calculation to say that our population would increase to 74 million by A.D. 2000, that is, an addition of perhaps 22 million between now and then. For my area of the country, the East Midlands, on a proportional basis, that will mean an increase of 1½ million to 1¾ million people. I do not think that it will be possible for Leicestershire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire to manage that increase in population without the maintenance of all the railway links which now exist, and probably the development of more. If we want to distribute the vast increase in population around the country, to the North, to the West, and to Scotland, we must give them the amenities which railway transport will provide.
The next factor is the increase in the standard of living. The late Government used to say that the standard of living would double by 1975 or 1980, and certainly with the policy of the present Government it will do so. But if the standard of living doubles, travel by individuals will not only double, but will multiply four, five or six times. Today there are millions of people in the country who never travel, but when they have more money, travel will increase enormously.
Thirdly, if there is a twofold increase in the production of wealth by the nation, there will be twice as many goods to be transported from factories to markets, and from production centres to the export ports. There will be an enormous increase in the volume of goods traffic.
Lastly, we all know that, whatever anybody may do, the number of motor cars 1445 on the road, individual transport vehicles, will double within 10 years, and redouble after that until the number will become literally unmanageable.
On all those grounds I urge on the Minister that the right policy for the Government to pursue is one which does not consider relatively small sums of money compared with the vast cost of transport in general, and with the vast loss which the nation makes with the present inadequate system. It is the right policy for the Government to pursue to divert every item of traffic they can, passenger and freight, from road to rail or water. While the railways can and will do enormously better in the next ten years, the waterways system can equally be improved.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
I am one of those hon. Members to whom the Minister referred who wrote to her as a candidate and subsequently as a Member concerning railway closures in his constituency. I find nothing illogical, reprehensible or strange in my writing to her about those matters. I feel that in her speech the right hon. Lady implied that there was something odd about a Conservative Member making representations about closures in his constituency. In the few minutes left to me I want to give the reasons why I am concerned about closures in Cornwall.
I should first like to say, however, how interesting it was to hear the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody). I agreed with a great deal of what he said about the problems of transportation in Cornwall and also with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) said as well. If one were to remove the electioneering element from what the hon. Member for Bodmin said, we could probably agree on very much of what is necessary in our county.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) referred to the Boundaries Commission's proposals which, if they go through, will mean that only two hon. Members will be left out of the three of us—my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne and myself 1446 —to fight for better transportation in Cornwall.
The Amendment does not criticise the Minister for her transport proposals: it criticises her for not telling us what those proposals are. It criticises her for asking us to vote money two and a half years ahead without having the slightest conception of what she has in mind.
I believe that the principles underlying the appointment of Dr. Beeching were absolutely correct. This country cannot go on nursing a whole host of sacred cows, whether they be the railways, the trade unions or even the Institute of Directors. We must look at every aspect of our national life and try to decide how we can rationalise it and make it more effective.
Our railways must be more efficient. There must be a better service for passengers, a more businesslike approach to freight transportation and if possible a greater proportion of self-financing.
But to every general rule there are exceptions. I believe that the exception in Cornwall is that the Minister should give full consideration to a development district as being a special case. It is nonsensical to me that money should be poured into development districts under the local Employment Acts and now under the proposed Industrial Development Bill, when at the same time communications are severed thus preventing light industry coming along.
I welcome the Minister's statement the other day that, in considering rail closures in the West Country in future, she will take all the economic considerations into account before coming to a decision. As to the future of the main line mentioned by the hon. Member for Bodmin, I wish that certain hon. Members who represent Cornish constituencies would not keep on raising the matter because it only puts ideas into the Minister's head. It would be too ghastly if this were to happen. It is much better to leave the matter alone.
§ Mr. Bessell
Does not the hon. Member agree that there is an element of doubt about it? We must ask for an assurance from the Minister that no such closure will take place.
§ Mr. Nott
I do not agree. It would be as logical to ask for an assurance about some completely strange and irrelevant matter. It is, of course, relevant that the line is not closed, but I have never heard of a public statement being made that its closure is contemplated. If the Minister had asked us to vote money to the end of 1966, I believe that the House would have agreed without a division. If we had been asked to vote money until the end of 1967, I believe that my hon. Friends would have agreed, and I certainly should have done. But we are being asked today to agree to vote money until the end of 1968—to vote an additional £300 million or so without having the slightest idea of what the Minister's proposals are. We want an opportunity in Parliament to decide whether the distribution between railways and roads and the expenditure upon them is correct. That is the function of Parliament and why I shall vote for the Amendment. I object intensely to being asked to vote this very large sum of money without having the slightest idea how it will be spent.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I very much agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott). May I congratulate all the Cornish Members who have spoken today? It must be unique for every Cornish Member to make a speech in the same debate. May I congratulate, in particular, the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) on an excellent maiden speech? I noticed that just before he rose the hon. Lady the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody) began to leave the Chamber, but then she tiptoed back again into the Chamber, and I think it must have been because he wanted to speak about by-passing Exeter—although why he wanted to by-pass his wife in his own maiden speech I do not understand. I congratulate him, and I should like to join in the tribute, very much deserved, which he paid to his predecessor, Mr. Hayman, who was a devoted Member of the House and who served it long and very faithfully. I seldom agreed with what Mr. Hayman said, but I respected him in the way in which he said it.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) on what 1448 he had the imagination to call a non-controversial speech. I particularly enjoyed his being non-controversial with his own Minister, and I look forward to the time when he has shed his inhibitions and can tell her what he really thinks of her. That will be most interesting. The Minister is used to this sort of thing, and I am sure that both sides of the House enjoyed what he said. I echo some of his remarks about London Transport. Like all hon. Members for Harrow, he takes a particular interest in the commuters' problems.
We have heard speeches from the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker). I always listen with great respect to the right hon. Member for Vauxhall on transport matters. He has a wealth of experience on the subject. Tonight he sounded fatalistic about subsidies and I was depressed about that. I hope that he will not be fatalistic about the subject in future. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon) that when we go into the realm of subsidy it is a long and slippery slope if we allow a subsidy to become too general.
I was therefore interested in what was said by the right hon. Member for Derby, South, with his wealth of experience. It was interesting that he was nearly the last speaker in a debate which has had two maiden speakers, for he has 31 years' continuous service in the House, with, I think, four years away when he was in green pastures and in semi-retirement after his first two years in the House. If I can be as vigorous and controversial as he has been when I reach his age, I shall be very well pleased.
We also had the Vice-Chairman of the Labour Party Back Benchers' Transport Committee, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel)—who, we all know, is a member of A.S.L.E.F.—crossing swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) and, although I am a Scotsman, I would not interfere between two Scottish hon. Members for fear that I would be put on the Scottish Grand Committee.
I have found that, in general, hon. Gentlemen opposite have been 1449 depressingly eager to consider £366 million of the taxpayers' money an amount that should be voted away without serious consideration. I was particularly depressed because when my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) put forward a very reasoned Amendment, with a solid and sensible case to support it, hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be saying, "The taxpayers" money does not matter. We must continue to subsidise a form of transport that they know perfectly well is not viable".
It reminds me, depressingly, when we talk about the value of the taxpayers' money, that this £366 million, including the London Transport subsidy of £16 million, is so like the figure that has been added to the taxpayers' burden in the Budget. We remember the preview, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer lifted his skirts slightly just before the election to show his ankle, so to speak, and showed us the great attraction of his charms for after the election. Finally, he told us, "I see no reason for a severe increase in taxation". Is £385 million not severe? Considering what this Bill will cost, £366 million, it seems that if hon. Gentlemen opposite are not concerned about the value of this amount of money, the future of our economy is in a very dangerous and tricky position indeed.
If we are going to get into the habit of pumping £366 million of other people's money into a nationalised industry, particularly before the White Paper is presented to tell us what will happen afterwards, we cannot tell where we will be led. I have been married for 18 years and I realise that it is indeed a female guile to ask for a little bit of pocket money without mentioning what will be done with the money. Something else one sometimes finds with ladies; a bright smile when the money is being asked for, but one must wonder for how long the smile will last when one asks how the money will be spent.
The House would do well to note that in the last three Budgets the taxpayers' burden has been increased by £1,000 million. It was increased by £304 million two Budgets ago, then by £323 million and now it is being increased by £385 million. This progression, this Rake's Progress, with a docile bunch of Government 1450 supporters guaranteed to trip into the Division Lobbies, is something which the people who supported our economy when we needed support from abroad will watch with considerable anxiety.
This is, physically, a small Bill, a tiny little Bill—the sort of bill one gets in an expensive restaurant or hat shop. But it is tremendous when it is added to the other subventions we have passed to the public sector of the economy. I will give three illustrations. Plus the £366 millions being added to the British Railways Board, there is the increase to the Public Works Loan Board—from £500 million, which was a record last year, to £900 million this year—the increase to the Gas Council—from £650 million to £900 million—and then, without further recourse to Parliament, £1,200 million. It is a tremendous increase to the taxpayers' burden to give this money to industries and sectors of the economy for which there is no adequate criterion of cost or efficiency.
It appears that there is an intention to take money from the manufacturer in productive industry, by the 40 per cent. Corporation Tax, and at the same time to take money from the distributor and from the hotel industry. A number of hon. Members who represent the West Country have spoken today. I wonder how much the hotel industry will sub-vent in the Selective Employment Tax, this money going to losing nationalised industries? The hotel industry, a large dollar earner, and the other service industries, must bear this burden while the argument is being put forward that we must support the railways because they are a public service.
This is the dilemma into which the House and the Government are putting themselves. On the one hand, it is said that we must reduce the service industries and, on the other, that we must increase the public service sector. It would be well to dwell on this and see what a contradiction it is. The State sector is supported at the expense of the enterprising industries of the economy which go in for the export drive and manufacture goods which we require. Looked at in another way, we find that last summer we had immense borrowing from abroad which came to our assistance. To get out of this problem we must get our 1451 economy more economical and more competitive. We want to know what this Bill has to do with that.
Practically every hon. Member from the Minister downwards who has spoken from the opposite benches has been talking about subsidising the industry. This is not how we make the country's economy competitive. I wonder what the gnomes of Zurich and other bankers who have come to our assistance will say when they see what we have done with this breathing-space. During the breathing-space we have been pouring more money into non-competitive industries. They will wonder whether this will make the country's economy competitive, and whether it is worth it.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
Will the hon. Member explain how France manages to subsidise her railways to such an extent and yet has increased her gross national product to such an enormous extent over the last few years?
§ Mr. Webster
I do not think that was through an increase in nationalisation. I think it was done by entry to the Common Market, giving France a bigger industrial market, and on the agricultural side greater scope for competing for and getting a large share of the German market. In these things the General has been very tough and he has increased the moral fibre and sense of purpose of his people.
I regret that the respite which has been given to us has been frittered away on doctrinaire purposes to finance ever-increasing deficits and at the same time to squeeze out competitive industries and sectors of the economy.
Although it is six years ago and we all hate to be reminded of what we said in the past, the Minister said in Birmingham on 5th March, 1960:Public ownership must be the basic structure of our new society, not just an incidental trimming.This shows what the whole Bill is about and it is only part of the Bill for which we are being asked to grant money, and to find it before the White Paper comes forward.
In Aberdare in 1961, the right hon. Lady was a little more explicit. Perhaps that is because when one goes to Wales 1452 one gets more forgiving. Talking about Clause 4 and "Signpost for the Sixties", she said:Give this document to a man like the hon. Member for Poplar and you could have this country's economy transformed. But give it to someone like the hon. Member for Bosworth and you will not get very far.Increasingly Government supporters look upon railways as a public service. Is it not time that they changed the metaphor? When one sees the whole trend of thinking behind this Bill one sees that it is against any form of service industry. This contradiction is something which hon. Members opposite would do well to look at. We come to a new form of cross-subvention. We are keeping open railways and setting up factories in the North. Therefore, London is subsidising the North, but now we are asked for the first time to give £16 million in subsidy to London Transport so that the North can subsidise London. I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, East that the London Transport Board is the most inefficient monopoly there has ever been. Why should the less competitive areas of the country give a subsidy to the most prosperous area where people go because they know that they will have a greater opportunity to go ahead and attain prosperity? It seems to me to be a very extraordinary idea. Why should charities pay the Selective Employment Tax, some of which will go to subsidise London commuters? The Chancellor of the Exchequer reminds me of a passage from "Hunting of the Snark", "The Beaver's Lesson", by Lewis Carroll. Talking of charity, the Chancellor has turned the Treasury almost into the Snark:And in charity-meetings it stands at the door,And collects—though it does not subscribe.That is what the Chancellor has turned the Treasury into.
Another certain consequence is that there will be a vast increase in the army of bureaucrats of whom Joseph Chamberlain said in another context—They toil not, neither do they spin.However splendid and devoted they are, they are not productive people.
This massive system of cross-subvention, robbing Peter to pay Paul, turning the Minister into a latter-day version of Robin Hood, again contradicts the main theme of the Budget that the man in the 1453 cloth cap with his spanner in his hand, organised by his trade union, is the only respectable person and that the service industries shall be discouraged. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Iain Macleod) said, the Chancellor has made the biggest service industry of all in the Inland Revenue Department.
There are two clear consequences of this. There is the vast army of administrators. As I have said, this lack of consistency with a Budget concentrating on productive employment and this lack of consistency of thought will surely lead to disaster.
Then we get the nationalised and public bodies—the Railways Board, London Transport Board, the Public Works Loan Board, the Gas Council—with, I repeat, no valid economic criteria, being supported to the tune of £1,300 million to £1,500 million. On this subject one sees in the case of the railway workshops the restriction having last year being taken off their manufacturing powers so that they can compete against private industry.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South, has this type of conflict in his constituency, as does his son the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker). The right hon. Gentleman has in his constituency in Derby, Rolls-Royce, a private tax-paying industry. He also has a railway workshop. His son has Pressed Steel in Swindon and, again, a railway workshop.
The private industrial companies have to pay 40 per cent. Corporation Tax and every other tax they possibly can, while the railway workshops are vastly subsidised. The Minister of State, Department of Economic Affairs, said this as a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries when talking about workshops:What you are saying is that quotations are given which do not cover the full overheads.The whole of the hon. Gentleman's questioning on that occasion showed that he was absolutely convinced that railway workshops have no common cost criterion and that it is not possible to tell to what extent the taxpayers' money is being used to help them compete.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker
Of course Rolls-Royce is a very efficient firm. It is the finest aircraft manufacturer in the world. It does extremely well out of Government contracts both for military and civil aircraft. If the hon. Gentleman will come and examine the efficiency of the railway loco works and carriage and wagon works, I think that he will find, as Dr. Beeching found, that they are immensely efficient and can compete with any private industry in the country.
§ Mr. Webster
I have been round railway workshops. I have a great respect and regard for those who work in them. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that Rolls-Royce, and possibly Pressed Steel, have Government contracts. However, they also go into the markets of the world in a competitive way. They earn exports for Britain. They bring in currency. All the time they are very large taxpayers. A great portion of the taxes that they pay is being used, as under this Bill, to subsidise a nationalised industry which is competing with them. However much I respect those working in these industries, I must repeat that this is what is happening. I think we are seeing it today in the quotation that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has already given, and which I have quoted previously on a number of occasions, of the Prime Minister, talking to Mr. George Ffitch in 1963, I think in Washington or just after he had returned from Washington, when he was asked what he was going to do about nationalising various industries. The particular context was the road haulage industry. He said:We have said in our policy statement that we shall re-build the integrated system"—many hon. Members have talked about this today—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 goodwill 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.Since the credit squeeze, since the increase in petrol duty and the increase in the Excise duty, it is small wonder that private road hauliers have sold out to B.R.S. and the B.R.S. fleet has gone up from 13,000 vehicles by nearly 50 per cent. to 18,000 vehicles. This is certainly 1455 taking the lid off B.R.S. But we are also taking the lid off practically every other sector of the economy by giving this kind of subsidy to the nationalised industries and at the same time, by imposing a cripplingly high rate of Corporation Tax at 40 per cent. and every type of tax including the Selective Employment Tax, squeezing the other people out of business so that the public sector gets progressively larger.
As I have said, and have repeated again and again, if there is no adequate criterion of efficiency, then this is surely the economics of ruin. The distributor is excluded from investment incentive. The biggest distributor is the Railways Board and we are voting it £350 million. Gradually enterprise industry is getting immensely harsh competition from subsidised nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Gentleman has made this point about subsidised nationalised transport undertakings competing with private road hauliers. Would he like to say how much the subsidy is to the Transport Holding Company which last year made £15 million?
§ Mr. Webster
I have not the figures with me, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention because in particular I was interested in what he said when he agreed with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester who said that he had a suspicion that the Minister will probably get an agreement from the National Union of Railwaymen for free access to the private road haulier and the quid pro quo will be that the private haulier will have a different rate from the subsidised B.R.S. road haulier. This is what I and my hon. Friends suspected, and I am glad that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) has borne me out on that.
We are reminded that we are granting this immense amount of money and that there is a credit squeeze going on in the competitive sector of the economy. What we want to know is: why do we have to give all this money now? Because the Government have not made provision for paying the deficit this year, we are willing to let them have that and we are willing to see the White Paper, to judge it on its merits and then decide what we are 1456 going to do in the Division Lobbies. If the Government do not make these arrangements, let them have it for this year and then let us see why they have to have £350 million. This is on the basis that if the £115 million is to be next year's deficit, there will be over £140 million in the next two years. We want to know why, and what this money is to be used for. How much of it is going to be in increased wages? How much is going to be the cost of the Prime Minister's intervention in the railwaymen's dispute when he came as a deus ex machina; I think he likes the expression because he is always speaking in terms of theology—a rather blasphemous practice, I think. The real complaint the Minister has against the 1962 Act is that it shows where the deficit lies. My feeling is that the White Paper and the Bill to follow it will completely confuse the issue so that no one knows where the real truth of the financial situation lies.
When is there to be free access to the liner train terminals? The Prime Minister talks about industrial Luddites of the twentieth century, but when will he descend and say that the First Secretary's decision not to have negotiations fouled up by talk of productivity is completely irrelevant? I regret that, when I asked on Friday, 13th May, what proportion of capacity of the liner trains would cover the running cost, the Minister replied that it would not be in the commercial interests of the Railways Board to give me an answer. But this is the taxpayer's money and we want to know. My belief is that they are used only to the extent of 30 per cent., whereas 86 per cent. is probably the break-even point. If the right hon. Lady will contradict me, I shall be very glad to know.
What is the current loss on liner trains? When are we to have a new accounting procedure in the railway system? This is a vast amount of money and, when we have voted it, we shall have no redress and no opportunity to ask questions about it until we have, as I hope we shall, the debate on the White Paper and then the Bill which the right hon. Lady is to bring in.
There is talk of the viability of the system. Viability means breaking even 1457 on earnings as a percentage of assets employed. Before we can know the earnings, we must have an adequate valuation of the assets employed. When are we to have that? A lot of the valuations are out of date.
We are told that the Minister has proposals for local subsidies. If there are areas of local difficulty, where services are not necessarily paying, there will be local subventions. This sounds a very interesting proposal, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us more about it. I hope that he will tell us also what disposals have been made of land and buildings not in normal use. The other day, the hon. Member for Leicester. North-East (Mr. Bradley), who is president of T.E.S.S.A., the Transport Employees and Salaried Staffs Association, stated that we have to pay for the services which the railways provide. But we are to have no choice in whether they are to be provided or not. We choose only by declining to use a service. If we do not use a service and it is no longer given, that service ought to be wound up and the taxpayer should be relieved of the liability to pay for something which is of no benefit to the country at all.
I am the first to grant that the Beeching proposals are based on the Stedeford inquiry which was commissioned by Mr. Harold Macmillan in 1959. After the report was made to the Prime Minister, as he then was, Sir Ivon Stedeford was asked to take over the running of the railway system. He declined, and Lord Beeching, as he now is, took over the task. I agree that the information is a good deal out of date and could possibly be reviewed, but this is no reason for scrapping it. What happened was that the Minister's predecessor tried to scrap it. Lord Beeching declined to accept this and eventually, as the Minister of Technology said, "We sacked him", and Lord Beeching disappeared from the scene. Then we had Lord Hinton, and he also being a man of independent mind declined to accept this imposition of doctrinaire policy from above. Finally, we have the idea that the regional development councils will take a hand. I look forward with interest to learning what they will do and what proposals they have to put to the Minister.
Does this mean that we shall have a local subvention? At some of her 1458 Press conferences, the right hon. Lady said that, if a local railway line is not paying, it should be subsidised locally. As I say, this is an interesting proposal and I very much want to hear it developed. But I think that all the talk about co-ordination and integration is often a smoke screen to conceal something vastly different.
I have been asked by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) what we would do. Briefly, I think that we should revert to a great deal of Chapter I of the Transport Commission Report which Dr. Beeching wrote the first time. The basic truth is that the railways were built and designed for a system in which the only competitive method of transport was the horse and cart. Today, in the age of the internal combustion engine, we can afford to have our railway stations more than two and a half miles apart. We can increase the catchment areas so that the goods are brought by any form of traffic into central depôts and put on fast trains. This is how to streamline and modernise the service, and this is what we require. This is the only way in respect of freight and minerals traffic that we can get a viable system. Anything which will replace doctrinaire systems by something which will permit real progress, real modernising and stream-lining of the railway system—I am not saying that every part of the system will pay—will make this country economically more efficient, and that is what we on this side desire and what the nation needs if it is to face the challenge of the late 'sixties and the 'seventies.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)
We have had a wide and far-reaching debate. I merely wish that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) had started giving us a longer lifting of the veil as to what his policies might be rather than coming to that in the last minute or so of his speech.
We enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's picturesque references to my right hon. Friend the Minister, whom he described as Robin Hood. I have heard her called all sorts of names, but it is the first time that I have heard her called Robin Hood. If one were to examine the trinity at the Ministry, I suppose I might be Little John. However, I do not know what 1459 description would fit my hon. Friend, the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Morris
He certainly has not yet the girth of Friar Tuck.
We very much enjoyed the two maiden speeches tonight, by my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) and Falmouth and Camborne Dr. John Dunwoody). I must confess that the making of a maiden speech was one of the most terrible ordeals that I had to face, and I made it on transport, and so I sympathise very much with them. However, I must say that both came through with flying colours.
We enjoyed very much the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East. We enjoyed his humour, his tributes to his constituency, and also his references to the very burdensome problems that his constituents face. As a commuter from the south-east of London, I very much appreciate the difficulties of his constituents. I hope that we shall hear a great deal from my hon. Friend in the future.
I am sure that the whole House was gratified to hear the very moving tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne to his predecessor. Harold Hayman was a very old friend, and a very genuine old friend, to all of us on both sides of the House. When he came here in the last few months we saw him getting weaker and weaker. On the basis of the excellent speech that we heard from my hon. Friend, I am sure that he will carry on the very great tradition of the representation of that constituency. I am sure that, if he had been alive, Harold Hayman would have been very proud of the speech of his successor.
When I first read the Amendment tabled by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite I could hardly believe my eyes. We were supposed to have a reasoned Amendment. But, having read diligently through it, I can find no element of reason whatever. It says that the House should decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill because the Government have not put before the House their whole transport policy. But, as my right hon. 1460 Friend conceded, this is a stop-gap Measure. She said quite frankly that, while the Government are working on their transport policy, it is vital to have this Bill.
What would happen if the Amendment were carried? It would mean that, after 1st July next, there would be no money for British Railways to pay its wages or to carry out its contracts. The Bill is urgent and vital. At this moment, of the funds available to British Railways, £413 million has already been expended and after 1st July no further funds would be available without the Bill. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) is new to transport, as I am myself. I say to him, with respect and humility, that he should think again before he advises his right hon. and hon. Friends to divide in favour of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
If the hon. Gentleman would like to give an assurance that, instead of asking for £350 million for the next two and a half years, he will amend the Bill so as to ask for sufficient money for this year until after the Government's policy is known, I will withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know the process that is necessary. Once the Government's White Paper is published, the House will need time to consider it and debate it. There will have to be consultations and then legislation will have to be drafted. The legislation will then have to be considered and will have to come into effect.
It seems a reasonable margin that, to allow sufficient time for full and mature consideration for the coming into effect of legislation, we should ask for this money in order to finance not the White Paper, not to carry out our own policies, but rather to ensure that British Railways, which now has to operate under the statutory limitations of the 1962 Act, will have money to pay its way in the interim. That is a reasonable proposition.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it will take two and a half years to convince his hon. Friends before bringing in a Bill?
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman is a reasonable man. He knows that 1461 legislation takes time to prepare and that it would be imprudent, and quite contrary to practice by successive Governments, to present legislation to the House which would result in a great publicly-owned industry running out of money before new legislation came into effect. That is what happened last year in the case of the gas industry, when the Government had to introduce legislation long before the date forecast by the previous Government. We want to avoid that type of situation with British Railways. That is why we are taking precautions.
I was most interested to read the speech made in Felixstowe by the hon. Member for Worcester and reported in the Western Daily Press. He accused my right hon. Friend of being, among other things, the "Minister for Deficit". That was a very strange description of my right hon. Friend. One would have thought that this was a new sin which she had committed and that no one had thought of this before; that deficits on British Railways had never previously existed. If one goes back it will be found that in 1962 there was a deficit of £159 million, in 1963 a deficit of £134 million, in 1964 £121 million and in 1965 £132 million. Yet the hon. Gentleman has the temerity to say this, he who supported the Beeching proposals in 1963. I have a Division list here. There are not many hon. Members left on that side of the House now who voted for it and I cannot complain on that score. Yet he has the temerity to accuse my right hon. Friend of being the "Minister for Deficit".
Since, until our new White Paper is produced, we have no option but to allow British Railways to carry out their statutory duties, and since these deficits continue, the Amendment is a plain indication by the other side of the House that the Transport Act of 1962 has failed miserably, and that new action is needed. I heard an hon. Member opposite talk of the need for dynamic policies. If dynamic action and policies are needed on transport they are needed to amend the Transport Act of 1962, which has failed miserably and completely.
On this score I can pray in aid the part of the same speech of the hon. 1462 Gentleman the Member for Worcester. This is what he said:Britain needs a dynamic transport policy.Is not that yet another admission that the present system, the present statutory framework of British Railways is failing completely? We did not have the time to hear of the new policy of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. I am sure that hon. Members representing Cornish seats will be interested in the question I want to ask him. Does the other side of the House want the closures to be carried out, including the commuter services, until the whole of the present deficit is wiped out? We are entitled to know the answer to this. If they believe in the 1962 Act, those who voted for Beeching in 1963, this is what they should be saying.
§ Mr. Webster
In answer to the hon. Gentleman I would say that there is still a large section of the railways which could be closed down, which would cut the deficit. There is also the liner train section which, given freedom of access, will take £50 million off the deficit.
§ Mr. Morris
I take the hon. Gentleman's point on liner trains, and I will come to that in a moment. Perhaps in the fullness of time, maybe in the course of our debate on the White Paper, the Opposition will publish a document setting out how much of these services they want to close down. Then we will know exactly and I will be able to count up the 66 Conservative Members who have written, either to the Minister or myself, since 1st January about railway closures. The hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Commander Maydon), the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, and the hon. Member for Worcester all voted in 1961 and 1963.
In addition to those, we will be able to examine the 21 Conservative Members who have put down Parliamentary Questions on railway closures in the same period. We are entitled to know where they stand, and what they mean. The most apt comment in this debate came from a Member representing one of the Cornish seats. He said that members of the Conservative Party believe in the Beeching Plan until it affects their constituencies.
§ Lieut.-Commander Maydon
The hon. Gentleman asked me where I stood 1463 in this matter. If he had listened to what said today, he would know precisely where I stood. I want to see an end of these foolish open-ended subsidies. Specific subsidies for specific purposes, yes, but not what the Government are doing today.
§ Mr. Morris
The subsidies of the kind which the hon. and gallant Gentleman describes flow directly from the 1962 Act. This is what we have to look at. I followed the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks very carefully. He dealt at some length with a closure in his constituency, and threatened my right hon. Friend that he would come with a delegation to see her on this problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "Warned."] He gave a warning, I should say.
If one were to add up all these individual protests by hon. Members on both sides of the House—let me be perfectly frank and fair about that—the Beeching policy and philosophy carried in the House with the support of hon. Members opposite could not be implemented. This is what we want to know, and are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Morris
We enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester. He gave us a graphic description of how the money which we are asking Parliament to grant was equivalent to so much on taxes and cigarettes. He made a suggestion about a British Railways stamp. Perhaps he has forgotten—we need not go into it at length—that we might have been faced with a TSR2 tax, or a Ferranti tax, or a number of other taxes if one were to go right through the defence field.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Marplan exercise. The field work has been done. The statistics are being processed, but the results are not yet ready. He asked about the speech of the Chairman of British Railways made earlier this year. The suggestion was that there had been a slowing down of the tempo of closures and that costs had 1464 increased and that all this seems to have altered the trend in that it increased the deficit of British Railways.
My right hon. Friend and I have taken very great and increasing care over each individual closure. We look at the whole matter in detail. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) set up the early sift procedure. Now we have the advantage of the regional planning machinery. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) asked whether there should be closures in development districts. Now that we have the advantage of the regional planning machinery, before any closure takes place, we ask the regional planning councils for their views about how a closure would affect development plans in their regions. We regard this advice as valuable and very important. It is of great assistance to my right hon. Friend in helping her to come to a decision.
I make no apology about the additional cost involved in the extra care which we are taking. We are proud of it, and we are proud that we scrutinise very closely and carefully all rail closure proposals. The additional cost is not more than a few hundred thousand pounds in a full year. With regard to the other increases in costs in the last year, wages increased by £26 million since the beginning of 1965. During that time British Railways have increased their charges to bring in only one-third of this. The hon. Member for Worcester asked about the trends, and the different figures between 1964 and 1965, and I am sure I have been able to assure him that, with the increased care we take over particular closures, they have only a very insignificant effect on the finances of British Railways.
He also asked, as did the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare about liner trains. He charged that the Minister was avoiding this question—not mentioning it, and not facing up to the issue in this debate, although she had made statements outside the House. I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House on the 4th May, when my right hon. Friend answered a number of Questions on this issue. I think he was present, and I should like to remind him of what she said:Negotiation on the liner train issue is primarily a matter for the Railways Board and 1465 the unions; but I have made it clear to both sides, as my predecessor did, that I hope there will be a decision in favour of "open" terminals, so that nothing will stand in the way of progress with this important new railway technique."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1614.]Having regard to this clear statement from my right hon. Friend, there is no basis whatsoever in the charge that she is not facing up to this issue. I am sure that everyone in this House will agree that this problem is not without difficulty. Anyone who has looked at the problems will have sensed what they are, and the fears of some of the people involved. Some of the remarks that have been made during this debate are not helpful to a solution to this problem.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) asked about the "merry-go-round" coal trains. This matter involves investment by the Central Electricity Generating Board, the National Coal Board and British Railways. Some of this has been already carried out, or is under way, and I understand that there are further proposals before us at the moment for investment at the pit end. I can give an assurance that, having regard to all the consultations that have taken place, there certainly will be no avoidable delay by our Ministry on this very important matter.
I think I have dealt with most of the problems raised during this debate. We should not forget that, in the 1940s and the early 1950s, British Railways were efficient in every way. It was only when the Conservative Government took the wrong path, with their Transport Act of 1953, that the railway problem, which is at the heart of the whole transport problem began to get out of hand. The House will recall the circumstances tinder which the Act of 1953—a half-baked Measure which replaced an even more half-baked Bill that the then Government had to withdraw—forced the British Transport Commission to get rid of the greater part of its profitable road haulage undertaking, leaving a gap in the whole transport system which the then Government had made no provision for filling.
The only object of the 1953 Act was to return valuable assets to the private sector for the sake of private profit. This is what the House should know and should not forget. There was no need for 1466 this. The record of State-owned road haulage in the last year or two shows how profitably a nationalised industry can make use of its assets, when it is able to compete with the private sector in a growth industry.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare asked about cross-subsidies. I can assure him that the accounts of the Transport Holding Company were very favourable for the last year that I have looked at.
The disposal of the valuable State-owned assets came at the worst possible time for our British rail system. The development of the car and the private lorry were building up. This was the very time when there should have been, not the fragmentation of transport, but rather co-ordination. I pay tribute to the modernisation that has taken place, with the money that has been put in even by a Conservative Government, but there was no basic and consistent philosophy about the part which the railways system should play in the modern age.
Meanwhile, the revenue deficit mounted year by year until in the end, it forced an unwilling Administration to admit the failure of their ad hoc measures and to introduce the 1962 Act. They could hardly do otherwise when, year by year, the deficits had reached the astronomical figure of £150 million. Now, we are blamed by the Opposition for seeking to make provision for a further £350 million of the taxpayers' money for meeting the losses of British Railways and another £16 million for London Transport.
But what did the 1962 Act really do? It wrote off the losses and gave to British Railways a grant of a total of £879 million, almost all of which was for British Railways but which included £14 million for London Transport. It went on to provide that the Exchequer should find up to £450 million over the five years beginning 1st January, 1963, on account of the estimated losses for British Railways.
The Opposition, when they were in Government, must already have sensed that their term of office was coming to an end when they introduced a Measure providing for an annual average payment over five years of £90 million at a time when the railway deficit was over £150 million. It is directly owing to that 1467 underestimate of the needs of British Railways that today's Bill has to be introduced. The Bill is a necessary and vital stopgap Measure. That is what it is. We have had to produce it because of that gross underestimation of the needs of British Railways in the 1962 Act.
I am confident that when we present to the House our White Paper, it will be an imaginative and far-sighted document. It will have the right order of priorities. It will not be a White Paper merely for sectional interests. It will be good for the people, good for railwaymen, good for transport workers and good for all the travelling public, despite the threats that we have heard tonight from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. It will provide an effective framework in transport in which to build national prosperity. I am therefore privileged to commend the Bill to the House.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
We have all listened with great interest—[Interruption.]—who wants some extra money from a gold mine. [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have the right—
§ Sir D. Glover
I have been trying to address the House for four minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I ask that the House should give me a hearing. [Interruption.]
§ Sir D. Glover
I should like the support of the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I may be heard. The hon. Member, in his interesting speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
On a point of order. I distinctly heard my hon. Friend move, That the Question be now put. He did it last a few seconds before 10 o'clock.