§ 11.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
I must complain that there are no Ministers present from the Ministry of Transport. I should have thought that this meant that we could not proceed with the Committee stage of the Bill. I see that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has now taken his place on the Front Bench. It seems that the Ministry is running late again—or perhaps this is a personification of the present state of our transport services. Possibly due to the fact that there are reductions in the road building programme or the general inability to run London transport efficiently the Minister was unable to reach us in time.
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out "six" and insert "four".
I should like to seek the agreement of the Committee to discuss at the same time the second Amendment, in page 1, line 17, to leave out "eight hundred" and insert "five hundred and twenty".
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)
It might be for the greater convenience of the Committee if we were to take with the first two Amendments the Amendment in page 2, line 4, to leave out "sixteen" and insert "six". Otherwise, we shall find ourselves in an impossible situation. Once the first two Amendments are voted on, a decision will have been made on the time scale. Assuming that there were a separate debate on the third Amendment, the sum of many allowed for in the third Amendment would operate within a different time scale from that envisaged by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I should have thought that it would be far more useful to have a debate on the three Amendments together.
§ The Chairman
All three Amendments are selected. It is open to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) to move the third Amendment separately if he so wishes.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I should prefer to move the third Amendment separately, because it deals with a specific subject which it would be appropriate for the Committee to discuss separately. I should like to take the first two Amendments together.
The object of the first two Amendments is to ensure that the Government are provided with sufficient finance to meet the deficit on British Railways for the present year. This would take us up to December, 1966. In spite of having a debate on the Second Reading, we were unable to obtain from the Minister any details of the policy on British Railways which she proposed to pursue. I should have thought that, even at this late stage in the Bill, it would be perfectly reasonable for the Government to accept these two Amendments. That would in no way endanger the position of British Railways. The Minister would be able within a few weeks of outlining her policy to introduce a further Bill.
As we know, this type of Bill is very short and easy to introduce. The Minister has managed to get this Bill to the Committee stage, and perhaps Third Reading today, within 10 days of its publication. Therefore, if the White Paper on transport is published in June, it is perfectly reasonable for the Government to bring in a Bill in July obtaining a further extension if they require it. Indeed, the introduction of a further Bill could be left until November or December.
What it is perfectly unreasonable for the Government to say is, "We wish an extension of obtaining money under the Transport Act, 1962", and to say, as was said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when winding up the Second Reading debate: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1461.]What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that he wants, under the 1962 Act, to obtain the £366 million extra to take him to December, 1968, but that he disagrees 1751 with the Act and, I should have thought, clearly does not propose to pursue the policies outlined in that Act up to December, 1968. If the hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance today that there will be no changes in transport policy, as outlined in the 1962 Act, until December 1968, this would give him a stronger argument. But I believe that he will tell us, as the right hon. Lady the Minister implied, that she intends very quickly to change the policies outlined in what is described as an Act that has failed miserably and completely.
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. John Morris
Will the hon. Gentleman also go on to quote parts of my speech in which I prayed in aid of the need for a new dynamic policy his own words, which are an admission on his side of the House of the complete failure of the 1962 Act, for which he himself voted?
§ Mr. Walker
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. I fully support the 1962 Act and I would certainly vote for it if it came before the House again at the present time. It has brought about a greater modernisation of British Railways than any other Measure. It has also brought a great deal more sense into the whole of our transport system. I disagree with the Minister.
§ Mr. Morris
Can the hon. Gentleman explain one short point to me? The 1962 Act asked for moneys for a period of five years. Three-and-a-half years have gone by, and for the majority of that period the hon. Gentleman's party were in control. Why did they not come back to the House, within those three and-half years, for more money?
§ Mr. Walker
There are several factors, many of which were mentioned in the speech made in January by the Chairman of British Railways, outlining how the working of the 1962 Act was interfered with and delayed and the failure of the Government to get liner trains under way and to get co-operation. All these matters have contributed to the present position.
The basic argument on this particular Amendment is that all we say to the Government is that we will provide them 1752 with the money which is needed now but that they should come to us after they have announced their change of policy. Yet the Minister says to the House that she requires £360 million of the taxpayer's money and refuses to give any detail of the policy that is to be pursued in spending that money. We want from the Minister a reason why a Bill cannot be introduced after the Committee and the country know the intentions of the Government on their transport policy.
The view of the Government was summed up by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on 18th May, when, referring to how stupid he thought the Amendment to the Second Reading was, he said: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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1459.]If the Minister can find nothing reasonable in saying that one does not take the money before explaining the purpose for which it is to be used, that shows a degree of irresponsibility towards Government expenditure which will frighten taxpayers.
Today can be described as Black Friday for the taxpayers, because two Bills are before the House today which in total ask for £1,260 million of the taxpayer's money. That works out at £100 for every family of four in the country. The present Bill asks for £366 million The Minister, in her opening speech on the Second Reading, made a number of rather important contradictions concerning the spending of the money. She is quoted as saying: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.At the end of her speech, in her final summing up of her case, the right hon. Lady said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1355, 1363.]Perhaps we can be told today whether in fact the hope is that they will be able 1753 to do with much less, or whether this is the absolute minimum required. There is a contradiction between the two phrases and we should like the Minister to decide on which side the Government consider this particular amount falls, whether it is giving plenty of freedom for the Railways Board and that much less may be required, or whether it is the absolute minimum. We should also like to know, before we can grant an extension to 1968 of this enormous sum of money, the manner in which it will be distributed. Do the Government still consider that the railway deficit for this year will be £115 million? Is there any change in that estimate? Are there any later figures which will show that in 1966 the railway deficit will be a sum rather greater than that?
If the answer is "No" and that at this stage in the year, five months of which have already passed, that estimate is adhered to by the Railways Board and by the Government, does this mean that the Government anticipate that in 1967 the deficit will be of the order of £150 million and that in 1968 it will again be of the order of £150 million? Or do they see this as a rising figure? Do they see perhaps £115 million this year, £130 million next year and £170 million the year after that? They are asking for £350 million, plus the £63 million left over from the previous provision for these three years. We had the estimate of £115 million for this year. What about the coming two years? Can the hon. Gentleman give us his estimate? Obviously the Minister of Transport will have made a very careful calculation of the minimum that is necessary. Let us have a little detail of that calculation, to show how it falls in these three years.
Next, what does the Minister envisage in the way of contributions to the railway costs from outside? Several references were made by the right hon. Lady to the social contribution. In various speeches the right hon. Lady has referred to localities perhaps contributing to the social cost of keeping a railway in being. Is this to come from the ratepayer? Are there likely to be any such contributions before December, 1968? In the estimates that the Minister has made, has she made any allowance for such contributions—either direct contributions from Government sources or contributions from local 1754 authority sources—for what appears to be a new policy in this respect? Or shall we have to wait for a few weeks until the White Paper is published to know what is envisaged in this sphere? If so, is it reasonable to ask us for this money now, without our knowing from where the money from these other sources is to come?
What is to be the policy towards closures in the period up to December, 1968? The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in his winding-up speech on Second Reading, said a great deal about the horrors of closures, and he received cheers from his side of the House when he condemned the closures that had taken place. Does he envisage the end of all closures? Will the right hon. Lady continue closing railway lines, or can she announce that there are to be no more closures? If the answer is "No", and that the policy of closure is to continue, to what sort of degree does the right hon. Lady consider that it will continue? How many more closures does she consider may happen up to December, 1968, as opposed to what was originally envisaged in the Beeching Plan?
The right hon. Lady must have made her calculations before introducing the Bill and asking for this money. In deciding that amount of money, the right hon. Lady must have made a fairly good calculation of what her closure policy would be in the period until December, 1968. It is important, therefore, that the right hon. Lady should announce to the House today that following a preliminary look at the situation she considers, for example, that half the closures envisaged by Lord Beeching will not now take place or that all of them will now be stopped. We must have an estimate from the Minister of the degree to which she will pursue the closure policy.
We should like to have some important information concerning the attitude to road transport as envisaged by the Bill. At the end of his speech on Second Reading, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made a fierce attack about the harm that had been done to the railways by the disposal of the valuable State owned assets of the road haulage industry. The hon. Gentleman gave this as one of the main contributions to the increasing railway deficit. Have the Government any intention, in the period 1755 until December, 1968, of taking action to redeem this position? Is it their conception that perhaps the number of road vehicles owned by British Railways is to be substantially increased during that period? We must have an assurance about this from the Government.
During Second Reading, I drew to the attention of the House the speech by the Prime Minister on this issue in 1962, when he clearly envisaged that the nationalisation of road haulage would take place under the next Labour Government by taking the lid off the existing nationalised transport services. Are we today being asked to vote money which will be used for what the Prime Minister described as "taking the lid off" these transport services by enabling them to buy substantial fleets of lorries at the expense of the private sector of road haulage?
We must have a categorical assurance from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that during the period for which he is asking for this money there will be no attempt by the Government substantially to increase the size of the nationalised fleets at the expense of the private haulier. Everything that can be envisaged from the right hon. Lady's remarks indicates that her policy will be in accordance with the policy outlined by the Prime Minister in 1962 to take over the private haulier by, first, competing unfairly against him and then, when losses have been sustained by the private haulier, quickly buying him up for British Railways and the Transport Holding Company. We should like to know whether this is the Government's policy.
We should like guidance about the manner in which the present policy will be changed between now and 1968. A great deal has been made by the right hon. Lady concerning the new national freight authority. Will that come into operation after December, 1968, or long before December, 1968? If it is to come in before December, 1968, has the right hon. Lady the right to ask the House of Commons for money for that scheme without telling us any of the details of what it implies?
I notice that in today's edition of The Railway Review a large article is devoted 1756 to the recent meeting of the Minister of Transport with the National Union of Railwaymen. That report states thatThe Minister then went on to explain that the third step would be to reintegrate road and rail on the freight side in the public sector and to this end she proposed setting up a National Freight Authority. With regard to passenger integration she believed the answer was to be found in Regional Transportation Authorities just as was intended in the 1947 Transport Act.Seemingly, the Minister has told the National Union of Railwaymen about these policies. It would appear that the N.U.R., which will not be providing the money, can be given the details of those policies whereas the House of Commons, which has to provide the money, cannot be given details of them. Let us have some detail of the national freight authority. Let us have some detail of the regional transportation authorities that will take over the whole question of passenger transport in the years ahead.
If we cannot be given the detailed answers to these questions, it would be irresponsible of this Committee to provide to the Government sufficient money to carry out policies the details of which the Government refuse to give to the House of Commons. An enormous sum is involved. The Government have made it clear that they intend completely to change the direction of policy concerning the railways on both the freight and the passenger sides. I therefore ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give us details of the policy or, if he is unable to do that now, to do the responsible thing by accepting the Amendment and coming back later in the year with a further Bill to obtain moneys to back up the policies which by that time will have been announced.
§ Mr. John Morris
We have listened to an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I thought that by some quirk of the procedures of the House of Commons we were back in a Second Reading debate, but I presume that the hon. Member was dealing with the Amendments by which he seeks to alter some of the provisions of the Bill. I would have hoped that in the course of his speech the hon. Member would come to the Amendments and 1757 would explain the meaning of the Amendments which he seeks to persuade the Committee to adopt.
We recall the difficulties that we experienced the other night on Second Reading. It would be wrong if I were to accuse the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover), who is not present, of over-cleverness; that would be malicious. I suppose that it would even be malicious if I were to accuse him of cleverness. I doubt, however, whether he realises the predicament in which he might have landed us in the course of his contribution that, night. This was an indication of the difficulties that arise from time to time.
The hon. Member for Worcester is still in cloud-cuckoo-land if he believes that White Papers and policies can be decided after merely a few moments of thought. The essential reason for the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Minister has indicated, is that we must have stop-gap legislation of this type to ensure that British Railways and the other industries have money with which to carry out their existing statutory requirements until we are able first, to present our White Paper to the House of Commons and, secondly, to bring it into effect.
All this takes time. I have here the precedents which show how long it took hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee to bring in the Bill which became the 1962 Act. I shall come to that in due course. If the hon. Gentleman believes we have been able to change the procedures of the House of Commons, or the procedures necessary for full discussion and consultation since 1962, to ensure there would be a major change in transport policy within the time scale we have, so far as the moneys required by British Railways are concerned, then he is tremendously mistaken.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that there will be no change in policy till December, 1968?
§ Mr. Morris
Give me time—[Interruption]—this is not a funny matter. We are dealing with money. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will regard the finances 1758 of this great industry as a serious matter and approach it in a serious manner.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that British Railways have to operate within the terms of the existing Statute. This money is required to allow British Railways to operate within the existing legislation. This is what I and my right hon. Friend are trying to drum, as best we can—and not succeeding—into the minds of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Obviously, what my right hon. Friend can do by way of administrative changes she will do, but obviously too this money is not required for the major changes which we envisage. Those changes will come, following the publication of our White Paper, following the bringing of our major conclusions in the form of legislation to the House of Commons. All that will take time. This is what I am trying to the best of my ability to bring to the consideration of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I hope they will now take this Bill as a serious contribution to the situation which we find ourselves in as regards British Railways. What did the 1962 Act do? It gave £450 million to British Railways to operate within a period of five years. Because of the inadequacy of the provision of those sums of money we now have to come back to the House of Commons after only three and a half years. As I told the House in the Second Reading debate, if this Bill is not carried, if the authority of the House of Commons is not given to this Bill, then we shall be out of money for British Railways after 1st July. That is the time scale within which we are operating.
We are determined to give to British Railways a new deal, and to approach the whole of our transport system with a new philosophy, That will take time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, if he will be a bit patient, will read within a matter of a few weeks, certainly in the course of the summer, the conclusions which we have arrived at, and in due course many of the points which he has raised in the course of the discussion today about closures, about road fleets, about the national freight authority—all these he will have the fullest opportunity of ventilating.
1759 I ask him to be a little more patient because I hope he realises by now that this is a piece of legislation required not for the carrying out of a major change in Government policy. That will come, because we are determined to have a proper, integrated form of transport for this country. We are determined to change the provisions of the Act of 1962 which have failed miserably and completely to provide efficient transport for the modernising of Britain. That will come. This legislation is to ensure that in the meantime British Railways have adequate finance.
To go through all the matters which were raised by the hon. Gentleman and put to me, I will deal with them one after the other. First, the issue of closures. Is he suggesting that our approach is wrong as regards closures? Is he suggesting that we should exercise less care over closures? Is he suggesting we should not consult the planning councils? Is he suggesting we should not listen to the T.U.C.C.s? Is he suggesting that the procedure set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser) is wrong? Is he suggesting that in any way we should take less care to ensure that there is adequate public transport for the people of this country? Is he suggesting in any way that we should do away with any of the existing procedures and expedite closure policy? Because if that is the case he on behalf of his party should make it clear to the whole of the country—and to the 66 Members of Parliament on the other side of the Committee who have written to my right hon. Friend and myself since 1st January; and to the 21 other Members of the Committee who have put down Questions from time to time in that period.
It is a great pleasure to me to go through the Division lists at the time of the debate in 1961 on the Bill of that time and to go through the Division lists of April, 1963. I am afraid there are not many of those Members left on the other side to vote upon these provisions, but there are a sufficiently large number of them who have pressed upon my right hon. Friend and her predecessor the claim for close scrutiny of any closure proposal affecting his or her part of the country.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
We heard all this on Second Reading. Could we now hear what the Government closure policy is? What estimates are there of closures to December, 1968, to fit in with this very large amount of money?
§ Mr. Morris
I do not want to go out of order, but since this affects the finances of the British Railways I presume I shall be in order and I am sure that the Chair will stop me if I go out of order in going into too much detail about closures. We are enjoined by Statute to consider the proposals of the British Railways. My right hon. Friend does not make proposals. Under the Act of 1962 it is British Railways who make the proposals. Then she is enjoined by Statute to consider those proposals, to allow them to go through the machinery set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton. Then they go through the T.U.C.C.s. Now we have additional machinery for economic planning. Then eventually all these recommendations come back to my right hon. Friend for consideration. What we are seeking to do is to ensure that there is a close look at all these proposals to ensure that proposals which are obviously unacceptable do not go through, that proposals which do not provide for adequate alternative transport do not go through.
We are determined to stabilise the railway system in this country sensibly and successfully, otherwise there would be a deterioration in the morale of the railwaymen and of the travelling public. I am sure of one thing. The people of this country are not prepared to accept the philosophy of butchering British Railways as we now know them today—and this is what has been happening over the years. The charge was made that there had been a slowing down of the tempo of the considerations of closures.
I thought I had made it clear in the Second Reading debate that only a few hundred thousand pounds—I cannot quantify it more exactly at the moment—was the sum allowed in our calculations for the closer scrutiny which now takes place. That is the cost, to the finances of the British Railways, of the essential scrutiny which now takes place, an essential scrutiny of which I, for one, am very proud, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend also is.
1761 As regards the change in the trend of British Railway finances in that period, the overwhelming proportion of that trend has been caused by increased costs. I think that £26 million was the figure—I am speaking off the cuff on this—I quoted on Second Reading. One-third of that has been met by an application for increased fares, and British Railways have made substantial economies at the same time. As regards any change of policy or any scrutiny, that has had an insignificant effect on any trend in the finances of British Railways.
Having told the Committee that we are here because of the failure of the Opposition to make a proper assessment of the needs of the Railways Board over the five years as set out in the 1962 Act, we now need this essential stop-gap Measure.
As for the time that it takes for a White Paper to be prepared and for all the consultations to take place, what has happened is that my right hon. Friend has been to talk to the unions. She has met a large number of their members, as I have. I was with her at the meeting with the N.U.R. It was the first time for many years, since the days of Alf Barnes, that any Minister of Transport has been to the headquarters of a railway union, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is proud of that.
Before any Government brings proposals to the House of Commons, it is vital that there should be full and adequate consultations, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there should not be. No decisions have been made as yet. We are working on our policy and in the not too distant future a White Paper will be presented to the House with our considered conclusions.
Even in the case of the Transport Act, 1962, the Bill which was to become that Act took almost a full year to draft after the White Paper outlining the Tory Government's proposals had been published in December, 1960. The Bill was not introduced until November, 1961, and it did not become law until the summer of 1962. The Boards which were established under that Act were not vested with their assets until 1st January, 1963. That is a firm and clear indication of the 1762 time that it takes for such proposals to reach fruition, even on the slow time scale of the Conservative Government. The conclusion that we have reached is that the Government's proposed major Bill could not be in force until well into 1968. In the interim period, it is vital that there should be a stop-gap Bill, otherwise we could be accused by hon. Members opposite of grossly misusing the time of the House in coming back time after time for repeated bites at the cherry. That is what happened in the case of the gas industry, as the hon. Member for Weston super-Mare (Mr. Webster) knows. There was a gross under-estimation of the needs of the gas industry, and we had to come back to the House to ask for more money. On that occasion, hon. Members opposite were praising the gas industry for their advances.
§ Mr. Webster
The hon. Gentleman certainly made up for it when he was at the Ministry of Power. He increased the borrowing powers of the gas industry by 45 per cent. That was no small measure.
§ Mr. Morris
I am glad to say that the Bill was not opposed by hon. Members opposite. If they were more realistic, we should have their support this morning as well.
One thing which they should remember is that the Bill gives enabling powers to the Minister. That may be of some comfort to them. Grants are made out of voted moneys, so that Parliament has an opportunity to question the Minister when the Estimates are before the House. There is ample provision for hon. Members to question the Estimates from time to time.
As regards the cash limits laid down in the Bill, we have explained that the Railways Board figure included a good margin for contingencies. On the assumption that the Board's actual deficit for 1966 turned out to be £115 million, as estimated earlier in the year, the figure of £800 million would mean that the grant powers available would permit the issue of £149 million in both 1967 and 1968. We confidently hope that British Railways will do much better than that, but the Government are determined not to be caught out as short as their predecessors.
1763 British Railways are running a very large business, with receipts and expenditure of the order of £500 million a year. A variation of 10 per cent. on one side of the accounts makes a difference in outturn of £50 million, unless there are compensatory factors on the other side to balance it. There was some experience only last year of quite a significant shortfall in performance compared with forecasts, when the Railways Board's actual deficit was £132 million compared with a budgeted figure of £104 million which the Board itself had adopted. Its forecasts were upset by a number of factors, including a shortfall of no less than £17 million in freight revenues. That points the need for an ample margin to meet contingencies and any major shortfall.
Having regard to that explanation, I ask the Committee to reject the Amendments of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Webster
I am full of thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary for a speech which is about the most illuminating one since the Oracle of Delphi went out of business. About the only thing that he said came at the end, when he referred to this as a stop-gap Measure. If £366 million is what he regards as a stop-gap, it is the biggest gap in any form of bikini that we have ever seen, politically or otherwise.
It is the job of the House of Commons, whether in Committee or in the full House, to scrutinise these things thoroughly. The Parliamentary Secretary misunderstood the problem when he said that we must vote the money at once but we must wait until later for the answers. We are willing to give the urgent money to deal with this year's deficit.
Two days ago and again today, the hon. Gentleman spoke about wasting the time of the House by over-using it. He certainly did not over-use it the night before last, which was why the House got into difficulties. Both in his tone today and in his earlier speech, he gave the impression that, if we resist the Bill, we will stop the railwaymen's pay after next month. That is not true. All along, we have said that we are willing to give the money to pay for the balance of the deficit which is not already provided for. But we should like to know how much that is. That is one matter 1764 at least on which we might have an answer.
We resist giving further money until we see the plans. It is an abuse of the House of Commons that it should be asked to rush through such a Measure. The Bill was presented to Parliament only recently. It was introduced for Second Reading on Wednesday, and I understand that it is to be rushed through another place next week. We have to vote this immense amount of money at great speed, but we are not allowed to see the slightest illustration of policy. We have never had the courtesy from the Minister of being allowed to see the Statement of Accounts of the Railways Board. Last year, the Accounts were published on 18th May. Why have this year's not been produced?
Our job is to protect the taxpayers' money. When we talked about that earlier on, I heard many jolly laughs on the other side. The taxpayers' money means nothing to hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.] Yes, it is still amusing to them, but it is something about which we have to be very careful, and theirs is an attitude which is causing resentment in the country. By sheer coincidence. I received a long letter on the subject this morning.
We also wish to know, and I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell us, the estimated deficit for the British Railways Board for next year. What is the Board's estimated deficit for 1968? We should like to know when the liner trains are to have free access. We should like to know the estimated expenditure on investment in the liner trains. I have attempted to find out what percentage of liner train capacity is the break-even point, but on every occasion we find resistance to giving information to the House.
Is it intended to spend a vast amount of money on the electrification of the line from Carlisle to Glasgow? How much will this cost? As has been said in an excellent article in the Financial Times, there cannot be very much more than marginal merit in this line because its use is not intense enough to make it a viable proposition. Because of the immense capital investment which would be required, the view of many experts is that this lightly used line would be better 1765 maintained for diesel operation rather than being electrified, and we should like to know what the taxpayers' money is being spent on.
What scrutiny is there of the efficiency of the British Railways Board? What scrutiny is there of the attempt to give satisfaction to the customer? When people talk about a service to the country, surely the way to serve the country is to give satisfaction to the customer?
One of the many letters which I received today tells of what happened when the summer timetable was due to operate in the Western Region on 18th April. At no station in Bristol, or in my constituency, was that timetable published or posted at the stations, with the result that customers did not know when trains were due to leave, and when they were due to arrive. This is the dismal type of complacency which we are asked to accept and to subsidise. This fearful complacency must stop at once. I am not against the railways, but I think that this complacency is doing the railway system a great deal of harm, and giving it a foul reputation in the country. I think that the people responsible for this state of affairs are letting the railways down.
What projection is there of freight and passenger revenues for last year? May we be given the figures of freight and passenger revenues for the year which has just ended? I am told that the Statement of Accounts for the year ended 31st January, 1965, has been delayed by printing problems, but surely the House could have been given some of these figures so that hon. Members would get some idea of the way things are going? The only answer which we get from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when we ask these questions is, "What would you do, chum?" The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Government, and it is his job to have the cutting edge of dynamism about which the Prime Minister talks. It is his job to tell us what he is going to do.
The only way to change the hon. Gentleman's attitude is to resist this proposal and to scrutinise it very carefully. I suggest that we should provide the money for running the railways this year, but that we should find out what is likely to happen next year and consider the 1766 matter again, because far too much money is being voted away far too glibly and this is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs.
The other day my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) said that he thought it would be a good thing if we could pinpoint the deficit of the railway system by having a railway deficit stamp. I am reminded of the words of my favourite author, Lewis Carroll, in "The Hunting of the Snark" where he said:They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;They pursued it with forks and hope;They threatened its life with a railway-share,They charmed it with smiles and soap.I think that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's life is being threatened by a railway deficit stamp, and that it would be better if we were to pinpoint where these deficits lie.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the sifting procedure being of little consequence in causing the railways to lose money, but on 4th January the Chairman of the Railways Board said:The position would have been improved if the Board had not had to continue to bear the cost of maintaining unremunerative services where closures had been refused and if there had not been an accumulation of delays, each comparatively small in itself, which have 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 the Transport Users' Consultative Committee …He does not think that it is a matter of little significance that these delays have occurred and that the deficits have increased as a result.
§ Mr. John Morris
There ih no difference of view here. During the Second Reading debate I was asked about the effect of this. On the one hand, there was the allegation of the slowing down of the tempo in these matters, and on the other there was the increase in wages and other costs. I was trying to quantify them to relieve the hon. Gentleman of any anxiety that because of the action of my right hon. Friend we had caused a grave deterioration in British Railways' accounts. I tried to make a comparison. 1767 Only a few hundred thousands pounds—and I stress this—are involved as a result of the extra scrutiny and care which we now take with regard to rail closures.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Webster
I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping me, but I do not think that he has calmed the Chairman of the Railways Board. What about 1966, 1967 and 1968? What will be the cumulative effect of the deficit in those years? It is this for which the Committee is being asked to provide so much money today? We do not know the answer to all these questions, and it is deplorable, when so much money is being asked for, that we should not get a straight answer to these questions.
The Minister of Transport and her Department seem to be very sensitive about criticism. I say that because when the winter Supplementary Estimates were criticised by the Estimates Committee—I thought in a fair and balanced way—the Minister's answer was pretty tetchy. The Estimates Committee submits a unanimous Report. It considers the issues on a non-party basis, and it is deplorable that the Minister should treat the House in this way, and I hope that this issue will be pursued further.
What proportion of the deficit in the next three years will be caused by subsidising railway workshops? My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester raised this matter, but I do not believe that he received an answer in the smokescreen which the hon. Gentleman put up. How will this subsidy for a social cost be met? Will it be met out of rates, or out of a rates equalisation grant, so that in the end it is the taxpayer who pays? Will it be paid by means of a local income tax? This seems to be a new concept, because it has been referred to in a regional context. It would be disgraceful if the House allowed this money to go through unchallenged, especially when we realise that today we are dealing with two Measures which involve the spending of £1,200 million. These are important matters, and the Committee would do ill to treat them lightly.
§ Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)
I do not propose to delay the Committee for very long. During the last two days we have listened to a lot of humbug from the 1768 Opposition on the question of the railways. In preparation for this debate, I carefully read the speech which the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) made on Wednesday, and it comes clearly through everything that he says that he very much dislikes the railways.
These Amendments have been put down to embarrass the railways and to embarrass my right hon. Friend, because the hon. Gentleman knows, as does everyone in the Committee, that the policies carried out by Conservative Governments over the past years have brought about the problems with which the railways have to contend, and I welcome the fact that we now have a Minister of Transport who recognises that, whatever form of integrated transport we have in the future, it will inevitably be based on the railways. Therefore, the railways should receive priority treatment.
It is noticeable that hon. Members opposite have not really opposed the total amount of money being proposed. They are saying that we should allow just a little for a limited period, and that if the railways come back again we might consider supporting a further grant.
§ Mr. Webster
I entirely agree. That is exactly what we are saying. We are saying, "We will give you the money for this limited period, and if you come back again and explain your policy we will consider a further allocation."
§ Mr. Ledger
What a strange sort of argument from the business gentleman opposite! How strange it is for them to suggest that any sort of business can be run on the basis of considering only the next few months, and then reconsidering the position again. Whatever plans my right hon. Friend may have, the one certain thing is that they cannot alter the trend completely in respect of the deficits which have been arising from one year to another. It is obvious that whatever the plans may be deficits will continue to arise. They may be greater or smaller. But it is right that the railways should know that these deficits will be met over the next few years. It is nonsense to suggest that there is any virtue in considering another loan to the railways in July. The hon. Member knows that it is absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
The Government are saying that in June or July they will present a White Paper with a completely new policy on transport, including policy concerning the railways. Does the hon. Member consider it unreasonable for us to ask to know what that policy is before providing £350 million to support it?
§ Mr. Ledger
The hon. Member should listen to what I am saying. I have said that whatever plans the Minister of Transport brings forward they cannot possibly have any quick effect on the deficits that have been accumulating on the railways in the past few years. Ultimately, they may do so, but not in the next few years. It is therefore reasonable to make provision for the next few years. It is totally unreasonable—in fact, it is rather silly—for the hon. Member to say that in a year in which we shall be busy with some very important legislation we should reconsider this situation in just over a month. I do not think that the hon. Member is serious in putting forward this suggestion.
The total amount to be allocated has not been opposed by hon. Members opposite. It is merely a question whether we should give it in two pieces or one. Bearing in mind the theme of the speeches made by hon. Members opposite, it is clear that they totally dislike British Railways. The only thing for which they seem to have a favourable word is the liner train system. I can understand this, because they expect that if private road transport is allowed to use this system it would mean a considerable profit. They are all for the introduction of liner trains, provided they can be used by private road transport.
I hope that the Minister will continue on the lines suggested in her speech, from which it is clear that she is beginning to consider the social consequences of what happens on the railways. She should consider what has happened in the past three years in respect of closures under the Beeching Plan. She should consider the number of people who have been driven from the railways on to the roads, resulting in increased wear and tear and increased cost of upkeep. This has also caused more congestion on the roads, and I understand that the cost of that congestion now runs at about £700 million a year. Furthermore, 1770 there has been a movement of population away from the country areas into the towns, because of the lack of transport facilities.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The hon. Member has referred to the cost of roads and to people being driven on to them. Does not he realise that the railways are being closed not to drive people on to the roads but because people have already left the railways and gone on to the roads?
§ Mr. Ledger
The hon. Member has probably been driving a car for so long, and has used the railways so little, that he has not a clue what he is talking about. In my constituency we successfully fought a proposed closure. We were successful because so many people had been using the line that it was considered that the social cost of using alternative transport would be much higher than the deficit incurred in using the railway. These points must be considered.
What has been the total social cost, during the years of the Beeching régime, of the closing of railways and the forcing of people on to the roads? It is right that my right hon. Friend should consider the social cost of services on the railways and that this should not be included in the deficit. This is a step in the right direction. I hope that we shall resist the Amendment, because the railways want to know that they will have freedom to develop properly in the interests of the community during the next three years. What my right hon. Friend has proposed is reasonable in view of the rundown in the railways which has taken place under Conservative Administrations and the need to put the situation right.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I cannot allow the speech of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) to go unchallenged. He says that hon. Members on this side of the Committee do not like the railways. We love them. We have a very great affection for them. But we do not look at them as he does—through romantic blue or red spectacles. We look at them realistically. The hon. Member based his speech on the false premise that the Minister must integrate transport around the railways. If we examine the facts of the situation we see that by far the greater amount of traffic 1771 is now carried on the roads, and it is therefore ridiculous to integrate transport around the railways.
The hon. Member should study the figures relating to the ton-mileage of freight carried. In 1953 the railways carried 54 per cent. and the roads 46 per cent. Since then the railways' share has been falling year by year. In 1958, even after Suez, the railways' share had fallen to 42 per cent. and the share of the roads had risen to 58 per cent. In 1962, the roads' share was 68 per cent. and the railways' down to 32 per cent. Now the roads are carrying 69 per cent. and the railways 31 per cent., or less than one-third.
§ Mr. Ledger
And because of this is it not true that the cost of congestion on the roads has reached the figure of £700 million? This has arisen because the nation has concentrated on developing roads instead of railways. It has been unfair competition. The road haulage people have been subsidised by the ratepayers for the maintenance of the roads, whereas the railways have to pay for the maintenance of their track and signalling system through the tickets which they issue.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I do not know how the hon. Member can talk about road hauliers being subsidised when they pay over £1,000 million a year in taxation, of which less than £200 million is spent on the roads. This situation has not arisen through any unfair competition; it has arisen because of the natural choice of the consumer. I happen to be a director of companies which use both road and rail transport. For certain purposes the railways are very convenient, but generally speaking the roads are more convenient, and much quicker for any journey of under 200 miles. Furthermore, cross-country journeys are best done on the roads. If the hon. Member goes to Bedfordshire he will see the Marston Brickworks, which sends out five lorry loads every morning on cross-country journeys. Those bricks could not be carried by rail. Because of all these factors the railways' share of the traffic is declining.
We must consider the position realistically. The Committee must remember that the railways' share of traffic will 1772 decline year by year, for the foreseeable future. In those circumstances, how can we make the railways pay? That is what Lord Beeching was trying to do. We must recognise that we must go on closing lines which are unnecessary.
Lord Hinton made a report to the Minister. I am sure that what he said was, "Leave well alone; let the forces of competition work this thing out." But Lord Hinton's report was very unpopular. The National Union of Railwaymen did not like it. At their Stockport conference, they said, "Minister, do not listen to your advisers, listen to us the railwaymen." Eventually, of course, they got the Minister sacked by saying that sort of thing. Equally, no doubt, the Minister of Technology weighed in and said, "We do not like Lord Hinton's report; get rid of Lord Hinton." This was because Lord Hinton was giving the Minister a realistic view of the situation.
We in the Committee—who, after all, have a responsibility to the nation—must face the situation with realism and realise that the railways are on a declining wicket, as they are all over the world, and that we must cut our coat according to our cloth. It is no good subsidising the railways to keep them going because a few people might want to use that transport.
Consider one of the most favourable routes for railways, the long-distance route from London to Glasgow. I do not know whether the hon. Member has ever been to the top of Shap Fell where one can see the road and the railway. From that point, one can see more road traffic going over Shap Fell in half an hour than is carried in twelve hours by the railway. More traffic goes across in an hour by road than in the whole twenty-four hours by rail. This is because of the natural choice of the consumer—
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
Would the hon. Member be prepared to go up to Shap Fell when there is snow there and Shap Fell is completely blocked for road traffic, although rail traffic is still running freely?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The railway has been blocked by snow, too, on Shap Fell. That may occur two or three days a year, but on the remaining 363 days I challenge 1773 any hon. Member to watch from Shap Fell. These great eight wheelers and twenty-four tonners are not going because traders want to subsidise the roads or because they think that it is nice to have an eight-wheeler, but because it is more economical and flexible than the railways. That is what is happening all over the world.
We must face the situation. I believe that the right hon. Lady has a wrong conception of the whole future of transport in this country. She is going to try to base transport on the railway system, which now carries only about a third of it, and she will try to subsidise the railways to keep unnecessary services. If she had been in power 100 years ago, she would have been subsidising the stage coach to protect it against the competition of the railways. Fifty years earlier, she would have subsidised the canals against the stage coach. The party opposite is reactionary, years behind the times.
I do not know what would have happened at the beginning of the last century if we had had a Labour Minister of Transport. I suppose we would have kept all the traffic on the canals. What is said on the other side is based on false premises, and that is why we on this side are looking at the situation realistically, knowing what the future holds.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) in stating that the social costs of congestion should be considered. The costs of road congestion are not being considered. Accidents alone cost the nation a tremendous amount and even cost the National Health Service a good deal of money. It is true that, in Preston, for instance, since a branch line has been closed down, there is frequently reference in the local newspapers to the congestion having been increased as a result.
I hope that the Minister will look into the question of transport users consultative committees being allowed to question the figures which British Rail produce at hearings. My experience is that when they want to close a line, not only do they allow it to be run expensively, but they throw in every cost possible, including that of the kitchen sink.
I remember an occasion when I challenged the suggested closure of a 1774 station at Kelvedon and the commercial manager came to a public meeting which I had called. When I asked him to analyse the savings which would flow from the closure, he produced some amazing figures. He first of all told me that he would save so much from terminating the employment of the stationmaster, but I knew that the stationmaster was retiring the following week and would not be replaced because of electrification. Then he told me the saving in dispensing with the porters, but I found that the porters were being kept on to work in sidings. He also claimed that there would be a saving on signal boxes, but the signal boxes were being dispensed with anyway because the line was to be electrified. The total saving in the end was that of the salary of one junior clerk.
There has been no research in this country into the true cost of road transport. The United States has done such research, at a cost of 200 million dollars, on the relative cost of light and heavy traffic. They found that the cost of wear and tear varied so much that the cost of heavy traffic was very much greater than the cost of the wear and tear by private motor cars. The ratio they worked out was that the cost of 1,000 twelve-ton lorries on the roads in wear and tear was as great as that of 160 million motor cars.
This is an enormous increase in wear and tear by heavy traffic. Heavy traffic obviously receives, therefore, a cross subsidy from the owners of private motors. In other words, the commercial road user who has to operate commercially has a great advantage compared with the railways. Many motorists run motor cars not for economic reasons at all. They do so for convenience or status, perhaps, and many of them receive help on expenses when they send in their Income tax returns. The whole business of competition between road and rail is very complicated and should be considered.
Another thing which hon. Members opposite frequently forget is that the enormous capital charges put into the roads before the motor car age have never been paid for and the interest charges on that money would be enormous. This should be considered when hon. Members talk about how far motorists currently pay for the capital investment in 1775 roads, while ignoring what has been invested in the past.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) were remarkable because he seemed to be putting the case for increasing the amount of traffic which went by railway. He was saying that the trend now is for more and more road traffic. That is true. The trend is so great on the roads that they cannot possibly keep pace with it. Therefore, the obvious course to relieve congestion on the roads, which is inevitable whatever we spend on them, is to run the railways to capacity—particularly since, by running them to capacity, we would run them economically.
Another thing to remember is that cities which are already congested will grind to a halt unless we keep the commuter lines going. No hon. Member opposite would dare suggest closing a commuter line in his constituency, because he knows that life would be impossible without that line. Hon. Members opposite are extremely inconsistent. Everything they have said and done in transport has shown their inconsistency. On the one hand, they say they support Beeching, and yet nearly every hon. Member on the other side of the Committee fights a closure if it is proposed for his constituency. As a matter of fact, objections to closures come more often from hon. Members opposite than from this side of the Committee because most of their constituencies are in those areas where closures are taking place. It is the height of inconsistency and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford said, humbug for them to act in this manner.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Would he not agree that it is just as much humbug on his side of the Committee, when the official policy of the Government is to close many pits, for the constituency Members concerned to object to it?
§ Mr. Atkins
As usual, the hon. Member is trying to avoid the question. We have come on to the question of pits now. I will deal with that matter on another occasion. This is typical of the 1776 action taken by hon. Members opposite in connection with transport. I appeal to the Committee to stop playing politics with the railways.
Conservative Governments of Europe, despite the fact that the railways have been nationalised, have done their best to make them run efficiently and economically. I hope that Conservatives of Britain, who have so long played politics with British transport, will realise how serious the problem is and will co-operate with the Government so that we too, can bring in the sort of measures which have already been brought in on the Continent to make our public transport system work as well as possible. This means a healthy, viable railway system. It means running the railways to capacity and introducing the most modern methods possible. I urge hon. Members to get down to some co-operation so that we can understand and solve our transport problems.
§ Mr. Booth
My hon. Friends have been accused of using false premises when they have suggested that an integrated transport system in this country must be based in part upon our railways. I suggest that hon. Members opposite should consider very carefully some of their premises before making that sort of accusation of us. They have suggested, for instance, that railways cannot effectively carry freight and passengers on cross-country journeys in competition with road haulage. They have also suggested that the carriage of freight by rail for distances of less than 200 miles is not practicable. Surely they base this proposition on a highly artificial condition that exists in the pricing of road and rail traffic today.
Furthermore, hon. Members opposite seem to imply that the object of this exercise is to make the railways pay. If this were the sole object of the exercise, it would indeed be very simple. It would he a very easy matter for the Minister to have a list drawn up of those lines which make a profit and those which make a loss and then to go down his lists and say, "We will close all those which make a loss and keep all those that make a profit." Presumably then right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite would be happy and would say, "We have a healthy viable railway system."
1777 12.45 p.m.
Surely this would be a ludicrous thing to do. It is because of this aspect of the Opposition's approach to the problem that they talk so glibly about natural choice. There is no such thing as natural choice in deciding whether to use road or rail today. Transport is, by its very nature, a highly artificial matter. It involves very carefully controlled financial considerations, and this makes the choice anything but natural. References have been made to various forms of hidden subsidy. May I use an example to show just how unnatural the choice is? I resided for some time in North Shields, and in the mornings I frequently saw 50 lorries pull away from the fish quay to carry fish to London. The same load could have been carried in one train employing one train driver and one guard. Considering this example in terms of human labour—50 men as opposed to two men—I ask hon. Members: was that a natural choice? Obviously, it was not. We have to accept that to have an integrated transport system in this country involves a whole series of complex factors which will not be worked out overnight by any Minister in a brilliant flash of inspiration.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Surely the fish merchants on the North-East Coast who wanted to send their fish to London were looking for the most convenient and cheapest method of doing so. They therefore chose the lorries in preference to rail. That was a natural choice.
§ Mr. Booth
That may be the hon. Member's definition of what is natural, but it is not what I consider to be natural. Natural choice in the interests of one's country is the choice which is most effective in serving the country as a whole. It does not serve the interests of this country as a whole to use 50 men to do a job which can be done by two men.
If we are to beseech trade unionists in this country to operate more efficiently, to get away from restrictive practices and from overmanning machines, we cannot at the same time countenance a form of transport which uses men inefficiently. This is precisely what we do when we tolerate the sort of competition which exists today between road and rail. We need an efficient transport system. This will be brought about by very careful 1778 consideration and planning of a long list of complex factors which go to make an integrated transport system. I accept the argument that this will take time—
§ Captain W. Elliot
May I take the hon. Member back to his point that this load of fish could be carried to London by train employing only two men? The hon. Gentleman misses the entire point, namely the reason why the fish merchants select lorries to do the job. When the fish gets to London, quite apart from the fact that it has to be loaded on to the train, it also has to be offloaded into lorries. The train does not go to Billingsgate. Therefore, extra expense is involved. If fish is carried to London by train, far more than two men are employed.
§ Mr. Booth
I do not think that I have missed the point. I will accept that I have not made the point clear, and I will try to do so. British Railways provide a special train for carrying fish from North Shields to London. It is a train which is designed specifically for this task. The point I was seeking to make was that the relative costs of transporting fish by rail or road do not depend upon the natural factors as I see them. I agree that they depend upon what hon. Members opposite call natural choice of selection. But whether or not that train ran, the same number of signalmen, rail maintenance men and so on would be required. What is involved is a difference of 48 men being employed over a certain period, and it means that the road system is highly inefficient. Surely it is in our interests to make use of the nation's most efficient system.
In bringing about an integrated transport system we shall take all these factors into account. We shall seek to provide the best possible transport service while using the smallest number of persons. It must inevitably take time. We must also concede that before such a system can be made efficient a considerable amount of money will have to be spent. That is the purpose of the Bill, and I think it is worthy of support.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
In view of the recent trend of the debate, I think it would probably be in order for me now to make the remarks that I proposed to make on the Question "That 1779 the Clause stand part of the Bill". The last two speakers, dealing with the question of choice, have touched upon some of the points to which I was proposing to direct my remarks.
I am very concerned about the size of the loan for which the Government are asking. If the cherry is as expensive as £350 million, I should not in the least mind taking two bites at it. When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has expensive fruit, if he pops it in his mouth and swallows it in one go he has perhaps missed half the point of the exercise. However, I cannot question the sum except on this Amendment.
I am very concerned about the ways in which deficits may be unnecessarily swollen. The right hon. Lady said that we have to find a new and realistic financial basis for railway accounting. It is a very inexact science at the moment because it necessarily depends on so many arbitrary assumptions and apportionments. If she can improve the methods, well and good.
The right hon. Lady also said that she was taking steps to ensure that all social losses were identified and then put them fairly and squarely where they belong—on the shoulders of the community. I imagine that an obvious case is where the Minister refuses a closure proposed by British Railways. Therefore, I take it that as Government policy unfolds the resulting losses on certain lines will become separately identified and probably listed and, therefore, not included in the general operating profit and loss account of British Railways.
I imagine that the idea is to leave British Railways to concentrate on running its commercial lines efficiently so as to reduce and ultimately eliminate the deficit. Presumably that is the forthcoming objective of Government policy. There are certain dangers in separating the social losses, although in principle I approve of that. If a line is reprieved because the services are deemed to be indispensable in the public interest and, therefore, they become separately subsidised, there is a danger of removing some of the incentive of the British Railways top management to reduce losses as much as possible. One may also remove the incentive of the local public, 1780 who may say, "We have got our railway and it is subsidised and being looked after separately by the Minister, and we need not bother too much about it because it will continue to operate."
I supported the approach of Dr. Beeching, and I voted for his plan. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will also know that I have protested against the closure of a line which I use. I have not written to him since 1st January because I wrote to the other Joint Parliamentary Secretary and, indeed, visited him almost on his first day in office with my colleagues the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), who are all concerned with the East Suffolk line which runs from Ipswich to Lowestoft.
This line was listed for closure because in the original Beeching survey it was showing a substantial loss. But last autumn, after the transport users' consultative committee had heard one day's evidence, it left the hearing part heard and subsequently said that it did not wish to reconvene the inquiry because it was satisfied that for the purpose of relieving the hardship caused there was no alternative to keeping the line open. That recommendation went to the Minister some time before Christmas, and it is now under consideration and the decision of the Minister is awaited.
An interesting point about the hearing was the disclosure of the difference between earnings and direct costs, which was about £24,000—the difference between £154,000 and £178,000. That had come down from a much bigger deficit—stated to be about £90,000—a few years earlier. Therefore, as the line came under the scrutiny of the transport users' consultative committee there had been a very substantial improvement. I thought that it was very important that the line should be kept open because of the improving trend. Speaking as a customer of the line, I rely on it to get me here reasonably quickly when in the rush hour I could not possibly do so by road.
I do not accept that the loss need remain at its present level. The pressure exerted by Dr. Beeching and the realisation that our lifeline to London might 1781 be cut concentrated our minds wonderfully. My hon. Friends the Members for Lowestoft, Eye and Sudbury and Woodbridge and I have gone to great trouble in examining the possibilities and putting them forward. I have no doubt that there is a reasonable chance of running the line on a remunerative basis provided that a new policy is adopted. Today we have very enterprising management in the Eastern Region and the Norwich area. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may have noticed the fresh approach adopted at Norwich in selling railway traffic to London. This is lively and effective. It displays a new spirit born of the freedom to arrange a scale of fares designed to catch the traffic. In other words, it is a commercial approach to catch the customer and give him what he wants.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that that commercial policy encourages traffic not to use the Lowestoft to London line but to go to London via Norwich?
§ Mr. Hill
I had not forgotten that the hon. Gentleman was defeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft in 1964. Neither have I forgotten that the hon. Gentleman and other local Labour candidates were vociferous in protesting against the situation. One of the local difficulties in a sense is that we have a triangle there. It is the policy of British Railways to maintain a good connection from Lowestoft to Norwich, a freight connection as well as a passenger one. That inevitably reduced the income of the coastal line. This is perhaps one of our difficulties. If there was not that link to Norwich, this line would not have come under the shadow of closure.
But the fact remains that a good deal could be done on this line to make it more remunerative. If we accept what I think can best be described as the new conception of a basic rural railway—I believe that something of the sort has developed in some of the Welsh fastnesses and the first is about to come into operation in Norfolk—some very great economies become possible because many of these lines, particularly that to which I refer, are very greedy in manpower.
1782 This line is about 50 miles long and has over 40 level crossings, most of which have been manned. By stages, with a new policy, the line could be greatly simplified. It could have unstaffed stations and level crossings and possibly single track working and conductor-guards issuing tickets between stations. Through passengers could obtain their tickets by rebooking at the terminals, Lowestoft and Ipswich. Such a scheme would save enormous overheads in manpower and clerical facilities and a good deal in maintenance.
It would be possible also to continue nearly all services that are reasonably well patronised. The limiting factor, and one decision that would have to be taken, would be the amount of rolling stock available. It would probably be sufficient to have two multiple diesels on this line fully occupied, while keeping the through train to London and return daily. Thus, most of the really necessary requirements, including those of the longer distance passenger, would be supplied in this way but on a simpler basis. The saving of manpower and wages alone would more than wipe out the present annual loss and leave a substantial surplus over to amortise the capital that would be necessary to reshape the line.
Here I come to some of the conditions that I want the right hon. Lady to bear in mind, because this kind of improvement could come about only by concerted action. First, we would need a decision to keep the line open for a minimum period of, say, not less than 20 or 15 years, because it would only be on the basis of full use that these improvements could be carried out and paid for. Secondly, we would need public agreement, especially from the local authorities who organised the objections to closure, to the unmanning of stations and level crossings. We may need help from the Minister in not requiring excessive capital expenditure for perhaps an unnecessary degree of over-insurance involving some of the level crossings.
I do not want to go into detail. I think that the point is made that, with limited traffic, one should be able to make great simplification and improvements. But it would be no help, and hitherto it has not proved possible, to procure capital from British Railways in 1783 order to carry out economies on a line which may be closed in a short time—and I do not blame British Railways for that. But a firm decision to keep the line open would change the position completely.
Thirdly, to put the line on to a "rural railway basis" would probably cost about £150,000 to £200,000, which is about a year's operating costs. That would probably bring on the credit side quite a return, possibly as great as the required capital from the sale of surplus assets if single track working were decided upon.
The fourth requirement would be support by the local authorities and the public, not only in reshaping the railway system as I have indicated but also in regarding it as their railway which they would be asked to encourage by bringing to it as much extra revenue in future as possible. Quite a lot could be done in that way to attract new revenue.
I hope that the Ministry will positively look for this kind of management and seek to encourage it. It would offer a good return on the investment. Therefore, if, as I trust, the Minister gives her consent to keeping the line open, I hope that it will be with a very clear look and decision that the line should have the resources enabling it to be re-equipped. The danger the other way is that the line will pile up losses on an unnecessary annual scale, remaining, a minor running sore, so that management will not be attracted to give it much attention and it will become progressively more vulnerable to criticism in the future and to the next swing of some economic axe, which might fall at a time when there was still no effective alternative transport.
I have only tried to emphasise what might be said to be the minor aspect of the case. We know that great developments are afoot in East Anglia. It may be that, in the long term, new traffic will come to this line and amply justify its working at a fair profit. At the moment, it is making a loss but it need not do so with a new approach, and that new approach needs support by the Ministry as well as the public and I ask the Ministry to play its part.
§ Amendment negatived.1784
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, leave out "sixteen" and insert "six".
I move this Amendment, which applies to London Transport, because we wish to ascertain some detail of the expected deficit of the London Transport Board. During Second Reading very little detail was given about it, and I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to give us the figure of estimated deficit for 1966 and the reason for it. Last year, the Board obtained a grant of over £3 million from the Government as a condition of its agreeing to hold the level of fares. At the end of the year the right hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Tom Fraser), then Minister of Transport announced that the Government had decided to allow a fare increase to take place.
The right hon. Gentleman indicated to the House in December—and I think that this can be taken as a fair interpretation of his words—that there might he a deficit during 1966 and that, if there was, the Government would have to take the necessary action. The phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman certainly gave me and, I believe, most hon. Members the impression that whether or not there was a deficit was a marginal consideration and that it was not expected to be large. The amount required by the Government—they are asking for £16 million for the period up to December 1968—indicates that they are expecting considerable deficits on London Transport during that period. This is in contradiction to the original agreement, which was to the effect that the London Transport Board anticipated a working surplus of £4 million a year during the period up to December, 1967.
We appreciate that certain factors have entered into this, one of them, alas, being the difficulties of labour relations between the Board and the unions. The Committee will remember the serious overtime stoppages which took place in 1963. They cost the Board about £4 million. The long-term effects of these types of stoppages are not know, for once people cease to use one type of public transport, they do not easily go back to it. It is to be hoped that labour relations will be better in future.
Meanwhile, could we be given some details of the progress that is anticipated 1785 in labour-saving by London Transport during the period for which this money is being asked? It is staggering to think that 76 per cent. of the running costs of the London Transport Board are labour costs. A saving of labour is, therefore, a vital factor. There have been six or seven years of refusal on the part of the unions—I do not wish to comment with what justification—to agree to various plans for the saving of labour on London Transport. It is obvious that if, six or seven years ago, full co-operation had been obtained to go over to buses manned by one person instead of two, to go over to the standee buses which were recently introduced and to go over to a greater process of automation in the train services, a considerable difference would have been made to the current finances of the Board.
I would like to know what the Minister considers will be the effects of congestion in the London area during the period for which this money is being asked. The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which looked into the workings of the Board, found that one of the biggest factors was the adverse effects of congestion on the manner in which buses were able to provide services. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) took a number of imaginative steps to help solve the congestion problem in London by obtaining a faster flow of traffic. These involved the introduction of parking meters, a great scheme of one-way streets, an important traffic survey in the Greater London Area and the spending of a considerable amount of money on road improvements in the area.
It is, therefore, disturbing to find that there appears to be an indication that the Government are being rather complacent about the congestion problem in the Greater London area, particularly when one considers the considerable effects of this on the deficit of the London Transport Board. For example, last July the Government decided—it was the first time for 15 years that such a decision had been taken—to defer the road building programme by six months. This had a considerable effect in the Greater London Area in that a number of schemes, 11 in all, were cut back as a result of the Government's decision.
1786 This action must defer the solution of the congestion problem in this area.
The deferment was for six months, but we were shocked when, in a reply given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on 13th May to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison), it was announced that eight of these schemes would be deferred for more than six months; and this must have come as a severe shock to Londoners. Eight of the schemes are being deferred for more than six months and a further scheme is still under review. Thus, of the 11 classified road schemes deferred last July for six months, eight will be deferred for more than six months, one is still under review and only two will be restarted within the six months' period. One scheme, the Beckenham Road railway bridge, will now be deferred for 12 months, while two others will be deferred for nine months.
As we are struggling to solve the problem of congestion, we must be told why it has been decided not to keep to the promise given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last July, when he said that there would be a six months' deferment. Why must there be a substantial increase in that period of deferment? I hope, therefore, that we will be told something about this issue, something about the labour prospects in the next few years and something about the deficit of London Transport, and the way the Minister expects that it may increase, in the period between now and September 1968.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) about the deliberations over the Bill, the vast sums being asked for and the extraordinary lack of information about why those sums are being sought.
It is all very well for the Minister to chide my hon. Friends with not having estimated enough when we were in power and that, therefore, the Government must now ask for more. But why cannot the Government tell us where our estimation went wrong? One realises the difficulties, whichever party is in power, of getting accurate estimates in these 1787 matters, but it is reasonable, if past estimates have proved wrong, to be told where they went wrong, why more money is needed and what will be done with the money.
On Second Reading I asked the Minister, when the right hon. Lady referred to losses on commuter lines, to give the respective figures. She could not give them. They could not be identified to that extent, I was told. Apparently it is all a question of identifying the social losses involved and of placing those on the shoulders of the community. When hon Gentlemen opposite refer to the "social cost" of these things I am never quite sure what they mean. It means to me bad time-keeping, bad services and such matters which surely cannot be considered with financial losses.
Time and again we are told that individual figures cannot be given. Commuters and other users of these services are sick and tired of that sort of talk which has been going on for far too long. Anyone would think that the commuters enjoy good services. We accept that the increased fares are to make good the losses incurred, yet within a few months of fares being increased we are still told that the commuter lines are making losses. This is not good enough. The services get worse, the fares continue to rise and in the rush hours the trains are bursting.
I want to know what proportion of these huge sums are going to the commuter services? We have a striking situation in Greater London and the fringe areas. This is a densely populated area, containing millions of people, with an enormous demand for transport. Yet we cannot get a satisfactory service. For one reason or another the nationalised transport organisations cannot provide the service needed, under circumstances which one would imagine were ideal.
Now we are asked under this Bill to give £16 million more to London Transport. What are we going to get in return? In her Second Reading speech the right hon. Lady referred to the need to improve public transport. I agree with that entirely. It was said by an hon. Gentleman opposite that I had been driving in a motor car for so long that 1788 I had forgotten what the trains were like. Both for long and short journeys, if the train is convenient, I much prefer to travel that way, and I think that most of us do. We can do our work, it is more comfortable and there is less strain. In her Second Reading speech the right hon. Lady said that she was setting up a high-powered Committee. She said of the Committee members: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1360.]I sincerely hope that she is successful but I must confess that I am dubious that such a high-powered Committee is going to be in touch with the real problems. What is it going to do? Can we be told more about it? Is it to improve the services? It will not be enough to delineate more parking areas, one-way streets and all sorts of traffic engineering. Is it going to consider working practices and conditions; is it going to consider restrictive practices, one-man buses, bigger buses or smaller buses, and what technical developments are going to take place?
I realise the difficulties of London Transport but nothing seems to happen for many years. In recent months I have seen a couple of one-man buses on the road and I thought that they were rather impressive. But progress might have been much faster. The taxpayer has every right to know what he is going to get for the £16 million which we are being asked to produce. We have not yet had a proper explanation.
I should like to refer to the Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has just mentioned this. Paragraph 198 is rather illuminating. It says that the population fall in Central London between 1953 and 1963 was 162,000. In the outer country ring, with which I am particularly concerned because it includes my constituency of Carshalton and Banstead, the population figures hose by 509,000. The Report goes on to mention an increase in employment in Central London. All of that means greatly increased commuter traffic. What does London Transport propose to do to cater for those changes in population distribution? My hon. Friend 1789 mentioned the cut-back in the road programme in Central London and the inner suburbs. That is going to have a serious effect when one considers this redistribution of population and I should like to hear the Government's views upon this.
How much, if any, of the £16 million is going to help to ease that position? What are British Railways, who serve the Greater London area, doing to improve situation? What technical improvements are being made? What are they doing to ease this dreadful business of the rush hour, when trains are bursting at the seams? In those circumstances it is not surprising that the commuters turn to their cars, not because they want to but because they have to. I understand that it is still only about 10 per cent of all commuters who travel by car. However that represents 68,000 cars at peak hours and is obviously a major factor causing London's congestion. We all know how it leads to bad time-keeping, financial loss and so on.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
May I intervene to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman a couple of questions? In his, if he will forgive me, rather sour contribution to the discussion, has he ever given a thought to the fact that we ought to be very thankful that in public transport we have so many dedicated workers who are keeping the system going under very trying conditions, most of which have been brought about by 13 years of Tory misapplication of transport policy?
§ Captain Elliot
I would not accept the last remark. Several hon. Gentlemen used that phrase during the Second Reading debate. They then inadvertently started talking about the progress made on British Railways and we find that all modernisation that has taken place, and there has been a lot, took place under the Tory Government. The hon. Gentleman referred to my rather sour remarks. I am sorry if he finds that my criticisms are sour. Maybe they do sound like that, but perhaps he has not used these commuter services as I and thousands of my constituents have.
Let me say this about London Transport. However sour I may appear today, I have travelled on the transport systems of some of the great capitals of the world, and the London system, leaving aside all 1790 party considerations, is better than any other. It has the biggest problems and it provides a better service. I pay tribute to those who run and work it but I still maintain an absolute right to draw attention to the many deficiencies existing in it.
The commuters use their cars only because of the poor services available and because the car is cheaper and more efficient. If the alternative to the car is better then commuters will use it.
I want to call attention to a paragraph in the Report by the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries which I view with some concern, paragraph 409. Here the Committee is considering the problem of London Transport, and it states:Your Committee noted the evidence of the Leader of the Greater London Council that the Council recognised the 'priority of the greatest carrier'. They believe its enforcement is the only way of securing a viable and effective bus service.In other words, to keep the private car off the roads in London. During the Second Reading debate the Minister referred to thefundamental 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".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728 c. 1360.]There is a threat in that, as I see it. It is no good banning cars from central London unless the rail and bus services are improved. They are already bursting at peak hours. It is not possible to get more people on to the railways and buses.
Paragraph 408 of the Report by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries reads:Your Committee conducted their inquiry in a period of comparative inactivity following the successful efforts to deal with congestion in the centre of London.We all know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey when he was Minister, had success in his efforts to deal with traffic in the centre of London. But the Report goes on:As one result of this success was to transfer the congestion to the 'gluepot ring' in the inner suburbs the Board are as concerned as they ever were for strong action to be taken.1791 I should like to know from the Government why the same measures are not being taken to get rid of the gluepot in the inner suburbs as were taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey to improve conditions in Central London. That is a question to which we should know the answer.
I am sorry to keep quoting from this Report, but reports like this are often pigeon-holed, and there is a great deal of valuable material in this one. Paragraph 461 refers to a railway plan for London, but, apparently,After discussions with the Minister of Transport … the two Boards and the Minister decided against publication. They agreed that their object would be achieved if the plan were sent to the 300 or so people concerned with planning in London.The Committee remarks on that later. I should like to know why that plan is going only to 300 or so people. Many Members of Parliament are concerned with this matter and it would have helped us to debate the matter properly if we could have seen the plan. That would have been valuable.
I refer to the suggestion in the Report to improve the services in London. Paragraph 463 refers to an extension of the line from Victoria to Brixton. Paragraph 464 refers to the extension from Aldwych to Waterloo. Paragraph 466 refers to a scheme known as "the Fleet scheme" for a new line crossing central London. I ask the Government: is any of this £16 million to go to those schemes, because they are extremely important in tackling the commuter problem?
Paragraph 467 says:These three schemes, by adding to the services South of the river, would relieve the South Region of British Railways from some of the traffic at their inner stations, enabling them to concentrate on the carriage of commuters to and from the outer area for which they are better equiped.That is most important. I should like to know what the Government are doing about it and whether any of this money is being earmarked for that purpose. There is no doubt that if we can solve the problem of cars coming into London at peak hours, we will solve the central London and inner suburbs traffic problems.
Is there proper co-ordination on all these matters between London Transport 1792 and British Railways as laid down in the 1962 Act? If there is not, is it the object of the high-powered committee announced by the Minister to provide it? Are British Railways now at capacity during the rush hours in the commuter areas? If so, surely we must consider, not shutting services down, but whether that capacity should be increased. I will not accept, until I am told the figures, that the commuter lines do not pay. The fares have gone up and up, and we are always told that the increases are to make good the deficit. If it is to expensive too increase the line capacity so as to serve peak hour traffic, the alternative must be better roads and more off-street parking. It is no help to the position that the Government have delayed yet more improvements to roads in the suburbs. The banning of traffic in central London will only make the commuter problem more desperate.
I am sorry to have taken up the Committee's time, but I believe that I have mentioned some very serious problems which have not yet been mentioned by the Government. The Minister, in introducing the Bill, was almost facetious in her approach. She seemed to think that we were being obstructive in inquiring how this money was being used and why so much more was needed. I hope that that will be noted by the people. But the Minister still has the opportunity to give us the answer. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman winds up the debate he will answer some of the questions I have put to him.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
My constituents use London Transport to a great extent, both the buses and the underground, in the central part of the Greater London area. Naturally, I receive many complaints about London Transport, particularly about the buses. I will not dwell on those. My constituents do not want to have to subsidise London Transport; they want it to be efficient. That is the ultimate solution for London Transport.
It is tragic to note that London Transport made a profit of £2.1 million in 1963 and £1.1 million in 1964, whereas it made a loss of £1 million last year. Obviously it will make a heavy loss this year. Some people estimate that it may be £10 million. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can tell us the answer to that. It is proposed by the Bill to provide £16 1793 million to cover the losses for the next three years.
The losses on London Transport could have been avoided if the Board had introduced the new, more rapid services earlier. I understand that the single-decker Red Arrow buses from Victoria to Marble Arch are doing well and making money. If London Transport could have introduced them four or five years ago, it would have had a profitable side to its business. Why have they not done so? I believe it is because of the attitude of the Central Bus Committee which has ruled London Transport for years. The Central Bus Committee of the inner ring of the trade unions, made up of some very Left-wing people—some people say that there are Communists on it, but I do not know—has introduced a large number of restrictive practices in London Transport and has prevented it from developing these new forms of buses and transport services.
§ Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)
Could the hon. Gentleman provide us with information of specific instances when the Central Bus Committee has refused to co-operate with London Transport in introducing these services?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
The Red Arrow service, in which each bus has a driver and no conductor, was, I think, planned six or seven years ago. We were told that it would be introduced in about 1962 or 1963, but it has been introduced only in 1966. I believe that one of the reasons has been the non-co-operation of the unions towards the introduction of this service. I understand that and I have heard it from various channels.
§ Mr. Dickens
Can the hon. Gentleman provide for the Committee any specific documentary evidence for this allegation?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I cannot give documentary evidence, but I have discussed this with many transport people and members of London Transport and they have said this. I believe this to be true even if it is not published in the blue books.
There are hopeful signs in London Transport. The new buses on route 24 to Pimlico are a great improvement. They bring the conductor and the driver and the public into close liaison because 1794 the entrance is at the front. The driver can see the passengers coming in and out, and the conductor can stand by the entrance and collect the fares more rapidly. This altogether improves the psychological attitude in those buses of both the public and the staff. I shall be interested to see whether those buses pay better than the present old-fashioned buses. These buses and the Red Arrow service are the only two new forms of buses introduced in London since the war, and I blame London Transport for not being more adventurous in introducing experiments.
I should like to have seen, for example, a bus with a staircase in the middle, an entrance at the back and an exit at the front, or vice versa, with the conductor sitting in the middle and taking the fares, so that every passenger had to pass him. If one wants to save 4d. it is very easy to do so. At Whitehall, one can get on a bus going to Victoria Station, and I guarantee that during the peak hour one will not be asked for the fare—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—because the unfortunate conductor has not time to get round to collect it. Therefore, every passenger should be made to pay his fare by passing the conductor. I do not know what the losses to London Transport are, but in peak hours it must lose something like 20 per cent. of the fares.
London Transport has not been adventurous enough. After all, buses of this type are used on the Continent and all over the world. When the Board has been timidly adventurous, it has been held up by the activities of the Central Bus Committee. I hope that the new Chairman will prove to be more adventurous and will get on top of this Bus Committee. The final answer to the problem of transport in London, apart from the bus services, must be to go underground. The cry for London Transport should not now be, "Go West, young man". It should be, "Go underground."
We must have, as is proposed in the blue books, an underground connection from Waterloo to Aldwych, and we must have the Fleet line. I should like to see an underground line going underneath the No. 11 bus service down the King's Road, so that we would prevent all that congestion and the tragic sight of four, five or even six No. 11 buses passing through Parliament Square together. The only 1795 way to avoid congestion in the streets is to go underground.
We have an underground service that is believed to be good, but it is four times less intense than the Paris underground service. There are four times more underground stations in Paris per square mile than in London, which is an extraordinary thought, and the central part of Paris is much better served than by the rather straggling services which we have in London.
I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary how much of this £16 million will go towards assisting capital development of the Underground. If the capital for development of the Underground can be raised—and the Government ought to help, because this would greatly alleviate the congestion on the streets—I should like to see a great expansion of Underground services to clear the traffic off the streets.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I shall not keep the Joint Parliamentary Secretary very much longer from answering the many important questions which have been put to him, but I should like to add one or two more. In introducing the Bill on Wednesday, the Minister said that if ever there were a non-controversial Bill she thought this was it. I should say that if ever there were a non-controversial Amendment surely this is it, because we are falling in with the wish that the right hon. Lady expressed in her speech. The words she used were that… we must enable London Transport to go on operating.By the Amendment, it will certainly be able to go on operating. The money will be provided, but only for a period until we know exactly the purpose for which it will be used. I prefer the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), who said that our support is for tackling the problems and not for open-ended subsidies.
The sum of money that we are discussing may be small compared with the much larger sum for transport as a whole, but it is an important sum and we should know for what it will be used. It was rather suggested in the debate on Second Reading that the Bill would take a long time to be discussed. The actual words 1796 used by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary were that: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, cc. 1361 and 1460.]That suggests that there will be a great many discussions on the legislation, that the legislation will not be very good and will need to be greatly amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) asked the hon. Gentleman whether it would take two and a half years to bring in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman replied that my hon. Friend was a reasonable man. I do not know whether he would have used that same adjective some 20 minutes later.
I am particularly concerned, when granting this large sum of money, as to how it will be used and all the various aspects that my hon. Friends have already raised—in particular, labour relations. I also want to know—and I have a double interest here—what will be done about motor cars in the centre of London, coupled with the problems of commuters who come in by car. I live in the area on the border of Chelsea and Westminster, and both these boroughs are to have parking meters some time later this year. People come in in the mornings, leave their cars all day, go to work, come back in the evening and then drive home. That is obviously inconvenient to those who live there, though I have a certain sympathy with the commuters, some of whom probably come from my constituency, and, therefore, I must have sympathy with them.
The question is, how do they come in, and what do they do with their cars, if they do not come to the Chelsea or Belgravia area? The traffic jams recently in this area have been very severe. There was such a bad one two weeks ago in the Hyde Park Corner area that the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) took an hour to get from Marble Arch and asked the Secretary State for the Home Department to facilitate her progress in that part of London in the future. It is a serious problem.
1797 If we are to encourage people to leave their cars outside the main part of London and come in by public transport, we must provide somewhere for them to leave their cars.
There are four underground stations in my constituency of Southgate and two of them are on the edge of the green belt. The people therefore use them when they come in from all parts of Hertfordshire. Car-parking space in those areas is very limited. I hope that in deciding the use of the money which is being provided under the Bill, the Minister will consider whether multistorey car parks cannot be provided for these stations. The economics show, I believe, that a reasonable return could be made on the money. Particularly if the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) are followed up and we have new Underground lines and stations, this is an important point for consideration.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
I welcome the opportunity to explain this part of the Bill and I hope that I shall manage to persuade the Opposition to withdraw their probing Amendment. The Bill provides for empowering the Minister to make grants and loans to the London Transport Board to the extent of £16 million between now and the end of 1968.
My reply to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) and other hon. Members who have spoken is that we, too, regard the position as serious. There is no question of complacency on our part about the fact that we are compelled, as a result of the situation of transport in London which we inherited, to ask for this power. As we see the position at the moment, it is temporarily necessary.
The situation arises, first, because it must be clear to all that the estimates and assessments that were made by the authors of the Transport Act, 1962, and those who were responsible for the setting of financial targets under it in the years thereafter were, as somebody has put it, excessively optimistic, to say the least. They were wildly unrealistic. The situation was quite wrongly diagnosed. That 1798 is why we are confronted with the present situation.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the London Transport Board—
§ Mr. Swingler
Under the terms of the 1962 Act, that matter was discussed by those responsible for Government policy and by the operating managers who were responsible for running the then newly-formed London Transport Board in deciding the financial targets. It is perfectly clear to all today, and we may as well be blunt about it, that they were wildly unrealistic in the targets set by London Transport, which did not come anywhere near the £4 million a year surplus over the years.
Figures for the last three or four years, which have just been given to us by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), show that when the Board was in surplus up to last year, it was well below the so-called financial target of a £4 million annual surplus and that last year the Board moved into the "red". This is because the situation was vastly underestimated and wrongly appraised.
The second reason that should be faced by all who discuss the problem of the future of public transport, not only in London, but in other great urban centres, is the relationship between the duty to provide adequate services and the obligation to maintain a financial balance. This is the conflict that the London Transport Board has come up against. It is a conflict which is inherent in the statutory duties imposed upon the Board by the Conservative Government in the 1962 Act.
I know from being at the receiving end of so many complaints from hon. Members and others since I have held my present post that there is a vast volume of complaint on both counts, not only that the London Transport Board is not maintaining adequate services, a matter which, as the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) pointed out, was investigated by the Select Committee, but also concerning the lack of financial viability. The need for the Bill is explained substantially by this conflict 1799 which is inherent in the present situation. Therefore, if we are to maintain the duty of the London Transport Board to attempt to provide adequate services in London, we must give it financial support.
Over the years during which this deterioration has taken place, and in which there has been a total failure to achieve the targets set under the 1962 Act, there has, unfortunately, been a fatal drift of policy up to the time when the present Government took office. The drift in policy has contributed to the inability of the London Transport Board to achieve the aims that were imposed upon it because our predecessors, by means of the 1962 Act, disintegrated the transport organisations of the country and did not go to the roots of the problem of increasing traffic congestion. In spite of the work of the London Traffic Management Unit, which I have praised previously at this Box, our predecessors did not go to the roots of the problem of congestion, as a result of which we had the loss of traffic from especially the bus services in London and the deteriorating financial position.
We need, therefore, to carry out a fundamental reappraisal of the rôle of public transport in London and in our other big cities. As one of my hon. Friends has pointed out, this is a vast, complex and difficult subject. It is not a job which can be done in five minutes when the situation has been allowed to deteriorate over so many years. Therefore, we must have a holding operation.
My right hon. Friend carried out his holding operation last year to try to stave off for a while the continuous vicious circle which we have experienced over so many years of rising fares and reducing traffic. We must have a further period in which we give financial support to this public board in London to enable us to carry through the drastic reappraisal of the future rôle of public transport and its financial bases, and, indeed, the whole principles of transport planning in our towns.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
May I say that I hope that the Government will drop the ridiculous attitude which was adopted by the Opposition when they were in office that whenever a 1800 crisis occurred in London Transport, no matter whether it was congestion, finance or even the weather, the people who were said ultimately to be responsible were the bus drivers or conductors. Will my hon. Friend try to set a new standard of feeling between the Government and London Transport, particularly towards those who operate London Transport, the men and women who work on the Underground and who drive the buses, and give them credit for doing a remarkable job of work, instead of the ridiculous attitude which we had continuously from the Conservative Party over the past ten years?
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler
Certainly I deplore any speeches which cast the blame, or any attempts to cast the blame, for this situation on the bus drivers. I think it is a ridiculous proposition.
I was just coming on to try to pinpoint the nature of the problem by quoting from the most recent Annual Report of the London Passenger Transport Board, the problem which was the basic reason which compelled us to come to the House of Commons to ask them to make this provision for financial support of a maximum extent of £16 million up to the end of 1968, whilst we evolve new policies to deal with the situation of public transport in London. This is the basic situation with which the previous Government totally failed to deal. I quote from the Report:Between 1955 and 1965, the number of road vehicles entering the Central Area during the morning peak rose by 20,800 (30 per cent.), but the number of passengers in those vehicles decreased by 58,700 (17 per cent.). The 28,800 additional cars, carrying 38,700 extra people, occupied more than five times the amount of road space made vacant by the 1,900 fewer buses. Though buses represented less than a sixth of the 1965 total volume of traffic, they carried 60 per cent. of the passengers, while private cars, which carried only a third of the passengers, accounted for nearly 80 per cent. of the traffic volume.We know that that is the essence of the situation, which we have not been adequately facing up to now, a situation in which, in spite of a growing programme to provide more road space, the buses, however skilfully operated, have been unable to move as regularly and as fast as they ought to move. They have been regularly losing passengers over this period, and though, by and large, the 1801 underground railways have been breaking even financially, the London bus fleet has been moving into the red. That is the nature of the problem which we have got to tackle, and it is the reason why today we have got to give financial support to the London Transport Board. All hon. Members must face the question, if they criticise this amount, which is based upon the best estimates we can make at present about the likely financial outturn of the L.T.B. during the period.
This is a point I might mention, perhaps, since the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) mentioned a figure in connection with the current likely annual deficit of the London Transport Board in 1966. Our advice is that this is likely to be of the order of £5½ million. It will be seen from that, looking to next year and the year after, that the figure in the Bill of £16 million is based on the present best estimates of the likely deficit which the Board may have. We hope, of course, by further measures to improve the financial situation of the Board, but it would be quite irresponsible and imprudent of the Government not to make provision now to give that financial support necessary to try to maintain an adequate service of public transport in London.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
If the deficit is to be £5½ million this year, and if, as we know, this is getting a more serious problem, is £16 million going to be enough? Shall we not want more before the three years are up?
§ Mr. Swingler
I have not noticed hon. Members opposite putting down an Amendment to give us a bigger amount, but we have endeavoured to make the best possible estimate, based upon our belief in the principle that the London Transport Board should aim to provide adequate services, and that, in these circumstances, it should receive financial support from the State till we can evolve, by planning and co-ordination, the policies to cope by all sort of means, with the deteriorating traffic situation.
Therefore, I hope that the Committee will support the provision of £16 million on the basis that we know that this is a serious situation, that we know it can be tackled only by comprehensive planning, and that the Minister will be very shortly developing policies and announcing them to Parliament.
1802 Of course, the only alternative, on the one side, is much higher fares than the present level—which in fact will not, as they never have been doing in the last few years, bring in the revenue they are estimated to bring in because there is always the vicious circle whereby they alienate part of the traffic, which adds to the congestion problem, and I do not think any hon. Member would advocate that policy. Or, alternatively on the other side, much reduced services.
On this subject it is interesting to note that in paragraph 362 of its Report the Select Committee, after its very thorough examination of London transport, concluded thatso long as the Board try to provide adequate services there was not much scope for reducing expenditure by cutting out uneconomic services. Large cuts of this sort would only aggravate other difficulties such as traffic congestion.If, therefore, we accept this is the position, that the Board, as I say, assumes its responsibilities for trying to maintain its services, and we know we have a very difficult inherited congestion problem with which to grapple, we must be prepared to give to the Board the financial support to enable it to carry out its operations.
My right hon. Friend, as mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton took care, very shortly after she took office, to set up the Transport Co-ordinating Council for London, because we believe that one of the grave errors of past policies was the failure to have co-ordination of transport plans in London, the failure to bring sufficiently closely together representatives of those responsible for traffic management, for road planning, for the operations of the bus and railway services, and for taking measures designed to reduce congestion. So my right hon. Friend established the Transport Co-ordinating Council for London, bringing together representatives of all the transport operators, the British Railways Board and the London Transport Board, representatives of the Greater London Council and of the London boroughs, representatives and leaders of the organised workers in the transport industry in London, to carry out urgent investigations of the five or six most important aspects of this problem 1803 described in the Annual Report of the Board.
First of all, what can and should be done by further traffic management measures, seeing as we know at the moment that, however much we enlarge the roads programme in London, the demand for road space, in terms of spreading car ownership, will continue to exceed, for as long as we can see forward, the amount of space available? Therefore, what further measures of traffic management are required? What further measures can be taken as swiftly as possible to improve interchange facilities? One of the groups working under this Co-ordinating Council is concerned specifically with measures which can be taken to improve interchange facilities. I think that is most important.
Another is concerned with investment in public transport in London. The investment programme in London is now substantial. It is of the order this year of £26 million of investment. In the period 1965–69 the London Transport Board will probably be investing some £100 million —capital investment in new equipment and development. Of course, we all know that the development of the Victoria line will play a most important part. One of the things urgently being considered by the public investment group under the new Co-ordinating Council in London is, what should be done about the plans to which the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton referred, for expansions of the Underground, for new terminals, the improvement of car parking spaces at peripheral stations, and other matters of this kind. Another group is concerned with highway planning.
Some mention was made by the hon. Member for Worcester about the deferment of road schemes. Once again, I want to give an explanation about the deferment position.
Last year, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the deferment measures, with the exception of those schemes which were specifically designated in his speech, we had to accept the six months' deferment of all schemes. But, for those which had not already been programmed with dates, that did not mean that, at the end of the six months' period, those schemes were going to be adopted immediately.
1804 We still had the problem in the Ministry, with the highway authorities proposing those schemes, of fitting them into the financial programme according to the funds available.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the national road growth programme is increasing year by year. Last year, we spent more on roads than previously. The roads programme is designed to enlarge all the time. However, at every point, there are proposals from the Greater London Council and most other highway authorities for schemes which are vastly in excess of those that we are able to programme. Although it may have appeared to many that the six months' deferment was due to the financial and economic problems of the Government, at all times we have the difficulty that there are limited funds available for grants for road schemes and a surplus of proposals put before us. We have to concentrate on the main priorities, and we endeavour to do that.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation, but, in the reply which he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Charles Morrison), he listed two series of dates: the starting date of the time of deferment, and now the actual revised target starting date. Both are comparative. For example, if one takes the scheme for Holloway Road railway bridge, at the time of deferment in July that was scheduled to start in September. That must have been a firm agreement to start in September. Now that scheme has been put off for 12 months. That does not fit into the explanation which the hon. Gentleman has given.
§ Mr. Swingler
I have not the details of that scheme at my disposal. I will investigate and let the hon. Gentleman know.
Those dates express the programme that we hoped to carry out according to the priorities at that time and the funds expected to be available. It very often happens that, on a re-examination of the priorities, we are not able to fulfil the expected timetable. That is something which is well known to the highway authorities, and it arises from the fact that delays occur on account of engineering difficulties, possible objections to be met, and further negotiation that has to 1805 go on between the Department and highway authorities.
What is quite certain is that we are going to have a bigger and bigger roads programme. We are firmly committed to that, and we are to have it in London as well as everywhere else. But all hon. Gentlemen should face the fact that we are not going to be able to provide sufficient read space to enable us to permit an increasing number of personal vehicles to be used on the roads. If one examines the history of the last five years, it is clearly impossible for such a programme to be provided. Further measures of traffic management and traffic restraint will be necessary and must be combined with steps to improve the attractiveness, the financial position and the development of public transport in London under the London Transport Board. My right hon. Friend will shortly be making new regulations about one-man operation and new kinds of experiments in the development of buses.
If hon. Gentlemen are honest and face the reasons for the deterioration of the position, I hope that they will agree that this measure of financial support is indispensible for the future of public transport in London in the next few years. As my hon. Friend said, if they will be a little more patient, very shortly my right hon. Friend will be announcing in her White Paper the further measures that we intend to take.
§ Mr. Webster
I should like to thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for helping us and, if I may, to welcome him to the debate. Until now he has remained a mute observer, and we are very glad that he has now taken part. I was not sure what rôle he was playing. I noticed the Minister's name and that of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), on the Bill, but not the hon. Gentleman's. I began to wonder if he approved of it. I find now, to my horror, that he does.
It has been a case of "the mixture as before": it is all our fault that the Labour Government were left with chaos and wreckage after 13 wasted years of indifference. The hon. Gentleman forgets that he has been in office for 18 months. Now we are to have an immediate study. 1806 The London Transport Board has reported, and the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries has reported, faithfully and somewhat stingingly, on the management of London Transport. There is to be an immediate review, but the money is required now. That is exactly what we had earlier.
Compared with £350 million, £16 million may be considered to be a small item. But this is a new principle. The railways have been in deficit for many years, going back to before the 1924 regrouping. Until the 1962 Act, London Transport always paid its way.
The Parliamentary Secretary was generous enough to admit that London Transport accepted the financial target of £4 million a year. One has to remember that the statutory duty of London Transport is to staff, produce and finance a viable transport service. I was a little sorry when I heard the Parliamentary Secretary refer to the dilemma of the Committee and say that the alternatives were an increase in fares, a subsidy, or a cut in service. There was no mention of increased productivity.
That is one of the things that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) anticipated, in case anyone on this side might be rude about the trade unions. I yield to no one in my admiration for the men who drive London buses all day among filthy fumes. On the other hand, we have had long and protracted difficulties, as a result of which the Minister appointed the Phelps Brown Committee which went thoroughly into them.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) intervened when my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) talked about the Central Committee. But that Committee's activities are covered by a smokescreen, which is a pity, because one has the impression that there is a great deal of sinister activity behind the scenes which is undermining the productivity of London Transport.
§ Mr. Webster
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help me get evidence. Throughout its history, the activities of this body have been concealed, and the time has come when we should make a closer inquiry into what is going on.
1807 What is the financial position of two new developments which have at long last been brought in? There is the route 24 bus, a larger bus, which one enters at the front end and gets a bang in the back from the door as soon as one is inside. This is one of the most efficient ways of getting a person into a bus, but I do not know how pleasant it will be during the hot weather. I gather that these buses carry more people than an ordinary bus. I gather, too, that they are moderately successful. Is any financial benefit accruing from their use?
I understand that there is considerable financial benefit from the Red Arrow line. I have not had the opportunity of going on one of these buses, but I hope to do so in the near future, because I think that this route, at any rate until the Victoria Line is opened, needs the benefit of this type of service.
I have been rude about the Central Committee, but I am grateful for small mercies. I appreciate the fact that we have had these advantages, but I think that at the present time the management's duty is to manage. It must get to grips with this difficult problem, and I am sure that the chairman is well aware of this and is doing his best. I wish him the greatest success.
Many Government supporters have spoken about a subvention to the railways. They say that we must subvent the railways because by doing this we relieve congestion. I hope that they will put pressure, not so much on the Minister, but on the Board, to do something to help congestion in London by building, as they do in Stockholm, many more car parks at tube stations. In Stockholm they have the "park and ride" system, and it is lamentable that car parks at our tube stations have such a small capacity. If multi-storey car parks were provided at tube stations, they would do a great deal to bring the traffic out of the gluepot area. This is most important, and I do not believe that the problem is being tackled with sufficient urgency.
Another problem is that of the automatic ticket issuing and checking machines. This is one way to stop bilking. At the moment many people are bilking the underground, and I would have hoped that we could have had these machines installed by now. I appreciate 1808 that the introduction of a decimal currency may hold up the installation of these machines, but are there any estimates of expenditure on these items, and how much of a saving is expected to be made by their use? The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries went into this very thoroughly and one would have expected to get some report of progress. We are interested in the movement towards decimal currency because it is a germane fact if we are to protect the revenue which London Transport is earning but not getting.
There is also the Fleet line and the other new one. When are we likely to get a decision on these? We are told that it is urgent to have decisions on finance, but we get no decisions on other things. There has been no decision on the extent to which capital expenditure on these lines can be sustained. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), I am very much against an open-ended subsidy, and against the type of subsidy which is given to the Paris Metro.
§ Mr. Molloy
During recent months I have received letters from industrialists complaining of the productivity which has been lost to them by the cutting of one bus off a route. Because this has been done, a number of highly-skilled craftsmen have arrived at work a couple of hours late. When I examined the figures, I found that some of the firms were being subsidised by London Transport. If the hon. Gentleman is proposing to make London Transport responsible for financing the car parks to which he has referred, the dilemma will get worse.
§ Mr. Webster
That is an interesting proposition, but we are going a little wide of the issue we are discussing, and I do not want to delay the decision of the Committee on this.
There are many other things that I should like to mention on this subject, but I think that we are today breaching a principle when we come to London Transport. We are, for the first time providing a subsidy, and I hope that we will not adopt the principle which operates in Paris, where the manager of the Metro says to the Prefecture. 'I wish to put up fares by so much", the Prefecture refuses to authorise the increase, and instead 1809 offers an indemnity against losses. This is a premium against blackmail. I know that London Transport people are of the highest integrity, but if that sort of thing happens here, people who wish to put up their fares by 3d. or 6d. will be encouraged to do so if the result of saying that they proposed to do so means that they receive a subsidy from the Government or from the G.L.C. It would put a premium on inefficiency, and on the desire to put up fares. We must, therefore, be very careful about this issue, because if such a principle were to be adopted here it would be disastrous.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to give us the estimated deficit for 1966, but here we are dealing with 1967 and 1968. We should be grateful if he could give us the expected deficit on these years, because today we are being asked to vote money to cover them.
§ Captain W. Elliot
I do not want to detain the Committee for more than a few moments. I thank the Minister for some of his answers to the questions I put to him, but I should like to put two others which I thought I had put. The first is one which the right hon. Lady the Minister did not answer properly when I put it to her. It was with regard to the cost of commuter services. I should like to stress the irritation which is caused to thousands of commuters because fares rise every year. We are told that commuter services do not pay their way, so fares have to rise, and now commuters know that in another year fares will rise again.
The Minister said that if people want services they should pay for them, and I agree with this. I view with considerable suspicion the argument for social services, and so on. I think that there may be a case for this in a small minority of areas, but, generally, I think that people ought to pay for the services they receive, and I am sure that commuters would pay for their service if they were told, once and for all, what the capital investment cost was and what they would have to pay. Let them know what it is going to cost them, and then the irritation will disappear.
Before the war railwaymen of all grades were held in the greatest affection. I think that to a certain extent they still 1810 are, but this constant putting up of fares, with no adequate explanation, and no certain knowledge that they will not go up again, is harming relations between railwaymen and the public.
The Minister said that there were two alternatives—I do not know whether he was referring to this point—either to put, up prices, or to reduce the services. I am not certain that that is sound. Sometimes if prices are reduced it enables a better return to be earned. Is the Minister satisfied that prices for off-peak travel have been brought down sufficiently to attract people back to the railways? If the train journey is as cheap as going by car, I think that people prefer to travel by train—I certainly do.
The second point, which rather alarmed me, was the Minister's reference to the fact that the future programme contemplated in respect of roads in the London area is not likely to provide enough road space for what he expects to be the increased volume of road traffic, and that further restrictions will have to be imposed. I hope that he will not allow this problem to get out of proportion. I have driven in the London area for over 30 years, and although there is vastly more traffic in these days conditions are rather better than they were before the war.
In the rush hour we can get out of London more quickly than we used to be able to—at any rate, on the roads that I know—before the war. Admittedly, going round Hyde Park Corner or down Park Lane in the rush hour one finds an enormous volume of traffic, but it flows remarkably well. We should not allow this problem to get out of proportion. I hope that the Minister will remember that both roads and railways are for the benefit of the user, and it is no good providing roads and then taking steps to drive the man who wants to use his car off them.
Only 10 per cent. of the total number of people coming into London in the rush hour use cars. I agree that they cause some congestion. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the future programme, and in respect of any further restrictions that she has in mind I hope that she will consult the co-ordinating committee that she has set up. If she introduces further restrictions before improving commuter transport the 1811 situation will become extremely serious—far worse than it is now—with hundreds of thousands of people coming in from the fringe areas.
§ Mr. Swingler
I want to refer first to the size of the deficit. I said that the best estimate we have for 1966 is £5½million. That looks like the current position. On a broad estimate there will be roughly the same deficit on revenue account next year, and a slightly smaller sum—perhaps just under £5 million—in the following year. That is precisely the reason for the figure of £16 million that we have laid down up to the end of 1968.
I sympathise with the constituents of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). I, too, want to see some sort of finale to the increases in fares. He will appreciate, however, that it is quite impossible to impose a permanent freeze on fares. It depends on the fluctuation of traffic and the exercise of people's preferences, besides the question of the further amount of money required to be raised for additional investment and development. Many other factors must also be considered.
We appreciate that there is a great difficulty in connection with London commuter traffic. There are serious losses on the commuter lines, because they are used fully only for a short period of the day. There is a loss in off-peak hours. I agree that we must do everything we can to encourage off-peak traffic. Financially, the underground railways in London break even. The problem arises with the buses and the stagnation and congestion that exist. That is what has caused the financial difficulties. It requires us to bring in new measures, which will not mean any sweeping prohibitions but which will bring about a better co-ordination in the use of different forms of traffic.
I agree with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) about the development of car parking spaces at terminal stations on the periphery of London. This would be an important way to tackle the problem. It is the peak-hour problem with which we have to deal, and it is with this problem that the London Co-ordinating Council is 1812 now coming to grips. It will examine all aspects of the problem.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Question proposed, That the Clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary or the Government Whip could ask the Minister of Transport to be present at the debate on this Clause. An important announcement was made this morning, and has just appeared on the tape. It transforms the whole purpose of the Bill. It is a statement issued by the Executive of the National Union of Railwaymen on the question of liner trains. It creates a grave suspicion as to the purposes of the Bill. Earlier, when discussing an Amendment in my name, I sought an assurance from the Government as to their purposes in asking for this vast sum of money, and whether there was any intention on their part to increase the number of lorries owned by British Railways at the expense of the private haulier, thus bringing about the nationalisation of road haulage by that means.
This morning, at 11 o'clock, the National Union of Railwaymen said that from now onwards it would allow, for a transitional period, private road hauliers to enter the terminals provided that they were hired by British Railways. It added that this would be a transitional position until such time as British Railways built up its own fleet of lorries to handle the goods going into the liner train terminals.
This is a major statement of policy, and it is, therefore, the duty of the Committee to seek an assurance from the Minister. The only Minister who can really give us that assurance is the right hon. Lady, and I shall continue to make some other observations until she arrives and is in a position to give a categorical assurance as to the Government's policy on the statement of the N.U.R.
If, under the Clause, we are voting £366 million to increase the road haulage fleet of British Railways at the expense of the free enterprise hauliers, this is nothing more than a nationalisation Measure, which we are unable to debate in full because the powers granted to British Railways at present are sufficient for it steadily to nationalise the whole 1813 section of private haulage which uses the railways for part of its traffic.
§ Mr. Walker
Whatever the purpose of the Bill the Government should make it clear whether they support the National Union of Railwaymen in its attitude. It is a particularly suspicious statement when we remember that only a few days ago the Minister of Transport, accompanied by the Parliamentary Secretary, had secret talks at the headquarters of the National Union of Railwaymen. In those talks they discussed the question of liner trains. Yet a few days later there comes the statement from the executive of the National Union of Railwaymen saying quite clearly what their position is—that there should be a transitional period, in which British Rail will be able to hire the private haulier and that thereafter British Rail will own all the lorries which use these terminals.
We on this side are unwilling to provide money for British Rail to nationalise the private haulier in a way which will first of all mean the application of a restrictive practice against the private haulier and, thereafter, having imposed that restrictive practice, to take over, by purchase of lorries, the work which he would otherwise have done perfectly efficiently and well.
It is significant, throughout these debates—on Second Reading and on the earlier Amendment—that although the Government have been asked for assurances that they will not allow British Railways to increase their lorry fleet for this purpose, no such assurance has been given by the Government—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member asks why they should. He seemingly supports the view of the National Union of Railwaymen on this—
§ Mr. Walker
So here is one confession. Therefore, the hon. Member will be as anxious as we are to hear from the Minister herself whether or not she supports the attitude of the hon. Gentleman, who wants to nationalise the private haulier in this way—
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member says that that is quite right. This, we believe, is the Minister's policy—
§ Mr. Walker
The Parliamentary Secretary says that he does not know what I am talking about. That may be because he has not seen the statement—
§ Mr. Swingler
I assume that the hon. Member is talking about lorries, of which there has been a fleet for years owned by the British Railways Board, for collection and delivery services. He suggests that for the purposes of the operation of their collection and delivery services the Board should not acquire any more lorries. Is that his policy?
§ Mr. Walker
As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, the position as stated by the N.U.R. is different from this. That position is that these major new liner terminals, in which British Rail intends to invest £100 million, will not be open to the private haulier. Until now, the Minister has said that she is in favour of free access to the terminals. But now we have this statement that the type of access that the National Union of Railwaymen sees as a possibility is an access by which, in the first place, the private haulier is hired by British Rail and goes in on that basis, until there is a sufficient increase in the British Rail fleet of lorries to handle all the goods which would normally have gone into those terminals by private lorries.
This is a dramatic change of policy, if the Government support this statement. Does the Parliamentary Secretary deny it? Does he say that the building up of a British Rail fleet of lorries to take all the traffic which goes into the terminals on British Rail lorries alone is not a change of policy?
§ Mr. Swingler
My right hon. Friend has recently reaffirmed the fact that she wishes negotiations to succeed in establishing open terminals for liner trains. If the hon. Gentleman will read the N.U.R. statement again very carefully, he will see that the union is legitimately putting forward the view that the British Railways Board should increase its vehicle fleet for collection and delivery 1815 services. I do not think that he will find that it is putting forward the view either that this is part of nationalisation of the private haulage system, as he calls it, or that it is exclusively for the purposes of freight liners.
§ Mr. Walker
We must examine that statement of the Parliamentary Secretary. He says that the N.U.R. has put forward the view that the fleet of lorries should be increased to handle this form of traffic. It has said more than that. It has said that the Board should increase its fleet of lorries until such time as it can handle all the traffic at the terminals. Until that time, the only private lorries allowed to go in would be those hired by British Rail.
Will he categorically say now that the Government will stop British Rail increasing its fleet of lorries to the extent that it is big enough to handle all the traffic which can go into the terminals?
§ Mr. Swingler
I have just said that my right hon. Friend has reaffirmed her policy that the freight liner terminals should be accessible to all. She has made that very clear and reaffirmed it recently. That answers the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker
It does not answer my question and I repeat my question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Will this money that we are voting today allow British Rail substantially to increase its fleet of lorries so that it can handle all the traffic which goes into the terminals?
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Member, who has great experience of these financial matters, is apparently unable to differentiate between capital on the one hand, which would obviously have some connection with buying lorries, and the question of ensuring that British Rail has money to meet its revenue account. We are dealing with two entirely different questions.
§ Mr. Walker
I repeat my question, which, seemingly, both Parliamentary Secretaries are unwilling to answer. That is, whether or not they will allow British Rail to spend the money to buy enough lorries to take all the traffic which can 1816 go into those terminals. I demand an answer. I demand that the Minister is fetched to answer this important question. It is intolerable that, on such a major issue as this, the Minister should have been absent throughout the day from the debates on the Committee stage of the Bill. We gave plenty of notice that we should like her brought to discuss this matter, which is of considerable urgency and importance. I should like the Parliamentary Secretaries to see that the Minister comes to this Committee straight away.
This is a matter in which we strongly suspect that the Minister has come to a deal with the National Union of Railwaymen, whereby the nationalisation of road haulage will take place by this means. What we object to is that the Government have not come clean on this matter—
§ Mr. Molloy
What the hon. Gentleman is doing is revealing the automatic, orgiastic attitude of the Tories. There is a terrible danger that, by this means, British Rail will become even more efficient and this will rob the Tories of their argument and their reason for slating British Rail every five minutes. They have a built-in hatred of anything which is British publicly-owned and will use any reason to beat it.
§ Mr. Walker
I enjoyed the hon. Member's speech and I would say that we know his position. He made it clear. He is in favour of British Rail substantially increasing its fleet to do this work. This is a perfectly fair and reasonable view. What we object to is the failure of the Government to state that they support the hon. Member in his views that British Rail should take over much of the work now done by the private haulier by increasing its own fleet. All we ask is that the Minister should come to the Committee and state that she supports the National Union of Railwaymen and the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) in this policy.
We have failed to receive from either Parliamentary Secretary their view on this question. We can understand that. This is a major decision and it is reasonable that they should not know and should therefore hedge. But the fact is that the N.U.R. say that the only lorries to 1817 go into the terminals will be hired by British Rail from private hauliers for a period and that thereafter all this work will be done by British Rail lorries—
§ The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Sydney Irving)
I think that the hon. Member ought to relate this argument to Clause 1. What he is talking about now is a capital expenditure, when Clause 1 relates to any deficit on revenue account.
§ Mr. Walker
With respect, Mr. Irving, there is no doubt that if you were to look into the revenue account of British Rail, you would find that a substantial amount is for depreciation of vehicles. Therefore, this is a substantial contribution to put to the revenue account. Certainly, this is of sufficient importance for the Minister to come to the Committee and tell us what her policy is.
I therefore hope that, while I am dealing with various other subjects which are concerned with Clause 1, the Minister will come to the Committee so that she can make a statement of her view.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Would the hon. Gentleman indicate whether these views which he is putting forward have the support of his hon. Friends on the back benches, and, if so, where are they?
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friends are probably where the hon. Gentleman has been most of the day. I leave him to work out where that is.
We have asked for various other assurances. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary was kind enough to provide the estimates of the deficit of the London Transport Board for 1966, 1967 and 1968, and we are most grateful to him for that. He referred to a deficit of £5½ million, or perhaps a little less, in the following year, and that is how the £16 million that is required is calculated. Now we want to know for the purpose of this Clause how the Ministry calculated the £350 million. We know that the amount for this year is £115 million. Can we now have the calculation for 1967 and 1968? We should like to know also how much during this period is to be invested in the liner train programme. A sum of £100 million was originally stated by Lord Beeching as being the amount. Can we, therefore, know whether the Government intend during this period to spend this amount of money on the liner train organisation?
1818 We also want to know whether the national freight authority will come into being before December, 1968. Finally, we would like to know the social contribution that is expected to the railways by means of taking money from the ratepayers or from specific taxpayers prior to December, 1968. These are important questions to which we need an answer before we can possibly authorise this very large and substantial amount of money. The clear indication in the statement made this morning by the National Union of Railwaymen is that during this period leading up to December, 1968, it is the intention of the Government substantially to extend the sphere of public ownership of both road and rail by this Measure.
I should like to comment upon a point made by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) and by one or two other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Ealing, North—namely, the suggestion that the Conservative Party was hostile to the railways. I would refer hon. Members to the statement that I made on Second Reading in which I praised the railways for the tremendous success of modernisation over the last 10 years. I pointed out how in those 10 years they transformed a position where 18,000 trains were steam trains and only 80 were diesel and electric, to a position in which 90 per cent. were diesel and electric. I paid tribute to the wonderful skill of engineering involved in the new electrification programmes. I paid tribute to the concept of the fast freight service available, as I would hope, to all of the road haulage industry.
I personally am very proud of the part that the Conservative Government played during this period in providing the capital and in providing the conception to make British Railways a much more modern conception today than most people would have considered was possible 10 years ago. I also paid tribute to the work that the National Union of Railwaymen has done during this very difficult transitional period, and I repeat that today.
Where there is a basic difference between this side of the Committee and the other side is this. Hon. Members opposite are hankering after the conception of public ownership and nationalisation and, as most of the vehicles that 1819 use the roads, whether they be motor cars or commercial vehicles, are private enterprise, and as all the vehicles that use the railways, except for a few privately-owned wagons, are in public ownership, they ask for an extension of the public sector; and that is a mistake.
The modern railway has an important part to play in the transport system. I want to see it integrated and to co-operate with the enormous private sector that uses the roads. I do not think this will be done by nationalising road haulage, nor do I think it will be done by restricting and deterring the private motorist. This is where the basic difference comes. The degree of this difference has been hidden by this Clause, and the degree of difference is suddenly shown to us by this remarkable statement of the National Union of Railwaymen this morning.
We really must have from the Government this afternoon a categorical statement that they are opposed to this policy of the National Union of Railwaymen as stated today, that they will not allow British Railways to spend vast sums of money on taking over a process of road transport that is and can be done efficiently by the private haulier.
§ Mr. John Morris
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) has made an interesting, if somewhat long, speech for obvious reasons. I would give him a small piece of advice. If he will look at the policy of Her Majesty's Government as regards the acquisition of road transport he will find the policy manifest in the activities of the Transport Holding Company which has, in the course of the year, acquired a great number of concerns, to which I have not heard any word of objection from the other side of the Committee. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman was making an objection to the extension of public ownership, which, as I understand it, he is doing now, he might have made an objection to the acquisition by the Transport Holding Company. I do not carry the figure in my mind, but I believe that the Transport Holding Company has acquired a large number of concerns in this country, worth several million pounds in the last year or so—
§ Mr. Walker
There has been no opportunity to debate that subject. I would point out that the difference is that the Transport Holding Company buys a fleet of lorries and then tries to operate that fleet on an equally competing basis. There is no deficit or subsidy involved. This is a commercial transaction. What we are saying now is that British Railways are refusing access to the private haulier, and then building up their own fleet to do work that the private haulier can well do. That is a very big difference.
§ Mr. Morris
As I understood it, the objection of the hon. Gentleman was to the extension of public ownership. In the course of the last 18 months the Transport Holding Company has acquired a number of concerns at a substantial expenditure running into millions of pounds. I cannot recall the exact figure—
§ Mr. Webster
I have asked for a list of the companies taken over. I have asked the asset value of the companies taken over. I have asked the purchase price. I have had a list, but that is the end of the answer.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman will realise that where there is a commercial transaction between one company and another, be they publicly-owned or privately-owned companies, there are matters which cannot be disclosed. But they are within the terms of reference of the Transport Holding Company.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the estimate of the deficits of British Railways. The estimate for 1965 was £104 million, and the actual deficit was £132 million. The estimate for 1966 is £115 million, and in all probability the deficit will be between £115 million and £120 million. With regard to 1967 and 1968, having regard to all the variables, one cannot give a concrete estimate at present. All I would say is that the proposals in the Bill are prudent to meet any deficiencies that may arise as we now look at the situation, and I hope that there will not be any objection on that score.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions about the national freight 1821 authority. I would ask him to await the publication of the White Paper on that. The social contribution is a matter which will also become clear to him when the White Paper is published. He sought to anticipate the publication of the White Paper and to raise questions which appertain to the whole field of this policy when we are merely dealing with a piece of stop-gap legislation to ensure that British Railways is in funds in the interim period while we are working out our proposals and ensuring that there is time for adequate and appropriate legislation to go through the House.
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the skills of the railwaymen, engineers and all others who have taken part in the modernisation programme and to the Chairman, Mr. Raymond, for I am sure that the whole Committee would wish him well and give him every encouragement in the tremendous task that he has before him.
§ Mr. Webster
I very much hope that the Minister will come here and tell us whether she accepts and approves of what purports to be an official release by the National Union of Railwaymen following meetings with her. It causes us the deepest concern. Only the Minister can confirm or deny whether she and her Department and the Cabinet are in agreement with what appeared on the teleprinter at 11 o'clock today. I hope that steps are being taken to ask her to come here and tell the House whether she approves of the statement.
As I understand it, the union, having stood out for many years since the liner train was conceived, has at last changed its tune very slightly. This means that it now approves of hired cartage—the expression on the teleprinter—being used to convey freight to and from the liner train terminals. This is rather likely, in the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's permanent expression, to be a stop gap, and this stop gap will be used only until such time as British Railways has its own complete fleet of vehicles to handle all the freight to and from the liner train depôts. If this happens, it will be the most monstrous restrictive practice. It has the support of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). He is the one person who has had the honesty to tell the Committee to-day that this is what he desires, that what 1822 he wants is complete nationalisation of the road freight haulage service.
By doing this we shall be doing irreparable harm to British Railways, because we shall prevent a vast amount of freight from coming into the railway terminals. This will increase the railway deficit. This is the point which is so relevant to Clause 1. If we are to have, as a restrictive practice, British Railways hiring vehicles and then building up its fleet, by whatever capital gift it is given—anyway, the depreciation will come out of revenue—this will keep a vast amount of freight out of the liner train depôts. I understand that the liner trains are operating at about 30 per cent. capacity. The break even point is about 86 per cent. capacity.
§ Mr. John Morris
Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. He has some responsibility for transport matters. If he has been following the Answers given in the House, he will recall that the last figure given by me was 66 per cent.
§ Mr. Webster
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. But if we are to wait until such time as the British Railways fleet is built up, then we shall have to wait a long time and, meanwhile, there will be extra drain on public money and a very large amount of business will be denied the railways. That is the damage being done.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North accuses us of being nasty to a nationalised industry. On the contrary, the greatest damage to that industry is being done by the N.U.R. by its refusal to co-operate with the liner train scheme. It is keeping freight from the terminals and delaying the time, if ever it can come under this type of dispensation, when the system can break even. That is disastrous.
If this is borne out and has the Minister's agreement—and the moment the right hon. Lady returns I will give way so that she can answer these valid points—then it is a most serious development and a complete breach of practically every undertaking given during the debate. It is no wonder that, during Second Reading and again today, whenever we have inquired what is to be done with the money we are asked to vote to the Railways Board on behalf of the taxpayer in order that the railways can be a service to those who do 1823 not want to use them as well as to those who do, we are told, "Wait and see, but we want the money now."
In view of what has happened today, it is small wonder that the right hon. Lady has attempted to bulldoze the Bill through. If what has been said by the N.U.R. is true, it is no wonder the Government did not wish it to be divulged until the Bill was through Parliament. It perhaps gives some point to the allegations of sharp practice during the procedure of this Bill. It has been pushed through. What happened on Wednesday occurred for reasons that we well understand, but the Bill has since been rushed through.
Behind all this there is the hairy hand of the N.U.R. with its restrictive practices. We are being asked to vote money to subsidise it for years to come. There are so many questions. How long will this take while the railways pay high cartage charges to these carriers? How much will it cost people to gain access? How much business will be lost to the railways? The liner train scheme is most imaginative and requires a very high quality of rolling stock. It could be a brilliantly efficient scheme but the N.U.R.'s attitude is giving it the death blow.
§ Mr. Molloy
We have heard this type of attitude towards publicly-owned industries from the Opposition before and now it is being displayed on liner trains. The way in which hon. Members opposite have behaved in the past half-hour because of something on the tape about negotiations between the N.U.R. and the Board has been because of cheap political motives. It will not enhance this discussion and the only result at the end of the day, if they continue this nonsense, is that the unions and British Railways will realise, I hope, that the Opposition are not worth a piece of salt.
§ Mr. Webster
That was a piece of salt, for a start. I do not know if hon. Gentlemen opposite read that Right-wing newspaper called the Daily Mirror, but they might be interested in this quotation from Cassandra today:A good Parliament is one that never blindly accepts".It is the N.U.R. statement that we are not blindly accepting because, if it is true, 1824 it will, in my view, mean the death-knell of the liner train system.
On Second Reading the Joint Parliamentary Secretary asked me what was our policy. The answer is that our policy was, and still is, to take a system of railways which was designed in about 1848, when the bubble broke, and when the only alternative system of transport was the horse and cart, and develop it to meet modern conditions. For that reason we need a system which is not comprised of a railway station every two miles, because that was the maximum catchment area of a horse and cart—and, in any case, it did not matter if the goods moved at only one mile an hour throughout the system; which is the speed at which goods are moved today on the system by normal freight—but a modern system. People ask why the consignor sends his goods by road. The answer is simple. It is because from Bristol, which is on the outskirts of my constituency—
§ Mr. Webster
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend—the consignor can send his goods by road to the London docks and he knows that they will get there in one day. If he sends them by rail the journey will take four days, which, being 120 miles, works out at about one mile an hour throughout the system.
The importance in this context of the liner trains is that we have new, long and low wagons with containers on them which can go from Bristol to the London docks in a night. This will be a revolution on that part of the railway system and that is why it is of the greatest consequence and importance. Dr. Beeching and Sir Ivan Stedeford examined this matter. They found that, out of the total revenue of £450 million for the railway system, about £300 million represented freight and about £150 million represented passengers. Of that £300 million representing freight, I believe that about £200 million was in respect of minerals traffic. We are today finding a decline in this traffic and the last time I spoke to Mr. Raymond about this—and I do not think that he will mind my saying this—I got the impression that, the iron ore and steel works being 1825 sited on our estuaries, minerals will be carried less on the railways and there is now lesser potential of developing and increasing this freight traffic.
We had the brilliant efforts by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in getting a vast amount of oil moved on to the railways. Much was done by way of the 1962 Act in this respect. We now see the development of natural gas in the North Sea, but that will probably be moved by pipeline and one cannot imagine that that traffic will go on to the railways. Minerals obviously provide a valuable source of traffic for the railways, particularly when it is remembered that thousands of tons can be moved by a train which is manned by only an engine driver and a guard. This has been a profitable source of revenue and, while one might think of ways to speed up this form of traffic to a certain extent, I do not think there is any great possibility that the quantity of this traffic will increase.
Taking all these things into account, I say with complete sincerity that the development of the liner train system is of paramount importance. The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) spoke of the 200 miles an hour limitation. I suggest that, from the point of view of profitability the railways, operating on a limitation of below that figure, can still have a clear advantage over road traffic. Apart from the journey from, say, Bristol to London, on the long haul—for example, London to Scotland—rail traffic indeed has a great advantage.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Webster
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that correction. It must have been that in my enthusiasm for the liner trains and the modernisation of British Railways I have tried to accelerate them at a greater speed than might otherwise have been achieved. On that same point—and this again is of great validity for the liner train system and the possible revenues and deficits of the future—are the substantial developments that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) 1826 spoke of when he made his very impressive speech on Wednesday. He said that the Derby workshops was making experiments on new alloys which are more heat resistant and have a great nickel content than before. With the new techniques of welding with argon are and other inert gases we can accelerate the railway system even further. I would have gone further than that and attempted to go back to Brunel's broad gauge, but I think that I would probably extend the scope of the debate further than I would wish.
This is a most important development for the whole of the liner train system. If the statement of the National Union of Railwaymen is accurate the whole conception, which is bold in every respect, is completely torpedoed.
§ Mr. Webster
The hon. Gentleman thinks that it is utter rubbish? I am surprised. The liner train system is the salvation of the railway system, and if the statement by the National Union of Railwaymen is true, and if it is borne out by what the Minister has said—and only she can tell us that it is true—it will be ruining British Railways for the sake of an outdated dogma, that it must have a restrictive practice and an old method of dealing with its affairs.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am a little disappointed at the attitude of the Front Bench opposite on this matter. We are disposing of a great many hundreds of millions of £s under this Clause in order to meet the deficit of the railways. My hon. Friends have quite properly drawn to the attention of the Government Front Bench a statement by the most powerful of the three unions concerned, which could very greatly affect both the total call upon the deficit which we are now underwriting and the purposes for which it could be called to meet. I would have thought that we were entitled to a more authoritative statement from the Government about their intentions in this matter.
It was obvious from what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said earlier that he was, or thought he was, at least aware of the statement about which we learned on the tapes only this morning. What emerged from that was a serious conflict between what my hon. Friend had 1827 understood to be the terms of the statement and the understanding which the hon. Gentleman placed upon the statement. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have given us during the course of the debate an authoritative statement as to his attitude to the statement. That has not been forthcoming. My hon. Friend thought that the statement contained two main points. The first was that the only type of additional road transport to feed the liner trains during what I may call the interim period would be a chartered lorry. In other words, not the free access of which the Minister and the hon. Gentleman have spoken, but limited access to railway-chartered lorries, even though they might be in private ownership. This is quite different from the free access of which the Government have spoken. Which is the correct understanding of the statement? It is chartered lorries only during the interim period, or is it free access? We are entitled to know, because we understood that it was chartered lorries only.
The second difference between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend was as to what happened after the interim period. The hon. Gentleman gave us to understand without qualification that the statement was not to the effect that after the build-up of railway-owned lorries the access was not to be free. He understood that this was not the unqualified attitude of the railway union.
But both my hon. Friends clearly understood that the attitude contained in the statement was that, after the buildup period, the access was to be limited to railway-owned lorries. Whatever else is true, this is not the same attitude. The statement must contain one or the other, and before we part with this Clause we are entitled to know from the Government which it is. They have had plenty of time since the debate began to ascertain it. They have had all their experts in the box. Certainly one hon. Member has properly left the Chamber for a few moments, no doubt to inform himself of the situation. But we have not been told authoritatively which of those two views is the true view.
Although the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) said that he sup 1828 ported the N.U.R., he did not tell us which of the two views he supported. Perhaps he knows. I certainly do not know now. I had thought that is was limited access to chartered lorries during the interim period and that it was only railway-owned lorries after the build-up period. But now I do not know what the position is, because the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has given us a totally different version. Our attitude might be entirely different according to which version is true.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) seemed wholly to misunderstand the seriousness of this issue. We all know his capacity for conciseness in such matters which sometimes even embarrasses the Chair, but he was perfectly entitled to answer my hon. Friend who asked him about the Government's intentions about using this finance for servicing the purchase of railway-owned lorries.
This is not by any means the only point. The hon. Member for Ealing, North, with his unerring judgment, put his finger on the sore spot, and particularly the spot which is most germane to the topic of this Clause, when he talked about the efficiency of the railways. But, having shown his perspicacity in putting his finger on the right point, with obtuseness unusual in him he got the wrong end of the stick. It must be obvious to everybody that the efficiency of the liner trains is at the root of reducing the deficit which can be called under this Clause and that the efficiency of the liner train system depends on getting as much traffic on the liner trains as possible.
I was very encouraged to hear from the hon. Member for Aberavon, in supplementation of my hon. Friend's information, that the railways are now getting 66 per cent. capacity. But as the break-even point is 86 per cent. capacity or thereabouts, it means that they are still losing money very heavily. After two years of complete immobility at the dictation of the union concerned against the policy of successive Governments, as a result of its Luddite and retrogressive attitude, the union is now insisting on a policy which results in the liner trains compulsorily losing money.
§ Mr. Molloy rose—
§ Mr. John Morris rose—1829
§ Mr. Molloy
I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in the Chamber—if not, he should have been—when we heard a remarkable eulogy from the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) about the magnificent achievements of British Railways in the past ten years. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that there has been a Luddite and backward-looking attitude and, at the same time, magnificent achievements. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues that they should make up their minds about which they mean.
§ Mr. Hogg
Unfortunately the curate's egg has it both ways, and the attitude of the National Union of Railwaymen is like the curate's egg, good in parts. The part which I was talking about was the part which was not so good as the freshest part of it, namely the union's attitude towards the liner trains. I described it as retrogressive and Luddite because it is designed to ensure, and has the effect of ensuring, that the service loses money and, therefore, increases the deficit which can be legitimately called under this Clause.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North was really not his usual candid self, his usual statesmanlike self, his usual moderate and restrained self, his usual self which we all know never plays to the gallery. He was not being that self at all when he accused my hon. Friend—I am delighted to see the right hon. Lady arriving, looking, as usual, so charming and with a handbag full of the information for which we have been asking.
I was about to say that the hon. Member, who unfortunately has the misfortune to differ from the right hon. Lady on so much of the policy underlying our present discussion, was not being his usual excellent self when he accused my hon. Friends of being against the railways on this matter. It is he, with respect, who is against them on this matter, because on this matter the two Front Benches are at one. Successive Governments—the predecessors of the 1830 present Government and the present Government—have both said that the policy pursued by the people of this country, as determined by their elected representatives, is free access and supporting the policy of the Railways Board, which, after all, is responsible for the business of management of the railways.
If we are to part with the money demanded by the Clause, if we are to underwrite the losses of the railways, we are entitled to ask whose side the railway unions are on. Do they want efficiency or not? Do they want the liner trains to succeed or to fail? If they want them to fail, whose side are they on? If they want them to succeed, who do they think is responsible for policy in this country—the N.U.R. or the Government elected at a General Election?
These are questions to which we are entitled to an answer, because their attitude now and year after year to successive Governments and successive Parliaments has been to pursue a policy on these liner trains designed to see that they fail, in the interests of monopoly and restrictive practice. That is what the hon. Member for Ealing, North is really standing for, and that is what the N.U.R. is standing for in this matter. It is against this stand that the two Front Benches are on the other side of the barricades, in favour of democracy and of the sovereignty of Parliament, and against those who wish to dictate management to the properly constituted management of business.
§ Mr. Molloy
I appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman merely to state what is in his mind and not to contaminate mine by imputing to me other things that I should never have thought of. I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would drop this rôle of Gipsy Rose Lee and get on with his "phoney" job of "phoney" opposition.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman is afraid that I might contaminate his mind. Let me assure him that it is beyond my power to do so.
Leaving the hon. Member and his uncontaminated mind, let me return to the Clause. Up to the moment this morning when there arose the set of circumstances which led my hon. Friend to invite the right hon. Lady to attend our discussions, we were entitled to say that the deficit 1831 which we were underwriting, deplorable as it might be, was still a deficit which was incurred by the Railways Board in the legitimate conduct of its business.
There are, we know, services which have to be retained which will never make a profit or never break even, and for social reasons of one kind or another the right hon. Lady, backed by the constituency Members in more than an even number of cases, will ask Parliament for moneys to support the deficit in those cases. Again, there are the commuter services, to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberavon, referred so movingly, which have a high degree of traffic for part of the day but comparatively sparse traffic for another part of the day. That is one of the difficulties. One may not agree with the policy of fare charging, but that is one of the kinds of deficit which, until this morning, we were entitled to consider would be covered by Clause 1.
Then there was the we hoped, purely temporary attitude of the National Union of Railwaymen over the liner trains. No doubt there was reluctance by the right hon. Lady to pursue some of the more drastic proposals in the Beeching Report; that we understood. Now, however, we are told on the tape—until the Joint Parliamentary Secretary or his right hon. Friend corrects us—that the National Union of Railwaymen is continuing to seek to determine policy and to dictate to Parliament and the Government what policy should be in this matter. In continuing to dictate to the Railways Board about a matter which is purely the province of the management, the National Union of Railwaymen is saying that never, never, never shall there be the free access to liner trains which the right hon. Lady has pronounced to be Government policy and which both sides of the House of Commons—and. therefore, one must assume, an enormous majority of the electorate—have said that they want to see as a means of promoting the efficiency of the nationalised railways and of enabling the liner trains to reduce the deficit instead of increasing it, as is now happening. We are told that this is to be for ever and a day the policy which the Union seeks to impose upon a reluctant nation.
1832 This is, indeed, a much more serious matter than we were led to suppose when this Committee stage was arranged for discussion on a Friday. We are delighted to see the right hon. Lady present. We should have been delighted to see her at any time of the day. Much of the time which has been spent on this debate would have been saved had she, fairy-like, put in an appearance with her magic wand a little earlier.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
I am not only grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) for his courtesies, but I am also grateful for the admissions which he has just made in his speech. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was enjoying himself hugely when I came in. If I had been able to be present a little earlier, I might have heard even more of his revelations. Those which I heard, however, were interesting enough, because what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was saying when I was listening to him was that all the arguments deployed by his hon. Friends before he came on the scene had been phoney and invalid.
With that exuberance that occasionally carries him to indiscreet lengths, the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his passionate desire to concentrate and debate on a point which, he thought, might be embarrassing, threw overboard all the arguments that had been deployed from this side of the Committee earlier in the debate. But what did he say in just a few moments? I am very grateful for what he gave me in so short a time. What he in fact said was, "The right hon. Lady argued about the problem of the social costs element. We understand that. We give her that." "The right hon. Lady was making the point," he said, "about the need to mitigate the closure policy of the Conservative Government. We understand that, too," he said, and he even made a proud boast that in attacking the policy of my Conservative predecessor in this job there had been equal honours on both sides of the Chamber in condemning him.
I must admit to him—I admit it frankly—that it is a matter of great credit to some 26 Members on the other side of the Committee that, in the last few months, they have been attacking the 1833 consequences of the 1962 Act, very great credit to them that they realise, as we do, that it was a very stupid and anti-social policy. They are now saying, about incurring this deficit, "Yes, it is perfectly legitimate to allow for the social costs element; it is perfectly legitimate to provide finance in order to have a rather more constructive look at the closure policy than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) would have had us do."
But, he said, "now there is a new fact in the situation, the only one which makes us hesitate—this great question of the liner trains and of the open terminals." In fact he was seizing upon a statement of the National Union of Railwaymen this morning, and he thought that on this, at any rate, he had now got the Government on toast.
§ Mrs. Castle
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did claim credit for his side of the Committee for having shared the view that to make allowance for social costs was legitimate. Right. Good. So now let us look for a moment at the question of the liner trains.
Here I say very seriously to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am sorry to spoil his fun, but, really, he has been a little irresponsible. Here we have had a statement issued today by which he hoped to do the maximum damage to the Government. Well, that is legitimate; but I would just say this to him: is it not worth pausing and thinking a little before he does maximum damage to what are encouraging and progressing negotiations on this issue by the Government? There is nothing in the statement of the N.U.R. this morning to justify his building this great, sinister edifice upon it—nothing whatsoever.
There is the expression of what, to me, is a legitimate view, that the N.U.R. believes that if there is traffic to be got by hired cartage—cartage hired by British Railways—then it is fair to assume that there is room for an expansion of the British Railways cartage 1834 service to carry that traffic without going to the expensive expedient of hiring it.
It is a fact, and was before I came upon the scene, that British Railways are seeking to expand their cartage fleet of heavy wagons capable of carrying container traffic. If they were not expanding that cartage fleet to the full extent which is economically justifiable, I would consider it quite wrong for me to ask the railwaymen to accept the policy of the open terminals. But I ask them to accept that policy, because I know that British Railways have taken steps to expand their fleet to the extent necessary to enable them to dispense with hired cartage.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
Does the right hon. Lady realise that the statement this morning means that, for a private haulier to deliver goods in order to use these very useful liner trains, which are a very economical form of transport, he will have to arrange to be hired by British Railways? Under the scheme of the N.U.R., if a private haulier wants to use liner trains, he will be able to do so only by being hired by the railways. The right hon. Lady encourages that view by saying, "There you are. Look at all the hired traffic they have. They ought to have lorries of their own." That is nationalisation.
§ Mrs. Castle
The hon. Gentleman must get away from that hyperbole. It is not a legitimate interpretation of the statement which has been issued. The position is that British Railways, in contracting for liner train traffic with industry and traders, have had to hire certain vehicles for that purpose because of the inadequacy of their present cartage fleet. British Railways have attempted to augment their fleet, but it will take probably 18 months to acquire the type of vehicle required. What we ought to welcome in the statement today is that the National Union of Railwaymen has recognised that fact and is prepared to allow British Railways to use hired cartage pending the acquisition of a large enough fleet of their own.
I would suggest to the Committee that, at an encouraging moment in the development of the situation, it is not helping the country or British Railways' management to attempt to put these lurid interpretations upon the statement. They are 1835 being advanced purely for party political purposes and have nothing to do with the interim deficit we are discussing on this Clause.
In all seriousness, I would say to the Committee that this is an important issue. Public money is involved. We want to see liner trains playing an enormously important part in getting rid of the deficit. That is my policy, and I am pursuing it. I am pursuing it successfully, and I suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite drop their wrecking tactics.
§ Mr. Peter Walker
In view of that important and remarkable statement, I will seek leave to speak again and comment on it.
What has happened this morning which the right hon. Lady surprisingly says is an advance forward and an encouraging sign? The N.U.R. has said that it will not allow free access of 86 per cent. of the lorries in the country to take goods to the terminals. It will only allow lorries to go to the terminals provided they are owned by British Railways or British Road Services, or, because British Railways and British Road Services lorries cannot cope with the traffic available for the liner trains, provided that they are directly hired by British Railways from the private hauliers.
These are the only vehicles which will be allowed into these terminals. To say that this is an advance is a ridiculous statement. It is no advance at all. Indeed, it is worse than no advance, it is in fact a retreat, because until this moment of time the right hon. Lady had held out hope to the Committee and to the country that she was having some success in her talks with the N.U.R., and there were indications that the union's attitude might change.
The union's attitude has not changed. It has stated its long-term policy on liner trains. It is a policy which means that so long as British Railways' own vehicles handle the traffic, they will be willing to hire vehicles from private enterprise, but only for such a period as enables them to build up their own fleet to obtain all the traffic which can be taken to all the terminals.
This means that if this policy is supported and pursued, with, presumably, 1836 the right hon. Lady in the background saying, "I should really like free access to the terminals but the N.U.R. will not give it, so let us wait and see"—the right hon. Lady said, "I do not like this policy, but let us encourage this encouraging sign from the N.U.R."—her view will be as indicated to us this afternoon. She has said that if the railways turn round and say, "Look at the number of hired vehicles coming into the terminals. Why cannot we have our own?" she will sympathise with that argument.
Thus, during this transitional period, by a restrictive practice which the right hon. Lady says she is against, British Railways will increase the number of lorries they hire, and will then come along to the right hon. Lady and say, "Look at all these lorries we are hiring. Why cannot we have our own?" and the right hon. Lady will say, "Right. Well done. You can have your own out of all the money we have obtained from the House of Commons in the Transport Finances Bill".
This is the policy which the right hon. Lady has outlined this afternoon as an advance. It is not an advance in ending restrictive practices in any way, and she knows it. It is a means of using an excuse for substantially increasing the fleet of British Railways vehicles at the expense of the private haulier. It is the type of advance we would expect the right hon. Lady to like, to enjoy, and to welcome, and we know, therefore, why she is so friendly towards this statement by the Executive of the N.U.R.
But I think that this statement is deplorable, and that the Minister's attitude to it is even more deplorable, because she should have had the courage to stand at the Dispatch Box and say to the N.U.R., "You are imposing a most restrictive practice. You are keeping freight away from the railways. You are stopping the advance of the whole liner train programme. You are asking for an extension of public ownership of vehicles which is unnecessary and unreasonable". Instead of that, the right hon. Lady said it was an encouraging sign that the union has said that it proposes to continue this restrictive practice, that it is an encouraging sign that the union has said that the only vehicles to be allowed to go into the terminals will in the first place be those belonging to British Railways or hired by 1837 British Railways. According to the right hon. Lady, it is an encouraging sign that thereafter the only vehicles to be allowed in will be those owned by British Railways.
This is not encouraging. It is very discouraging for all those who want to see the railways modernised, and I reject the suggestion by the right hon. Lady that it is we who have been irresponsible. It is she who has been irresponsible, and irresponsible to the extent of sympathising with an intolerable restrictive practice.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)
We are grateful to the right hon. Lady for coming to the House rather belatedly, but I share the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) that the Minister's statement has not taken us very much further and has certainly not relieved the anxiety which many of us on this side of the Committee felt about the implications of the statement by the N.U.R. today. I am pleased to have the opportunity of making a brief contribution to the debate on the Clause, especially as my constituency is heavily dependent upon the facilities of both British Rail and London Transport—facilities which appear to be becoming less efficient and more expensive as the months go by.
My objection to the Clause is that it completely evades and ignores the fundamental problems. This is not a policy but a parody, and a very costly one at that. The Clause and the thinking behind it amount to the final act of sabotage against the Beeching Plan—a plan which was warmly welcomed by the majority of the people as the first real attempt to come to grips with our modern transport problem and to inject sanity and common sense into the running of our railway.
During 1963 and 1964 the Beeching Plan was showing positive results. It was reducing the railways deficit, and the travelling public felt that at last something was being done to streamline and modernise an archaic and inefficient system. At the same time, the railwaymen felt that they were taking part in an exciting plan which was improving the status of their jobs and their morale.
Now, all that has been changed. Lord Beeching has been sacked, and the clear impression has been given that any expert 1838 advice on the reorganisation of transport which happens to conflict with the doctrinaire approach of hon. Members opposite will be firmly and flatly rejected. The policy of indiscriminate, open-ended subsidy which is incorporated in the Clause must inevitably encourage an attitude of complacency and indifference amongst those who are responsible for running our transport system.
In those circumstances there is no incentive for economy and efficiency. This is a policy for which the British public, both as travellers and as taxpayers, will have to pay very dearly. If money can be ladled out by the State in this way the Railways Board will not go ahead with something that my constituency urgently needs, namely, the provision of adequate parking facilities at commuter stations. This could do more than anything else to reverse the drift away from the suburban railway service and, at the same time, relieve congestion on the roads leading to Central London.
It is absolutely indefensible to ask Parliament to approve these large subsidy payments without giving it the necessary background information and without telling it anything about the Government's future plan. On Wednesday the right hon. Lady spoke about fundamental reappraisals and fundamental changes of policy, yet so far Parliament seems to have been told less about those proposals than has the N.U.R., with whom the Minister has discussed them in some detail.
In the meantime the House is being asked to finance this growing deficit in our transport system. We are not being given the necessary information. The Minister has made a statement on the latest development in the liner trains controversy, but this matter has a long history of procrastination—a history which reflects little credit either on the National Union of Railwaymen or on the vigour and resolution of the right hon. Lady. What she has said this afternoon underlines the sinister implications which we felt when we first read the statement on the tape early this morning. Many of us feel that, on the question of liner trains and the Government's attitude to it, the Minister's whole political background and temperament makes it only too likely that if it comes to a showdown with the National Union of Railwaymen she will 1839 instinctively side with the trade unions rather than with the travelling and taxpaying public.
I will now turn to the other aspect of the Clause, which concerns London Transport. Before we are asked to vote a further £16 million subsidy towards this service, we ought to have more assurances about what is being done to speed up the modernisation and automation of London Transport. After all, we have been told earlier in these debates that wages and salaries make up more than 70 per cent. of the Board's working expenses, so the effective use of manpower is crucial to its financial position.
Admittedly, some labour-saving devices are being introduced, such as automatic signalling on the underground, which has been started and which, when fully effective, will save, we are told, about £250,000 a year. But progress is very slow. Also, we know that a start has been made with one-man and standee buses, but in this respect again we are still lagging far behind the Continent and the United States. I should like to see the introduction of more flat rate fares in London. I think that the sort of system which we now have on the Red Arrow service between Victoria and Marble Arch could be extended.
On the underground, I have never understood why there should be ticket collectors at entrances to the stations as well as at the exits. Surely there would be an immense saving of manpower if collections were limited to the exits only, combined possibly with occasional spot checks on the trains themselves. In Paris they are already introducing an automatic electronic system of ticket punching, but at the present rate of progress we shall have to wait 20 years before this comes about in London.
Why do we still have to enforce the ridiculous "no standing" rule on buses between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.? Is not this just the kind of idiotic restrictive practice which should have been swept away years ago? These are the sort of things which the Minister should be pressing and urging before she takes the easy line of least resistance and comes to the House for 1840 £366 million. Earlier this morning, I understand that a partial eclipse of the sun occurred. I would say that this is as nothing to the eclipse which will overtake the right hon. Lady if she persists in her present policy of drift and dither on transport matters.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I do not want to add to what has been said by my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends on the subject of liner trains, but only to express great concern—which I believe is shared by many of my constituents and many other people outside the London area—about the subsidy proposed to be given to the London Transport Board. In the North-West, my own constituency, we feel that we have contributed by the attitude in the town towards the modernisation of British Rail and the saving of the taxpayers' money. The principal station in my constituency was closed not long ago. Instead of complaining about that, my town council accepted it as a necessary step towards modernisation and the saving of the taxpayers' money—
§ The Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household (Mr. John Silkin)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, put accordingly and agreed to.