HL Deb 27 October 1943 vol 129 cc353-90

THE EARL OF LISTOWEL asked His Majesty's Government whether plans are being prepared for the post-war development and co-ordination of our national system of transport; and moved for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am sure we are all glad to see the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, in his place, all the more so when he is fully armed with notes for one of his rare and invariably interesting speeches. It also gives us an opportunity of saying how very much we appreciate and admire the extraordinary skill with which he has handled merchant shipping, and that we realize fully that he has made a substantial contribution to the timing and success of our great campaigns in Africa, Sicily, and Italy. It is all the more to his credit that he is able now to give his time to the problems connected with transport at home.

There is, I believe, on all sides widespread public anxiety to know whether the Government are preparing plans for the future of transport, and, if so, whether these plans are sufficiently advanced for a public statement to be made. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport said in another place, replying to a question last July—three months ago—that his noble friend was actively considering the many complex problems involved in the post-war organization of transport, but had not yet reached a stage when he could submit definite proposals to his colleagues. The noble Lord was good enough to tell me, a [...]e later in the same month, that the matter was already engaging his attention, and if I waited until the autumn he might have something to say. I therefore postponed my Motion, which I had down for a date in July, and three months have elapsed. I hope we shall now be able to hear from the noble Lord that certain proposals for the development of transport immediately after the war are, in fact, ready and that they have been, or in any case will be shortly, submitted for consideration to his Cabinet colleagues. I hope, furthermore—this perhaps is more ambitious—that he may be able to tell us in a general way the lines on which his mind has been working in relation to the wider aspects of the transport problem.

In the last few months increasing interest has been shown outside Parliament in the post-war organization of transport. The financial editor of The Times has pointed out that the failure of the railways to stand up to trade depression between the wars was largely due to the absence of any long-term investment policy which they could rely on being carried out by the Government. Only this month, as many of your Lordships have probably noticed, the railway companies have republished certain articles that appeared in the Railway Gazette under the title of "A National Transport Programme." Local authorities have recently shown that they are no less keenly interested than financial experts in the railway companies and business interests in what the Government may be doing, or possibly leaving undone, about the future of transport. At a Town Planning Conference held in London this month, which was attended by representatives of 630 local authorities in England and Wales, the following resolution was carried unanimously: This Conference urges the Ministry of Transport to outline its policy immediately with regard to arterial roads which would affect housing and industry, in order that local authorities might proceed as quickly as possible with their regional and local planning. I shall be glad to know, if I might address my first question to the Minister, whether he has communicated any road projects to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning or to the Minister without Portfolio, and, if so, what is the relation of his plans for road development and construction to the location of industry after the war.

It is, in fact, impossible to work out any plans for post-war reconstruction in this country without, at any rate, a rough idea of how transport will be organized. If we are planning for a rising standard of life for the working population, that will largely depend on the competitive power low transport costs will give our goods in foreign markets. If we are planning for full employment, that largely depends on the uninterrupted prosperity of an industry that employs more men and women and a larger volume of capital than any other in the country. Physical planning, as local authorities are sometimes rather painfully aware, is tremendously influenced by the location of industry. Industries tend to go where they are well served by railways or arterial roads. If we are planning, as I am sure the public will expect us to do, for greater safety on the roads —a subject in which my noble friend beside me, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has always been keenly interested—and in particular, to reduce the shocking number of accidents to children, that will depend on Government policy about the character of road development and its relation to different types of road traffic. These are all urgent and immediate problems which the Government must face up to now if they are to be satisfactorily solved in the period of post-war reconstruction.

I think the first and most obvious requirement of transport alter the war is that it should continue to be an efficient servant of the public by the carriage of goods and passengers as speedily and cheaply as possible. It is remarkable how much agreement there is on all sides amongst experts, the political Parties and on both sides of the transport industry itself, about the essential conditions of an efficient, successful and properous transport service. The amazing success of our system of national transport during the war, at home as well as, of course, across the seas, is due to the fact that these desiderata have been and are being fulfilled by Government control through the Government Department over which the noble Lord opposite presides. The first essential is the unification of all the branches of internal transport under a common authority which has a plan and which has made it possible to run them during the war as a single, complementary and co-ordinated transport service. The Ministry of Transport has been able to allocate to road hauliers, to railway, canal and coastwise shipping companies the type of traffic to which they are best suited and which they can carry at the lowest cost to the consumer. The London Passenger Transport Board did before the war, for underground and surface transport in the London area, what has now been done on a national scale for all the major branches of transport.

If I may remind the House for a moment, the last Royal Commission on Transport, which reported in 1931, agreed unanimously that without unification any attempts to bring about co-ordination would not be successful. Their view has been reiterated this month by the railway companies, who say, in the publication to which I have referred, that the problem is not any more a railway problem or a road, canal, docks or air problem, but a transport problem. Only if transport is looked at as a whole will a satisfactory solution in the public interest be found. What we have to guard against is a loss after the war of this striking advance in efficiency which has been due to the coordination of all the branches of inland transport under a single authority.

The second essential of a satisfactory system of national transport, which again has been carried out during the war, is that it should be subject to a sufficient measure of public control and supervision. Here again I believe there is general agreement among all concerned. No one in these days contemplates the handing over of the transport services to some giant private monopoly which would be in a position without statutory safeguards to exploit the public for the benefit of its shareholders. Serious divergencies of opinion do not, I think, arise until we reach the thorny question of the method and degree of public control. Then we find many different schools of thought. There are the believers in private enterprise, the believers in public boards, the believers in State management through a Government Department, and all the different mixtures and combinations of belief obtainable by blending these contrasting views on administration. But so much common ground about essentials does offer a hopeful prospect of improved conditions for the operation of transport after the war.

The war, as I have said, has produced a temporary solution, a most agreeable solution, of the transport problem by the placing of all transport under a Government Department presided over by the noble Lord opposite and harnessed to the war effort. But what the country needs now is a plan at any rate for a permanency. This solution which we have at the moment can only last as long as the war. Has the Minister in mind any machinery for co-ordinating transport on a national scale after the war? Has he examined the advantages and disadvantages of a proposal put forward by an ex-Minister of Transport, the noble Lord, Lord Reith, in a speech in your Lordships' House on June 17, 1942? I should like, if I may, to quote a passage from that speech. The exact words used by the noble Lord were: I submit that there should be a national transport corporation covering railways, road transport, canals, coastwise shipping and internal air services; that the railways should be brought under unified management and become part of the corporation. I am authorized by the noble Lord to say that he adheres without qualification to the views he expressed in this House just over a year ago. There can be little doubt what led the noble Lord to his conclusions. It would not, I think, be a wild conjecture to suppose that he was following the considered advice tendered to him by his experts at the Ministry of Transport. In actual fact he appointed two of the foremost traffic experts to inquire into and report upon the transport problem in Great Britain. They drafted the text of a National Transport Bill, including the complicated financial machinery for buying out existing owners and awarding them fair and equitable compensation. They drafted notes for the Minister's speech on the Second Reading of 'the Bill and, with a thoroughness typical of our admirable Civil Service, they prepared a speech for the Opposition on the Bill and notes for the Minister's speech in reply to the Opposition spokesman.

I submit that this is the boldest and most comprehensive scheme for public control of industry that has ever been prepared by any Government Department. What is to become of it? If the war ends next year, will it remain in a pigeon hole at the Ministry of Transport? If we believe that experience has shown during the war that the efficiency of our transport services does depend upon their subordination to a central authority, and if this central authority is to exercise public control without introducing the muddle of political interference or the rigidity of Departmental routine, there can be no shadow of doubt that the type of organization best suited to this purpose is the non profitmaking public corporation. The Royal Commission on Transport, if I may remind your Lordships again of their recommendations, though they could not agree upon the administrative machinery to implement their views, and though they lacked of course at that time, in 1930–31, the encouraging example of the London Passenger Transport Board, admitted that the public trust system, as they called it, is what experience in this country has proved to be the best method for running a big commercial undertaking in the public interest, although of course the Minority Report of the Royal Commission came out openly in favour of a publicly-owned national transport corporation. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, with all this opinion that has been gathered over a long period of time, has examined with special care the possibility of handing over the war-time responsibilities of his Department to a national transport board which would continue to keep the goods and passenger traffics of road, rail, air and water properly co-ordinated in a single transport system.

Of course the railways, roads, canals, inland airways and coastwise shipping would have their joint managerial boards at a regional as well as at a national level. The most important of these undertakings would continue to be the railways. The amalgamation of the four main line railway companies and the London Passenger Transport Board under the Railway Executive Committee has already achieved striking improvements in efficiency and economy. The pooling of wagons, for instance, and the interchange of staff and locomotives are examples of the advantages of amalgamation. It is true, of course, that after the war the optimum size of the administrative unit for the day-to-day operation of railway traffic may be regional rather than national, but this does not mean that the various regional authorities will not have to be under a central railway authority or board which would implement a common railway policy in matters affecting freight and passenger rates, labour conditions, capital development, and so on. The question to be decided is whether control of the railways should be restored to a private monopoly, the public being protected to some extent by statutory price-fixing machinery, or whether control should not be vested in a public board responsible in the last resort to Parliament and not to a body of shareholders. I hope the Minister will give most careful consideration to the practicability of this alternative.

An outstanding advantage of public control would be the linking of railway investment and price policy and the financial policy pursued by the Government of the day. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as one assumes, is anxious to maintain full employment by ironing out the ups and downs of the trade circle, increased expenditure on railway development could be used as a means of sustaining trade and preventing unemployment by being operated as soon as bad times are thought to be coming. It might also be possible, in addition to the execution of new works, to adjust freight rates so as to meet the onset of a trade depression. These ideas are taken from the national transport programme prepared by the railways, although the railways are hesitant to recommend the machinery which would make them a practicable proposition. Between the wars it was noticeable that railway investments fluctuated in much the same way as ordinary business investments, and this is bound to happen so long as the financial policy of the railways is regarded as independent of and divorced from the policy of the Treasury.

Immediately after the war there will be immense and urgent need for capital expenditure both on renewals and replacements, and on fresh development, such as the further electrification in suburban areas. Can the Minister say anything yet about the attitude of the Government to the post-war financial policy of the railways? The present system of leasing the railways to the Government is obviously an emergency measure—to be continued of course for one year after the war—and after that the public will be faced by a straight and inevitable choice between nationalization or national control by a public board or reversion to private ownership. I only wish that this issue of nationalization could be lifted right out of the rut of Party policy. An issue of such magnitude should be decided on grounds of business efficiency and service to the public, and not by violent preconceptions about the merits of Socialism or private enterprise. The two most important measures of nationalization in recent years, the nationalization of coal and of London transport, were carried through Parliament by Conservative Governments. This surely is ample proof that nationalization need not, and has not been, treated as a Party issue, or even as a political issue. It is a question that has been, and should be, decided by an honest consideration of efficient management in the public interest.

Another problem that has to be faced immediately is the relationship between the railway companies and long-distance road hauliers after the war. Everyone will remember how after the last war Army lorries were purchased at next to nothing from the Disposals Board, and operated at cut rates to skim the cream of the long-distance railway goods traffic. It is obvious that this anti-social use of the roads cannot be allowed to recur. Has the Minister any scheme in mind to prevent this cut-throat competition between road and rail traffic after the war breaking out as soon as the war comes to an end? What I believe is most needed is machinery for establishing permanently the natural complementary relationship between roads and railways. An active partnership of this kind between the two systems of transport has been effected for the duration of the war by the noble Lord's control. But I think one may not unreasonably ask, what will be the state of affairs immediately after the armistice? Will the 25,000 long-distance vehicles now subject to the directions of the Ministry be handed back unconditionally to their owners, and the Government monopoly of traffic travelling over 60 miles suddenly come to an end? I should like to ask the Minister to consider whether the functions of his Ministry in this respect could not be discharged by a transport board, which would continue to control and supervise long-distance road haulage by the holders of A and B licences.

The transport board, whether national, regional or local, according to the circumstances of the case, would, by agreement with the railways, allocate to haulage firms the journeys less satisfactorily handled by rail, would enforce good conditions of employment on the roads, and would fix haulage rates at a reasonable level in relation to costs. This would still leave 80 per cent. of commercial road users, shops and other business firms holding a C licence, outside the scope of public control. Sooner or later, I am convinced, we shall be forced to accept the view that roads and railways are complementary rather than competitive. Over the long distances separating our main centres of urban population goods or passenger trains cannot be effectively challenged. Bat over short distances in town and country, and in sparsely populated rural areas, road transport will always be more economical and efficient. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, the Minister, agrees with that in principle. The public will have to decide in the long run between a joint private monopoly— because that will come about by the combination of economic forces—running the roads and railways in the interests of the owners of road and railway undertakings, and public boards that will control and co-ordinate both forms of transport in the interests of the consumer.

Another problem facing the Minister, to which I am now asking him to direct his attention, is the probability of an immense increase in the number of private motor cars that will be using the roads within a few years of the end of the war. His Under-Secretary has already forecast that ten years after the war lour times as many cars will be on the roads as in 1939. If Lord Nuffield can invent a people's car, motoring will become as popular as cycling. How are we to prevent worse congestion on the roads, and an appalling increase in the number of road accidents? I submit that both these difficulties can be overcome in one way, and in one way only. We must segregate the different types of traffic according to the speed at which they travel by making them use different road tracks. Our main arterial roads should be constructed to drain off fast long-distance vehicles, provide tracks on each side for cyclists, and their use by pedestrians should be forbidden, save where they can be crossed by bridges or subways. The latest figures of road accidents show a very bad record of fatal accidents among children under seven. The Chairman of the Education Committee of the London County Council said a very short time ago that one in every twelve London schoolboys between the ages of five and fourteen should expect to be killed or maimed in a street accident. Can the Minister say anything about his plans for road safety?

One word about canals. It is an interesting fact, I think, that the public owner- ship of the main canal routes was advocated twelve years ago by the Royal Commission on Transport. The Royal Commission wanted the Ministry of Transport to set up what it called a public trust— what we should call nowadays a public board or corporation—to administer the 900 miles of waterways in the four main routes connecting the Midlands with the Thames, the Humber, the Mersey and the Severn. The centralized control of our canal system envisaged by the Commission has been brought about by the war. The Central Canal Committee of the Ministry of Transport now directs all canal traffic through its six Regional Canal Committees. These bodies were appointed as the result of an unpublished report by the late Mr. Frank Pick. One cannot help regretting that it was not possible to make the contents of that report generally available to the public. I very much wonder how the prosperity of the canals can be maintained after the war, unless they continue to be administered as a single unit under a central authority, which, of course, must be closely associated with whatever agencies may then be responsible for the roads and railways.

The missing link, at the present time, in the chain of national transport services is, of course, internal air lines which are still under the Air Ministry. I suggest that the logical course would be to transfer the chosen instrument—as it is usually referred to—when the times comes, from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Transport, so that air lines inside the United Kingdom can be dovetailed into the road and railway system. Let me conclude, if I may—and I apologize for detaining the House at such length—by asking the Minister one final question on a subject in which I am, as a member of the London County Council, particularly interested. Can he say anything about the attitude of his Ministry to the proposal in the County of London plan for the setting up of an investigating body to go into suggestions for improving tube and railway traffic in the London area? I should very much like to Know whether he has had the opportunity to consider that proposal, whether he can tell us if he is favourably inclined towards it or not, and, if he is in a position to act, how soon we may expect action. I beg to move.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than a moment because we are all anxious to hear the Minister of War Transport. I am sure we all agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down that we in this House appreciate to the full the services rendered by the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, in this complicated business— which is perhaps the most vital thing to us in winning this war—the business of transport. It is no doubt true—all our Allies are agreed upon it—that our shipping has been managed with extraordinary skill. Those responsible must be glad that it is so, and it falls to us to say that the Minister of War Transport is entitled to the congratulations of all concerned, and especially of us, his colleagues in this House.

While awaiting his reply, I would emphasize three points. With regard to sea transport, this Motion is entirely concerned with the post-war position. I do hope that no talk of other aspects of transport will ever take away from the mind of the Minister, whoever he may be—and I hope that we shall have the same Minister for many years to come—the realization that this island lives by the sea, and that anything the Government do which makes it more difficult for British ships to ply the sea is very dangerous. Without ships we are helpless when war comes, and it is no use saying then "What a pity we did not think of it before !" It takes a long time to build up a merchant fleet which can operate in the stern competition which always must exist on the sea. All questions of nationalization vanish when you come to think of ships. I remember Mr. Ramsay MacDonald saying to me, "You laugh at me and say that we shall nationalize everything except your toothbrush. So we will in time, but we shall come to ships last." I am sure that everybody will agree with that. International competition does not leave room for this kind of talk, and so I implore the Government not to forget the people who live by the sea, and to see to it that all our regulations, rules and laws help to make us a nation with a great mercantile fleet.

With regard to the air, there are so many others more qualified than myself to speak on this subject, though I take a deep interest in it, that I will say only that I hope that in the case of this, as in the case of land transport, it will no be forgotten when peace comes that speed is not the first essential, as it is to-day. We hear talk of crossing the Atlantic in the stratosphere in a very small number of hours, and it is said that that is the means of transport of the future. I have seen one or two people who have crossed the Atlantic at 20,000 or 25,000 feet, and the conclusion to which I have come is that it will take not only thousands but almost millions of years for the human frame to be really adapted to that form of travel. To travel at 300 miles an hour in the stratosphere may be a very good thing for the kind of men, and possibly of women, who will exist several thousands of years hence, but at present that is not so It is miserable; it shortens life, and it shows that mankind has allowed the machine to get the better of its judgment. However, if the Minister says that he will bear in mind that the object of transport is to carry people efficiently, and without ruining their constitutions and their judgment, and not merely to carry them speedily, at any rate he will have my support.

The same thing applies to land transport. I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Cecil of Chelwood is here to-day. When we hear it said, as the noble Earl said in his admirable speech when moving this Motion, that people and goods must be transported efficiently and speedily, I agree with him about efficiently, but not about speedily. Speed is not the first essential; the first essential is to see that people and goods are moved with the least inconvenience and danger to those who are not travelling in these vehicles with internal combustion engines. Until the Government take a grip of the position and say, "We took the wrong turning when we gave licence to people to travel at these great speeds," we shall continue to have the shocking story, of which the noble Lord has just told us, of the loss of children on the roads.

I have spent a great part of my life in denouncing the doctrine of "Safety First," and I shall continue to do so. Everyone is entitled to break his own neck, provided he does not injure anyone else in the process. In this matter of traffic on the roads, however, we have taken the wrong turning. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has no time to spare at present, but if, when he has, he will go about the country a little, I can show him dozens and hundreds of places, at the approach to some village or at the narrow entrance to some town, concerning which any sensible being coming from another planet would say that no vehicle which requires more than a certain distance in which to pull up should travel at more than twelve miles an hour, where he will find notices saying "Speed 30 m.p.h." I am told by those who know— and this is something which the Minister might take up even now, while the war is going on—that a great many of the accidents now caused by vehicles, and especially by military vehicles, are due to the fact that our allies, the Americans, see these notices and do not realize the extraordinary eccentricities of the British character, and that when we put up outside the narrow entrance to a village "30 m.p.h." we mean "Look out ! You had better go at five miles an hour." They take it as an order to go at 30 miles an hour, and they go ! I will add no more, except again to wish well to the noble Lord, the Minister of War Transport, in his most arduous task, and to assure him that everybody on these Benches supports him in the good measures which he has already taken, and which we hope he will continue to take.


My Lords, I should like to refer for one moment to a remark made by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, as to the un-suitability of the human frame to travel at high speed at a very great altitude. The human body is, of course, quite unaware of any speed at which it may be going. We are all actually travelling at a speed of fifteen miles a second, from the mere fact that we are living on this earth. It is acceleration of which we are conscious. As long as one continues to travel in a straight line, speed is quite innocuous. As to crossing the Atlantic, I admit that at present in a war machine it is a tremendous strain upon the system to travel at these great heights, but nobody would ever think in commercial aviation after the war of building a machine which had not a pressure cabin, which would allow you to be in exactly the same conditions that we have in this House as to temperature and pressure and comfort generally; the only difference would be that there would be no speeches !

The mover of this Motion ranged over such a wide field, from nationalization to street accidents, that I very much sympathize with my noble friend who is going to attempt to answer the numerous points which have already been raised in the two short speeches which we have had. I am going to deal with one side only of the mover's remarks, the question of the railways. We have hired the railways during the war at the arbitrary figure of £43,000,000 a year. As a matter of fact, the railways have made an enormous amount more than that, and I should like to know what is to happen eventually. Are we going to hold on to the railways until their net receipts fall below £43,000,000, and then hand them back, or what is going to be the policy? To me, it seems like a very immoral piece of sharp practice to hire the railways at a rate determined by yourself, to hold on to them until their earnings fall below that rate, and then to hand them back to the companies. Some pronouncement should be made as soon as possible as to what is going to be done in this matter.

It has been said that it was the intention to amalgamate the railways into one, and I think that, having run them as one system during the war, this would probably be the best time of all to get them going as one concern. There are, of course, certain advantages in running them as one system—the standardization of locomotives, and that sort of thing. Certainly up to now the railways have been the most striking example of an isolationist body, because to get transport from one railway on to another was one of the most difficult feats which we had to perform in the early part of the war. Amalgamation or whatever system you adopt for the railways is not going to put them in a very good position after the war unless you attack some of those forces which are eating at their vitals, and it would be interesting I think just for a moment to consider what they are.

There is the long-distance coach. That has grown up into an industry of a very big size in this country. There has been certain legislation introduced about it, and it is not a very difficult problem for the reason that all long-distance coaches in this country are held under two groups, and there is scarcely any one company in England which is not half held by the railway companies. So that does not present very great difficulties. Of course, one would certainly leave the actual omnibus services in separate towns alone to look after themselves. But when you come to the hauliers you have a much more difficult problem to face. The number of hauliers in this country approximates to sixty thousand, and while one admits that they give us very great advantages—run, of course, by private enterprise as they are—the fact must be faced that they are eating into the earning power of the railways. And there we come up against what is really I think a divergence of opinion as to what is to be done. Up to now we have tried to stop the lorry by virtue of restrictions, and if you are going to try and stop them more and more, in order to get more stuff upon the railways, it seems to me that you are not attacking the position from the right end, because you are imposing a disability upon an advantage of modern life and a convenience to the ordinary man in the street.

It is true to say that transport in all its spheres was started by vigorous private enterprise, and we can pay our tribute to it. There was first of all the canal. Then came the railway, which did its best to knock the canal out. Then came the motor vehicle which is doing its best to knock the railway out. Eventually comes along air, which I suppose will try to take the cream of the traffic from the roads. Well, competition is a very wise and healthy thing in many walks of life, but I very much doubt whether it is a healthy thing in transport. The great Lord Ashfield in his early career, when he got control of the London General Omnibus Company and the Tubes in the last war, got powers from Parliament to pool receipts from those two enterprises. At first the situation was rather odd, because the Tubes kept the omnibuses going. Later people travelled as they wanted to, which was on omnibuses, and ever since the omnibuses have kept the Tubes of London alive. If it had not been for the omnibuses the Tubes would be bankrupt. Now, there was an example of foresight which showed that transport is not competitive. It must be run as one entity, the various parts being complementary one to another. An investigation into the transport system of London shows that you have got trams running against omnibuses, services on local railways, Tubes—everything competing against each other. The net result of such competition would eventually be the extinction of some form of transport which is basic to the advantage of the multitude, which strives to take advantage of it.

It was at the will of Parliament that the London Transport Board was set up and that has been turned this afternoon into nationalization. It is not my idea of nationalization. My idea of nationalization is something that is run by State officials, by civil servants who, admirable as they are, are not enterprising people to run commerce. I think we must distinguish very clearly between nationalization and a board like the London Transport Board. I do not know whether you would say that the London Tran port Board is a first-class enterprise. I would be of opinion, with some knowledge, that it is so. I cannot believe that a thing of that size could be much better run than London Transport. That we have set up in our wisdom to meet a very difficult situation in London. The same situation, with even more difficulties, is arising throughout the whole of the country to-day, and it is impossible to look to the future and think that you are going to allow all these different forms of transport to run as separate entities competing against each other, because in the end the public will not benefit. And, after all, we must realize that the transport of the country is not there for the benefit of the shareholder; it is for the benefit of the public.

I know the difficulty there is in this. The nettle is a very nasty one to grasp. There are the road hauliers' A, B and C licences. I must say I have one small plea to make for the C licence holder; that is, that he should always be left with a radius anyhow of 40 miles. I think a C licence man who plies between London and Edinburgh on his own is defeating in his way the intentions of the C licence. But it is the A licence haulier that is the crux of this situation. There are 60,000 to-day. They are already pleading that the partial control which the Minister has over them to-day should be swept away on the first signs of peace, in order that they may get back to what they call their private enterprise. It is not along those lines that you are going to get benefits and increased efficiency in the traffic of this country. I know that the Minister at present cannot give to these problems what one would like him to give on a long view because of his day-to-day activities, but I do Hope that at the earliest opportunity we shall have the opportunity of hearing from him that there is an advantage in the co-ordination of all traffic, in order that we may get the benefit from all.


My Lords, I should like to say a word on a topic on which I am afraid I have addressed your Lordships very frequently on past occasions. Listening to the speech which we have just heard, I could not help being reminded of the old dictum of Sir William Harcourt that "We are all Socialists now." I do not at all regret that development. I agree very much with what my noble friend Lord Listowel said, that these questions must be judged on the basis of what will practically work, and not on the basis of a priori considerations of what is or what is not the best form of human activity. But I do not want to go into those questions. My one excuse for speaking now is that I wish to urge very strongly on the Minister of Transport the enormous importance of dealing with safety on the roads. The evil has become so familiar to us that we still ignore its very serious character. It really is a terrible thing to think of thousands of children being killed every year, taking only the children killed without any fault of their own and when they are doing no wrong whatever, and very often when the motorist is doing no wrong either.

We have been reminded quite recently by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport of the probable great increase of traffic on the roads at the end of the war. No doubt he spoke with official information, for it is obvious that there will be an immense increase. As motor cars become cheaper they become commoner, and there will be a vast increase. That is not only a great danger, but it is obviously going to make great difficulties in the actual facilities of transport. If you find the roads very crowded you will find it less easy to use them for the purposes for which they exist. I do very strongly submit to the Minister that nine-tenths of the trouble in this question of danger on the roads arises from the fact that we have insisted on using the same track for traffic going at two or three miles an hour as for traffic going at fifty miles an hour. The thing cannot be done. It is bound to break down, and does break down, because the difference in the pace of the various vehicles is so great that it must cause great danger. I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Listowel say that he thought it desirable to have a segregation of traffic, by which I understand him to mean a classification of traffic according to speed, with certain roads allotted to the fast traffic and the rest of the roads reserved for the slow traffic, and, I hope, the additional circumstance of a really effective speed limit of a very moderate character on those roads. If that could be done and certain other subsidiary changes made to make it effective, I believe that would be a very complete remedy, because in spite of all that is said by certain enthusiastic motorists, there is not any serious doubt that it is the speed of the fast-going motor that makes the danger to the foot passenger and the slow-going motor.

At the end of this war we shall have a great opportunity. The development of traffic will be great. There will be a great desire for a reorganization of traffic such as has been indicated by the noble Lords who have spoken. We are all agreed that there will have to be a great reorganization of traffic. This is the time to institute really effective measures to make the roads safe. It is really true, though it seems shocking to say so, that no Government, since the matter has become an urgent one, have seriously tackled this problem. They have produced foolish little measures like the Highway Code, which does not carry any particular authority and is not enforced, and other minor remedies of that kind; but they have done nothing really effective. They have not shown the public or Parliament that they regard this as a matter which urgently requires legislative interference. When you have to organize the whole of the traffic on the roads, and when also there will be many other proposals such as making great through roads which are, at any rate, to serve the purpose of the fast traffic, that seems to me the ideal opportunity to attempt to divide the traffic, and keep the slow traffic to one set of roads and the fast traffic to another. That is all I wish to say. I desire to press that on the Government, and I hope we may receive some satisfaction from them.


My Lords, we had a very interesting speech from the noble Earl who introduced this Motion for the co-ordination of internal transport of this country, and one of the important sections of internal transport is the coastwise shipping industry. The noble Earl indirectly mentioned it, though he did not make much reference to it. Lord Mottistone was kind enough to make some encouraging remarks about the shipping industry, for which we are very much obliged, but I have been asked by the coasting section of the shipping industry to put forward their particular point of view. In the first place I would remind the House of the very high national importance of the British coasting trade, whose history goes back to the earliest days of British industry. Its vessels have provided the cradle of British seamanship, and it would indeed be a bad day if this vital industry fell upon bad times, being, as it is, so important a section of the internal transport of the country.

The modern inception of long-distance motor transport has brought about a great change in the economics of our national inland trade. The battle between rail and road over the last twenty years has inevitably created in its train an increasing deterioration in the fortunes of the British coasting trade. On behalf of this section of our Mercantile Marine, I am concerned lest wise future provision is not made to remedy the defects which existed prior to the war, and which had a most disturbing effect on rail and coastwise conditions alike. Your Lordships will not need to be reminded of the great and distinguished part played by the coasting trade during this war, both in the conveyance of material essential to the war and as part of the fighting machine. We all remember the great part it played at Dunkirk. We remember all that it did in regard to the redistribution of cargoes from ocean ships during the "Blitz" period, and more recently its services in North Africa and Sicily, where a number of coasting vessels were diverted to these important operations. They will be equally invaluable when the time comes for further operations of a similar character. Looking further ahead—I hope not very far distant—they will also be invaluable when the time comes for revictualling the starving populations of Europe in those countries which are now in enemy occupation. Tributes to this branch of the industry which I am to-day representing have been paid by the Minister himself on many occasions.

I am aware that coastwise shipping and the railway companies some time age established between themselves a commercial understanding, but it is highly important that these agreements should be broadened and extended to include all forms of inland transport. There have been numerous references in the Press recently to the fact that road and rail interests are coming much closer together, and as a matter of fact the Chamber of Shipping, on behalf of the coastwise shipping trade, has approached the other parties with a view to joint discussions to include all forms of internal transport. The importance of the coasting trade will be best appreciated when I mention that there is no town or village in this country that is more than fifty miles away from the coast, and I think I am correct in saying that considerably more than half of the population in this island is resident within fifteen miles of a port. The salvation of the future of the coasting trade lies in due provision and arrangements being made between the parties concerned— road, rail, coastwise shipping, and canals alike—for a sensible and effective scheme of co-ordination between these forms of transport, all working together instead of in separate compartments, as has been the case in the past, and all working together also for the benefit of the community at large.

Generally speaking, the coasting industry is divided up into a number of small compact units. This point was very admirably dealt with by my noble friend Lord Leathers when he was speaking on a Motion brought forward on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, in May of last year. Lord Strabolgi's Motion was for co-ordination in time of war, whereas the present Motion deals with the post-war period. Anyhow, in the speech to which I have referred, and which I was reading again yesterday, the Minister dealt with the matter with the lucidity and logic that always characterize his utterances on matters connected with his Department. He pointed out how the voyages of coastwise shipping were very numerous, how they were relatively short, how they necessitated immediate decisions and rearrangement of tonnage programmes. This particularly applies to the tramp section of the coasting trade where, in order to obtain the utmost efficiency, its vessels have been left free from general requisition; but as there are such a number of them and so many units obviously no voyage can be undertaken without the consent of a Coasting Control Licensing Committee.

The first requirement for the co-ordination of internal transport is to put it on an economic basis, so that each form of transport will stand on its own feet and cover its own reasonable economic needs. If that is done it will solve the whole problem of distribution of traffic between these different forms of transport, since each will be able to attract traffic which is economically most suited to it without prejudicing the interests of the consumer. It is, I am sure your Lordships will agree, only fitting that when speaking on this question reference should be made to those men who man the ships of the British coasting trade. Their heroism is beyond words of mine to describe and the nation owes them all a deep and lasting debt of gratitude. The least we can do when the war is over is to ensure that they shall in the future have both security and good conditions of employment. So far as the shipping industry is concerned, I am quite sure that will be achieved.

To come, in conclusion, to another point, I wish I could persuade my noble friend opposite who introduced this Motion, to co-operate, in the co-ordination of the transport arrangements of this country, with private enterprise. I think he seemed rather to indicate that the proper way to do this was by some sort of central board. I am not quite sure there is very much difference between nationalization and a central board. There is some difference, I admit, but at any rate the noble Earl did seem to me to make a plea for nationalization also. That justifies me in saying that I do not believe in nationalization in any shape or form, and in the shipping industry particularly, because of its complexities and also because of the international character of its operations. I do not say this because I happen to be engaged in the industry. I know that this Motion is limited to internal transport, but no national scheme of transport could in any event embrace coastwise shipping, because a large volume of coastwise shipping tonnage normally spends part of its time trading to the near continental countries and between such countries or in the short sea and cross-Channel services.

Incidentally, the temporary withdrawal of these vessels normally engaged in the near continental trades owing to the war, and their absorption into their own coastal trade, is mainly the reason why there is a greater quantity of tonnage engaged in coastwise transport to-day than there used to be in pre-war time. It is therefore not feasible to deal with coasting trade exclusively as a national entity. It must be considered together with near continental and short sea trades, and cannot be altogether separated from the deep sea trades, with the result that each section of the industry is inextricably bound up or dovetailed one with the other. We had very many experiences after the last war—I do not want now to go into the details—of the attempts by different countries to run their national fleets. To name a few there were Canada, Australia, the United States and Brazil, and in most cases the projects were ultimately abandoned after heavy losses had been incurred.

I always think a great objection to the inland transport system of this country coming under Government control would be that by reason of being a Government they could not deal with transactions from a purely business point of view, and they would inevitably be influenced by a multitude of political and other considerations which in the ordinary event would never come into the discussion at all. I hope anything we do will not destroy that incentive and initiative and that enterprise on which the proper handling, in my opinion, of the internal coasting trade is dependent. I had a good deal more to say upon this subject, but I will not say anything further now because I know we are all anxious to hear the Minister of Transport. But there is one quotation I would like to make. It is one I have used on other occasions, but a good thing will always bear repetition. It is well over one hundred years ago that Lord Macaulay, speaking on this very subject, said: Our rulers will best promote improvement of the people by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties; by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, and by observing economy in every department of State.


My Lords, I would like to join with noble Lords who have already spoken in congratulating my noble friend Lord Listowel on raising this very important issue of national transport. All aspects of transport, road, railways, water and air, have been touched upon and, as my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara said, we are setting a very heavy task for Lord Leathers when he comes to reply to these many questions. I would like to submit a few brief remarks on air and road transport. First of all I presume that aerodrome facilities—that is air port facilities—for the reception and dispatch of traffic from abroad, will be available immediately in the post-war period as well as aerodromes and landing grounds for the use of air transport companies, air taxi operators, flying clubs and private individual owners of aircraft. There will be no doubt at the end of the war a large number of aerodromes not required for military aircraft; they may therefore be used for civil aircraft; and there will be others at which civil aircraft, under certain conditions, may be allowed to land. All these aerodromes will be, as they are now, linked together with a splendid service of weather reporting, and in many cases with facilities for blind landing when there is no visibility due to the presence of fog or low cloud.

To make proper use of all these facilities for civil air transport in these islands, it is essential, I suggest, as has so often been stressed in your Lordships' House, that such arrangements should come not under the control of the military authorities, the Air Ministry, but under the control of a civil Ministry. If, with all respect to my noble friend Lord Leathers, I am suggesting a newly-formed Ministry of Air Transport, I would point out that such a step was urged quite a number of years ago by the Gorell Committee, or at least in a Ministry Report of the Gorell Committee, signed by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara and Mr. Gordon England. We must be prepared to see all our transport facilities used to the maximum in the post-war period, and it is therefore essential, as my noble friend Lord Listowel has stressed, that plans should be made now so that they may bear this heavy load in the future.

In considering inland transport we may surely, with advantage, refresh our memories as to certain fundamental facts. Let us consider road and rail, which have already been referred to, and determine the size of the services economically. It will be agreed that distribution is a very substantial part of the business of wealth production, and transport itself is a large fraction of that. The amount paid in a normal year—and with your Lordships' permission I will take 1938 as being a normal year—for rail and road borne travel and transport of merchandise was £588,000,000. Such was the sum paid by various companies and by individuals. In that figure of £588,000,000 no account is taken at all of the sums paid to coastal vessels or to canal barges. Of the figure I have mentioned £315,000,000 refers to the road traffic and £163,000,000 to rail traffic, and added to these two sums is £110,000,000 for tram, bus and underground services, thereby making the grand total in the year 1938 of £588,000,000.

I suggest that we should ask ourselves what is the quality of the services operating. Railway wagons average ten and a quarter miles per hour when moving, but on the average they only move one and a quarter hours a day. Therefore the effective speed of the freight they carry is about half a mile per hour. The road vehicle, the lorry which runs from door to door, travels, taking a modest figure, at ten miles per hour and is therefore running a service twenty times faster than that rendered by the railways. In certain special cases where the railway gives direct connexion, as between London and Birmingham, for example, the speed by road is very handsomely exceeded by the railway, which in that case may attain twenty-five miles per hour. I suggest that it is a reproach to the official world that, in spite of the fact that there have been so many discussions on the subject of co-ordinating our transport mechanisms, there has been so far no authoritative independent estimates to render such discussions readily understood. Perhaps the noble Lord may have something to say in regard to that matter and the possibility of figures which no doubt exist being issued for general information. The fact that freight by road averages twenty times the speed of freight by rail is surely one of the several explanations of the astonishing demand after the last war for road vehicles in a country where railways, canals and coastal ships are available. The demand was at the rate of 500 vehicles per day.

What I suggest is of importance is that road transport and travel should be given adequate roads, controlled by sensible traffic regulations, so that this traffic mechanism may develop to the full the services it is undoubtedly capable of rendering to the national need. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that a Select Committee of your Lordships' House in 1939 stated in paragraph 11 on page 5 of their Report: Since 1910 the number of vehicles on the roads has increased by over 2,000 per cent. and in addition there has been a marked increase of mileage run per vehicle. The increase in new road construction, however, so far as can be estimated, is only about 2 per cent. during the same period. That was the position between 1910 and 1939. If we go back further and take the period of forty years from 1899 to 1939, we find that there was a total of 174,000 miles of road in the United Kingdom in 1899, and that in 1939 the mileage was 179,000, an increase of just under 3 per cent. in forty years. Our trains have 20,000 miles of rail route serving 7,600 towns and villages out of a total of 39,300, every one of which is reached by vehicles travelling over 180,000 miles of roads.

The railway favours bulk loads of some hundreds of tons per train, as only in such bulk is rail carriage remunerative, whereas the motor vehicle loads range from 5 cwt. to 10 tons, or not much more. Preference for large unitary loads with few stations encourages urbanization, that is to say the development of towns whose consumption is adequate to take delivery of such large loads. That is against the tendency of the general planning of today, and points to the necessity of further development of roads to allow of whatever distribution of the population may be decided by planners. The greatest single productive industry in the country, whether measured by its capital or its wide range of services to all kinds of industries and amenities, is transport and travel by road, and the refreshment of this capital requires that our historic system of coach roads be replaced by motorways for the main traffic. That would be a new policy of inland transport and one which I submit is most vitally necessary. It would reverse our practice of taxing and restricting road traffic in our endeavour to make it fit, very painfully and very ineffectively and with many accidents, into the historic coach road system we have inherited.

The modernizing of our road transport mechanism requires that a framework of motorways shall be built so interlocked with our existing network that this traffic shall willingly take itself out of the byways where it collects its loads and prosecute the remainder of its through journey on motorways, with a saving of accidents, man-hours, fuel and rubber, and also mechanism of the vehicles employed. The cost of such a framework of motorways, according to the Ministry of Transport figure given to the Select Committee of your Lordships' House in 1939, would be in the neighbourhood of £60,000 per mile. Your Lordships will remember, I think, that a very distinguished member of your Lordships' House, not very long since dead, made some very prophetic remarks in regard to this question of road travel some forty years ago. He said: I sometimes dream that, in addition to railways and tramways, we shall see great highways constructed for rapid motor traffic and confined to motor traffic, which will have the immense advantage of taking the workman from door to door, which no tramway and no railway can do. These words were spoken by the late Lord Balfour, as Mr. Balfour, on May 11, 1900. Forty years have elapsed since then. Surely it is time we should take his advice, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, may give us some encouragement in that respect.


My Lords, I had hoped I should not have to speak in this debate. I hoped to be able to keep quiet, but I have been rather alarmed, not to say astonished, at the trend of the debate. Transport to my mind has one great function—that is, to carry something, either bodies or goods. We have heard in this debate all about various methods of carriage, but we have not heard a single word about the suitability of one type of carriage for a certain type of goods or about the needs of the consumer. I am very hopeful that when the Minister replies he will draw attention to that matter. I have always recognized that it is a very doubtful question which forms the most powerful political force, the railways or the Labour Party. This afternoon has convinced me that it is the railways. They have even been able to turn a Conservative into a Socialist.

No noble Lord has yet mentioned the question of the care of the consumer. The question of the control of transport has been discussed entirely from the point of view of the advantage to transport, and not from the point of view of the advantage to the consumer. At the present moment we are living in a period of priority; naturally and necessarily so. When the war is over, I hope that period will pass, and that if I want my goods moved from one place to another, I shall be able to go to a contractor and say: "I have goods at such and such a place; I want them moved; I want them moved to-morrow morning; can you supply a lorry?" If he says "No," I want to be able to go to another contractor, and to get him to move my goods. That is an aspect of this matter which has not been mentioned at all to-day. The same aspect concerns the private person. I may want to go from here to Edinburgh. It may or may not be that I am in a very great hurry. It ought to be open to me to make up my mind for myself, whether I charter an aeroplane and take the quickest possible route, or whether, if I find that I have a few hours to spare, I take a train, or whether, feeling that I want to do the journey at my leisure, and possibly see a bit of the country, I want to go by motor coach or even by motor car.

As I have listened to the various speeches which have been made to-day, I have been filled with alarm at the general undercurrent which seemed to suggest that the dragooning which we are cheerfully standing at the present moment is going to be allowed to continue after the war. I should very much like to hear an assurance from the Government to-day that there is no intention to do anything that will destroy private enterprise in transport. If we can get that assurance I personally shall be very happy, because I am certain that in the end it will be the consumer who will benefit.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I desire to intervene for a very few minutes. I had not intended to do so, but the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, when he pleaded that shipping should be left out of any control if we are to have a Mercantile Marine fit to meet the needs of the nation, have astonished me. It was because we had no proper system of national control over the Mercantile Marine, that we entered this war with a fleet which was smaller by 2,000 ships than the fleet which we had at the end of last war. Incidentally, we very nearly lost that war through lack of shipping, through not having vessels that were fast enough, through not having vessels that were capable of being readily transformed for war purposes, through not having ships that were suitable for mounting guns and so forth. Things were not done to make provision in those directions, because shipping was left to private enterprise and because shipping went through a very bad time just before the war. The position was that owners simply could not afford to build ships such as we needed—ships that would have the extra speed necessary for war transport, and the special capacity for bearing arms.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to interrupt him for a moment, may I point out that he cannot have listened to what I said? I pleaded with the Minister of War Transport that he should do nothing to prevent us having a great Mercantile Fleet. I did not say that it was not to be controlled. That has never been my view. I have made several speeches in this House, in which I have urged upon the Government that there should be a measure of control after the war.


My Lords, I apologize to the noble Lord if I have misunderstood him, but I certainly thought his attitude was as I have stated. After the last war I was for three years chairman of a committee for the development of coastal trade, and what I learnt in that capacity of the intricacies and the problems connected with that trade turned me into an out-and-out supporter of some sort of Government control for shipping in connexion with transport for the whole of this country. Lord Essenden says that after this war the shipping community is going to support the coastal trade. Why was that not done 150 years ago? We have had coastal shipping going on all that time and longer. Why was it left at a loose end in the way that it was left? The coastal shipping trade has many grievances. It has grievances against the deep sea shipping and against the railways.

There were good years, years in which shipping flourished, as well as bad years, but nevertheless in those good periods the things which ought to have been done were not done. We have never had the sort of shipping we need, shipping in which officers and men are properly looked after, properly paid, and properly accommodated. It was not until 1937 that there was prepared a pensions scheme for the Mercantile Marine. And we have had a Mercantile Marine for 200 years—many more years than that, in fact. It is no good saying that this nation was built up through private enterprise in shipping. Of course it was, we know that. But we are not now living in the conditions which prevailed 200 years ago. We have got on and we have a great population which must be looked after. I submit that if there is to be Government control over the transport problems of this country, shipping of all sorts must be included, not with a view to stifling private enterprise, but to help it where necessary. That help, I suggest, should not be extended, as it was before, by the giving of £2,000,000 and then pulling away the money immediately the industry had made up its arrears and depreciations, but should be steady help of the kind required to permit of the exploitation of trade routes that might otherwise not yield an adequate financial return, to permit of officers and men having a sense of security in their future and to ensure that the whole of the personnel of all our ships shall be properly looked after. They certainly are not properly looked after at the present time, particularly in the coastal trade.

The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, spoke of our reads. It is no good having these roads if they are not properly controlled, if the requisite regulations are not made and enforced. I motored yesterday from Guildford, travelling by that fine broad road with its three tracks both ways, its bicycle track and service roads, but twice in the fog I suddenly found myself brought up by a motor lorry which had been halted on the fast motor traffic road. It is true that in each instance the lorry had been pulled up at the side of the road, but it had no business to be on that track at all. As I say, regulations must be made and they must be enforced. Road users must be made to keep to their proper tracks. At the present time cyclists persistently refuse to use the track which is provided for them, and the same applies to other classes of road users. I travel very frequently on that road and I know that at the present time very little attention is paid to the regulations.


My Lords, may I be allowed to begin my remarks by saying "Thank you" to those noble Lords who have made such kind references to myself to-day? I should like them to know that what they have said will be an inspiration to me, and will spur me to greater efforts. I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for giving me this opportunity of speaking on the development and co-ordination of inland transport after the war. The subject, as your Lordships all know, is both vast and complex, and is not to be solved by any single panacea, nor can any political or economic dogma be swiftly translated into a single practical solution for so varied an industry. The first point to remember is that transport is not an end in itself. It exists only to serve other interests and activities and, through them, the prosperity and well-being of the people. Our problem is therefore not to produce a blue print, neat and orderly, considered in isolation, but to meet the needs of each separate industry or activity as well as we are able with the resources available.

I was very pleased to hear the noble Earl lay emphasis on the importance of low transport costs. After the war we shall, as never before, be dependent on export trade not only for our prosperity but even for our survival. In any consideration of these problems, therefore, I have in the forefront of my mind the need to give every opportunity for trade, and particularly for the export trade, by providing a really cheap and efficient service. By "cheap" I do not mean merely that the prices and the rates will be low; that could be very simply achieved by subsidies, but a subsidy merely transfers the burden of extravagant transport from the pockets of the immediate user to the pockets of the taxpayer. By "cheap," therefore, I mean a transport system so co-ordinated and run that it can provide, and does provide, the best possible service for the least real cost to the community as a whole.

Noble Lords will remember that a very considerable transport reorganization took place just after the last war. A separate Ministry of Transport was set up for the first time in 1919, and in 1921 over a hundred separate railway companies were consolidated into the four main line railway companies that we have to-day. Both these steps have produced much good, but no one pretends that they solved all the problems. There arose, for example, a powerful road haulage industry which competed fiercely with the older forms of transport and within itself. Whatever the merits of competition in stimulating enterprise and efficiency, it must be evident that if it is carried so far as to undermine the stability of services essential to the community and to the commercial interests its effect will ultimately prove damaging to the national interests. If, for example, the railways, on which coal and many other basic traffics depend, are deprived of their higher-grade traffics by the competition of road transport, they must, in the long run, either obtain compensating revenue by increasing their rates on the traffic they can retain or sink into financial impotence.

This persistent road-rail problem remains the main problem to be solved in this field. Only when the outlines of a solution have been laid down and accepted will the railways and the road hauliers be able to plan their own future with confidence While this is the chief, it is by no means the only problem. There is still room for improvement in the co-ordination of coastwise shipping with the other forms of inland transport, and means must be found for making the maximum economic use of the canal system. There are also many difficult questions concerned with docks and harbours and with the impact of air development on surface transport. With your Lordships' permission, therefore, I propose to say a few words on each of the main branches of inland transport in relation to its coordination with other branches.

First, take the railways. The war has made it clearer than ever before that the railways are a national asset which must be retained in full efficiency. This is absolutely necessary, not only for trade and industrial purposes, but for defence. From this it follows that the financial position of the railways must be firmly established. We cannot allow so vital a service to be starved of proper maintenance and improvements owing to shortage of funds or the inability to raise new capital. This could be met by placing the credit of the Government behind the railways by nationalization, and the same end could also be achieved by creating conditions under which the railway companies could operate on a reasonable profit margin. In deciding on their course, His Majesty's Government will be influenced solely by practical considerations and we shall seek to obtain the best results with the minimum of dislocation. I do not believe that the "Square Deal" proposals put forward by the railway companies before the war will, by themselves, solve the problem. You will remember that shortly before the war the late Captain Euan Wallace, speaking on behalf of the Government, promised legislation to implement the principles of the Transport Advisory Council's recommendations on the railways' "Square Deal." In my view, these proposals fail to reach the root of the problem, and indeed both the Transport Advisory Council and the then Minister regarded them as merely a stopgap arrangement. Even if it should be proper in the post-war circumstances to proceed with the "Square Deal" proposals, I am firmly convinced that some more radical solution has still to be found, although I am not yet able to bring forward any precise suggestions.

My noble friend Lord Brabazon referred to the railway agreement and its expiry. It is provided in that agreement that it shall continue for the period of the war and one year thereafter. Just how that may be interpreted when the time comes I cannot indicate to-day, but it will show that we have no intention of continuing to take the profits from the railways just for the sake of doing so for a period completely undetermined. I am quite sure that that notice to terminate, when it is finally given, will be dictated either by the circumstances of the time or by any new circumstances which may shape our course for the future.

It may not be altogether appropriate for me to discuss at this stage the technical progress in any one form of transport. As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, transport exists only to serve other interests and activities, and its development must therefore be determined by their needs. It would be prema- ture for me to deal with details of transport planning at this stage, and in advance of the production of the wider plans in which transport improvements will take their place. I will mention only that there are many other major points for consideration here, such as electrification, continuous braking of freight rolling-stock, standardization of wagons and so on. I am glad to know that the railways are themselves considering many of these problems closely.

The noble Earl asked me a very definite question, before he closed his remarks, on the subject of the suggestion which was made by the planners of the London County Council that there should be set up an investigating body to examine and report upon the railway layout involved in the County of London plans. The London County Council, in passing the plans to my Ministry, asked that they might have our observations before the end of this year. I do not want to anticipate what the final decision will be, but I can assure the noble Earl that we are looking favourably upon that suggestion. The one point which stands out is rather the composition of that body, and in that way I do not think that we shall be able to conform to what is suggested by the planners.

On the physical side of road construction and maintenance, the noble Earl asked me in particular whether I had communicated any specific road projects to my colleagues. I am glad to be able to assure him that I have placed definite proposals before my colleagues. As the noble Earl indicated, any such proposals have, of course, to be carefully dovetailed into plans for the location of industry and for town and country planning generally. I know that, and our proposals have gone forward having regard to those considerations. My proposals take account also of road safely and amenity as well as traffic needs. It would take me too long to-day to go into that subject more fully, but I am very sympathetic towards all the suggestions which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has made from time to time, and while many of them are not altogether practicable, those that can be put into operation will have their full play in the submissions which are now being made. I should like to say, since the same point has been raised by several noble Lords, that during the war it is not so much the making of regulations as the enforcement of them which is the difficulty. We strive as best we can by one method and another, to secure a better result, and the saving of life, particularly of children, but we are just unable, by the policing of the roads and otherwise, to secure a better enforcement than we now obtain.

Turning to road transport, we find a very marked contrast. Whereas the railways are knit into four groups closely co-operating together, the road haulage industry is carried on by thousands of undertakings, many of them very small and many of them not very favourably disposed towards co-operation with each other. I am much encouraged by progress which is now being made towards the amalgamation of the main associations of road hauliers, and I am hopeful that the lessons of co-operation and organization which the war has imposed will not be lost. Certainly the experience of the road haulage organization will be of high value both to the Government and the industry. Nevertheless we must recognize that the existence of so many separate and small units in the road haulage industry vastly increases the difficulties of bringing about any permanent coordination between it and other forms of transport. This is a factor of which full account must be taken. Another is the position of the C licence holder, the trader whose vehicles carry his own materials or products and constitute much the largest part of the commercial fleet. His particular sphere will have all the consideration which has been extended to it up to now, and which I think is so much deserved.

I was very glad indeed to hear the words that fell from the noble Lords, Lord Mottistone and Lord Essendon, with regard to coastwise shipping. I was particularly glad because coastal shipping is sometimes forgotten in discussions of inland transport. It is one of the advantages of the union of the old Ministries of Transport and Shipping that the coaster fits more easily into the picture and is made directly complementary to inland transport. War has once more shown us how important the coasters are to us; we could not do without the coasting fleet. But for the relief they have given to railways, our transport system would have been seriously blocked. These ships have the great asset of mobility, they can be put in where the strain is heaviest. They have in particular been invaluable in distributing ocean cargoes through the smaller ports. Here again the experience of war has underlined the advantages of close co-operation between the various forms of transport, enabling traffic to be allocated among them according to the availability of the means of conveyance and their suitability to the service required. We must be careful in planning the co-ordination of road and rail to see that nothing is done to impede coastal shipping from fulfilling its full function. I may add that co-ordination, and possible amalgamation, of the Channel packet services is being examined by the railway companies, and certain of the coasting liner interests are pursuing schemes of consolidation which I hope may lead to improved service to traders and a reduction in costs of operation. These are illutrations of the consideration which the industry is itself giving to plans for postwar improvement.

The place of the canal system in our future transport system is less easy to determine. In some of the canals we have assets which we must use to the limit of their economic capacity, but it may prove desirable to abandon certain other waterways originally provided to serve industries which have either declined or moved elsewhere. Docks and harbours are a very important link in our transport chain. A well run and well equipped port plays an important part in increasing the prosperity not only of its hinterland but of the country at large. A bad port is a drag on all the trade which has to use it. We must therefore see that the dock industry gives the best possible service. Ports must not indulge in cut-throat competition, which diverts trade from its real economic channels, but their charges must be kept low by efficient management and proper equipment. The war has taught us to realize, as we did not always in peace-time, the importance of rapid discharge and turnround of our ships, thus reducing the days spent in port and increasing their earning power.

The course of this war has seriously disturbed the balance of our ports, so that many have experienced serious loss of trade and consequent financial embarrass- ment. We must see to it that the ports, whether for foreign or coastal trade, are restored to a sound condition and well equipped. I was very glad to learn recently that discussions are proceeding between the railway companies and the Dock and Harbour Authorities Association aimed at securing greater co-ordination between all dock and harbour undertakings. The railway companies are now in process of becoming members of the Association, and this is a most welcome development. This closer co-operation should be helpful in building up post-war dock policy.

Then there is the air. Our island is so small and the train services between the main centres of population are, in peacetime, so good that the scope for internal air services is necessarily limited. But there will be a number of services, many of them including a short passage over the sea, for which the air is eminently suitable. The main problem arises in the siting of the airports and providing proper rail or road approaches. If the landward approaches to the airport are bad, much of the advantage of the aircraft's speed is lost.

The primary purpose of the establishment of my Department was to weld the various forms of transport into one articulated engine for the waging of war. I think we can claim that the main war-time problems of transport co-ordination have been solved. While the war-time problem is of course much simpler than the peace-time problem, owing to the unity of aim which animates us all, we must try to retain this spirit in peace, and I believe that both we and the industry have learnt most valuable lessons. It will, I hope, be clear from what I have said that the problems of post-war co-ordination of transport are far from simple, and that they will not be solved on doctrinaire lines. The only criterion must be what will best serve the interests of the nation. In addition to the thought being devoted to the subject in my Department, many leaders of the various branches of transport are working on these problems and I have already had exploratory discussions with some of them. These discussions are continuing, and before I propound major proposals to this House I intend to satisfy myself that they are fair, workable and well calculated to achieve the object in view. We must not miss the opportunity which will come with peace for building a better and sounder transport system, but equally we cannot afford "to take the wrong turning" however speciously fair a prospect it may offer.

I can promise your Lordships that we shall not be daunted by the complexity of the issues or by the magnitude of the interests involved. Just as soon as I am satisfied that all the relevant facts and views—including the views expressed in this House to-day—have been properly considered, there will be no timidity or hesitation in taking decisions.


My Lords, I am sure I speak for all those who have taken part in this debate and those members of your Lordships' House who have listened to it when I thank the noble Lord for his extremely interesting and illuminating speech. I think that we have got certain crumbs of real encouragement. I was glad to hear him speaking of the need for "a more radical solution"—those were his words—than the "Square Deal" proposals for the relations between road and rail after the war, and I hope that that more radical solution may be prepared in good time to meet post-war problems. I was also glad to hear that he is favourably inclined towards the request in the County of London plan for the appointment of ah investigating body to inquire into rail problems in the London area. I think the great thing is that that body should be appointed, and appointed speedily, and the details can be considered later. Finally, I was glad to hear that he has actually got so far as to submit to his Cabinet colleagues certain road projects, upon which town planning by local and regional planning authorities after the war will be built. Those are all definite steps forward in the direction in which we want to go.

I cannot say that I feel so happy about the broader issues. I did not feel that any preparations are being made for the co-ordinated system of national transport which everyone desires. I think all the speakers this afternoon, whether they were for or against public boards or nationalization, were in favour of co-ordination. The noble Lord, Lord Essendon, who speaks with so much authority on this subject, said he was stronglv in favour of more co-ordination between coastwise shipping and other forms of inland trans- port. I am certain you can get no co-ordinated system—indeed this was the view of the Royal Commission—without unification; that is to say, without some form of central transport authority. It cannot be done by voluntary agreement among the different branches of transport, because these agreements in the end always break down.

The other aspect of the problem is the question of monopoly. Nothing is being done to prevent a further extension of private monopoly after the war for essential public service. Everyone agrees that competition is gone, that that safeguard to the public has vanished, with the extension of private monopoly on the railways and in different forms of road services, and the extension of public control in the interests of the consumer. I do not feel that this issue of private monopoly versus public control is being fairly and squarely faced. In war-time private monopoly, even of extremely important undertakings, will work fairly well on account of the spirit and morale of those engaged in them, but I am certain that private monopoly of essential industries in peace-time is a menace to the consumer. I hope the noble Lord will bear that question carefully in mind, as I am sure he will, and make further suggestions later on. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to