HL Deb 30 April 1947 vol 147 cc294-8

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to ask His Majesty's Government why the reservation of seats on railways is to be discontinued. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there was a time, not very tar back, when one could reserve a railway carriage. I remember being questioned in another place as to who was allowed to have such a luxury as a reserved carriage, and my reply was—it was the correct one, curiously enough—"persons with infectious diseases, corpses, high service officials, lunatics, convicts, and Cabinet Ministers." Those days are past, and all I am asking about now is seat reservations. I know quite well that owing to the coal shortage we are to have fewer trains than usual; but if we are to have fewer trains it seems to me that that is a good reason for having reservation of seats. We shall soon come to the holiday period, when people with families will try to get to the seaside, and I should have thought that it was no very great disgrace, although the Government talk about planning and do not plan, for little people in small walks of life to be able to plan their holidays for a certain date and to be able to make a reservation so as to go on that particular date.

The distress we have witnessed in the past through people queueing up at 6 o'clock in the morning in order to catch a train at 10 o'clock at one of our great London termini is really a lamentable thing. Then what happens? They are allowed upon the platform when the train has not come in; and when it does come in, there is a general rush and the seats go to the strong. We are extremely back ward on this question of train reservations. I do not think travelling is as uncomfortable anywhere else in the world as it is here, and we are now taking what I maintain is a very backward step. I do not know whether it is in the minds of the Government to make as many people as possible as miserable and as uncomfortable as they possibly can. If the Government said there were to be no reservations in first-class carriages, I should be perfectly happy to accept that, but I think that in the case of third-class carriages reservations should be allowed for the benefit of those who travel so little, but who, when they get their holidays, should be allowed to travel in comparative peace.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, I have no desire whatever to differ from the noble Lord in his criticism of our railway services at the present time. They are indeed deplorable. But it must be remembered that we have just come through the greatest war we have ever known, and that all the equipment is in a bad state and that all repairs are in arrear. Therefore we cannot institute anything like ideal conditions, or even reinstitute the conditions that existed before the war. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government have in mind—the noble Lord is particularly anxious to know what they have in mind—and are carrying through a measure designed to furnish the country with a very much better railway service than it has ever had before, but in the meantime we have to make the best of what we have got.

So far as the specific point raised by the noble Lord is concerned, I can only say that it is a matter of considerable regret to my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, that it has been necessary to announce the withdrawal of seat reservation facilities as from the introduction of the summer time-tables on June 16. The restoration of this facility followed others, such as the reintroduction of dining and sleeping accommodation and cheap day fares, when the winter time table came into force. Those were all measures to improve the amenities of railway travel which appeared to be justified by the improvement of services which was then made practicable. The position this summer is, however, governed by the over-riding need to save coal, which has made necessary the reduction of the train services already announced. The cuts are being arranged so as to cause the least possible inconvenience, but the fact remains that there will inevitably be some congestion in passenger trains, particularly at week-ends during the summer.

The reservation of scats requires staff, not only for the office work, but also to ensure that the reservations are respected; and the larger the number of would-be passengers on a train, the larger is the staff required. The railway companies have considered the traffic prospects this summer in relation to the services and to the staff that will be available, and they have recommended to my right honourable friend that in the conditions we are likely to experience this summer, the continuance of the seat reservation facilities is not justified, and in fact would not be practicable. It is primarily the consideration that with heavily crowded trains seat reservations cannot be made effective that has led to the conclusion that they must for the present be discontinued. I am sure the companies were as reluctant to make this recommendation as my right honourable friend was to accept it, but in present circumstances no other course was practicable.

The only exceptions which it has been possible to make are for passengers travelling to or from boat services. There are special considerations which apply in such cases. A practical consideration is that the number of passengers travelling to join a particular boat is known beforehand, and train facilities can accordingly be related to the actual requirements. That being so, it is desirable in the interests of tourist traffic to maintain seat reservations on the boat trains. I am sure that everyone will agree that it is reasonable to offer this small measure of comfort to those who have just landed on our shores, or those who are receiving their final impressions of a visit to this country. My right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, and the railway companies, will of course, keep the position under review, and we hope, providing coal is available to run adequate services, that it will be possible to restore seat reservation to, the amenities provided by our railways before too long an interval has passed. I know from my own knowledge that the conditions described by the noble Lord are real, but they actually furnish the reason why we cannot arrange for the reservations. He described how people rush for a train and everyone crowds into it. In those circumstances, no station master or inspector can possibly arrange that reservations be respected, if labels have been put on the carriages away down in the sidings. We have not got, and cannot get, enough porterage staff to restrain the passengers and see that only the right people get into the right carriages. As that cannot be done, it would be very ill-advised to make reservations, and therefore we have had to abandon the whole thing during the coming summer, because we were quite sure it would not be carried out.


My Lords, by the Rules of Procedure I am not allowed to answer. I congratulate the noble Lord.