§ 3.23 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to call attention to British Railways, their operation and their place in the country's transport system; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, never in their history have British Railways been in such disrepute with the travelling public as they are to-day. Never in the long history of British Railways has the morale of the railway worker been so low as it is to-day. During the period in which these two factors have gained momentum, the British Transport Commission has lost £300 million. It is against that sombre background that I ask your Lordships to consider the Motion that I have upon the Order Paper to-day.
§ May I deal with the first point I have made? The volume of public protest 536 grows. The main-line traveller who has to use the railway as a vital part of his life says that the timetable has lost its meaning. The rural worker who relies upon a railway service to get him to his work is losing hours of pay, and productive industry is losing hours of production. My researches have proved to me that this spreads through the whole of commerce. Coal, which is supposed to be one of the great traffics of British Railways, can now be transported by road from the pits to the South Midlands at anything from 4s. to 7s. 6d. per ton cheaper, and six times quicker, because of some false economic reason which is at present being instituted. My researches have also brought me in contact with the producers of periodicals who tell me that they can get their publications sold on the streets of New York quicker than they can in towns 50 miles from London.
§ Is it necessary for me to labour this point? Every one of your Lordships travels just as I do, but if I can follow the excellent lead of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who brought Shakespeare to his aid, may I bring Shakespeare to my aid and say"Oh, cursed spite! that ever I was born to have to travel on the worst managed section of British Railways—the line that runs from London to Oxford, Hereford and Worcester."
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I thought it was the worst, because I could not conceive anything being worse.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
The noble Lord makes my point. I need not dwell upon that. I defy the noble Lord to equal this. The train service from Paddington to Oxford has got so bad that the churches of Oxford made up their minds that it was past praying for. But what did they do? They organised petitions from the pulpit; in one church the protest forms were set on the pews, and 600 people signed a petition. That was quickly followed by 300 signatures of the heads of Oxford University. Need I go any further? Need I go into the detail? If your 537 Lordships wish me to go into the detail I have it all here—the detail of hours and hours of waiting. In order to get to your Lordships' House to-day I have to come the day before so that I can be here when your Lordships meet; and I stay in London because I know that I shall not get back on the same night. That is the state of things all over the country, North, South, East and West.
During the past four years 300 miles of railway lines have been closed down. In the reappraisal of the railway companies during the next four years, another six times as many miles are to be closed down. I am not against the closing of uneconomic lines, but what is the yardstick of an uneconomic line? I read that many more stations are to be closed down in a reappraisal. Then when I pick up my morning paper I find that many of them are to be reprieved because revenue would be lost if they were closed. Twelve months ago, almost to the day, the Government said to the British Transport Commission:"Unless you economise to the extent of an agreed figure"—I believe it was £20 million—"we will not give you any further financial assistance." That was the price that had to be paid for the financial assistance given to the British Transport Commission to finance their deficit. I will return to that point later, but I believe that, in the event—perhaps the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, although I think I am right—only about £9 million could be saved. And where was it saved? My investigations force me to the conclusion that economy was effected on the maintenance of the rolling stock and of the track, and that is why to-day there is a disproportionate number of locomotives breaking down and of delays caused by track failures.
Is this a policy of panic?—because who is to pay for it?: the travelling public, on the one hand, and the railway worker, on the other. I am told—and again perhaps the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, because my information may not be 100 per cent. correct—that, in spite of the fact that the labour force of the railways is falling down and down, no overtime is allowed on the maintenance of rolling stock or track because there has to be economy at all costs. So far as I can see that is one of 538 the main problems to-day, and the travelling public have got almost to the end of their tether. I am not going on with that aspect of the problem because I shall say only what every one of the phenomenal number of speakers this afternoon can speak of from his own experience.
Let me turn to my second point, because this is far more serious: the morale of the railway worker. When the British Transport Commission inherited British Railways they inherited some of the finest men in any industry in this country. The war record of the railway worker needs no praise from me. But what has happened? His morale has been crushed—and why? There is no more soul-destroying experience for any worker than to work for a concern that is always"in the red". There is no more soul-destroying experience in this world than to be told every day that one's conditions and wages cannot be improved because the concern is always losing money. What has happened in this year, 1959, the most prosperous year this country has ever known, when we have"never had it so good"—except the railway worker? The men nave left the railways; and the only men we have on the railways to-day are those good stalwarts who are within shooting distance of their pension, and those with family ties. What are we going to do? This is the nub, the whole of the railway problem to-day.
In a White Paper issued in 1956 the British Transport Commission said it was a prerequisite for all their success in the future that there should be a rising standard of living over this country. They mentioned the figure—that the overall increase had to be 3 per cent. That was the prerequisite: they said that in 1956. Yet they have never had the ability to utilise the position or the courage to face the challenge. The other day the Chairman of the British Transport Commission appeared before the National Production Advisory Council for Industry, the highest-level concern in this country, over which the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer presides. What did the Chairman say?—that it was unfair of industries to bribe the workers with better pay. He explained that the drift away from the railways was becoming a 539 serious problem, and he felt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should know about it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, with, I should think, all the acidity he could put into his voice, said that that was a problem for the railways.
Has any industrialist in your Lordships' House or outside ever heard a more amazing statement? What did the Chairman expect? Did he expect the British Employers Confederation, did he expect I.C.I., Unilever, Bovril, the British Motor Corporation and others to say,"Oh yes, that is what is wanted, and we will lower our wages so that you can pay sub-normal wages to your workers"? Did he expect that the railwayman was going to see his fellow worker enjoying the fruits of this greatest and most prosperous era in our history while he, the railwayman, was content with sub-normal wages? Do the Chairman and the Commission live in a real world or do they not? If we are to have an increasing standard of living surely it means that the worker must be better off. It puzzles me. If the British Transport Commission feel that they are going to ride to success by paying subnormal wages I would say that they would be the first concern in the history of industry ever to achieve that. It is not a question of whether they can afford to pay current rates of pay. It is a question of whether they can afford not to do so.
What are they going to do? We cannot stop a man leaving the Western Region and going to Cowley or the Pressed Steel Company where he can get 50 per cent. more money. You may say,"It is wrong. It is wicked. The cads! Why do they do it?" What are you going to do? If the British Transport Commission go on with this present policy, they will not have any workers left at all. My Lords, this is the nub of the problem. But I would beg of them to realise that the concerns of British industry are doing one of the finest jobs that British industry has ever done, but, to use the expression of the Chairman of the Transport Commission, are bribing his workers away by paying far higher rates. And yet they are producing goods at competive prices that will compete in the markets of the world. One of the reasons is that they have the"know-how". They have learnt the 540 secret of productive management. My Lords, there we have it.
The Committee which was set up with the consent of the Royal Commission and the railway unions was presided over by Mr. Guillebaud. I have not had the pleasure of the gentleman's acquaintance. But what do they expect he is going to do? I could tell them now; I should not have to wait for the Guillebaud Committee to give their verdict. They will say, by and large, that the rates of pay on British Railways are about 12½ per cent.—they may say 15 per cent.—below the comparable level in other industries. What are British Railways going to say if the Guillebaud Committee say that? Are they going to play the record they play every time:"We ain't agoin' to pay no more, no more"? What are they going to do? Or do they think Mr. Guillebaud has a magic wand or brains unpossessed by the British Transport Commission? My Lords, this is the reason for the low morale of the railway worker. Can we honestly expect him to stand by in this prosperous era, when all his fellow workers are bringing home pay packets of £20 per week—is it within the realm of sense that he is going to be satisfied with an average wage of about £12? This is a managerial problem which the British Transport Commission have never grasped, and until they do the drift away from the railways is going to be progressive.
I hurried away from your Lordships' House on Monday night. I rushed to Paddington Station because I had an appointment in Oxford. I arrived there to catch the 4.45 p.m. train. Chaos reigned supreme. There was a points failure. No trains were coming in and no trains were going out. The loudspeaker did not work and so nobody knew what was happening. I went up to an old fellow who had some brass round his hat and some grey hairs on his head, and asked him,"Will you tell me, when am I going to get away?" He said,"I don't know, Sir. Forgive me. Don't worry me. My heart is broken already." What a state of morale! I walked up the platform and I met one of the heads; he could not have been of much higher rank. I pointed out to him a train that was going out without any lights on. I asked,"What is all this about?" He said,"Do you know we have only one 541 electrician on Paddington Station?" I got into my train eventually, three-quarters of an hour late, and I travelled 50 miles in the dark. And this is what the British public are asked to suffer.
Let me turn now to the next point. It is the last of my three points: the financial aspect. I would point out that the present deficit has been accumulated; it is £300 million. I will try to be brief and I hope your Lordships will bear with me, because I will try to explain this to you. I do not pretend that I understand it myself, but this is as I see it. In the Re-appraisal—the White Paper—is set out a summary of the financial outlook of British Railways, and it says that from 1957 to 1963 they are going to make a profit—that is, a surplus—of anything from £55 million to £105 million. The year 1957 is the datum line, but they start off in 1957 with a deficit of £4 million. The year 1958 was worse: the net deficit was £35 million. One year gone; £40 million worse off. The year 1959, through the forced economy that I was just speaking about, will not be as bad, but there will still be a deficit. So when the end of 1959 comes British Railways' deficit on revenue account—that is, the deficit on working, which is not taking into account anything else—will be somewhere in the region of £70 million. And they have not yet reached scratch. They have not even begun getting the £50 million to £100 million surplus.
My Lords, what have they to do? Your Lordships will remember that the Treasury allowed them to have a deficit of, I think, about £250 million. That was used up in two years. So then this unholy bargain which I have just mentioned was struck, and they said,"You can now borrow against the deficit up to £400 million, but you have to pay interest on the borrowing". The interest ranges from 5 per cent. to 6 per cent., and the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong when I say that I think the current rate is 51 per cent. They have to pay interest upon the money they borrowed to put into the Special Account, the home of the deficit; and unless they make a surplus—and that is the only way the interest can be paid—they have to pay interest upon the interest upon the deficit. So at the present time the British Transport Commission is going on year after year paying the interest upon 542 the deficit of the interest upon the deficit! And they themselves estimate that by 1963 they will be paying interest on the Special Account of close on £85 million to £100 million.
What do they say? This is the shadow of things to come—I quote paragraph 109 of the Re-appraisal:If the maximum advances which can be made to The Commission to finance revenue deficits have been required by the end of the year 1963, the amount standing to the debit of the Special Account at that date would be about £750 million.My Lords, I say now that, under this scheme of finance, the British Transport Commission can never make a profit: it is impossible. It will go on paying interest upon the interest upon the deficit, at anything up to 6 per cent. If I may again bow to the noble and learned Viscount, Shylock never drove such a filthy bargain. The railways will never pay.
Now, my Lords, let me come to the solution of the problem. That is what I intend to put to your Lordships this afternoon because it is about time somebody, instead of criticising and criticising, had the courage to say,"That is what I would do about it"—and that is what I intend to do. But before I do that, may I trespass upon your Lordships' time to go back a little into history? In 1947 the British Transport Commission was formed, and it was charged with running its affairs as a commercial concern. It was enjoined that it had to make its expenditure meet its revenue, taking one year with another—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mills, an industrialist, as I am, will not have any quarrel with that as a sound principle. It was implicit in the Transport Act that the Commission should be independent of Parliament and of the Government, save only that, to satisfy the principle of public accountability, it must produce a Report and accounts to Parliament every year, and then there could be a grand inquest.
Then Parliament made the first of its fatal errors. It hedged the Commission around with restrictions that made it impossible for the Commission ever to operate as a commercial concern. It imposed the condition that its pricing policy should be decided by a Transport Tribunal—a condition that no commercial undertaking would ever dream of agreeing to. And what happened? In a period 543 of inflation it lagged twelve months to two years behind its suppliers, who could put their prices up willy-nilly, whereas it never had the chance itself. My Lords, let us be fair. If we are going to view this thing objectively and honestly, let us face brutal facts. In 1952, the Government of the day began interfering with the Commission's policy and undermining its independence. When the Transport Tribunal was asked to agree to London Transport's putting up its fares, it was an inconvenient time for the then Government, because there were the L.C.C. elections; and they refused to allow it to do so. In 1956, the British Transport Commission wanted to put up its freight rates by 15 per cent., but the Government said,"No; you can put them up only 5 per cent." In 1958—and this is what I called just now the"unholy bargain"—the Government said to the British Transport Commission,"You have got to economise to the tune of £20 million, whether you like it or whether you do not."
Those, my Lords, are the facts. The independence of that nationalised industry to run its affairs according to what was in the Statute went. What a different page of transport history might have been written if the Chairman of the British Transport Commission., at some time during all that period, had said,"No; I cannot carry on my statutory responsibility of making my income meet my expenditure if you are going to impose these policies upon me!" But the strength was not there. I say this with the greatest respect, but truth compels that I should say it: because of that failure, the Chairman of the British Transport Commission became the tool of the Government; and once the chairman of a nationalised industry becomes the tool of any Government—I do not care of what Party—he might just as well get out.
My Lords, strong and intelligent direction was not there; and that is only too evident if you read the White Papers and the Reports Right the way through, the British Transport Commission has gone from crisis to crisis; from appraisal to re-appraisal; preparing in one White Paper the excuses for the failures that it will have to admit in the next. You have only to read the Re-appraisal to see that. Let me quote just one paragraph. It is 544 paragraph 118, which is headed"Final Remarks":This Re-appraisal has shown that the Modernisation Plan drawn up four years ago, and the financial appreciation made in the White Paper of 1956, were soundly based. … Where the financial forecasts made in 1956 have not been realised, the causes lie predominantly in factors which were expressly excluded from the forecasts as being outside the control of the Commission.But that statement is not true. In 1956, when we debated the White Paper, speaking from this Dispatch Box to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who was replying for the Government, I said,"You have not a chance of meeting this—not a chance. This is just impossible of achievement". I did not expect anybody to listen to me. My Lords, the alibi is here for the next White Paper that will eventually be produced. I will read it to your Lordships—I quote paragraph 112:The financial results of the Commission at that time"—that is, 1963—after allowing for this revenue charge, may accordingly, if the efforts made are successful and circumstances favourable, show a small net surplus; on the other hand, if circumstances are unfavourable, a deficit is to be expected.What a profound statement! And in some White Paper two or three years ahead, they will be able to say,"We predicted all this and the circumstances were beyond our control."
Now for the solution that I promised. May I say this? I ask nobody to accept any responsibility for what I am now going to say. This is my own—poor thing though it may be—and I hold nobody else responsible. I should like to say, and I say it most sincerely, that no form of nationalisation or re-nationalisation will ever cure this problem. That is the first thing. No curtailment of competition will ever solve this problem. It is no good the Chairman of British Transport Commission going the round of lunches in London and (to use a vulgarism) almost"belly-aching" about the competition from the"C" licence holders. In 1947, I fought bitterly against the inclusion of the"C" licence provisions in the Transport Act. I know that I was right, and I would fight them again, if necessary, on this principle: that if you attempt to run a commercial concern on the principle of handicapping 545 your competitors, instead of on the principle of using your own brains and initiative, failure is bound to be your lot.
The next thing I want to say is this. We do not want any Royal Commission on Transport, or any Committees. We have had enough of them. We had a £300 million deficit at the end of 1958, which is the last figure available; and I suppose that today it is nearly £370 million. You can chase that figure up and down the columns, and over the pages of account books, but it is lost and we shall never get it back. I say: wipe it off. Put the British Transport Commission in funds for two years, as we should do with any ordinary commercial concern. If this were a commercial concern, as was intended in 1947, this deficit would have been wiped off years ago. Unfortunately, the folk who are going to put new money into the British Transport Commission are the folk who have lost the old money. It has to come from the Government. I am not asking for a subsidy—please, no. I say: wipe it off. That is not a subsidy, because we are never going to get the money back. Put the British Transport Commission in funds. Free it from all the obstacles such as the Transport Tribunal. Let it compete for business. Let it do what it was supposed to do in 1947; that is, make its revenue meet expenditure, taking one year with another.
It is no good doing that and keeping the same management at the top, however; if we do, in ten years' time we shall have another £300 million deficit. During my cogitations over this matter, I wrote down on a piece of paper the qualifications that I would myself impose for the top man of the British Transport Commission. I should like to read my note to your Lordships.Just a sheer ability to direct and manage industrial and commercial operations, however vast and diverse they may be.The noble Lord will not quarrel with that. He has seen this happen before. This is not a difficult job. There are firms which have been brought from a worse state than the British Transport Commission to prosperity by men of that ability, but there is not one permanent full-time member of the British Transport Commission to-day who measures up to within 100 miles of this specification; and until we get such a man we are wasting our time. Only 546 such a man will preserve the independence that is so necessary and will bring the drive. And he must be paid the rate for the job.
I have never been very fond of the set-up at the top. I can understand why it was done and I am not going to blame anybody. We decided to have at the top so many permanent and so many part-time members. I think that we were wrong. Experience has proved us to be wrong. At the present time, there are seven full-time and eight part-time members of the Board. We also have the Area Boards, which control transport activities over the country. They have 39 part-time members and seven or eight full-time members—estimable men, but all individualists and not welded into a team. And what do we see in industry? A survey by the National Institute of Economic Affairs of 148 of the largest companies in Britain shows that of 1,404 directors 70 per cent. are full-time executive directors, and that 65 per cent. of these served five years in their companies before being appointed to the board. That is the modern trend in industry. Let there be areas; but remember that one first-class general manager in charge of an area is worth twenty part-time directors. I do not have to tell the noble Lord that.
I should like to make one other point before I close. The Modernisation Plan must be speeded up. It is dragging its feet. It is vital for the interests of this country. Do your Lordships know that only 2½ per cent. of the total main-line locomotives, passenger and freight, are diesel? Do your Lordships know that, after four years of argument, continuous braking on freight wagons has been fitted, partly or fully, only to the extent of 31 per cent? Do your Lordships know that automatic coupling has not yet made its appearance? In 1958, I was told by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, answering for the Government, that it was being experimented with. To-day it is still being experimented with. On Sunday night I stood on Oxford platform and I saw the six o'clock Reading to Paddington train go out, crowded with men, women and children, without a corridor and without a lavatory. That is four years after modernising.
I hold not only that British Railways are an essential part of the transport 547 of this country, but that the British Transport Commission, properly integrated, with its own facilities, at the present time could be one of the prosperous concerns of this country. But integration has not started within the British Transport Commission. At the present time British Railways own as many motor vehicles as British Road Services. I have all the details here. When loads are being carried upon the roads of this country that could well go by rail or sea, integration has not started. I do not usually waste my time on sympathy for Ministers—they seldom deserve it; but if I have any sympathy it is for the present Minister of Transport. He has on his hands the biggest road problem that any Minister ever had. And now at this juncture I have put down this Motion. I have said that we do not want Committees, inquiries. What we want is an inquiry into this matter by a first-class, proved industrialist; a man whose reputation in this country is made; and he is sitting on the Government Front Bench now—the noble Lord, Lord Mills. He would carry the confidence of everybody. I beg of him to start to-day: to-morrow may be too late. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I must say that the noble Lord does me personally too much honour. We have listened to a very serious speech by a noble Lord who is not afraid to call a spade a spade, and I am sure that everything he has said will be carefully considered by my right honourable friend who is responsible for transport affairs in this country. He is not only doing a great job in regard to those difficult traffic problems on the roads, but he has also started without any delay to look into the railway position, and I am sure he will greatly benefit by what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has had to say. I was much impressed on November 4 when I listened to the speech by the noble Lord, who had put down a Motion both in regard to road traffic and the railways, and by the debate which followed. That debate lasted some five hours and I am sure was very useful at this juncture. The noble Lord promised that he would put down a Motion in the not-too-distant future when the subject of the railways 548 could be threshed out: he did not say"thrashed out", but"threshed out". I have listened carefully to his remarks to-day, and I think he has thrashed it out. Twenty-two noble Lords are down to speak in to-day's debate, so I hope that the vigorous start given by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, will see that the subject is thoroughly threshed out. He has, in any case, tried to separate the wheat from the chaff, and, if he has not set the temse on fire, at any rate I think he has probably started to make it smoulder.
The number of noble Lords taking part in this debate demonstrates the cares and anxieties we all show for the future of the railways, and perhaps, too, the traditional regard we have for them and for all connected with their operations. In order that I may be helpful in this debate, perhaps your Lordships would permit me briefly to sketch the history of the railways. The present railway system was laid down almost in its entirety in the 19th century. It developed largely as a number of small systems operated by local companies in fierce competition for the growing traffic of industrial expansion. This creation of a number of somewhat local railway systems was perhaps naturally followed both by the stress of competition and the necessity of meeting the needs of an expanding industrial economy, by an amalgamation of the small companies to form railway systems covering large areas of the country in more or less monopoly conditions. This process continued during the latter half of the 19th century right down to the outbreak of the First World War, when the railways were for all practical purposes brought under State control.
In the Railway Act of 1921 the railways were brought together into four main-line railway companies, each covering a more or less separate part of the country and only marginally in competition with each other. But the virtual elimination of competition between the railways was followed by a challenge to the railways from road transport, which began to assume significant proportions by the late 1920's and has continued progressively with profound consequences to the pattern of inland transport. The rise of road transport had this effect upon the revenues 549 of the railways. In the early 1930's the abstraction of profitable traffics previously carried by the railways was giving rise to problems which, together with the confused state of road haulage through unregulated development, led to the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, which imposed a licensing system for road haulage and afforded an important measure of protection for the railways. The licensing of road passenger transport by a similar Act in 1930 also gave some protection to the railways in respect of buses.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord imply that he did not favour a restriction of other forms of transport in order to make the railways viable. But, despite these measures, and because of industrial conditions throughout the 'thirties, the railways were in a poor financial state and capital for them was very difficult to raise. They entered the 1939 war with their systems not in the best of order and equipment already beginning to run down through lack of capital. During the war years the railways were essential to the prosecution of the war and nobly responded to the demands made upon them. But the war imposed great strains upon the railways and their equipment, and the permanent ways were substantially run down. Capital replacements and renewals were kept to a minimum. It is very easy for us now to question that policy, but during the stress of war there were many who questioned the wisdom of using skilled labour in any direction except in the production of weapons of a defensive and offensive character.
The railways were not the only services which suffered from the paramount need of survival and bringing the war to a successful conclusion. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, knows how the electricity industry was run down in the war because of the lack of attention to it, and the paramount need of survival. What happened? The Transport Commission was set up under the Transport Act, 1947, and the railways were nationalised, thus completing the process of amalgamation which had started actually a century or so before. At the time of the nationalization, one of the sponsors of the Act described the assets to be taken over by the Commission as"a pretty poor bar of assets", and so they were—four railway systems which 550 had been run down in the service of the country in the prosecution of the war. It was decided at that time to impose upon them the great untried experiment of nationalisation, I am not saying in any wrong sense. Something had to be done with the railways. I know it is easy to have hindsight, but the railways were facing greater competition day by day, and their place in the transport needs of this country required greater definition than ever before. No doubt their capital structures, too, required attention to reflect the conditions of the post-war world.
The solution was to be the Transport Act, 1947, and, much as I have studied that Act, I will say this: I have failed to find in it any realisation of the then mounting difficulties of the railways. The four systems which, though run down, had tradition and goodwill behind them, were to be replaced by a Transport Commission commanding no allegiance, but required to act in accordance with an Act of Parliament laying down the rules and, as the noble Lord himself has indicated, limiting the freedom of action of its creation. The composition of the Commission was laid down within limits. The powers of the Commission were actually detailed: the transport of goods and passengers by rail, road and inland waterway to provide port facilities to construct and manufacture for its needs; to provide hotels, hostels and places of refreshment, et cetera. So this huge Empire was placed in the hands of the Commission consisting ofa chairman and not less than four nor more than eight other members.I find it difficult to know how the Commission did so well in such circumstances. But, of course, they were helped, as well as handicapped, by other provisions of the Act. There was established a Transport Users' Consultative Committee in respect of passenger traffic, and a similar committee in respect of goods traffic, with a Central Transport Consultative Committee reporting to the Minister and, through him, to Parliament. Privately-owned wagons were transferred to the Commission. Road transport undertakings, operating for hire or for profit, were generally to be acquired by the Commission or limited in their operation. The jurisdiction of a transport tribunal to which the noble 551 Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has referred, over passenger rates and freight charges was established as part of the system. The Commission were given powers to borrow money temporarily to an amount not exceeding £25 million. Subject to the consent of the Minister and the approval of the Treasury, they could borrow up to an amount of £250 million. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the borrowing in a single year, 1958, was no less than £213 million, and the noble Lord has given us some idea of the size of the operation, and the size of the deficits sustained.
As I have said, it is very easy to have hindsight; but could it be maintained that the rigid conditions laid down in the Act took account of the requirements put upon the Transport Commission to balance its accounts taking one year with another? Their freedom of action was much restricted, and competition, the spur of action, largely eliminated. It was a factor, and a factor of considerable importance, in considering the present position of the railways that for several years after nationalisation investment in the railways remained low. In these years of reconstruction—and it is understandable—both roads and railways came low in the investment priorities of the public sector. The railways entered the 1950's with a big programme of renewal and modernisation to face when at the same time the expansion of road transport and its importance in the export field to the manufacturer of vehicles, was recognised, and was at a new and very high level.
Then both the Government and the Transport Commission applied their minds to the needs of the future. There was need for greater flexibility—I do not think that is a very appropriate word, but it is very much used to-day. But there was need to make measures more adaptable and more adjustable to the circumstances of the time, and so by the Transport Act of 1953 measures for decentralisation of working and control were made possible. Competition from road haulage was reintroduced. The British Transport Commission, for their part, addressed themselves to the modernisation of the railways. Their aim was to bring in new and improved forms of traction, equipment and lay-out, so as to provide a better and a more competitive 552 railway service. They recognised in preparing that plan that the railway system needed to be rationalised as well as modernised to meet present conditions in a growing economy. Accordingly they prepared by the end of 1954 their plan for the modernisation and re-equipment of British Railways.
The Modernisation Plan looked forward to 1970. It covered works and investments originally assessed at a total cost of £1,200 million, re-assessed at £1,500 million (plus £160 million for related investment) in the autumn of 1957. During 1955 and 1956 it became evident that the British Transport Commission would face a period of strain on their finances until their modernisation plans, their rationalisation plans, brought the results by way of extra earnings and lower costs that they hoped for. The Commission put their views on this subject to the Government, and on the basis of the Commission's prospectus the Government decided to support modernisation and see the railways through their difficulties until the plan produced the break-even in 1961–62 expected by the Commission. The Commission's prospectus and the Government's proposals were published in the White Paper, Proposals for the Railways, in 1956.
The Government's support took two forms. The Exchequer has been lending the Commission the greater part of the capital needed for investment each year in the Modernisation Programme. Your Lordships will remember that it was decided from the 1956 Finance Act Awards that nationalised industries' capital borrowings should be from the Exchequer. The Government have also been lending the Commission the money needed to meet the deficits attributable to the railways. The size of the support can be seen from the way the investment in British Railways has grown: in 1955, £70 million; 1956, £87 million; 1957, £124 million; 1958, £140 million. And the sum authorised for this year, 1959, for British Railways is £178 million, out of £212 million for the whole Commission. And it is this progress, I am sure, which is exercising the mind of my noble friend.
I am trying to be factual, in order that your Lordships may have all the information before you that you ought to have to consider this important subject. During 1958 it became clear that 553 the railways' earnings that year were falling seriously below the financial plan in the 1956 White Paper. In the event, the net result was that the deficit was some £30 million more than had been budgeted for, and the Minister decided to lend the Commission the money to meet the larger deficit. Foreseeing that the total limit originally estimated for deficit advances might be exceeded, he obtained powers under the Transport (Borrowing Powers) Act, 1959, to lend up to a higher limit. He also asked the Commission to carry out a thorough reappraisal of the Modernisation Plan and their financial prospects, showing the steps leading to a break-even. The Commission carried out their reappraisal and reported to the Minister. Their Report was published in a White Paper last July.
In that Report the Commission reaffirmed the main lines of the Modernisation Plan, with some changes in emphasis and timing, mainly to complete the schemes more quickly. That is one of the things which the noble Lord stressed in his remarks. They suggested faster investment, putting over £800 million into the railways over the four years 1960–63, and faster rationalisation of the system. Financially, based on their assessments of future traffics and costs, the Commission suggested in their Report, as the noble Lord has said, a surplus over their undertaking as a whole of £50 million to £100 million by about the end of 1963, against central charges, mostly interest on capital, of about £85 million. It is true they suggested that in the years after 1963 mounting interest liabilities for capital and debts would more than swallow up the increased earnings expected. The noble Lord drew our attention to that fact.
The Re-appraisal Report represents the considered opinion of the British Transport Commission working in conjunction with the various regions of the railway system. It represents a plan for the future; and whatever one may think of that plan, one cannot say that it is merely an aimless drifting on the tide of events. It is an appreciation, whether it be right or wrong, of what should be done to meet the future and what the future holds—an appreciation of the traffic upon which the Commission can rely; an estimate of the traffic which 554 their measures should secure; an estimate of the passenger prospects of the future and the costs of modernisation, services and rationalisation.
I want to make it quite clear that the Government accept that there is a vital and proper place for the railways in the transport system of the country. That is one of the questions implicit in the noble Lord's Motion. They remain, and will remain, the main carriers of coal and other minerals, of heavy manufactures; they can and should, compete in the transport of many other kinds of merchandise, and with proper modernisation they can offer better services to those who wish to travel long distances and short. I do not propose to follow the noble Lord to Oxford, but there is no reason why the railways should not offer a proper service to passengers. Unlike my noble friend Lord Brocket (I do not know whether he is here this afternoon), who said in the last debate that he would rather travel by way of any form of locomotion—walk, cycle, by motor car or aeroplane—than go on the railways, I personally would rather go on the railways than by any other form of locomotion. Where the railways cannot compete, because of local conditions, services must be reduced; and it is proposed that they should be reduced or curtailed and that road transport should supply the deficiency. All that is envisaged in the plan.
I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to say a few words about finance. Both the White Paper presented to Parliament in 1956 and the Reappraisal Report presented in July of this year recommend that some financial plan should be adopted which, while avoiding subsidy, would enable the British Transport Commission to carry on more effectively during these critical years of reconstruction. It seems to me that the financial consequences operating under a system of private enterprise and those operating under public ownership can be essentially different. In the case of private enterprise operating adversely there comes a time when the capital has to be reduced—first the equity, then the preference shares, then the debentures, resulting in a reconstruction or a sale. But in the case of a publicly-owned concern the Treasury, with the consent of Parliament, has hitherto met 555 the capital requirements and the deficits; and any writing down of capital to excuse its repayment of interest would, in fact, be a subsidy. I did not quite agree with the noble Lord when I understood him to say that that need not be a subsidy. It would be a subsidy, because, of course, the interest charges which the concern was excused would fall on the taxpayer.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question? What in fact is wrong with a subsidy as such during a necessary period of reconstruction? We use the word"subsidy" as if it were some awful word. I do not know what is wrong with a subsidy. Why, when we are trying to reconstruct the railways, should we not have a subsidy during that period of reconstruction?
§ LORD MILLS
If you qualify that by the words"during a period of reconstruction," I too cannot see what is wrong with it. But whether any public undertakings should be financed by a subsidy is a matter for most careful thought and for Parliament to consider.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to ask this question: if you can provide a well-known steel firm with an amount of money interest-free, why do you have to charge British Railways anything up to 6 per cent.?
§ LORD MILLS
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has, with the greatest respect, got his facts wrong. I know of no steelworks which is being supplied with a loan interest-free. It is true that one is being supplied with a loan where the interest is deferred, but in the final accounting that particular steelworks which the noble Lord has in mind will have to pay interest from the day it gets the money.
§ LORD MILLS
Well, this question of the writing down of capital and the question of interest is a matter worthy of consideration, but it is not the first necessity. The first necessity is to get the railways operating at a profit on their revenues, excluding the interest; and until they are doing that, the other 556 matter is quite secondary. In that connection, the rate of interest to which the noble Lord referred—a figure of something round about 5½ per cent.; I think it is something less than that now—is a figure related to the rate at which the Treasury themselves are able to borrow, and it really is a very low rate of interest for raising capital of this kind.
I should like to say a word about the Transport Commission itself. The noble Lord gave us the benefit of his views, and I am sure that they will be studied with great interest by all concerned. But they have been pursuing a system of decentralisation and of increased local control, and a large body of opinion supports them in building up authority in the Regions. The noble Lord questioned the usefulness of part-time members of the Commission or of the Area Boards. I would agree with the noble Lord that there has been a growing movement—I think it is a right one—to include in Board membership a greater proportion of whole-time members who know the industry and who earn their living in the industry. But I still believe that part-time members, with the right kind of experience, do assist in formulating the right policies and preventing the growth of narrow-mindedness and rigidity in most institutions. The nationalisation Act itself envisaged the use of some part-time members, and I believe that the concept was right, always provided they are chosen for their experience and their abilities and not by way of reward for service in some other sphere.
Then the noble Lord raised the question—a very important one—of the Commission's attitude to railway pay. I believe the noble Lord is aware that following the railways wages settlement of June, 1958, the British Transport Commission and the railway trade unions jointly set up an inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. C. W. Guillebaud to inquire into railway pay, taking into account rates of pay for comparable work in other nationalised industries, public services and appropriate private undertakings. That committee are not expected to report before March, 1960. The noble Lord was sufficiently venturesome to make an assessment of what they are likely to say. I do not know. I feel that we must wait until they have made 557 their Report. I should inform your Lordships, although I think you are probably aware of the fact, that in April, 1959, the National Union of Railwaymen decided to press for a"substantial increase in pay". The Transport Salaried Staffs Association and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen did not support them in this, no doubt waiting to see what the Guillebaud Committee proposed. The Commission have maintained throughout the process of negotiation their rejection of the claim by the National Union of Railwaymen and only the last stage of the procedure—the Railway Staff National Tribunal—is left. We do not know what they will do, and whether or not they will go to arbitration.
The noble Lord has questioned whether the British Transport Commission as at present constituted can ever make the railways viable. I can only say that time will show. I doubt whether the noble Lord has any more justification for saying they cannot than I should have for saying they can. All I know is that they have been battling bravely against considerable odds. The pattern of traffic has undergone great changes. Motor traffic has shown an enormous expansion. There is one thing, however, which does inspire some confidence. They have realised that emergency measures here, there and everywhere will not do: they have had the courage to put forward a comprehensive plan for rationalisation and modernisation, and I feel that in the meantime we should give them our confidence. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving us his views on the railways. I am sure that what he said will make us all think, because the noble Lord is not without the advantage of a deep study of the part that our transport system plays, and I am grateful to him.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SIMON
My Lords, there are so many noble Lords who wish to speak to-day that I am sure it would be their wish that I should come quickly to the one point that I should like to make in this debate. But before doing so, I would say, if I may, in reference to what was said by the noble Lord in introducing this Motion, that I find it difficult to share with him the very black 558 picture he paints of British Railways to-day as seen from the standpoint of the passenger. I should have thought that his picture may have been coloured a little by his experiences at Oxford on Sunday afternoon and Paddington on Monday evening. I should be very surprised if a good many noble Lords would not agree with me that, while there is a long way to go, there has been a quite noticeable improvement in the service of British Railways in the last year or two. I certainly should have thought so.
The point to which I wish to refer is a quite different one. The Motion calls attention to the"place of British Railways in the country's transport system." The noble Lord did not make very much reference to that, but in one sentence he referred to the transport by road of heavy loads which might well go by rail or by sea, and that makes me hope that I shall be within the ambit of the Motion if I say a few words about the relationship between British Railways and the coastwise shipping services. To put this matter in perspective, the coastwise shipping services are an important, though perhaps not a very large part, of our country's transport system. I am told that in 1958 the tonnage carried by coastwise shipping was about 50 million—a large figure in itself, but only about 4 per cent. of the nation's inland transport. On the other hand, if it was measured in ton-miles (and I am told that, so far as shipping is concerned, the mileage is calculated on the inland equivalent and not on the longer-distance run by sea) coastwise shipping represents 20 per cent. and is therefore a sizeable part of the country's transport system. It has, of course, very limited functions. It can deal economically only with traffic over fairly long hauls and traffic that should be carried on or near the sea and whose destination is on or near the sea.
The noble Lord, Lord Mills, referred to coal as one of the staple traffics of the railways, and I am sure that it will always remain so. But where coal is available within range of the seaboard and is required to be consumed within range of the seaboard, I feel that coastal shipping remains the cheapest method of moving coal to the place where it is required. Because of its very limitations, 559 coastwise shipping is particularly susceptible to competition from the railways, since it is always possible for the railways (though whether they do it or not it is difficult to know) to give favourable rates to traffic which might otherwise travel by sea, and perhaps to load the short-haul rates to and from seaports.
As has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mills, the railways are also in control of some of the ports and there has certainly been a feeling among those interested in coastal shipping that these powers to compete with coastal shipping have been used from time to time. That feeling has grown, of course, since the recent feeling of the rate-fixing arrangements of the railways, as a result of which they are not required to publish their rates. It has been increased, too. by the substantial sums of money which Parliament is now lending to the railways on terms which, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, says, are, I believe, quite favourable.
Some time ago representatives of shipping—and I was myself involved—discussed this matter with the Chairman of the British Transport Commission and the then Minister of Transport, and received an assurance that the financial assistance given to the railways would not be used for the purpose of competing with coastal shipping. That assurance, I am quite sure, was given in the best of faith, but the more we look at it the more difficult it is to interpret it. Because when the railways are running with an operating deficit of £35 million in a year (I believe that was the noble Lord's figure; I thought it was a little more than that) it can be argued that any rate which does not fully cover not only the losses on transport but an appropriate contribution to standing charges and overheads is being subsidised by the money advanced by the Treasury.
This difficulty of coastwise shipping was recognised by Parliament all through history. It goes right back to the Railways Act, 1921, and it was repeated again in the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, and finally in the Transport Act, 1947, when the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee was set up. To quote the terms of reference of this Committee, it was appointedfor the purpose of considering and from time to time reporting to the Minister on all matters 560 which may jointly affect the interests of the Commission"—that is the Transport Commission—and those of persons engaged in coastal shipping or which the Minister may refer to them for consideration.That arrangement was enlarged in the Transport Act, 1953. I am sure your Lordships would not want to go into the details here. This was done, I suggest, not only because it was recognised by Parliament that the railways could do a great deal of damage to coastal shipping, but because it was the policy of successive Governments, approved by Parliament, to maintain coastal shipping. In that connection, perhaps I might read what the Minister of Transport in 1947, Mr. Barnes, whom many of us will remember—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, was his Parliamentary Secretary at the time—said in referring to the Railway Rates Tribunal for a ruling on what the rates should be. He specifically stated that the Commission was:to have regard to the importance of maintaining adequate coastwise shipping services.Later on, when the 1953 Act was going through another place, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, then Minister of Transport, stated that they proposed to strengthen the machinery for the protection of coastal shipping. He said:I am personally very concerned, as are my colleagues, that a very important carrying industry of this kind should not be prejudiced.So I think it is quite clear that it has been the policy of Parliament, and of both Parties, to give some support in this way to coastal shipping against the risk of damage by the railways.
How have these things worked? Quite frankly, they have not worked particularly well; and one inherent difficulty is that action can be taken only after something has happened. An appeal to the Tribunal or to the Advisory Committee can take place only after, let us say, a rate has been cut; and that is very embarrassing to everyone. It is embarrassing to the Transport Commission, because if they have quoted a lower rate than existed before they are under considerable difficulty with customers in trying to retract; and it is embarrassing to the people who complain because the complaints are made in public and the customer says,"Who are these people who are trying to do me out of the cheaper rate I have just got?"
561 At the instigation of the Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee there was set up a more or less informal arrangement for consultation on rates that were likely to affect coastal shipping when they were to be altered or announced. That machinery worked quite well when it was used, but there were times when it appears to have been overlooked. May I quote one example? It is a very recent example, but it shows the risks that are being run. A few months ago, at the beginning of September, the coastal shipping interests were informed that the South Western Gas Board had made an arrangement with the Transport Commission that all their coal, which previously travelled to waterside gas works at Exmouth, Torquay, Penzance and Bideford (it did not apply to Plymouth, because Plymouth cannot receive coal by rail) was to be diverted to the railways. That represents about 150,000 tons a year—quite a substantial amount for small ships that will not easily find other freights. The notice was given to the shipowners on September 5 and was effective on October 1. The consultation that appeared to be required under the Act did not take place at all. Subsequently inquiries were made, and it was found that consultations had been going on between the Transport Commission and the Gas Board since the beginning of the year. I feel that, if that is so, it is prima facie evidence that the machinery, which, after all, was set up by Parliament, has not been properly applied.
I think it is now said—and there may well be truth in it; I do not want to deny that—that there are certain technical difficulties in regard to the grades of coal required. But even so it seems to me within the spirit of the Act that it should have been possible for consultations to take place to see whether those difficulties could be overcome and this traffic could continue to go by sea, as it has done, so far as I know, since the gas works were started. It is difficult to believe that before this happened there was a difference of 25s. to 30s. on freight by sea, and that the rate now charged by the British Transport Corn mission, which is not disclosed under the new arrangements, is economic in relation to the cost of operating the railways. I am led to the conclusion 562 in this case that it is hard to argue that the financial help given to the railways is not being used for subsidising this rate for the South Western Gas Board, to the injury of coastal shipping.
That is not quite all, because the British Transport Commission, I am informed—and the information came from the British Transport Commission—are now asking the Minister to remove the safeguards which are written into the Act for coastal shipping. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and, I believe, my noble friend Lord Mills both seem to think it would be a good thing if they did have complete freedom. But I think, for the special reasons that apply to coastal shipping, there is a case for examining very carefully whether those safeguards should be withdrawn. The question of employment in coastal shipping must be considered; employment in the small yards that build these ships, and employment in small ports. I imagine that the port of Bideford will be severely hit by the removal of this traffic, which may not be much in itself but is much for Bideford. All such matters need to be examined, and I should have thought there was much to be said for continuing this arrangement, which as I said, has been written into legislation for the last forty years and is based on a principle which I think we all understand: that this small but nevertheless valuable form of transport should be kept in existence.
I cannot ask the noble Lord who is to reply to say anything about this matter; I was not able to give him any advance notice. Nevertheless, I hope that he will bring it to the notice of his right honourable friend, and will ask him to consider it very carefully, to see whether the existing arrangements cannot be maintained and whether the Transport Commission cannot be brought to see that this is part of the policy laid down by Parliament and is something which the Commission should accept, not as a limitation on what they can do but as part of the framework within which in the national interest they operate the railways. Because, whatever the proper functions of British Railways in the country's transport system, I submit that they do not include the elimination of coastal shipping.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I should like in one or two words to support very strongly indeed the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, whose speech was singularly well informed, most cogent, and upon a subject of the greatest importance. It is, in fact, a subject on which I have spoken twice during debates in your Lordships' House; and it is a most serious matter that it looks likely that in the future coastal shipping will suffer very severely indeed from the transport policies of this country. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, will be able to meet Lord Simon's request, and that this matter will be brought to the notice of his right honourable friend.
The noble Lord who introduced this debate was, I think, anxious to claim that he is served by the worst railway service in the country—namely, that between Paddington and Oxford. My Lords, I can only tell him that he has my sympathy; for if that service is worse than the service between London and Crowborough, which I use, then he certainly has something to complain about. Crowborough to London is 39 miles, but it is apparently completely beyond the powers of British Railways to run their trains punctually over those 39 miles.
The noble Lord, Lord Mills, very naturally, prophesied a rosy future for British Railways; but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, reminded me this afternoon that in the United States they are beginning to wonder whether their railways have any real future at all. Indeed, I have noticed a great deal to that effect in the American Press; and certainly some of the very important, long-range railways—some of the most famous of their railway services—have in recent years been discontinued. I should not think that in the United States they take a very rosy view of the future of their railways; and I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Mills, is completely justified in feeling so optimistic about the future of our railways here.
I want to speak very briefly and upon one subject only—namely, that of the security of the passenger, which I think is a matter of great importance. Your Lordships will recollect that in December, 1957, there was a crash at Liverpool in 564 which no fewer than 90 people were killed; but there is still no automatic warning control system on this section of the Southern Railway, although Brigadier Langley, who inquired into the disaster, said in his report that automatic train control would have prevented the accident.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one second? He said"Liverpool". For the sake of clarity, I take it that he means Lewisham.
§ LORD WINSTER
I certainly meant Lewisham, and I am sorry if I said Liverpool. I am much obliged to the noble Lord for putting me right: but it was an accident well within the memory of all your Lordships. As I was saying, Brigadier Langley, reporting on the disaster, said that automatic train control would have prevented the accident. That was said in July, 1958. The Chairman of the British Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, assured us that the Commission would do all in its power to accelerate installation of A.T.C. on all main routes. This month an official of the British Transport Commission said that this pledge was being honoured, but that it had not been done at Lewisham because the colour-light signalling system was doing a first-class job there. He evidentally disagreed with Brigadier Langley, who did not think it was doing at all a good job.
Automatic control is, of course, ancillary to signalling: it does not absolve the driver from observing signals. In that respect I think it resembles in some way radar at sea, which does not absolve the officer of the watch or the captain of the ship from taking all the usual precautions to avoid collision or accident. But A.T.C. is being pushed ahead, if not on the Lewisham route, on five main routes—namely, King's Cross to Edinburgh; Euston to Glasgow; Edinburgh to Glasgow, which I believe is now completed; Waterloo to Bournemouth and Exeter; and Liverpool Street to Norwich: and it is scheduled to be completed on those routes by 1962. Progress is also being made with colour-light signalling, and with new signal boxes. I mention those facts because I wish to be perfectly fair to the British 565 Transport Commission, as I have some critical remarks to make about the delay in the installation of automatic train control. The same official that I have already quoted also said,"We cannot do everyaing at once." Of course, that is a good platitude; but they might do very much better than they are doing in regard to automatic train control. They seem satisfied with colour signalling at Lewisham, and have ignored the Langley verdict on that smash. They speak of"one of the best safety measures." By the end of 1963, six years after Lewisham, there will be 1,800 route miles and about 10,000 locomotives so equipped. This is a great advance from the position at the end of 1958, when there were only 300 route miles and 100 locomotives so equipped.
May I go back for one moment to the Lewisham crash? It happened in a thick fog and to a train which was crowded with the commuters—what we call the"daily-breaders". The question arises: need that accident have happened, with its dreadful toll of death? These are days of scientific marvels, and can no system be devised to prevent one train from running into the back of another? I should have thought that that problem might have been solved some time ago. Before the nationalisation of our railways the Great Western Railway had a system of automatic train control which had been brought to the notice of the general manager of the line in 1905. It was the joint work of four bright young men. If a train passed a signal which was at danger, a whistle blew in the cab of the locomotive, and the brakes went on automatically. If a signal showed that the line ahead was clear, then a bell rang in the cab of the locomotive. It was considered to be the most effective contribution to railway safety that had been made since the invention of the air brake, and it was brought into effect in 1905.
The Great Western Railway was always regarded as a most progressive line, and it secured the rights of this invention for its own use, but the inventors retained the right to negotiate with other lines. The system was named"The Great Western Railway Audible Signal", and the Great Western manager prophesied that out of professional jealousy no other line would adopt the invention. That was in 1905. He was only too right 566 in what he foresaw would happen. It was not until after the railways had been nationalised that, in 1957, the Transport Commission announced that automatic train control had been approved and would be applied to five main routes by 1962. But a heavy price has been paid for the jealousy which other lines manifested in regard to the invention adopted by the Great Western Railway.
In use on the Great Western Railway, automatic train control proved a brilliant success. To quote one instance, a driver brought his train into Paddington dead on time in a thick fog when he had not seen a signal for the last 36 miles of the run, but the bell ringing in his cab enabled him to"hear" his train into Paddington. Automatic train control won for the Great Western Railway the finest safety record of any railway and the record for outstanding time-keeping in fog. For years not a life was lost on the Great Western, The Government of the day realised that the Great Western Railway had got something Rood, and in 1922 they appointed a committee, which recommended an extension of automatic train control to all main lines; but, as so often happens with the Reports of committees and Royal Commissions, nothing was done. In 1927, another committee reviewed the work of the 1922 committee and arrived at exactly the same conclusion, but still nothing was done to face the facts and to apply the findings of these two committees.
Let us go on to 1937, ten years after the last of those two reports. The Chief Inspector of Railways then reported that automatic train control would have prevented two collisions that year, in one of which 35 people were killed. In 1944, seven years later, the Government stated that automatic train control would have prevented 23 accidents in the previous thirteen years which between them had a death roll of 104. In 1945 there was another smash in which 43 people were killed. In 1948 the railways were nationalised. The new authorities raised a series of objections to automatic train control, in spite of the reports by railway officials on the cause and prevention of accidents. All of those objections were shot down by the experts. Sir Alan Mount, the Chief Inspector of Railways, so far forgot the civil servants' code as to show impatience in the matter—very shocking of him, indeed! He said that 567 automatic train control would have saved no fewer than 285 lives between 1912 and 1947, and urged a time limit on its installation.
In 1952, there was another crash, with 112 dead. It was not until 1956 that British Railways finally approved the system which by 1962 will have been installed on four more routes—it has already been installed on one—57 years and several hundred lives after the idea of those four bright young servants of the Great Western Railway had so impressed the general manager of that line with its advantages that he had installed their invention. I cannot say that that is a good record. That is not only my opinion; it is the opinion of the chief inspectors who have been called upon to examine the causes of crashes and report upon them. They have given the verdict that automatic train control would have prevented the crashes into which they were inquiring. In the time in which we are living, with so much scientific and technical knowledge available, it seems to me absurd that we have been so lax about this and lingered so long in installing this system. Many people would be alive to-day had automatic train control been in use on the lines on which they were travelling.
I am sorry that, owing to the train service of which I have spoken, I shall not be able to wait to hear the noble Lord speak, which I greatly regret; but I trust that he will impress his right honourable friend, who is showing himself so up-to-date and progressive in his ideas upon many transport matters, the necessity of pressing on with all possible speed in this matter and trying to get it through before 1962. By so doing, he will have the satisfaction almost certainly of saving some accidents and some precious lives.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, having travelled on a good many railways systems in the world, having been conveyed along the steel rails by a good many methods, from wagons marked"Eight horses and 40 men" to the luxury railway coaches of the United States, and having made a short study of the movement of freight in America, I hope to be able to make a small but useful contribution to this debate. What I 568 say may sound critical, but let me emphasise that this criticism will, I hope, be constructive and so of use not only to the British Transport Commission but also to Her Majesty's Government.
I have never failed to express my fears. I can say with a clear conscience that the leopard has not changed his spots, on whatever branch of the tree he may be. I have two main fears. My first one is that the present Modernisation Plan will be hopelessly out of date almost before it is completed unless it is radically altered now. My second is that the Transport Commission's policy is detrimental to the future of the Highlands, the North East of Scotland and other outlying rural areas.
Let me deal first of all with the overall plan for our railways. I would agree that when the plan is completed possibly we may have the finest station, the finest signal box, or the finest locomotive in the world. That matters little. What does matter is that I do not see a ray of hope that we shall have anything like the finest railway system in the world, or one which will anything like meet our needs. What is being planned now will, I submit, bring our system only up to 1950 standards instead of up to 1970 or 1980 requirements. I believe that the British Transport Commission are being blinded by their own Modernisation Plan. They cannot see beyond it, and nobody in authority seems to have faced up to what sort of railway system we shall require in twenty years' time.
Too often we hear that the British Transport Commission have not done quite so well as was expected. What is the excuse? Competition from the roads, more vehicles coming on to the roads. This year paragraph 1 of the British Transport Commission's Report says:The picture of the year 1958 presents a record of substantial progress in all departments of the undertaking, unfortunately marred by a reduction in freight carryings following the decline in activity of the heavy industries, and by the London bus strike.The decline in the activity of the heavy industries? My Lords, what will it be next year? Motorways are being built. Surely the British Transport Commission realise that, instead of as at present one in three families having a car, we hope that in the foreseeable future almost every family will have a car. Also surely everyone realises that sections of 569 industry have had and will go on having their ups and downs. What about the Outer Seven plan? Have not the Government admitted that there must be some ups and downs with that? Not only have we got the M.1, but we are going to have more motorways. The vertical take-off plane or helicopter will, I hope, give inter-city service. Surely the British Transport Commission like everyone else can see that all this, and probably much else, is coming, and coming quickly. But they do not, or else their excuse is rather valueless.
What we want is a railway system which will take its place with other forms of transport in the new era we are entering upon. It seems to me that the outline plan for our railway system, once made, has been stuck to, while the details have been merely gingered up in an effort to meet the present day circumstances; surely an inadequate effort to match the commercial tempo of this country, which has, with the help of science and technology, gone into orbit. In the Brigade of Guards one often heard a sergeant-major or a drill sergeant shout out,"Right or wrong, stand still." My Lords, there was a very good reason for that. It was that if there was no movement the layman in the crowd did not notice any mistake. It is no use the British Transport Commission copying that and standing still. The laymen all over the country have realised that the Transport Commission are wrong.
The present plan for our railways just is not going to enable the steel rails to take their place commercially as part of our internal communications in the future. Our rail system must be planned now to meet our requirements not only in 1970 but in 1980 and afterwards. It is up to Her Majesty's Government to state to the British Transport Commission as clearly as possible what place they consider our railways should occupy in our system of transport and communications in the next decade. It will then be for the British Transport Commission first to make a realistic plan and then to carry it out with the utmost drive and vigour.
Whether such a thing is within the capabilities of the members of the Commission I do not know. Is it not asking a bit too much of the members of the Commission, a small band of, I believe, 570 fifteen members, over half of whom are part-time? The full-time members must be increased and so should the part-time members be, so as to include more men with experience of industry and commerce—men with selling brains. In addition, I am certain that there are still some of these distinguished men from the old railway companies whose valuable experience should once more be called upon to help to build and to sell our railways. Above all, I believe that the British Transport Commission members need reinforcement with some of the far-sighted younger generation having imagination and driving force, something the present British Transport Commission seem to be lacking.
The British Transport Commission have got to have drive, like the drive I once saw at one of the New York freight terminals. From this terminal 72 articulated lorries were moved to Boston nightly. This had been going on for a number of years. I asked the young man—he was about 35—who was in charge of freight movement if he had ever had any difficulty. He said,"Only once, when one of the loads began to shift and the train was delayed for an hour." He went on,"Next evening, instead of having 72 lorries to load there were only 43, and firms were ringing up asking if this would ever happen again." He said,"I learned my lesson. It was the only time the train went without being fully loaded." Perhaps the British are too long suffering and not outspoken enough. It might be kindness to the British Transport Commission to get some pretty good jolts like that from British industry. At present the jolts are all one-sided. It is only the poor travelling public who get them.
I have a feeling that if our railways are to compete with the growing number of motor vehicles, motorways and other developments, the economic railway system of the future must be based not on M/'s but on R/'s. The steel lines will then rightly become the arteries for the movement of freight; the veins feeding these arteries will be roads. An essential part of this scheme would be a means of moving fully-loaded long-distance lorries by rail, so cutting out double handling. I have no doubt that there are plenty of enterprising people who can devise a suitable transporter 571 for this, in spite of the difficulty caused by our low bridges which, in any case, will have to be raised for electrification. By this method most long-distance freight would once more for the greater part of its journey be moved on the solid steel rails, with far less wear and tear not only to the roads but also to human minds.
If we are to continue to sell goods abroad we can only hope to survive the competition which is getting fiercer and fiercer each day if delivery dates are kept. Our goods must be moved speedily, without the interruption of our crowded roads, to our ports, and to do this goods must as far as possible be moved under control—that is, by timed express trains on the steel rails. Freight must move to and from our factories and to our ports as on a conveyor belt. Till we have achieved that—and it can be achieved—we cannot be satisfied. Much more use should be made of the container system for moving materials like bricks from factory to site. The suggestion made in the B.B.C. programme"Panorama", that loading and unloading of containers should be done by gantries mounted over freight sidings, deserves considerable consideration.
May I now turn to the Highlands and north-east of Scotland which, owing to their geographical position in relation to the industrial belt and centres of commerce, are to a very large extent dependent on a really good system of transport and communications. I know that I speak for the outlying parts of the country when I say that one of the factors having an adverse effect on, first, de-population, secondly, the attraction of suitable industries, and thirdly, commerce in general, is the present system of communications and the effect of high freight and passenger rates. People to-day are prepared to live in remote parts provided that they either have comparable amenities with other people who live in the more populated areas or can get to the centres where these amenities can be found. Unfortunately, more and more of these amenities are becoming centralised—as, for instance, the Highland Agricultural Show, which for economic reasons has had to take up a permanent home near Edinburgh; and this means that people from the 572 North will have to go further to see this show. This is only one of many instances.
Either people will move from the remote areas to the centres of population—in other words, there will be de-population of the remoter areas—or it must be made easier and cheaper for them to reach the centres of attraction. It is, unfortunately, true to-day that relatively few people who live in the Highlands, in North-East Scotland or other remote parts of the country can take much part in any but local affairs, as the affairs of Scotland tend to be concentrated in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. There is only one reason for this: it is not that people from these areas are lacking ability; it is due to the difficulty and expense of getting to the focal centres of the country. It is surely shocking that the fastest train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh, a distance of 130½ miles, is supposed to do the journey in 3 hours 41 minutes, an average speed of 35 m.p.h. I have little doubt that the British Transport Commission intend knocking minutes off this journey, but to be realistic the journey must be done in just over two hours, with possibly one stop at Dundee.
Paragraph 168 of the Commission's Report states:Diagram 8 illustrates the relative importance in personal spending (and therefore in the cost of living) of travel by public transport. Out of every £ spent in 1958 public transport took only 8d. while private motoring absorbed a further 11d.These figures, of course, represent the average spending of the population who mainly live in our cities and towns: they are entirely misleading for the outlying areas. The return fare from Aberdeen to London, with sleepers, is now £17 18s. How can anyone say that the cost of travel in the North-East of Scotland to the focal centres is relatively unimportant? Rail travel in these parts is a tax on the cost of living at the present time. There is no doubt, too, that the slow passenger services and the high freight rates are affecting the locating of suitable industry in the remote parts. For not only must industry be able to get its raw materials delivered at a reasonable price, but the finished article must reach the market at a competitive price; and, what is too often forgotten these days, the manager or 573 director must not have the feeling of being cut off. He must have quick and easy access to the hub of industry or commerce, as the business man, probably more than anyone else, finds that it is still the personal touch that counts for most.
What, then, is necessary, from the point of view of rail transport, for commerce and industry to thrive in remote parts? It is, I think, first of all, reduced freight rates, because industry is so often placed at long distances from raw materials and markets. We know that British Railways quote special terms for suitable loads: but these special terms are usually for large consignments, such as those coming from the industrial areas of, say, Clyde-side and the Midlands, and not for such small lots as are usually sent from the Highlands. Secondly, the threat of closure of branch lines must be removed. No far-sighted industrialist is likely to set up in a remote area if he scents the possibility of being left in the lurch without any suitable means of either getting his raw material or sending away his finished product. I do not mean that there should be no closures—far from it—but that closures should be planned and announced well in advance. Also of great importance is the fact that really adequate alternative means of transport must be provided before closure. Where there happens to be a large area without rail communications, or where a number of branch lines have to be closed, it might be possible to give concessions to the people who live in the area. One suggestion is a reduction in petrol tax for the area. My Lords, we simply must have a highly efficient system, with excellent communications; for in this age of fierce competition industry cannot wait for delivery. Exports must be delivered on time or they will not be accepted; business men must never be cut off from one another; and, most important, there must be no such barrier as remoteness.
The morale of the railwaymen, having been very low, is now rising. Her Majesty's Government have a Minister of Transport who is full of imagination and vigour. What a great number of problems he has on his plate, for one person, in roads, railways and shipping! What is wanted now is an up-to-date plan to be carried out by a rejuvenated Transport Commission, with far more dynamic drive than exists at present. I 574 must convey to the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government two apologies. I must apologise, first of all, for being critical—although I hope I have been constructive; and secondly, for having to leave before the end of this debate. I have to catch the half-past seven train back to Aberdeen, in the hope of getting on to my farm to-morrow some time. I shall spend the night with British Railways, but I hope not to spend to-morrow with them, as well. I do not expect an answer to my points to-day, although I would implore the Government and the British Transport Commission to look into them and consider them carefully with the least possible delay, for time is running short.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD GLYN
My Lords, I rise to deal with only two small points, although they are points of some importance. I should like to explain that about twenty years ago I was working with Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick, two great friends of mine, on the London Underground, and we had a committee called the"To-morrow Committee", whose sole task was to think what would be the picture of communication in the future. We did not look beyond year to year, but we did call it the"To-morrow Committee". I propose to deal with a matter of some importance which needs an immediate decision by the Government (although I know they are unable to give me one this evening); and that is the new Tube which has been planned, passed and approved by Parliament, but on which no action has yet been taken.
One of the most exasperating things that I have experienced since I have had to do with railways and Parliament, is that Parliament has, I believe, contributed more than anything else to delay progress on the railways, by interference by every possible means. Here we have an example where, by building eleven miles of underground line, we are going to take away something like 25 per cent. of the existing road traffic from the most congested area round about Pimlico. The plan has, as I say, been passed and approved, and all it awaits now is the Commission's consent to go ahead. Everything is ready; and if the present Minister of Transport—whose great anxiety, I know, is to relieve congestion, so far as he can—will adopt this scheme, 575 it will be the quickest way of relieving congestion. It will cost only the equivalent of two of these modern motor roads to make this eleven miles of track; and the stations are already in existence. It does not mean the acquisition of any more property on the surface; it means simply joining up the route which has already been planned. Yet this Tube would produce the astonishing result I have mentioned in regard to the reduction of congestion on the surface.
When I heard about this particular scheme twenty years ago, it was then considered urgent. How much more urgent is it now! But the worst aspect of the matter is that in 1961 the powers run out. If that is allowed to happen, all the rigmarole we have had to go through to get this scheme will have to be started again, and nothing is more exasperating than to be delayed, having got the scheme approved by both Houses of Parliament. All that is wanted now is understanding by the British Transport Commission. I myself should like to go back to what we used to have, which was an independent Underground, removed from the British Transport Commission; because under Sir Frank Pick and Lord Ashfield we produced an Underground system, linking up with other lines, which was of great importance and great value. If this scheme is going to be shelved, or not carried out, it will be most unfortunate, because at this particular time some solution is so urgently clamoured for.
Mr. Marples, who is a go-ahead Minister, by authorising this one scheme, would be instrumental in removing 25 per cent. of the buses on the surface, thus enabling traffic to flow more freely. It would enable people to go to work by Underground and. I hope, leave their cars at home, because communication through Victoria and Green Park will be much quicker. A great many people living on the Southern Line would benefit enormously by the Tube. As I say, there is no question of the acquisition of more property. It entails simply driving the Tube along a selected route, which will be eleven miles in length, and will cost £55 million. That amount of money is a very small sum compared to what we are spending on modern roads. The scheme has the blessing 576 of the London County Council, and it has the blessing, so far as I know, of everybody who has gone into it. But unless we do something now, before the powers run out, all our time will have been wasted. I know that the Minister is unable to give me any pledge this evening, but I also know that the plan and approval of this scheme is under active consideration at the moment, and I hope it will be printed and circulated within the next few days. That information is not official, but if it does come I hope that the Minister who is going to reply will try to impress upon his right honourable friend the real urgency of this matter. Because it can be done. Powers have been, obtained, and all that is needed is the will to go ahead.
§ 5.55 p.m.
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
My Lords, I will be as brief as I can for your Lordships' sake, and for my own, because I have to return to Scotland to-night. I think the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mills, made anything but constructive criticism seem ridiculous, because this is a vast Problem and one which must be faced and a solution found at all costs. What is the solution? I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for having ventilated this subject, because it is high time. I do not wish to be in the least destructive in criticism, because we must try to find a solution somehow.
So far as the passenger traffic is concerned, British Railways seem to have come to the situation when they have two alternatives: either to close down or to be subsidised to the tune of £500 million in the very close future. The first, to my mind, is unthinkable, but the second I do not consider is so unthinkable, because we have got to subsidise if we are to keep them going, and keep them going we must. We in the North, especially in the winter, cannot do without the railways, because air travel is completely uncertain in two ways: first, because of the weather, and secondly, because most of us have to motor long distances, perhaps 75 to 100 miles, to get to an aerodrome. It is not worth our not going by train, and therefore we do not try to go by air. I believe that this situation is not unknown in the United States, although, of course, there they have an entirely different problem. There, air transport is fully developed, 577 and here it is not. As your Lordships know, in all the outlying districts, especially in Scotland, one has to motor vast distances, and it is uneconomic to have aerodromes. The distances are very much longer in the United States, and there may be something in this. At the present moment, however, it is impossible for us to get to an aerodrome, or for it to be worth while. It is better to go by train at night. Therefore, we have to continue with the railways at all costs.
I make no apology for intervening in this debate, because I have travelled a great deal in my time in the last 40 years, possibly more than some of the members of the Board of the British Transport Commission. I knew a great many of the men who were the backbone of this great organisation. Many of them have now retired. They were what we called in those days—and still would, if they were there—railwaymen, and railwaymen proper. If your Lordships will allow me, I will say briefly what I mean by a railwayman. He was a man not necessarily born on the railway—he may have been—but a real railwayman, steeped in railway tradition. He ate railways, slept railways and he had them in his blood. He could not get away from it. He was a railwayman from start to finish. He was not just a man having a job on the railways, as is occasionally the case these days. Of course, nationalisation of the railways did a lot to oust that attribute. Now it is simply"jobs at all costs", which is not the same thing.
We none of us like to hear the criticisms—although I am afraid they are quite well founded—of foreigners when they get off the boats at the ports and come to our trains. They say, not without a great deal of truth, that they come to trains which are dirty and the lavatories of which are filthy, and the food is disgusting. I am sorry, but it is a fact, because I have seen it often and I have heard it. We cannot deny it. They find it so, and it is merely bearing out what we have to face in the future. I do not want to make this destructive criticism, because in railways we have a vast problem, and one which must be solved.
My first point arises from a Question which I put down last Thursday and withdrew because of this debate. It 578 raised the difficulty of the non-privileged. Among the privileged I count Members of both Houses, civil servants and business men, who can get sleepers. But the non-privileged often have great difficulty in getting them, especially from London to the North. Quite frequently, they ring up and are told that the list is closed and that they cannot get on. This is a public service and somehow or other we have to meet the demand. I can give an example. The other day I met a man who was 70 years old. He had just had an operation. He said,"I have just had a telephone message, after I had got ready to sit up all night, to say that I had got a sleeper." It is a bit hard and it is not business. He was a man of considerable age who had been through a good deal of medical trouble and I think he was entitled to have a lie down. Somehow or other at the last minute he got the sleeper and was as pleased as Punch about it.
The real snag is the uncertainty and insecurity of people trying to get sleepers. They never know; they often arrive at the station to find sleepers empty because people throw them over. I know that a new system has been introduced whereby one has to pay; but business men put it on their account and do not mind, and often one finds the sleepers empty when people have been refused them. There is something wrong with this sleeper question. It is not in order; there is something wrong with it and it must be inquired into. Quite frequently, especially on the L.M.S. line, one gets into a sleeper and finds no hot water at night; there is no hot water until the morning. It is simply lack of organisation. Sometimes you get into a train which has been sitting outside in a siding for two or three hours and it is stone cold. By the time the engine is hooked on and the train is heated up you have got to your destination. You travel in complete discomfort. That is not salesmanship.
I will leave all my pleas and will come for one moment to the general railway situation. To my mind it is entirely a management problem. Probably most people will agree that we must have railways; we cannot do without them. But to my mind it is quite hopeless at the moment to put up the charges for fares and for catering. You have to fill your trains and sell your business to the public, and unless you can put your fares 579 down they are not going to travel. It does not pay them to travel. They hate it. They have not got the money; it is extremely expensive. This applies both to fares and catering, though it cannot apply to wages, because unless you can pay wages comparable to other industries you are going to lose your men. Therefore, you are going to have this tremendous deficit continuing for a certain time until the railways get organised. I see no alternative, because I do not think we can do without our railways. Therefore we have to subsidise them, even up to £500 million, until such time as we get them going.
If we are to get the best brains—and they certainly are needled—we must be prepared to pay for them. It is only a long-sighted policy. I travelled on a ship to South Africa a year or two ago and one of the big steel-owners was on board. He told me a story which I think emphasises this point. He sent for one of the heads of one of his departments and said,"John, I'm going to send you to another department. It will mean another £500 a year to you, and it will help me. Please go." The boy said nothing and went out. He asked to see the boss the next morning and said,"It was very good of you, but, quite frankly, I have been offered three times the salary in the States. I am a married man and I cannot refuse; I must go."
We must pay these big salaries if we are going to get business brains at the top. We shall probably have to pay £20,000 a year. We must get the best brains. We are behindhand in it. With all deference to those who are at present at the head of these affairs—I am quite certain they have good organising ability in their own sphere—I was a Regular soldier, so I think I can say this: the Army is not a training for business, and what we want are the best brains we can possibly find, whether it is in the local air or the local railways.
I therefore make three suggestions. To my mind, there is only one hope, and that is to put the air, road and rail passenger traffic under one umbrella, denationalised if possible. That is my own view. The second is to get the best brains that we can possibly find at the head of the organisation, and pay 580 accordingly, even if it is £20,000 a year or more. If that does not appeal to noble Lords, I would suggest, thirdly, the appointment of an Inquiry to try to put forward a scheme of reorganisation of the whole transport of the country and get an answer if we possibly can. Something must be done, because we cannot continue on these lines; we are running up against the wall, financially and in every other way. Let this Commission of Inquiry or whatever it is, bring forward a scheme. But, please, I hope they will not put all the parts of the British Isles under one scheme, because they all have different problems.
§ 6.5 p.m.
My Lords, yesterday evening in London, at a famous picture house, a new film was portrayed which cost, I understand, about £5 million to produce; it played for four hours and it is hoped the film will make a lot of money. It was a mammoth performance. To-day we have a mammoth debate. It will not cost as much as that to produce and the performance, or the debate, is to save British Railways from losing millions.
When the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, started off the debate, with his great knowledge, he shook me a little because I thought he was a little unfair on the railways. Then as he went on he got on to the point which is the chief point on which I want to speak for a few minutes tonight—the human side of it, the morale of the railways. There is no doubt that at the moment the poor railwayman, in all grades, is getting a lot of what is commonly called"stick." The travelling public at the moment have lost confidence in the railways, and when they are delayed the first person they turn on is the nearest porter or ticket collector or guard, to give him what they think is"a piece of their mind." The noble Lord was quite right; the railwayman's morale is pretty low at the minute. I have heard on very good authority that only last week a ticket collector at one of the main-line stations resigned. He said that he could not"take it" any longer; he was sick of it, and he gave it up. That is going on all the way through. But it is not the ordinary railwayman we are getting at at all; it is the system under which he has to work.
581 I recall that the very first speech I made in your Lordships' House was on this subject, and I was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, who, I see, is to follow me to-day. I am most interested about it. There is a good spirit really at the back of these railwaymen. Many people say there is not, but there is, although it has got hidden temporarily. The excitement seems to have gone out of the railways. That is largely due to nationalisation, to the fact that the railways have lost their identities. Most noble Lords here, I am sure, have their favourite railway—certainly I have. There used to be competition between the railways. Exeter is a very good case in point. Another noble Lord (he is not here at this moment) and I were arguing a few minutes ago which was the best line by which to go to Exeter. That does not occur very much but it still occurs to a certain extent. Last February I had to go to Torquay and I travelled on a very famous train, the Torbay Limited, which leaves Paddington at midday. It was slightly foggy, and I went and had a chat with the engine driver before we left—a thing I always enjoy doing. I asked,"What sort of run are we going to have?" He said,"It will not be too bad when we get away from Reading. We have a football team on board. They are supposed to kick off at three o'clock." This was at midday. Off we went. We had a couple of fog checks—nothing very much—and he got that football team into Exeter station four minutes before time. That is the old spirit, and I am sure it is still there.
But we are losing men from the railways. To some extent, of course, this is due to the pay. But I was talking to a railwayman who told me that pay is not the beginning and the end of the matter. It is a question of hours. A railwayman has to turn out sometimes at two o'clock in the morning, or he arrives back home at two o'clock in the morning. The husband of the family next door may work in a factory, earning probably a little more, and having absolutely regular hours. It is hard to get over this working of difficult hours and of possibly not making as much money. This is a criticism of what is going on to-day. I am frightened at the fact that we are losing so many men. The British Transport Commission have wonderful plans. They always say—at least I have already read 582 it as such—"It will be all right when we get x more millions; then everything will be all right." What I think they do not realise is that by the time they get their new millions they will not have any men left to work on the railway as it is then constituted. So I would ask Her Majesty's Government to urge upon the Transport Commission that they must pay more attention now to keeping their men.
A story circulated that between stations about 36 miles from London there were to be only two signal boxes. When that story got around a number of signalmen said,"There is not much future in this for us," and off they went. The whole policy of the Transport Commission had not been properly explained: that the normal wastage would take care of the redundancy of these men, because the new signalling apparatus, electrified and specialised signal boxes, is not going to come into use for some time. That I think, is the sort of thing to which the Commission are not paying enough attention.
My noble friend Lord Forbes mentioned having x railwaymen on the Transport Commission; the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, said the same thing. I feel that, from the point of view of the personnel, this business of operation is just as important, if not more so, as trying to work out how many millions you are going to make, or, rather, how much you will avoid losing. Unless this personnel problem is tackled hard I do not think that the new plans will succeed, let alone keep trains up to the standard to which we are accustomed—possibly that is not quite the right way to put it, because at the moment we are not accustomed to the very high standard that we had a few years ago. But something must be done. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will press this question of urgency. The other day we had a debate on a Service problem far from here, and we all pressed the matter of urgency. We knew that the Government knew what had to be done, and I think that from that debate the urgency of the matter emerged. To my mind, this is an urgent problem—to keep the railways running; to try to make them go at the minute; to keep the personnel with us at the minute. Then, when the plans come along, there will be the proper basis on which to work.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD BURDEN
My Lords, as I happen to be a real railwayman within the definition put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, I am sure I shall be forgiven for joining in this debate. May I refer, quite briefly, to some points made by my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth in his most interesting and informative speech, first in regard to wages, salaries and conditions of service? Apart from the craft unions, the staff of the railways is organised into three powerful unions, the N.U.R., A.S.L.E. & F. and the T.S.S.A., and since 1921 in the railway service there has been an agreed negotiating machinery. I happened to be concerned in the stages which led to its formation. That machinery is substantially the same as it was in 1921.
Incidentally, I might mention one fact in regard to it: that that machinery was in the nature of a deal. At that time, Sir Eric Geddes, as he then was, was most keen on having a few of what he called working men on the boards of the railways. It was a question of railwaymen on the boards or agreed negotiating machinery. As one of the responsible unions, we plumped for negotiating machinery. I should like to assure my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth, knowing railway conditions over a long number of years, that since nationalisation there has been a substantial improvement in wages, salaries and conditions of service. I know that we should all like more, and that there is room for further improvement; but, with respect, I suggest that it is not too much to say that the unions concerned are quite capable of safeguarding the interests of their members.
The second point I should like to mention concerns the transit of newspapers. I noticed some criticism about delays to the New Statesman in its issue, I think, of December 5. As I have bought and read the New Statesman from its very first number, I felt that I was justified in calling for some explanation. I happen to have it here. It is that there have been individual cases of delay to newspaper traffic whichhave been due to late running of trains arising from modernisation works. There have been no general or widespread complaints. There is good co-operation between railway commercial business and circulation managers; train timings have been altered to suit the needs of the newspapers, which have increased 584 very greatly with the larger sizes of paper now being published.I have an explanation in regard to the New Statesman but I propose to send that direct to the editor of that journal. I should like to say a word or two later in regard to morale, but just at this moment I feel that morale is not heightened or maintained by constant nagging and ill-informed criticism in quarters which ought to know better.
May I now mention a subject of great importance to the British Transport Commission which I think has not yet received any notice this afternoon—that is, the position with regard to the commercial development of property. Since their formation in 1948 the Commission have sold over £10 million worth of property not required for operational use. Notwithstanding that, the net annual income in 1958 from property owned by the Commission exceeded £5 million for the first time. We constantly receive complaints in regard to our mainline and terminal stations, but the commercial development of these stations is inhibited at the present time because the Commission are not permitted to engage in any building which is not strictly for operational purposes. Why that condition was imposed upon the Commission only my good friend would know. Development is inhibited also by town planning restrictions which, in London particularly, tend to discourage the further provision of offices in the central area.
Partly because the building of new terminal and main-line stations is very costly and does not earn commensurate revenue, bearing in mind that there ought to be a development of the property along with the main-line stations, this phase of modernisation has not been given leading priority. But there are in existence plans for the rebuilding of a number of important passenger stations—in London, Victoria, King's Cross and Euston—and as soon as the operational requirements can be defined and space for proposed commercial development specified every encouragement will be given to private developers. Incidentally, the Commission are most anxious to co-opt outside resources to best advantage, and they have on their own property committee a member who is thoroughly conversant with property matters.
585 Now, with your Lordships' kind permission, I should like to submit a few facts and arguments, some of which I feel sure my good friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth may have forgotten. I am going to be a little historical, although in that I am emboldened by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mills; but I am not going back to the Stockton and Darlington Railway; I am going back only to vesting day. On vesting day, January 1, 1948, the properties taken over from the railways alone consisted of 52,000 miles of track, 13,500 stations, 20,000 locomotives, 45,000 passenger carriages, 1,235,000 wagons, 100 steamships, 70 hotels, 50,000 houses, 9,000 horses, 25,000 horsedrawn vehicles and 11,000 motor vehicles. In addition, the British Transport Commission took over wharves and docks at 76 places containing 95 miles of quay, and acquired ownership of some 1,640 miles of canals and inland waterways. Then, of course, it took over London Passenger Transport Board, the largest and most complicated underground network in the world; and it was estimated that at vesting day there were 680,000 people employed, which, with the acquisition of long-distance and other services, would bring the total up to over one million workers.
Those figures are staggering. I venture to say that there is no other undertaking of that kind in the world. But just think for a moment of the position. It has been emphasised here that the railways were badly run down during the war. Here are some of the facts which I think my noble friend, in that indictment of the British Transport Commission, may have forgotten; and perhaps I am trying to shift some of that indictment and put it fairly and squarely on the shoulders where it belongs. First, at the commencement of winter, 1946–47, no fewer than 3,700 locomotives out of a total book stock of 20,242 were out of service for repairs; and the locomotives on the London and North Eastern were, on the average, over 32 years old. Much the same picture holds good for passenger carriages and goods wagons. Mr. Barnes told us that over 20 per cent. were obsolete and should be scrapped and that 50 per cent. were over 35 years old. In November, 1947, a month before taking over, it was estimated that nearly 200,000 wagons were under or awaiting repair, out of a total of about 1,250,000; and 586 there were 54,000 fewer wagons in operation then than a year before, and over 80,000 fewer than in 1945.
With regard to maintenance, work on the permanent way was in arrears to the extent of 10 million sleepers and some 328,000 tons of new steel rails. Mr. Dalton told us eloquently about those dingy railway stations, those miserable, unprepossessing restaurants, all this apparatus for sleeping and eating which, he said, makes one ashamed as an Englishman when one is travelling abroad. He said that the railways were in poor physical condition. Notwithstanding all that miserable condition, a rosy picture was painted for the future when the 1947 Act was being discussed. The then Mr. Herbert Morrison (now the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth) as President of the Council, winding up the debate said [OFFICIAL REPORT, (Commons), Vol. 431, col. 2076]:The Commission will have a splendid opportunity, to weld an efficient instrument to meet the transport needs of the country. The new concern will be absolutely free to go for sheer efficiency, right from the beginning, and to use assets in the way that is best. They will be able to write-off those miserable rolling stocks in which the lower middle and working classes of Greater London on the Eastern side have to travel. They will have at their disposal ample capital—at low cost and at low interest rates—unwelcome though that is in certain quarters. We can use in these new circumstances skilled minds in this vast industry to the best advantage; and they will enable, with the new conditions, a bold and considered programme of transport development to take place which would have been utterly impossible in the conditions of the transport industry, between the wars.My Lords, that is the picture. May I repeat, it was thought from the very beginning that efficiency would prevail. May I say, quite frankly, that the Transport Commission and the railwaymen, working down—general managers and so on—were confronted with problems of almost insoluble magnitude, and it is interesting to note the way in which the railways were treated this time as compared with 1914. When war broke out in 1914, the Government took over the railways and agreed to maintain them. They agreed to pay the dividends on the 1913 earnings, and also promised to return the properties to their owners, on the termination of hostilities, with the equity unimpaired. It was considerably less than what they wanted. They got £60 million, reduced, if my memory 587 is correct, to £51 million. What happened at the end of the last war? This huge machine, this huge body, was created; and what was handed over to them, as has been mentioned this afternoon, was what Mr. Dalton described as a poor bag of assets. At the same time, hopes were raised of immediate improvement.
In addition to that, we starved the railways of capital development, and shackled them with the Transport Tribunal so that they could not adjust their fares and rates to meet changing conditions. I know quite well that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had tremendous pressure on him from other quarters—the National Health Service, pensions for old people, money for the mines, and so on. But the fact remains that for year after year all that the Commission could do was to patch up here and there and make do and mend. My Lords, instead of an indictment being levelled at the Transport Commission, in my humble judgment what Lord Hurcomb and his colleagues and the staff on the railways accomplished in such circumstances during those difficult years is beyond all praise—I repeat, beyond all praise. Now the Modernisation Plan is getting under way. I readily admit that the travelling and trading public are suffering from difficulties and inconveniences, owing to this working out of the plan, but I believe that they are the birth pangs of a new era for the railways in this country.
I should like to go over a number of points in regard to the Modernisation Plan. I will take just one. For 120 years the railway workshops in this country have been making steam locomotives. While, no doubt, there were too many in operation, some 400, and the number might have been considerably reduced, the railways had, and still have, some of the most capable and most efficient engineers in the country. I think your Lordships will agree that for power, for sheer beauty of line, some of the steam locomotives cannot be surpassed in any other country in the world. But the turning over to diesels has brought its problems. The Transport Commission, a great public body, cannot sack its men ruthlessly, as is done in some private enterprises because of a change in policy. And what has happened? 588 The railway workshops have been building the bodies for the diesels, and the engines and other component parts have been bought and assembled at the railway workshops. I hand every credit to the craftsmen in our railway workshops, but they have been trained along different lines, and it is unfortunately true that breakdowns have occurred owing to this policy. Now, I believe, some 50 diesel locomotives have been purchased from private-enterprise concerns because of the difficulties that have arisen.
This is a fascinating subject and, as I said, I am a railway man; but at this late hour I shall add only a few more words. May I point out that the railway staffs of this country are only human. They feel keenly the attacks—I will not enumerate from which quarters—often ignorant and without a full knowledge of the facts, that are constantly made, not infrequently with interested motives. An efficient railway operation is a vital necessity for the industry of this country and for the travelling public. That efficient service, I profoundly believe, is what the railwaymen, those thinking railwaymen who are still on our railways, are striving to provide. And, my Lords, given public goodwill, given public understanding, given a chance, I believe—I am convinced—that when the Modernisation Plan is carried out that efficiency which the railwaymen desire will be achieved.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, in the short time that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House I have taken part in several debates on transport in general and on railways in particular, and as a result I have been able to increase the small store of experience I had gained in contact with those who operate the railways in this country to-day. This experience has served to impress my mind with the thought of how little most of us know about the complexities of the manifold problems which face the railway organisation in this country to-day. I put together some notes for a speech of half a dozen criticisms and suggestions that I could make concerning the day-to-day operation of the railways, but I do not propose to turn to those notes for two reasons: first, because other noble Lords have 589 spoken, and others are going to speak, and I feel quite confident that they will deal with the points which I and so many of us have in our minds, and, in any case, I made some of them in previous speeches. But my second reason for not turning to these old notes is that the more I apply my mind to this problem—and I regard my mind as that of a businessman—when I turn it to the overall problem, and the more I know of the high standard of energy and skill which the, men, from the top to the bottom, who operate the railways apply to their task, the more I am shaken by what appears to be (and what appeared to the noble Lord who initiated the debate to be) the manifest failure of the railways to serve the country adequately.
I believe that this failure stems from faulty organisation at the top: a faulty set-up. I am not suggesting that any individual in the British Transport Commission is falling short in his duties, but it seems to me to follow—and, in this respect, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who initiated this debate—that the organisation must be intrinsically wrong. As the noble Earl, Lord Airlie, said, it is a management problem. I stick to the view that I expressed during the debate on November 4, which was that the country's transport problem calls for a four-pronged drive: Treasury—subsidies for instance; roads; railways; and, above all, public opinion. As my right honourable friend the Minister for Transport, rightly or wrongly (I think rightly), has tackled the problem of parking in cities as a first step to tackling road congestion, I think it is fair now to suggest to him that the very urgency of the matter—and the matter is urgent—of the railways' share of our transport problem demands his early, concentrated consideration here and now. Having struck at the base of the road traffic congestion, can he now strike at the base of the railways' incapacity to serve the country adequately? How he is to do this remains to be seen.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said that, given the right man in the right place, it should not be difficult, but the start is going to be a problem: and though, of course, one could interpret the speech made by Lord Lucas of Chilworth as an elaborate description of the disasters that can follow upon 590 nationalisation, I am not one of those who carp about the results of nationalisation, as I have said before. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said: that one should not girn about nationalisation; very much the reverse. We were earlier quoting Shakespeare, and I was reminded of Glendower's cry:I can call spirits from the vasty deep.I sometimes think that Socialist theorists are like that; and how wise are those who replied:Why, so can I, and so can any man;But will they come when you do call for them?Let the Minister for Transport call with so loud and clear a voice that the spirits do come to him.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
My Lords, I had the honour once to be a Member of Parliament for St. Pancras, and later for a constituency in the North which included the railway junction of Carnforth. I therefore had many railwaymen who were friends of mine, and I declare the utmost respect and regard for them. These Islands, my Lords, are so small that we ought to be able to have a tremendous advantage over all our commercial rivals in the world, because we can transport our raw materials and our half-finished products from one factory to another, be it right at the other side of the island, in a fraction of the time that our competitors in Germany, France, the United States or Canada would require, and at a fraction of the cost which they have to bear in their transportation. It ought therefore to be the case that our Island is in a better position to compete in the manufactures of the world than almost any other industrial country; and our transport ought to be the most effective and the most valuable to our economy. But it is not, and the purpose of this debate is to inquire why.
I venture to express my thanks, at any rate, to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for having initiated this debate. While he dramatised some of the defects of our railways, and was perhaps a little extreme in what he said, I thought that he rendered a service by calling attention to the malaise in this industry, in the hope that, out of this debate and other thinking that is going on at the present time, better conditions may come. 591 For my part, I do not feel it right to criticise the Transport Commission, or the Chairman of the Transport Commission, or its leading officials and engineers, or the railwaymen, for what has happened. I doubt very much whether others could have been found to do any better; and I think that, in all the circumstances, they have done very well.
What is wrong was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth; and that is that the railways have not been freed. The Labour Party thought it right to nationalise the system, and I do not question that now. Nor do I want to alter it now. But if you are going to bring big private enterprises under some measure of nationalisation, you must not make the mistake of imagining that you can have commercial success without commercial freedom. That was the error which the Labour Party made—to tie the railways up with some of the old restrictions which were historically necessary in the days of monopoly, rather than to leave them free.
Then, my Lords, as I have sat in the House of Commons have seen one Government after another, of both Parties; frightened of the voters: so frightened that they have run away from giving the railways freedom to raise their prices. That, I believe, is true of the Labour Party and of both the Conservative Governments which followed the Labour Government. It is true of all of them—they just funked it. Whenever we came near to a strike, the answer was,"There is no money without raising fares, and we dare not raise fares because of the voters." Then, instead of battling the thing out, as I think we should have done, and coming down to the brass tacks of the matter, and letting the railways be free to raise their fares to an economic point, every time we funked it. Every time the Government ran away. That is the main reason why our railways are in such a bad position now.
It has been said already—and I would emphasise it—that, in a world in which inflation was rife, in which all those who supplied the railways with material were charging from 10 to 50 per cent. more, in which everyone else's wages were going up, and in which every other expense that fell upon the voter (I keep on using the word"voter" because he was 592 the key to this trouble) went up, railway fares did not, because they were held down by frightened Governments. If I am right in this diagnosis it follows that the solution is that recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth—to free the railways so that they can charge what the traffic will bear. There is no price for any commodity in this world but the highest you can get and what the traffic will bear. The railways should be entitled, as industries are, to get the best price they can—and if industries are not free to get the best price they can, they inevitably go into bankruptcy.
I therefore plead that now, early in this Parliament, the Government may have the political courage to free the railways and to let prices go up. That is the only way. There are still four years in which the Government can recover from the unpopularity. They have done it before with rents, and they have done it in other fields. And in each case, to their astonishment and surprise, they have found that what was thought to be political suicide was nothing of the kind. The British people are not such fools as all that, and they must know that railway travel must cost them more, just as everything else does. If nothing else comes out of this debate but a little courage on the part of a new Minister of Transport—and he seems to me to be a courageous man who does not mind taking his political life in his hands and doing things—it will be a good thing. Let him get on with this one. So my first recommendation is: free the railways.
I want next to call attention to one consequence of the fact that railways have not been free to charge what they should charge and have had to try to eke out a living by undercutting other people and showing little regard for some of their obligations. In particular, they have been undercutting the coastwise and short-haul shipping. They are very often the same people: the same ships that go up and down the coast also go over to the Continent and back. The railways have undercut these shipping concerns, and in some cases have not lived up to the undertakings which they were supposed to honour. In Section 30 of the 1953 Act it was laid down that they should consult with the coastwise shipping people on rates and 593 fares. Obviously, the object was to arrange mutually satisfactory rates which would enable the doctrine of"Live and let live" to exist.
Let us examine the difference between the railways position and the position of the coastwise shipping people. The railways have a monopoly in their field—not a free monopoly within the island because, of course, the roads compete with them severely; but even the roads are limited in their competition because"A" licences are not unlimited in number. It will be within the experience of many noble Lords that where an operator applies to the tribunal for an"A" licence he meets with the railway representative who always set up objections. Nine out of ten applications for"A" licences are rejected in order to protect the railways. The railways, therefore, are protected in some ways, and it is not true to say, as one noble Lord has said, that the railways are not protected.
The coastwise shipping people, however, have no protection whatsoever. There is no reservation and no discrimination practised in Britain. They can operate from port to port, but they cannot operate across the island. They have not the universality and the diversified interests of the railways. They have one interest, and that is a limited one. Is it or is it not desirable that they should survive? Is it desirable that the principle of"Live and let live" should be applied to them? Let us be warned by the fact that they are now 50 per cent. down in strength on the coastwise fleet before the war. And let us not forget their strategic importance. They are not subject to the same risk of damage as marshalling yards of railway lines. They are of the greatest importance in time of war. And that is a reason for"Live and let live" in their case.
I have a note of a case in South-West England. I do not know whether during the time I was out of the Chamber it has been referred to by another noble Lord.
§ LORD FRASER OF LONSDALE
I thank the noble Lord. I will not repeat it. That seems to be a case in which the railways were undercutting without consultation, and if that goes on the coastwise shipping will be driven out of the 594 seas. British ships, manned by British sailors, are the best in the world; they have their place and their importance. I believe that the main reason the rail ways are undercutting their rates is that the railways are not free to raise their fares wherever they need to do so. That is due to the reason I have given—that Governments have been frightened to let them do it. Now is the time to give them the freedom they require, and I urge upon the Government to review this position, along with lending the railways the necessary money. I approve of the Government's lending them money to keep going while the development plan matures. I approve of the closing down of lines, however inconvenient to particular constituencies. I approve of the simplification of our railways. I do not approve of the loss of the tradition of the four old lines, with their names and their different uniforms and all that they meant. I have met many of the older railwaymen who are very sad at the loss of the traditions that bound them together in earlier times—but it is too late to remedy that now. I say: give the railways a free hand. I would not myself change the management in midstream. I would wish them good luck.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD LUKE
My Lords, I should like to take something which the noble Lord, Lord Mills, said earlier. He said,"Give the railways our compliments.". In the later stages of this debate we have had a certain amount of balance of criticism with praise. The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, spoke about the spirit of the railwaymen. The passengers do not seem to have come into the debate very much, and I should like to talk about the spirit of the passengers. There has been little praise for the improvements that have already been made on the railways. The general public do quite enough fault finding. In fact, railways are the favourite topic in our country for criticism, next to the weather; and this afternoon noble Lords have had a grand time joining in.
It seems to me that the most important task of the Railway Commission to-day is to get the public on their side in this great struggle for development. After all, the story of our railways is a great story. I have a book here which is a little old—it is dated 1955—but that does not matter because it is a great story. 595 Perhaps the development that has been going on and we hope is going to continue is not quite so glamorous as the building of motorways. We have heard a lot about the very successful M.1, which was constructed in eighteen months, but let us consider some of the things that the railways are doing.
A good deal of electrification is going on. I do not think that the public appreciate what a task it is to fit electrification into the old system that we have at the present moment. We have the advent of the diesel. We all know when we are travelling behind a diesel engine, because we notice the difference in the sound. But so curious is the reaction in the public mind that when a diesel train arrives early there is quite a"fan-mail" of complaints sent to the management. We have many more diesel trains for local travel and they are making a good contribution. We have express freight. I am sure that many noble Lords, like myself, have experience of expressing goods from London to Glasgow and getting them there in a very short time. The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, said something about that. These are some of the visible improvements which perhaps those of us who have studied the matter can see going on, but the public are not realising that they are going on. There are, of course, many unseen developments going on which inevitably cause delay and further complaints and annoyance. Let us tell the public that you cannot make a complete reconstruction—and I believe that this is a complete reconstruction—of tracks while at the same time you are trying to maintain an improved service.
Let us compare with this the construction of M.1. The constructors of M.1 had the whole country absolutely free for eighteen months and were able to work without any let or hindrance at all. How many of us realise that the laying of railway tracks is just as much a reconstruction? I often try to do a bit of public relations, as it were, among my fellow passengers who complain, and they are a little surprised to learn that delays on the railways are simply because, for the sake of the safety of the travelling public, tracks have to be re-laid. You cannot renew a railway system without some dislocation somewhere.
596 I believe that the railways have the greatest difficulty in securing signal staff. After all, with the best mechanised service in the world, you must have some staff, and if the railways cannot get staff none of us will be able to travel at all. We ought to realise more fully than we do that the progress and development of the railways must be a slow process. Readjustments are painful, and I think it is extremely difficult for the average individual to grasp the complete picture. Every one of us is concerned with his own particular line, his own particular train and his own particular station. Lord Lucas of Chilworth was most eloquent about his station, and I could be quite eloquent about stations, but it is the overall picture we have to try to master and get across to the public. If a man's own particular station is not satisfactory he is rather apt to judge the whole system as equally rotten. And yet it is a remarkable thing, that when the closing of some unremunerative service is proposed, hordes of people who never use the railways at all come out to defend it. I really think it is an extremely illogical attitude which people take.
I do not know whether I am criticising or not—perhaps I am, though I hope not—but my chief complaint is the lack of public relations and publicity of the railways themselves. There is no other industry which I know that could manage without them; it would just go out of existence. Beautiful posters of where you can go sometimes rather belie the nature of the going, if your Lordships see what I mean. These, and many other things, are very delightful, and no doubt necessary, and all right in their place but I think that much more attention should be paid to informing the public about what it going on, whether it is good or whether it is bad. Just tell them. People are rather good at facing the future, even if it is bad. The railways must keep repeating what is happening so that the public can expect it. It must be done by constant reminders.
There are some stations I know pretty well which are about the oldest in the country—and we all know the sort of conditions in the oldest stations in the country. Such conditions would not be tolerated in any other sphere. They are stations without a public address system, 597 stations low on the priority list for renewal or improvement, with vague ideas that something is projected to be done about them in about ten years' time. If they have a low priority, let us take it, but let us tell the people. Tell the people about the plans, so that they know definitely that, for instance, the horrible old gaslighting will remain for however many years it is to remain. Then the people will know where they are. Of course, you may have to run the risk of driving a few more people off the railways. Again, when trains are always late, tell the people that when the old-fashioned steam engines are replaced things will be much better. I believe in taking the people into our confidence; otherwise, they just draw their own conclusions. What you want to do is to draw conclusions for them.
I should like to hear a lot more about the new connecting service which is and will be available in this country, because with the strain of modern motoring I am taking again to travelling much more by train; but one does want to know one has the right connection. There is another thing—I do not know whether it is in the programme or not—and that is something which underlies the modernisation proposals, and which we are accustomed to in our own factories and warehouses. I see no reason why it should not be applied to the railways. It is quite obvious, and it has been said to-day, that our railways need good staff and personnel. I would go further: the railways need lively leaders. They need business leaders with progressive minds. I would suggest to your Lordships that the railways will get the sort of people they need only if they change the climate of opinion towards the whole system. Take the public into your confidence. They are already seeing what can be done. Demonstration, after all, is the best form of publicity. Good relations with the public are essential for securing their sympathy, co-operation and friendly good will.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, during the course of a debate on 4th November last, the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, said that his right honourable friend was in the process of studying the Re-appraisal of the Modernisation Plan with a view to taking decisions which could have a wide significance. 598 May I, therefore, hope that some of these may have a bearing on electrification? Last Friday, due to the courtesy and kindness of the British Transport Commission, I was able to see the progress which had been made on electrification of the Liverpool-Manchester-Euston Line, which is due for completion, I understand, in September, 1964.
Before I go into this question of electrification there are one or two matters of operational significance to which I should like to call attention. For instance, we were due at Crewe at 10.38 but we arrived nineteen minutes late, having slowed down, only very briefly, twice, just before Armitage and before Norton Bridge Junction. On arrival I inquired the reason for the late arrival. I was rather surprised to learn that the reason was that the train consisted of fourteen carriages, and that the diesel engine, of the"Mountain" Class, was incapable of making up the lost time. As dieselisation is part of the Modernisation Plan I was a little perturbed by this statement, and at the fact which I was told, that two diesel locomotives would have been necessary to enable the train, with its fourteen carriages, to arrive on time. I was especially perturbed because no electrification programme work was being carried out at Armitage, and only survey work was being undertaken around Norton Bridge Junction. I regret that, in spite of the fact that, in a number of cases, diesel has replaced steam, certain statements made in the Central Transport Consultative Committee's Annual Report for 1957 (the Report came out in 1958) would still seem to apply. One statement in that Report was:Other failures appear to have been caused by an undue optimism in compiling timetables and accelerating train speed which has resulted in some main line expresses being given timings which can only he maintained under ideal conditions.From a study of the last three Reports of the Central Consultative Transport Committee, I feel that too much stress is laid on the estimated savings that could accrue through branch line closures and withdrawal of services, and too little on the provision of a public service. The estimated minimum annual savings are high-lighted, while the needs of the travelling public seem, to a certain extent, to be minimised. It would appear, 599 too, that the Commission's policy is to suggest alternative means of transport whenever there is a question of falling off in traffic. This falling off in traffic has been due in a number of cases to the fact that there have been reductions in the service prior to closure proposals. In some cases these reductions in services have taken place up to two years before the proposal for withdrawal or closing down of a line has been suggested by the Commission.
A number of avenues to be explored suggest themselves with a view to increasing traffic—for instance the development of fast, clean and reliable services on the lines of the new Kent coast electrification scheme. I understand that receipts have considerably increased since that service came into being: as a newspaper headline put it,"More and more travel on Kent's new electric lines." With regard to services on branch lines and cross country lines, I sincerely hope that the British Transport Commission will heed a statement also made in the Annual Report I mentioned earlier of the Central Transport Consultative Committee. These Consultative Committees were set up for the safeguard of the public, and I think it is right that I should draw the attention of your Lordships to that statement. It says:Indeed, we hope that when the very lightweight diesel rail cars now under construction are brought into service, costs will be still further reduced on rural branch services, and that a number of them, which now show considerable losses, will bring in sufficient additional revenue under diesel operation to justify their retention, even though they may not show a profit.I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government whether the introduction of single-unit diesel rail cars has tended to attract more passengers to the railways. Further, I should like to ask him whether the British Transport Commission would consider the extension of the principle of unstaffed halts, so that rural lines could be operated on the basis of a light railway service. I would stress that this suggestion is made purely for remote rural areas and for country lines which it might be the intention to close down but which, perhaps, could be operated on the light railway basis. I think that this system was tried with a certain amount of success in Northern Ireland.
600 No doubt the four-wheeled diesel rail bus could be improved from the point of view of both appearance and comfort; and I feel that there is probably even greater room for development in the field of the bogie single-unit diesel rail car. On the question of long-distance fares—and this is one of the suggestions that I respectfully submit—I wonder whether consideration could be given to the introduction of return fares at a slightly reduced rate, instead of double the single fare. I know that the Commission have introduced certain cheap fare schemes to attract the public, but they are designed mainly to see that the services are more fully used at the particular times they would like the passengers to travel. What I suggest is that someone who wishes to travel at a time most convenient to himself should not be deprived of the benefit of obtaining a return ticket at a slightly reduced fare.
With regard to freight, one can but welcome the latitude now given to commercial managers to charge the appropriate competitive rate. Then there is the question of the indispensable cutting down of transit delays, documentation, handling and breakages—and possibly pilfering. I know that the police force of the British Railways, which is about 3,000 strong, is an extremely efficient one (the man in charge used to be the Chief Constable for Portsmouth and is an extremely able man), but I should imagine that pilfering still occurs, and it would be made more difficult by the use of the small containers for the door-to-door service. I should like to take this opportunity to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether there has been any increase in the provision and use of the 70 cubic feet containers for the door-to-door service.
I turn now briefly to electrification. As I understand it, the chief regional managers submitted proposals to the British Transport Commission, and those that were approved were incorporated in the 1954 White Paper (Cmnd. 9191). One of the considerations taken into account, as I understand it, was the question of traffic density, and the yardstick applied was the number of trailed ton miles per year—which I believe is the railway's expression. Above 4 million trailed ton miles per 601 year the line was suitable for electrification, and under 4 million the line was suitable for diesel traction. I should therefore like to ask the noble Lord—and I am sorry to ask him several questions, but I have given notice of one or two—whether the main-line electrification proposals are final; whether there are any further plans for electrification, and whether any other lines are liable to be electrified: in other words, whether the traffic density is sufficiently high to make it economically feasible to electrify them. I particularly have in mind the possible extension of the London Midland Region electrification scheme to Carlisle.
I would certainly agree with the words of the Re-appraisal plan. I apologise to your Lordships for quoting these passages at this late hour, but I think they have a certain bearing on the matter and a certain importance. This quotation reads as follows:While either diesel or electric traction will give a satisfactory financial return, and diesel traction would produce modernised services more quickly and with less disturbance to traffic, in the long run electrification will produce the better railway.With regard to electrification, I think it is also interesting to note that the British Transport Commission consider that electrification will pay off to the tune of 10 per cent. of the capital cost, and that is excluding signalling work, which would have to have been carried out in any case.
With a view to speeding up electrification the Commission have now added a third contractor. The bottleneck arises not so much from the question of electrification, but more with signalling and civil engineering work—and mainly with the question of preliminary planning. I understand that during Stage I of the electrification scheme on the London-Midland region—that is the area between Manchester and Crewe—the delays were due mainly to the preliminary planning, and that is even before the survey work could be carried out. I trust that delays like that will not arise with regard to Stage Il, and so on. This is not a criticism of the Regions, but more a criticism of headquarters, because that is a headquarters duty, and not a regional duty.
602 With regard to the Regions, I should like to express my appreciation to Mr. A. H. Emerson and the members of his staff who kindly explained to me in great detail last Friday the matters appertaining to his work of electrification. I must say that I found the programme that had been prepared for me a most interesting indeed. What struck me was the keenness of all concerned with this electrification, and I am sorry that the noble Lord who moved this Motion is not in his place, because I certainly would not agree when he said that their souls were crushed. I think they took considerable pride in their work, and in fact their keenness, as I mentioned before, was quite apparent. I should like to stress this, because from the point of view of comparison I referred once or twice to electrification on the French railways, and they seemed very certain—and I wish them the best of luck in this respect—that their work would be of a much higher standard. As your Lordships are well aware, this work is carried out under difficult conditions between trains, at night and on Sundays, when it is not absolutely necessary to take complete possession of the line.
Finally, I should like to make just one more plea, apart from the plea of speeding up the electrification programme, and that is a plea to the Ministry of Power and the Central Electricity Generating Board with regard to their charges, because the charges for electricity in the Midland area compared with rates abroad seem to be extremely high. The rate for electricity for traction purposes in the Midlands is 0.96d., whilst in France it is only 0.4d. That is a heavy burden to bear when one considers that diesel oil is available to railways for a sum in the region of 1s. 2½d. per gallon. According to the Commission's Report and Accounts for 1958, the cost of fuel and power for traction, heating and lighting in the London-Midland region is 2s. 91/10d. for electric traction, and 6d. for diesel traction. Recalling the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mills, during the course of a debate on March 3 last, I think a more reasonable agreement could be reached between the Central Electricity Generating Board and the British Transport Commission.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ LORD SWANSEA
My Lords, time is getting on, and I will try to be brief. I think the noble Lord who moved this Motion was unjustly harsh on British Railways and did them less than justice. As earlier speakers have said, the railways never fully recovered from the strain placed upon their resources during the war. When you consider all the railways have to put up with I think your Lordships will agree with me that they are doing a very fine job. Nevertheless, no one can pretend that the system is perfect.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned the line from London to Oxford, Worcester and Hereford. I am not unacquainted with that line, as I travel by it fairly frequently. For many people in mid-Wales and the adjoining counties Hereford is the most convenient railhead, and when the new timetables came out a short while ago I was glad to see that certain trains on that line had been re-timed and spread out more evenly over the day. But one result of that re-timing has been that certain trains between Hereford and mid-Wales which formerly connected with the trains between Hereford and London no longer connect with them, in either direction. As a result, anyone who is so unfortunate or so misguided as to travel all the way by train between mid-Wales and London now finds his journey very much longer and more inconvenient than it was before.
The journey between Hereford and London, as I have said, has been improved but still leaves a certain amount to be desired. The particular part I have in mind is between Hereford and Worcester. There the train bumbles along rather like a school bus. I forget how many stops there are, but on the fastest trains they should not all be necessary, I feel. The fastest train does the journey from Hereford to London in a little over 3½ hours. If you compare that in terms of average speed with the service between, say, Newport and London, there is a very considerable difference. The latter service is, so far as my experience goes, extremely efficient. I feel sure that on the other line I have mentioned, at any rate one fast train a day in each direction might be introduced, stopping at, say, Evesham and Worcester; and I think a time of 604 about 3 hours for that journey would not be unreasonable.
I turn to the question of fares, in particular the point about return fares mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale. I am entirely in agreement with him on that point. The information about return fares in the official timetable says that ordinary return tickets are issued generally at double the single fare. I see no reason why there should not be a reduction of some sort on the ordinary return ticket. The public must be offered some incentive to travel by train, and I think that would be one way in which an incentive could be applied. As I said, I use the line between Hereford and London fairly frequently. From time to time it is necessary for me to come up to London for the day. If I am to arrive in London in time to do anything at all, it means leaving home at a quarter past five in the morning and driving 40 miles to Hereford and coming back again in the evening and driving home 40 miles. It would not be so bad if I could always get a day return ticket. But I cannot; they are available only on certain days of the week. It seems to me manifestly unfair that someone who must, of necessity, travel on one certain day of the week should have to buy an ordinary return ticket, when somebody travelling perhaps the next day can get a day ticket. I would submit that suggestion to the noble Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government for their consideration.
A continual source of grey hairs and premature old age among drivers is the increasing number of lorries of all sizes on the road. I realise, of course, that door-to-door transport is undoubtedly much quicker, and certainly very desirable for urgent deliveries and perishable goods; and also that there are certain so-called indivisible loads which have to be sent by some means other than rail. If they are sent by road they are generally a frightful nuisance to everyone else. However, where the goods are not so urgently required, I am sure that more use could be made of the box containers, which can be transferred bodily from a lorry to a railway truck, and vice versa. That would undoubtedly speed up the handling of goods very much at both ends of the journey
605 Now, my Lords, with your indulgence, I am going to turn again to Wales, to deal with a peculiarity of the trains in that part of the country. Every year a large number of tourists, both from this country and from overseas, come to Wales, which I think your Lordships will agree possesses a number of attractions. Many of those tourists are dependent on public transport, and are compelled to time their holidays as from one week-end to another. The travelling arrangements of these people are in many cases seriously deranged by the fact that on many lines in Wales there are no Sunday services at all, and very often no buses either. I am sure that on some lines the introduction of Sunday services, at least during the holiday season, would have a beneficial effect on the tourist industry and certainly on the ease of travel.
A certain amount of concern is being felt in some quarters about rural depopulation, and efforts are being made, I know, to lessen the drift from the land into the towns. One of the requisites, I think, for living in the country nowadays is that people should be able to travel with reasonable facility and at reasonable cost to the local towns to do their shopping, or further afield for recreation and holidays. Few people would be content to bury themselves indefinitely in the country if there were no facilities to enable them to get out and head for the bright lights and the fleshpots once every so often.
The noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, has spoken of the increasing use of the new electric and diesel trains, and I know that their introduction will be welcomed by everyone except the confirmed traditionalist. They will spell the end of the dirt and soot from which we have suffered for so long—in fact, ever since the first introduction of the steam engine. May we hope, too, that in time our carriages will be properly air-conditioned, as they are on the Continent, and that we shall be freed from our present Scylla of draughts and Charybdis of fug.
There is one aspect of the electrification of the lines which many people find rather disturbing, and that is the proposed use of overhead conductor lines. I realise that they are cheaper to erect than a third rail, but even so I think Her Majesty's Government ought to consider the ques- 606 tion from the point of view of the effect it will have on the aspect of the countryside. We have so many of these electric power lines and other blots on the landscape that I think that these overhead conductor lines would only disfigure the landscape more. A little while ago I had the experience, new to me, of travelling in one of the new trains—whether it was diesel or electric I am not sure; my technical knowledge is not sufficient for that. But I found myself able to sit right at the front, immediately behind the driver's compartment, and was able to look at rail travel literally from a new angle. There was a fascinating vista of the line spread out before me, and it was really a sight to thrill the heart of everyone who, as a small boy, ever dreamed of being an engine driver. I think that is what we must look forward to from the progress which is being made towards modernisation and the electrification and (a horrible word) dieselisation of our railways.
§ 7.41 p.m.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. A certain amount of alarm and despondency has been produced to-night. If you consider that you must have a railway system, then the best thing you can do is to back up that system and those who are trying to make it work, to the utmost of your ability. I am told by the B.T.C. that, taking one thing with another, they are slightly ahead of their predicted programme at this moment. I personally think that that is a feat.
I speak with a certain amount of experience, having had to do railway work in the days of my youth, and I really know about dodging trains while trying to build a bridge and keeping the railway open at the same time. It is not easy. Therefore, if the British Transport Commission are satisfied with their progress, and if they are running according to their predicted programme—there are some rather clever people there and their programme is very well and carefully considered—I cannot see at this particular moment that there is any great cause for alarm and despondency on that score. Of course it is true that trains are late and that bad timekeeping and all sorts of hold-ups occur. Probably that is the chief grouse of the travelling public. Unfortunately, the railways are in the position that the more they 607 modernise at the moment and the faster they go, the worse the situation becomes until they complete their modernisation. If one is in the unfortunate state in which the railways are at the moment, of running, in certain sections, a sort of hybrid affair, half diesel, half steam, one is prohibited from getting the best out of the diesel. It is rather like a convoy; you frequently can go only as fast as the slowest.
In addition to this, the situation is aggravated by the teething troubles which they are having with their diesels. There is one point I should like to make about that. The fact is that I think there are four or five firms supplying these diesels, and British Railways are also assembling them in their own works. On the whole, their difficulties and troubles have been largely confined to one firm of the four supplying, and I think it was suggested that the changing over of their fitters from steam to diesel had been a possible cause of additional trouble. So far as I know, the engines that have been assembled at Didcot have given far less trouble than any others. That is a very big feather in the caps of the people concerned.
The point I should like to make is that morale is a most important thing. Surprisingly enough, I think, morale is affected by the things we say in your Lordships' House. It is surprising to find the different kinds of people who read Hansard. I have been accosted in connection with the remarks that I have made myself, by people I should never dream would ever look at the thing. So we must remember that people like a pat on the back, and that they do not like ill-founded criticism, which is quite easy to produce. It is really easy to be funny about the railways but I do not think it does us any good, except perhaps temporarily. I feel that we ought to be a little careful on that score.
There is one other point. I know that men have left the railways, but those who are left are men with the railways in their blood, with faith in the future and with pride—they are proud of the tradition behind them. I can quote an instance of this. I arrived in London from Scotland five minutes behind advertised time. I stuck my head into the cab of the engine as I went by and said, 608 "That was a good run". I got a couple of grins from inside the cab that set me up for the rest of the day. This is quite an easy thing to do. I do not know why we do not do it more often, knowing the difficulty that these chaps have and what they are putting up with.
I should like to pay a tribute to the forbearance of the unions and to the statesmanlike way in which they have faced their trials and tribulations. I hope that all these will be ironed out to the satisfaction of all. I would emphasise that when the lines cross and the operation of the railways, in 1961 or 1962, gets out of the"red", they should give the first call on any benefits to those chaps who persisted cheerfully in those difficult circumstances, and I will back them.
There is one other aspect which I think is most important—it has been mentioned—and it is public relations. I cannot help feeling that it would be well worth while for British railways to put a programme on I.T.V.—after all, there are local groups—explaining where the modernisation programme had reached, what we were in for, what delays there were, and why. At the same time, a jolly good showing could be made of the building of a big diesel. It is a spectacular thing which would make a very good picture. They could also show the shifting out of a two-ton bridge, the shifting of another one into position, and the running of a train over the new bridge. Although this operation takes about five hours it could all be condensed into a short film. It is not unimpressive. A great deal of that sort of thing could be done, and I think it would help everybody. I should like to repeat, finally, that in my opinion the B.T.C., in most trying conditions, have put up a first-rate show. I wish them every luck, and I have absolute confidence that they will carry out their undertaking.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, I promise faithfully that I shall be very brief, and I will do my best also to be non-political, because transport is a technical matter of economics and ought not to be influenced by politics. I could talk on the politics of the transport industry, but I propose not to do so. There are, however, three points that I want to 609 bring out—they have all been touched on by other noble Lords.
The first concerns railwaymen of all grades. There is no doubt that here we have a depressed industry. One noble Lord said that there is ruling in the railways now a wage level about 12½ per cent. below the national average wage level. If one glances through the maximum rates one sees that a top-grade driver gets £11 9s. a week, while the maximum rate for a guard is £9 5s. The highest paid signalman—on whom a great many lives depend—gets £11 3s. 6d., and the rates go down to the £7 to £8 range for goods checkers and shunters, ganger foremen and lengthmen. The lengthman on the permanent way, who probably has about as"sticky" a job as could be found, having to go out in all weathers, gets £8 0s. 6d. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth mentioned that, but what one missed from his speech was the statement that he would lead a public agitation in favour of higher railway fares, because that seems to be the only way—
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, if my noble friend wishes me to explain, I thought I said as plainly as I possibly could that all restrictions should be lifted from the British Transport Commission, enabling them to adjust all their charges as the economics permitted. I could not say that in any plainer language.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, apart from, but arising out of, the question of pay, there is the morale of the staff. We must remember that, while passengers expect courtesy from railway staffs, it is a two-way traffic, and railway-men expect courtesy and civility from the travelling public. And that, I am afraid, has suffered in the rising wave of public indignation, with complaints against everything that goes wrong. Whilst I admit that I have not done any research on the matter I am convinced that if one looked at issues of The Times in the 1930s or the 1920s, and even went back to, say, 1910 or 1906, one would find irate letters to the paper asking why the 9.15 was slow or why the restaurant car was taken off at Doncaster. There is really nothing new in complaints against the type of service on the railway. Until this type of complaint from the 610 travelling public—what I would almost call the hostility towards the railway staff—abates, we cannot expect the best service from the railway staffs. There, I feel, Her Majesty's Government could give a fairly positive lift to the morale of the railwaymen by praising their services in some way and, even better, of course, by promising that their pay will be increased.
I have said that I cannot agree with my noble friend's statement that never in history have there been more complaints than are being received now, and that the railways should be expected to cover their costs as a commercial enterprise. Surely it is well known that all over the world nationalised or private railways are suffering and having to be helped by the State. In the United States, where free enterprise is almost deified, there was a leading article in the New York Times some time ago which said:This report raises the widely discussed possibility that the railway system of this country may collapse financially and require nationalisation. … The railways must be helped to survive but is it not time to take a new comprehensive look at our national transportation facilities and develop a new integrated approach to Government regulation of these media?I believe that we all know that the Swiss railways, and possibly the Netherlands railways, are the only ones in Western Europe that make a profit; and they do it, of course, by charging much higher fares than we charge here.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, certainly for the success of the railways we stand or fall by the speed with which we can introduce electrification and dieselisation.
I was glad that two noble Lords mentioned coastal shipping. I also saw that report about the South Western Gas Board, and it passed through my mind that free competition is all right so long as you win; but if the other fellows win 611 they are"ganging up" against you, and that is unfair competition. I do not know the rights or wrongs of this particular case, but we know that the main object of the Government's 1953 Transport Act was to free the charging powers of the railways to enable them to do just precisely this—under-cutting. Because is not under-cutting what we mean by"commercial competition"?
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, may I just say this to the noble Earl? The real objection to what is happening in this case—although it may be quite right to do it—is that there is a provision in the Act whereby a Committee was set up to discuss this very matter; and the matter is not discussed with the Committee.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, that is, presumably, a matter that will be looked into, and no doubt the Minister will give his ruling; but that Gas Board case is by no means the worst case of loss of coast shipping.
I have been told, on good authority, that china clay used to be shipped from Par, in Cornwall, round to Weston Point Docks, on the Manchester Ship Canal, and there transhipped into narrow boats to be taken on by canal to Stoke-on-Trent. Some years ago somebody who had bought up a lot of new motor lorries said,"I will lift your china clay from Weston Point to Stoke-on-Trent and take it straight to your factory". He did so; and there went the canal traffic. Shortly afterwards, the same haulier said,"I can lift your china clay all the way from Cornwall", and he is now doing it. That is why our roads are in the state they are, carrying coal, china clay and other similar big, bulky loads, which are essentially more suitable to be hauled on a track rather than on rubber tyres.
That brings me to the real point of transport. I maintain that transport must be looked at as one service. The different methods must be complementary to each other, and not competitive. If we let everything rip with free competition, just think of the assets that will have to be written off, or wasted. Think of the millions of pounds represented by the railway investment all through the nineteenth century—and of course, that was grossly extravagant then—on account 612 of competition and the mania, apparently, to invest money in the railways. I can think of a brick viaduct in East Anglia which was built in 1845 at a cost of £45,000, but which is used now by only a very few trains each day. I can think of Marylebone Station in London. It was rather before my time, but I believe that the whole Great Central Railway, ending up with the terminus at Marylebone Station, represents a gross piece of wasted capital generally, all caused by the highly competitive position of the railway companies at that time, about 1900. So the railways are saddled with the financial burden which many noble Lords have talked about. I am not competent to talk on finance, but it seems to me that for the sake of the staff of the British Transport Commission there ought to be some clean break with these enormous deficits and the interest that has to be paid on them.
There are other small matters on which the railways might well get a square deal—things like track maintenance. They maintain and inspect and police their track, whereas the road goods vehicles do not. Also, there are small questions of bridges, and so on. They are small matters, but I maintain that that is one of the things that must be seen to. The noble Lord will say that it is subsidising, but we are very selective about using the word"subsidy", are we not? There are big industries which get big subsidies, smaller industries which get smaller subsidies, possibly disguised—anyhow, I must not trespass on the subject which my noble Leader is going to debate before very long. My Lords, these are the things I would say: think of the staff; treat your transport methods as complementary and not competitive; have a thought for all the hundreds of millions sunk in railway bridges, cuttings and viaducts, and so on. And, lastly, take a more realistic view of the financial position of the Transport Commission.
§ 8.3 p.m.
THE EARL OF NORTHESK
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene at this late hour, but I have listened to the majority of the speeches to-night, and I have found little constructive in them. There has been, I suggest, a great deal of destructive criticism of the British Transport Commission, a nationalised body, for which this House and another place 613 really are responsible. The British Transport Commission started on their onerous task with a millstone of enormous size around their neck: the repayment of capital interest for the take-over of the four great railway groups which became British Railways. I feel that to-day we should consider the matter in this light. Railway transport has always played a great part in the national prosperity and the happiness of our people. We were the first country in the world to develop steam traction by the railways; and, thanks to the provision of those early pioneers, this country has been, and still is, blessed with the greatest intercommunicating system of railway lines of any country in the world. That has been proved, without question, throughout two world wars, when certain lines were disrupted or destroyed by enemy action, but, thanks to the multiplicity of the lines we have, we were enabled to keep our production, our flow of supplies to the Forces, going.
I feel that this is a subject that should go to the people. As slowly, one by one, these branch lines have been closed by the British Transport Commission, protests have been, and are being, received from all those parts of the countryside which are affected. As I see it, the British Transport Commission's final objective is a few main railway lines running north and south, and perhaps one west, at great speeds, they claim—speeds which I would assure your Lordships were equalled in 1900, but with lighter trains, of course. No, my Lords; I would suggest that this is a question for the country as a whole to consider: do they or do they not want our railway system to remain, in fact to be increased where it has been cut down, to give them the facilities that they, their parents and grandparents, have had throughout the years?
I am not criticising the British Transport Commission. They cannot help their position, with this millstone around their neck, this awful problem that they cannot make it pay. I do not think that in a hundred-thousand years can they make it pay under existing conditions. Should we not put it to the people of this country that, if they wish their railways to continue, they must be subsidised? Keep fares at a reasonable level. And, I would suggest that the subsidy could be so distributed that the ordinary 614 person would hardly be perceptive of it, and he would have the service from the railways and—the thing which has been stressed by many noble Lords in this House this afternoon—the loyalty, the wholehearted support, which the railway servants can give. I stress the word"servants", because they do not look upon that as a derogatory term. They are proud to be railway servants; they were in the old days. To-day there are many men with whom I talk, and they say,"I am a Great Western man","I am a Midland man", or"I am a North Eastern man". They are going back in the ages, but they are proud of that connection with the railways. This is a much wider question than can be answered in this House to-night, and I would suggest that it should be a subject for much earnest discussion by my noble friend and for the country in general.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, you will probably misunderstand me when I say that I am beginning to view these transport debates as acquiring a sort of monotony. I had better quickly explain that the seeming monotony arises from the regularity with which I start off by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for initiating debates of this kind in your Lordships' House. He does a great service all round by doing this. To call attention to these important subjects and to give them a thorough airing must be very good. This occasion is no exception, because I have noticed that railways are always a topic which commands a great deal of informed interest in the House; and it is a great help to have the broad issues of the railway programme discussed as they have been.
My Lords, I have listened with great care to the many points that have been made, and to the different views that have been put. As a result, and particularly having listened to some of the more critical speakers, I feel very tempted to join in the spate of Shakespeare that we have had with my own quotation, which would be,"This is indeed a bloody business." I have also been struck by the conflict of opinion which has shown itself, from Lord Lucas of Chilworth to Lord Luke; and not least, if I may say with respect, from the Benches opposite. For my part, I think 615 I must introduce another element of monotony by saying that I think in the circumstances I should regard this debate mostly, in a sense, as advisory. I do not want to appear to beg any issue, or to seem unforthcoming, if my major contribution consists of letting your Lordships know how important, and with what sense of urgency, the Government feel the whole question of the railways should be treated. The fact that I cannot go very much further will not surprise your Lordships; but I want to make it quite clear that in the Ministry over which my right honourable friend presides there is no complacency, and that a great deal of hard thought is taking place. Therefore, what your Lordships have said to-day will be of the greatest interest and value.
I should like to say that my right honourable friend has now occupied his position for just under two months. I agree that a great deal has been heard on the subject of road problems, which have"hogged all the publicity", so to speak, and that might have tended to overshadow the hard thinking and the work that is going on in regard to the railways. To emphasise what my noble friend Lord Mills said, I may tell your Lordships that my right honourable friend has already had many consultations, as well as visiting over 20 railway establishments, since he took up office. I think it is a useful point for me to mention, to rub in that the railway aspect is certainly not being neglected, and that we are very busy considering the situation—which, as I have said, we consider to be one of the greatest urgency. I therefore do not think that my noble friend Lord Ferrier need have any fear on that score.
My Lords, that brings us face to face with the broad problem of investment in the field of inland transport as a whole, about which a great deal has been said. Freedom of choice for transport users has always been a cornerstone of our public policy for transport. To direct traffic in any significant way from road to rail, or from one kind of transport to another, would raise very wide issues well beyond the scope of this debate.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
Is the noble Lord right in saying that there is complete freedom to travel? The Transport 616 Tribunal can prevent new services from being put on the roads, can it not?
§ LORD CHESHAM
What I am intending to convey, my Lords, is that there should be a freedom of choice to the user as to which method he employs. I do not think I should be taken too literally on that—that there must be a bus, a train, an aeroplane or a ship to take anyone on any given journey. But within a reasonable interpretation of what I say, I think that may be said to be the cornerstone.
It is often said, my Lords, that we have got too much transport and that the investment policy should be framed accordingly. Nobody claims either that investment in roads should be reduced or that there should be no modernisation of the railways. It therefore comes down to the question as to what share of the national resources can be made available for the broad field of inland transport investment; and this, of course, is one of the very important things that Her Majesty's Government must have in mind in considering the Commission's Reappraisal of their Modernisation Plan, and the accelerated investment in railways to which it points. It has been made perfectly clear to-day that your Lordships appreciate its importance; but I think I must return to my point that we who at present have the responsibility have not had it very long, and that there has not been a great deal of time for full consideration of the Re-appraisal, which was presented only in July. Therefore, if your Lordships are expecting me to make any kind of statement about it, I must say that I am sorry that, for the reasons I have mentioned, I have to be a disappointment. Quite understandably, the Re-appraisal took the Commission many months of intensive work to prepare, and it raises important issues which can be stated only in relation to the problems of the capital structure of the Commission, on which they still have to submit their proposals to the Minister. He, too, needs time to consider this difficult matter. Accordingly, it is too early yet to say what the Government's views may be.
What we should not under-estimate is the fact that the railways are playing a considerable part in the country's economy. Even last year, 1958, when freight traffics were depressed, British Railways carried over 240 million tons 617 of freight, and over 1,000 million passenger journeys were made. This year is showing a most encouraging increase on the freight side, and approximately one-third of it is being carried in the fast scheduled freight trains for which my noble friend Lord Forbes asked, and which my noble friend Lord Luke also mentioned. In this carriage of heavy bulk materials, such as coal and iron ore, and in dealing with the heaviest flow of passenger movement to and from work in the big towns and cities, the railways clearly have their biggest essential contribution to make to the country's needs.
The railways cannot play their proper part in the national economy until they have been put into the right size and shape and their equipment and operating system have been modernised. This modernisation is going on now, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, wants it, and as the Transport Commission want it, too—as, indeed, they have set out in their Re-appraisal. But it also has to go hand in hand with rationalisation, and the Commission are doing all they can to cut out uneconomic services and to concentrate on those operations which the railways are best suited to carry out. Since the beginning of 1955, some 110 sections of line, involving 1,200 miles of railway, have been closed. At the same time there has been this high and continuing level of investment in new equipment, including both diesel and electric traction, which is overtaking the backlog of many years' capital starvation; and this is having the effect of removing some of the operating bottlenecks in a railway system built up as a result of the 19th century layout, about which my noble friend Lord Luke told us, which we now, of course, have to bring up to date.
Sometimes, of course, progress which is going on in one direction seems to create problems in another. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, and the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, all had something to say about a certain counter-effect. Her Majesty's Government, too, are very conscious of the problems of the coastal shipping industry, and certainly share the anxiety that has been expressed that this industry should be in a sound and healthy condition. My right honourable friend and I have begun to hold consultations with the Chairman of the 618 Coastal Shipping Advisory Committee. The industry has a great history and did a grand job in the war. Any decline in its fortunes affects not only those who own and man the ships but also the ports, which over the years have built up almost an entire local economy on coastal shipping. We have very much in mind the social, economic and defence problems that are connected with it, though they are rather matters for another day. Most of the factors are really outside the scope of the present debate.
But the particular problem of competition between coasters and railways is difficult enough just now. There cannot be any easy solution, because in many ways the needs to maintain a freedom of choice for the trader, to encourage the railways and to preserve a strong and self-supporting coastal and shipping industry are mutually conflicting. I can only say that we are studying most carefully this problem, and all its difficulties and implications, and I will certainly bring the words of the noble Lords to the attention of my right honourable friend. The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, will understand that I cannot say any more at the moment. There is the particular case which he mentioned, and which was mentioned elsewhere, of the South Western Gas Board. There are four points I should make on this.
First, the detailed arrangements for coal supplies to a particular gas board are a matter of day-to-day management, which is properly the responsibility of the board concerned. Secondly, there seem to have been technical and commercial reasons for their action in making this change, and it seems that the new arrangements will be very much in the interests of the consumers of gas and coke in the South Western region. The third point I want to make is that the Government understand and sympathise with the feelings of the coastal shipping industry about the manner in which this change took place at such short notice; but that is no ground, and so far as I know there is none, for any accusation of a complete gang up" between the Gas Board, the Coal Board and the British Transport Commission. The final point I want to make is that I understand that the Chamber of Shipping may be making an application to the Transport Tribunal under the 619 provisions of Section 39 of the 1933 Act. In these circumstances it would be wrong for me to express any opinion about any possible question of unfair competition on the part of the British Transport Commission, because the matter is already sub judice.
Let me turn for a moment to the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, who spoke of the disaster at Lewisham and policy on automatic signalling. I am very glad to have an opportunity of explaining a little about it. It is the policy of the British Transport Commission to equip all their double-track main passenger lines with automatic train control of the warning type—incidentally, it is now known as the automatic warning system. The system has been finally approved, and the delay that was met was due to the fact that it was necessary to develop a new system to meet the widespread electrification, for which I understand the Great Western system is not well suited.
Since the system was approved in 1956, about 320 route miles of this equipment have been installed and some 1,500 locomotives have been converted. It is hoped to equip a further 169 miles by early next year, making a total of 530 miles so far completed. It will take some time to equip the rest, because it is a big task, but it is expected to be completed by the end of 1972.
§ LORD CHESHAM
By the end of 1972. What we have to remember is that not only is the automatic warning system a great safety factor, but the modernisation of signalling generally also increases safety. The situation is that, mostly for technical reasons, if we tried to step up the rate of installation of the automatic warning system, it would be at the expense of other factors of modernisation; and from a safety point of view it might well prove to be"as broad as it is long." There is a firm programme of priorities, which has been drawn up to the end of 1962, and by that time a further 490 miles should have been completed.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, by 1972 I should think that most of the locomotives we are now fitting up will be out of date. Would this system be adaptable for diesel and electric trains?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, my Lords. That is one of the reasons for delay. The system had to be adaptable for future plans. The noble Lord, Lord Winster, particularly asked why the system had not been installed at Lewisham. I think that I can explain that simply. The firm system of priorities which has been drawn up—and I use the word"firm" on purpose—gives priority to main lines on which traffic density and speeds are both high. That is the obvious thing to do, because they must be the most dangerous lines. At Lewisham the density of traffic is great but the speeds are not high; and after all, we have to remember that heavy traffic has been going through Lewisham safely for 30 years. There was this one ghastly accident, which I do not attempt to minimise in the slightest degree, but the basis of priority must be that the most accident-prone (if that is the word) lines, where traffic density and speeds are highest, and those lines which are still equipped with oil-lit semaphore signals, must be first. In view of what the noble Lord said, may I add that this programme of installation meets with the approval of the inspecting officers?
My noble godfather Lord Airlie raised some point about sleeper reservations, and I think I should say something about that.
§ LORD CHESHAM
An attempt has been made to try to penalise those who make a practice—and the practice is sufficiently widespread to constitute a problem—of speculative sleeper-booking.
A system of forfeits was introduced, which have to be paid when reservations are cancelled before the time of departure of the train. The practice is equally bothersome, I gather, in the case of air transport, which also has a serious problem. But the point is that British Railways do mind about people being deprived of a firm booking when they might have got one. Recently they have made another attempt to encourage people who find they cannot use reservations to cancel them properly by giving the cancelling passenger a refund of 50 per cent. if he declares himself a"non-starter" after four o'clock the previous day. This gives other passengers, if people will only behave like that, the 621 chance to ring up and get a berth which has become free.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, may I make a point here—that the ultimate remedy for the success of reservations is an ample supply of sleepers? The difficulties, which have been greatly solved by the system of forfeits, would be really solved altogether if there were an ample supply of sleepers. Will it come?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I hope it will come, but at the moment the engines are pulling all the coaches they can manage, and short of more powerful engines there is no way of increasing the number of coaches in a train. But in view of the empty berths which have been seen, I think that if this system of refunds can be made effective it should certainly go some way to improve the position. My noble friend Lord Glyn urged that something should be done about the Victoria line. The London Travel Committee's Report, which I told your Lordships about, I think, on 4th November, is before my right honourable friend and he is considering it now. Your Lordships may wish to know—it was asked before—that that Report will be published on Monday.
May I now come to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Lucan? In the course of it he entered a plea for transport as a whole, and the railways, I presume, in particular, to be studied as a technical rather than as a political matter. My Lords, I would agree that the more the problem can be considered a technical matter the better, but I cannot entirely overlook the fact that there is a fundamental difference of approach between his Party and my Party. We each believe our own way is right and the other not so right. To this extent I cannot entirely accede to his plea. What I can say to him, though, is that any decision we may at any time make will definitely and certainly not result from any Party, doctrinaire feeling. The matter is much too important for that. It will be because we are honestly and sincerely convinced that the decision is the best one in the interests of the railways and of the country.
He did not actually put this question but I rather drew it from his words. He asked whether one should consider the railways as a commercial undertaking or 622 whether the element of public service should be considered as the leading factor. I cannot see that we need to make such a positive differentiation. Undoubtedly the question of public service enters into it, but there is no reason why an enterprise such as the railways should not run efficiently and successfully on the basis of paying its way, as a commercial undertaking would be expected to do and as my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale advocated. My noble friend Lord Mills has already explained the reasons why the British Transport Commission have produced the Re-appraisal plan and the need for substantial financial investments, which is to enable the railways to do exactly what I have said. Some noble Lords have cast doubt on the possibility; others have done the opposite. But one thing at least is clear; and that is that we are very busy considering the Re-appraisal.
The noble Earl wanted to know whether we thought the various forms of transport should be complementary or competitive. I have already said that freedom of choice for the user is the cornerstone of our transport policy, and within that framework—if it is possible to be within the framework of a cornerstone—we have little doubt that an clement of competition acts as a sharpener to efficiency generally, to say nothing of morale. The essential point, however, is that the competition should be fair in all respects. If, as we think, the efficiency increases from that, it is quite possible, in fact quite probable, that services to the public will come into being that are complementary to one another between the different systems. Let me quote briefly one or two examples which have occurred to me: car ferry services by air and sea, train ferry services, road-rail container services, and that kind of thing.
The noble Earl made, I thought, a very sensible query on how to ensure that capital assets are fully utilised if the systems are on a competitive basis. Short of dictatorial powers, it is not the easiest thing to be able to ensure that the capital assets arising from investment in any organisation are fully utilised. Without such powers it can be done only by hard and careful thinking. In the case of Government 623 expenditure, which I take it is what the noble Lord had in mind, the railways, as my noble friend Lord Mills explained, are already in the process of this thinking. But it applies in all sectors of transport. I should have thought that, where we have an element of competition and each system is accordingly striving to make itself as efficient as possible operationally, financially and on a fair basis, it would be automatic that the fullest use of capital assets would follow.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
Are not the railways being encouraged to rationalize, to cut off some services and installations?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Certainly, if it is to be on a reasonable basis.
The noble Lord thinks one ought to talk about the financial structure, and asked whether that could be looked at. I refer him once more to the Reappraisal Report. He will find it suggests that this very thing should be done. It gives its reasons, but we do not yet know what the British Transport Commission's proposals in that respect may be. I can only say, and I say it quite clearly, that we shall be prepared to give those proposals very careful consideration when they come. I should think that before we contemplated any shift from the present structure we should need to be quite sure that any change was going to be a change for the better.
I now come to this much vexed question of morale. The noble Earl, Lord Lucan and my noble friend Lord Goschen did not think much of the morale position. My noble friend Lord Forbes thought it was rising. The noble Lords, Lord Merrivale and Lord Stone-haven, did not agree with the criticism. But at least we can agree on this: that the question of morale is a very important one. It is difficult, without splitting yourself, to agree with everybody else. Certainly railway staffs have been discouraged in the past, I should have thought, by the obsolescence of their equipment and the long period over which, during the war and in the years after it, capital investment in railways was comparatively low. The investment in the Modernisation Plan which is now going on would, I should have thought, have tended to overcome it; and with increasingly new better and more 624 modern equipment, and as a better system, is arising, I should have thought that morale, if criticisable at all, would have risen with it.
It is a heartening fact that the system of joint consultation within the British Transport Commission and the railway industry is well established and strongly supported, both by the Commission and by the unions. There is a particular and local difficulty arising at present in the London division of the Western Region, where large numbers of operating staff—signalmen, shunters and so on—have been leaving the railway for higher wages in the motor industry in Oxford and the light industry on the Western fringe of London (my noble friend Lord Goschen spoke about this), but, even so, I should have thought that it was the attraction of higher wages and more regular working hours, rather than anything else, which was the cause.
This debate has been going on for some considerable time, and so, in fact, have I. If in the process I have not been able to be very informative, I hope that at least I have succeeded in making clear to your Lordships why I have not been. Neither have I been able to touch on all the many widely varying aspects and interesting suggestions that have been raised. I will, if he is agreeable, write to my noble friend Lord Merrivale about the various detailed points which he asked me, including that of electrification. While the suggestions made may not have reached the formidable total of 105 that was achieved in the course of the roads debate, I think, in all conscience, they are enough. To those noble Lords whose points I may appear to have ignored, in fact, to all your Lordships, I would say that this debate will be most carefully studied, not only by my right honourable friend but by the British Transport Commission. I am sure that they will pay particular regard to the general feeling of the House as it has been revealed in the debate. I hope, too, my Lords, that I have succeeded, together with my noble friend Lord Mills, in conveying to your Lordships something of the very genuine efforts that the British Transport Commission are putting forward towards the creation of a modern, efficient railway system. Above all, I hope I have brought out with the greatest clarity that Her Majesty's Government are well alive to 625 the importance and urgency of the situation. As in the case of the roads, if bold and even drastic decisions are required, they will be made. We do not intend to fall down on the job of achieving the full and proper operation of the railways in our transport system.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mills, for his courteous reply to me? And may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, also, for his most agreeable reply to the debate? Furthermore I would thank all noble Lords who have taken the trouble and had the patience to contribute to the debate. Lastly, may I hope that if over the festive season your travel cannot be as quick as you would like, it will be safe? In asking your Lordships' permission to withdraw my Motion, may I offer you the time-honoured wish of a very happy Christmas?
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.