§ 5.42 p.m.
§ LORD TEYNHAM rose to call attention to Cmnd. 1248, The reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in calling attention to the proposals for the reorganisation of the nationalised transport undertakings I should like to deal in the first place with the British Railways. I cannot myself claim to be an expert on railways, although during the General Strike many years ago I used to drive the Marylebone to Manchester express every day with a booking clerk as a fireman—and a jolly fine fireman he was. I must say that I rather lament the passing of the steam locomotive. I remember asking one of the drivers of the big new diesel engines the other day what he thought of his new car, and his reply was, "It doesn't breathe." I think I fully understand what he meant, and I must say that I sympathise with him.
§ My Lords, in this very complex matter of railway reorganisation, may I suggest that we must consider not what sort of railway system we want in the immediate future, but what we shall want in ten or, perhaps, fifteen years' time. The railways are going to have increasing competition, not only from road services but also from other forms of transport, and from improved air services. Before long we shall have, I suppose, the vertical-lift aircraft, and other forms of new transport, possibly based on the air-cushioning system. I foresee, in the not too distant future, a streamlined rail- 662 way system, with perhaps one or two main lines running to the North and South, and one to the East and West, with most of the branch lines closed down except for high-density feeder traffic into the large cities. The closing of branch lines must, of course, mean the provision of other services, and it may even be necessary to subsidise buses and bus companies to provide the uneconomic services. At this point, perhaps, I should declare that I am a director of a bus company.
§ I entirely support the Minister of Transport in his re-examination of the whole of the proposed electrification of the main-line system, and his view that we should pause a little before undertaking to carry out the whole of the work. Do we yet know what is the most efficient system to employ, the diesel or electrification, for our main-line systems? Shall we get value for money if we carry out electrification of all the main lines? It is true that the electrical industry had been led by the Transport Commission to believe that a number of contracts were coming to them, and that postponements were affecting their interests. On the other hand, I would say the matter was so important that we must consider what is best for the country; as a whole, in matters of finance and value for money.
§ I would say straight away that I welcome the proposals for the reorganisation of the railways, which are outlined in the White Paper. I think we are now getting down to basic facts, and looking at the whole matter in a realistic way. But as regards the financial provisions are we correct in assuming that the capital assets of the railways, which it is proposed to write down, are only £1,600 million? I think it is true to say that the Chairman of the Transport Commission indicated in the White Paper in 1956 that the replacement costs of the 663 Transport Commission's assets as a whole were in the nature of £4,000 million, and if we allow £1,000 million for road transport, docks and other ancillaries, the assets of British Railways would be very much nearer £3,000 million than the £1,600 million. Perhaps the Minister who is going to reply for Her Majesty's Government will be able to say something about these financial matters.
§ Also, we must not forget that, despite the financial reliefs which are to be given to the railways, very large sums will have to be provided from the Exchequer to meet current deficits over the next few years; in fact not less than £103 million will have to be found this year. But I cannot help feeling that Her Majesty's Government still appear to be over-optimistic in thinking that the railways will be able to pay their way, in five years' time. I feel sure that unless the railways are streamlined, unless all uneconomic services are suspended and abolished, there will be no hope at all. Even poor old Bradshaw is feeling the pinch at the present time! There is no doubt that certain essential railway services will have to be subsidised as necessary, and I hope, for the benefit of the taxpayer, that these subsidies will be indicated in the accounts of each particular region.
§ I was delighted to see that the Minister of Transport is proposing to convert certain railway tracks into roads. I believe that some six miles of a disused line are to be used as part of a route for the new Durham motorway, and I hope that this may be the beginning of many more conversions to roads in suitable cases.
§ In the new structure set out in the White Paper we are to have a Nationalised Transport Advisory Council. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government this evening would expand a little on the purposes of this new Council, and say how it will be related to the Minister and, of course, to the various Boards. It seems a little strange to me that this advisory body should have as its Chairman the Minister himself. Surely the Council should be in a position to advise the Minister independently, especially, among other matters, on the question of the relative 664 interests of road and rail. The real question, I think, is this: is this the right kind of body to do this? No doubt the Minister will be able to give us a little information on this point.
§ Under the White Paper, the Transport Commission, of course, will cease to exist, and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating its Chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, on the great work he has carried out under immense difficulties. No one has worked harder to produce good results, and I cannot help feeling that a good deal of blame is attached to the Party opposite, who with the 1947 Act, brought the Transport Commission into existence and gave it a task which it was quite impossible for it to carry out. How could it possibly succeed without the "C" licence holders in it, and even, possibly, the private car owners? Any Government which tried to bring all these elements under control would, I think, be in for a very sorry time; and, of course, it would be quite impracticable in a free society like ours. In a Communist State, no doubt it would be practicable to produce an integrated service, about which we have heard so much in the past from the Party opposite. Surely, my Lords, it is much better to do away with the Transport Commission, as set out in the White Paper, and to produce an organisation which is more applicable to the present-day requirements of transport as a whole, and on a more workable scale.
§ There is one section of our transport system to which I should like to refer for a few minutes—that is, coastal shipping. I wonder if it is generally realised by your Lordships that between 1957 and 1960 coastal shipping has depreciated by more than 20,000 tons deadweight; or, putting it another way, that one coastal vessel has been either sold abroad or scrapped every nine days. Coastal shipping does not complain about fair competition, but the railways are to an increasing extent reducing rates without sufficient regard to their costs.
§ The right honourable gentleman the Minister of Transport in another place made it clear that the problem of coastal shipping, where that conflicted with the railways, was unresolved and still under consideration. I trust that the policy of Her Majesty's Government for coastal shipping will be decided before there is 665 any legislation giving greater commercial freedom to the railways. That is a policy which can have very great effect on our smaller shipyards for which there is very little work now or in the foreseeable future. Only two or three coastal vessels are building in yards at the present time, and it is estimated that a further loss of almost one-third of the present fleet may be expected if there is no improvement in the competitive position of the coastal trade. I need hardly add that the smaller coastal vessels have proved of the greatest use, both in peace and in war and other times of emergency.
§ I should again like to remind Her Majesty's Government of the necessity for ensuring that new transport legislation makes adequate provision for securing fair— and I repeat "fair"—trading conditions for coastal shipping. Every section of British transport must stand or fall by its efficiency and service. It is no good bolstering up one at the expense of another; and the competition must be fair and reasonable. In this connection, may I suggest to the Minister of Transport the removal of what I would say is the one-sided privilege which now extends to the railways. As your Lordships are aware, this privilege permits the railways to object to applications by road transport operators for licences, without any similar right being extended to passenger road transport operators. This privilege is certainly not a fair one, and I maintain that if more freedom is to be given to the railways it should apply equally to all passenger road transport undertakings, and I trust that this will be dealt with in the forthcoming legislation. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I do not know whether or not the speech I am to make will be a controversial one. We have to see how we go and how the spirit moves me. But in a fairly recent speech in your Lordships' House I urged that perhaps we were going along a little too politely with each other, and that there should not be prejudice against criticism, and even attacks upon one another and upon Ministers in another place.
I said that it would not be a bad thing if your Lordships had a small "dust-up" now and again. I must say that my appeal has been responded to in the last week, even if some of the speeches were 666 not exactly in the true interests of the British Commonwealth: but there certainly was a proper "dust-up", especially between the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble and learned Viscount Lord Hailsham. In fact, your Lordships' House is "on the map". We were dominating the front pages of the newspapers last week—which shows how good a thing it is to have a "dust-up" now and again; and we shall be on the front pages again to-morrow. I prophesy banner headlines: "Peers attack the Press"—because even though one attacks only some newspapers, one is attacking the lot, even in the opinion of The Times. So the status and public standing of this House has somewhat improved. But I must not pursue that theme, or I shall be out of order.
The noble Lord who moved this Motion criticised the policy of Her Majesty's Labour Government. Fundamentally, I believe it was right to lay down a policy of co-ordination of transport with friendly co-operation and some rivalry between different elements of transport. But that does not mean that I, or, I hope, any of my noble friends, necessarily take the view that if a Labour Government did something it could never be subject to reconsideration in its administrative set-up and organisation. I have always taken the view that we must learn by experience; that if one finds some imperfection in the administrative structure or organisation we should have the courage to say that it is proved not to be good and that it will be modified in this way or that. But that does not mean that I agree with what the present Government are doing—namely, failing to give transport, and particularly the railway, hardly five minutes' peace. They are constantly interfering, which they have a great right to do; constantly (as I would put it in my Cockney language) "messing about", and constantly changing even their own minds in a way which does not follow the sense of what I have said: that we must be ready constructively to reconsider. Rather the Government are doing it almost for the sake of doing it; and they are stimulating artificial and unnecessary competition between the different elements of transport.
The noble Lord who moved the Motion was somewhat illogical here, having regard to the geographical place 667 in which he sits, and the general nature of the speech he made. The Government's case, or much of it, for cutting off the road transport elements from the British Transport Commission was that competition must be stimulated; and the whole doctrine of the Conservative Party about transport, and about television and some other things, has been to stimulate competition where, in my judgment, destructive competition was not likely to do any public good. But that Party having been protagonists in favour of competition, the noble Lord comes along this afternoon and, as I understand him, deprecates the competition between British Railways and coastwise shipping. Well, that is not very logical. One cannot easily pick and choose in this doctrine. If one believes in competition one must support it all round.
My Lords, what I was endeavouring to make clear was that coastal shipping was prepared to accept fair competition with British Railways; but that is quite another matter.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
What is not fair? Would the noble Lord like to tell us? If he does not, then I cannot very well deal with his point.
My Lords, my point is that if the railways cut their rates without regard to their costs, it is not fair competition.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, that is the whole philosophy and doctrine of the Conservative Party. The noble Lord is talking like a doctrinaire Socialist. The whole philosophy of the Conservative Party is not only to stimulate but to insist upon competition, cut-throat or otherwise. It is all very well for the noble Lord to come along when the competition does not suit him, and say, "We do not want competition here, because it may hurt private interests, but we do want it somewhere else, where it will hurt a public concern." I do not say the noble Lord said that; but that lies behind what he said, and it is a very had thing.
I thought it was held that British Railways should be more free, that the doctrine of free competition applied to them as well as to privately owned transport systems. But now, apparently, it is 668 the case that the publicly owned British Railways are not to be allowed to engage in free competition while everybody else is—which is a new illustration of the complete anti-social bias of members of the Conservative Party; and the noble Lord opposite looks too nice a man to have that kind of idea at the back of his head.
We welcome, so far as they go, the financial proposals in the White Paper, but I agree with the noble Lord who moved the Motion that Her Majesty's Government are too optimistic as to the finances working out to parity in five years' time. I do not think that will happen, though I wish it would. It does not please me, as a Socialist, to see public industries not paying their way. I think it is better for everybody, for the taxpayer, and for the self-respect of the people in the industry that they should pay their way. I would much prefer it to be so. But the Government have done their best to see that the railways did not pay their way. They have cut off a profitable road commercial transport element; they are now cutting off from British Railways some other profitable elements. The Minister of Transport, who is a great enemy of the railways—especially of publicly owned services like the railways—has stimulated road commercial competition to the greatest practicable extent. Now they are going further in the same direction in the proposals in this White Paper. So, at any rate part of the financial troubles of British Railways have been encouraged, and even invented, by Her Majesty's Government.
However, some financial rationalisation is now promised in the White Paper, and I think that, in the circumstances, it is inevitable and right. But I do not think it is enough. I proposed quite tentatively in my earlier speech that there was a case for the whole of the cost of modernisation being met by the Government as a public policy, to put the railways right after years and years of neglect. I suggested that grants might be made in respect of the permanent way, somewhat on the lines of the road grants to the highway authorities; and that consideration should be given to paying compensation in respect of lines which, at the request of the Government, were not abandoned. But I do not think (I wish I could say otherwise) that the 669 financial proposals in the White Paper are going to meet the bill. If that is so, it means that in five years' time the Government will have to come along again and poor British Railways will get more criticism in various quarters to the effect that they cannot pay their way, despite the assistance that has been given. I should have thought that the Government would do better to make a clean job of it right away.
In relation to modernisation there is a point that I think ought to be considered, though I am not final or dogmatic about it. I am inclined to think that, as an economic matter, electrification is better than the use of the diesel engine on suitable heavily-used main lines. But as things are, diesels are being used on these main lines. I have had a word with my noble friend Lord Lindgren and he says he thinks that probably the explanation is that electrification takes a considerable time to achieve, that the steam locomotives are wearing out meantime and something has to be done, and that, for the time being, diesels are a better proposal. But it is a point worth keeping in mind: that in the end, apparently, electrification is a better economic proposition than diesel.
This reorganisation is another disturbance of British Railways and the British transport system. It is presumed that it has some relation to the Stedeford Report. We do not know how much relationship it has—I wish we did. I think the public have a right to know; and it would be fairer to Sir Ivan Stedeford himself, who is a very able and good public-spirited man, I think, if the Report had been published. And here may I quote, at some little length, I am afraid, part of a speech made by Mr. Aubrey Jones on January 30? It must be remembered that Mr. Aubrey Jones is a former Minister of a Conservative Government: he was Minister of Supply. He said this—and I do not know that I could say it better—about the Stedeford Report [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 633, col. 643]:The statement of 10th March announcing the establishment of the Committee"—that is to say, the Stedeford Committee—contained a very strong hint as to the findings which it should reach. However independent-minded the members of the Commit- 670 tee might have been, it is very difficult to believe that that hint did not keep on entangling their discussions.Next, the Committee was invited to do its job in a hurry in order to catch the legislative Session. It did the job in six months, an interval of time which could not possibly have allowed much opportunity to do all the cross-examination necessary in an analysis of this kind. After all this, the legislative Session was missed.Finally, when the Government put forward their proposals in the House we are not allowed to know what the Committee recommended. The world is allowed to infer that what is proposed arises directly from the Committee's Report. I do not know, but it is at least a fair possibility that the Government have run away from some of the Committee's recommendations and that some, if not all, of the members of the Committee think that some of the decisions are downright erroneous.My Lords, that arises from the situation whereby the Government publicly appoint a Committee as an act of public administration and refuse to publish the Committee's Report. It is bound to lead to suspicions and apprehensions in various quarters.
So now we get the proposal in the White Paper that the British Transport Commission is to be split up. It is a Further step in the process of disintegration of the nation's transport services which the Conservative Government have followed from the time they came into power in 1951—deliberate disintegration; deliberate incentives to increase competition, a deliberate policy of taking away from the Transport Commission and the railways elements of transport or concerns associated with transport which were profitable. So the railways are now to be isolated. Yet it was this Government, or their predecessor, which abolished the Railway Executive, because under the Labour Government's Act there was the British Transport Commission, but there were tinder it, with a considerable degree of autonomy, the Railway Executive, the Hotels and Catering Executive, the London Transport Executive, the Inland Waterways Executive, and so on. But they scrapped the Railway Executive; and now they have in a way, later on, reduced the Railway Commission to a situation whereby they are an isolated railway executive.
There are to be three new Boards. There is to be more hiving off of the profitable, as I have said, and there is to be a Holding Company, but with a 671 series of transport undertakings and other undertakings under its supervision. There are to be railway regions. I do not object to administrative decentralisation in principle so long as it keeps in national hands those things that ought to be national in character. But the regions are supposed to be autonomous, or substantially autonomous. Nevertheless, their decisions are subject to reference to the Railway Board and then to the Minister of Transport.
This elevation of the Minister of Transport, which is not happening for the first time in the life of the present Minister of Transport, raises the point whether Questions in Parliament about all the activities of the transport undertakings can be put to the Minister of Transport; whether the doctrine that the public corporations are responsible for day-to-day matters and within that sphere cannot be questioned, though they can be questioned about a lot of other things, is now to be the case. The point probably has not occurred to the Minister of Transport, but I should think that some noble Lord will try it on, and I should certainly think that some smart Member of the House of Commons will try it on to find out whether, when the Minister is chairman of this national transport body, he can be questioned about anything within the field of publicly-owned transport. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head. I do not suppose he wants this to happen, and I do not blame him. But I suggest to honourable gentlemen in another place, who are not exactly slow in this kind of thing, that they might try it by putting down a Question and, if it is refused, raising a Point of Order with the Speaker. But I will come back to that in a minute—rather, I will deal with it now.
There is on page 14 of the White Paper a plan of the new structure, which puts the Minister of Transport right at the top. He is the supreme commander, so to speak. Under him, next, is the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council, which presumably can advise on anything concerned with transport, and of which the Minister is the chairman. I think he is in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the gentlemen who like to put Questions in another place, and some noble Lords who might put them here. Below the Nationalised Transport Advisory 672 Council is the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board, the British Transport Docks Board, the Inland Waterways Authority and the Holding Company. Under the British Railways Board there are the Regional Railway Boards.
However, despite the doctrine that you should decentralise and should not allow many functions to be discharged by one body, under the Holding Company, which at any rate has an oversight of them all, although it is adjured not to interfere very much with them, we get this remarkable variety of bodies: British Road Services, the Tilling (Buses) Group, Scottish Omnibuses Group, Hotels, Road Freight Shipping Services, Thomas Cook and Son Limited and then, in case anything was forgotten, Other Holdings. They are all separate bodies under the Holding Company. This is a funny set-up, and the Minister of Transport has put himself on the map as the supreme power over all these bodies.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but perhaps he will allow me to make, diffidently, one suggestion about what he has been saying. Of course, he is quite right to raise the accountability to Parliament of the Minister under the new proposals, but I think I am right in saying that we ought not to go into what would or would not be in order in another place. The noble Lord was, I think, expatiating on what honourable Members of another place could or could not do, and I think that perhaps we ought to be careful to speak only of what we can do in this House.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Viscount, but, in these matters, the other place is more important, because Points of Order can be more effective. But I did not say what could be done in another place: I was merely giving a tip to Members in the other place.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I was quite honestly suggesting, in all humility, that since the noble Lord, as we are all so delighted to see, is in this House with us, honourable gentlemen in another place are jealous of their privileges, and they would perhaps not appreciate tips coming from this quarter.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I am glad to know that the noble Viscount is in a polite mood today; it is nice to notice it. But I assure the noble Viscount that Members of another place will not be offended by me—they like me too much. In fact, they will be obliged because I have drawn their attention to this point, because it will give them a chance to have a bit of fun. However, I take the noble Viscount's point, that we ought not to raise the point in this House—because whom do we raise it with? We are the most wonderful legislative body in the world in the sense that we have no presiding officer. We take care of ourselves; and if we are in danger of getting into trouble, the Leader of the House intervenes, as he has done just now, in a very nice way. We have no Speaker to have a "dust up" with. Our officers do their work very well, but they do not rule. Consequently, this is not the place to try it out. But I have finished with the subject and I do not wish to annoy the noble Viscount any more.
I should like to ask how much action has been, or will be, taken in anticipation of legislation; that is to say, action which is strictly unlawful now, but which is being taken or may be taken in anticipation of the legislation which will follow. My Lords, this, of course, is another Tory triumph—the liquidation of the British Transport Commission, which they have been seeking all the way along and trying to hurt as much as they could, especially British Railways. But this coming and going, this constant pinpricking, this constant interference without any consecutive thought and philosophy behind it, is not something to take lightly. It has a serious effect on the morale of the people who are working in the transport system, and particularly the railways. It has a had effect on the morale of the management; it has a had effect on the morale of the men. I like people who are working in the public service to work well and to work hard. I have always urged them to work harder, if anything, than those in private industry, although those in private industry should, of course, do their best. But they are constantly being pushed around, and their task is deliberately being made more difficult. I believe that these proposals, added to the pre- 674 vious pin-pricks, will be bad for British transport and bad for the morale of management and men, particularly in British Railways.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lards, I find it difficult to believe that anyone speaking for the first time in your Lordships' House has done so without trepidation. If I am correct in that assumption, I can assure your Lordships that I am not breaking any precedent now. I have three reasons for having that trepidation. In the first place, quite a number of your Lordships have acquired the skill of Parliamentary debate in another place. That is an opportunity which has been denied to me, although I tried on two occasions; but I must have chosen the wrong jumping-off ground, because I never arrived. Secondly, most of your Lordships have had the consolation of speaking to an audience the majority of whom were your fellow countrymen. I do not have that consolation, either. I am not without Scottish friends in the House, but I gather that the tradition of this Chamber deprives me of the opportunity of referring to them as my noble friends because they sit in the wrong place.
§ LORD HUGHES
The Rector of St. Andrew's University must always be an exception to any rule. Thirdly, I gather that, by tradition, a maiden speech should not be controversial. I do not think I have chosen the best subject on which to make a non-controversial speech from these Benches. I have said that I thought there were three disadvantages, but, because one noble Lord who was to have spoken immediately before me is not here, I now find added to my difficulties a fourth—that of speaking immediately after my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth. He has spoken of being a Cockney, and I believe it is among the Cockneys that probably the phrase most often occurs, "After the Lord Mayor's Show comes the dust-cart". I hope that is not the comparison which will be most obvious now.
In pursuance of what I believe I ought to do—that is, to be non-controversial—I would not seek to pursue my noble friend along the lines upon which he has chosen to speak to your Lordships, but would rather refer to those aspects of 675 these reorganisation proposals which apply to Scotland, or the effects that they may have on Scotland. I do not think it is inappropriate that I should do so, because that aspect was raised in another place, and, having read the Report of the debate on that occasion, I do not believe that the questions which were posed about Scottish problems were dealt with by the Minister when he replied to the debate. It is to be hoped that the opportunity will be taken by the Minister replying for Her Majesty's Government in this debate to remedy the deficiencies of his colleague in that other place. With the Minister's statement of the Government's aim—that they wish to provide efficient services to industry and the public—I can find nothing to quarrel. When we come down to the matter and see that the heart of the problem is in the railways, and that they are a great national enterprise and a vital basic industry, I cannot find any cause for quarrelling with that either. My difficulty is in being satisfied that what the Government propose will be of help so far as my country is concerned.
Paragraph 7 says:The practical test for the railways, as for other transport, is how far the users are prepared to pay economic prices for the services provided".If that test is going to be applied over a large area of Scotland, the people there will undoubtedly be without railway services of any kind. In many parts of our country we do not have the opportunity of supplementing the abandoned railways with bus services, because many of the bus services have already been abandoned as they cannot be operated by private enterprise under existing conditions. There was a reference in another place to co-ordination, and it is true that it was stated that suitable arrangements will be established for co-ordinating the day-to-day activities of individual undertakings, including co-ordination of road and rail services. I do not see how that can be done in Scotland, unless there is some measure for co-ordination of both public and privately owned transport.
I have been a member of the Scottish Transport Council since its inception, and when transport was reorganised, or dealt with, in 1953 a point was made 676 by the then Minister of Transport about the importance in Scottish affairs of that Council. I should like to quote from what was said then. He said:It is our intention, of course, to see that there are appointed to that body people who would not for a moment consider serving it if it did not get effective powers of a coordinating character".Although I have been a member of that Council for seven years or more, I have never discovered that we had any powers of any sort whatsoever. Quite early on, in fact, we discovered that our distinguished Chairman, now Lord Kilbrandon, produced for us a most excellent report of what he thought ought to be the pattern of transport in Scotland, but he advised us that he did not think there was much chance of getting the Government to accept it because it cut completely across Government policy. He believed—and the majority of us accepted his opinion—that a much greater measure of co-ordination between public and private transport was necessary. The only change that has taken place in the years which have elapsed since then is that quite a number of privately-owned bus undertakings in the North and in the Islands have stopped running. It would be wrong for me to anticipate the report of the inquiry into Highland transport which is presently being made, but I am sure that members of the Government know what is the trend, and I do not think they will be surprised at what will eventually come from that body, In these circumstances, my Lords, I find it difficult to believe that transport in Scotland has much benefit to expect from the proposals which will in due course be put before this House arising from this Command Paper. I hope, for the sake of Scotland, that I am wrong, in that assumption, and if the opportunity is afforded me in due course to help make the Government's proposals better for Scotland, then I shall continue to make the night journey to Scotland for that purpose.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, it is my duty, and certainly my pleasure, to congratulate the noble Lord upon his brief, witty, pithy and relevant speech. I wish that this privilege were going to be discharged by a Member of this House with longer membership than I, but it gives 677 me special pleasure, as it is not long ago that the noble Lord and I went through the ordeal of being introduced to your Lordships' House. The noble Lord has confined himself to those special problems of Scottish transport with which he has been so long associated, and I am sure that the people of Scotland will be grateful to him for having taken this opportunity of putting forward their special problems, and that the Government will have listened to him in this House, just as I hope they will listen to the Advisory Committee of which the noble Lord has so long been a member.
I apologise for addressing your Lordships again so soon, but for three-and-a-quarter years I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and matters of railway finance came closely within my purview at that time. I was there when the financing of the much-criticised modernisation scheme was undertaken. I do not in any way regret what was then done; but I feel that I should make some suggestions about and criticisms of the White Paper which has been published by the Government. I welcome two of the main features of the White Paper. I am glad that the financial problem is at last being faced. The Micawber-like expedients in which we have all indulged for so long are now at an end, and I am sure it is a good thing that the country and the Government are facing courageously the financial difficulties of the British Transport Commission. In the second place, I welcome the fact that the railways are to be administered by a Railway Board. I think that for so great and important an undertaking, it is desirable that there should be a Board upon which rests responsibility for its administration. It should not be the part-time occupation of the British Transport Commission, with such very much wider responsibilities to discharge at the same time.
At this point I should like to sound a word of warning. It appears to me difficult to make sure that this whole-time Railway Board will not unduly centralise and concentrate power in their own hands at the expense of the regional boards. Provision should be made explicitly in the Bill to ensure that decentralisation, which has secured a great measure of agreement in the country as a whole and in which I think 678 members of the Opposition on many occasions have participated, should not be ended. We recognise that it was one of the main recommendations of the Select Committee that British Railways, however much the day-to-day administration may be devolved on to the regions, must remain a single entity and run as such.
I do not find a great deal to criticise in the White Paper, but I feel that there is a great deal which has been omitted. I can see no sign at present that Her Majesty's Government have a transport policy as a whole. It may be that that is still to come. It may be a necessary step, to deal with the administration of British Railways before we get a transport policy, but I am hound to say that, so far, I cannot feel that this Government is applying to transport the philosophy of the book written by the present Prime Minister, called The Middle Way, which has so largely become accepted in industry as a whole. That is neither the centralised planning of the Socialist nor the old-fashioned cut-throat competition of the Liberal, but rather an arrangement by which policy as a whole is laid down by the Government and, without further interference, is left to be administered by those who have special qualifications for it.
Co-ordination, under the Act of 1947, was the responsibility of the British Transport Commission. Under the Act of 1953 the position was left very vague and, under the White Paper of 1961 it appears to me that the responsibility for this co-ordination rests with the Minister. I feel a great doubt and anxiety about that. It was the conception of the Act of 1947, on which the Conservative Opposition in Parliament did all it could to encourage the Socialist Ministers of the day to stand firm, that the British Transport Commission should be made independent of political pressure. And I am bound to say that I can foresee important decisions being taken by the Minister as a result of the movement of political opinion in another place.
I had a good deal of experience of that. The closing of stations and lines was a matter that was left to the British Transport Commission and they had to obtain the consent of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. On almost every occasion when some line, 679 however unremunerative, was closed, I, as Parliamentary Secretary, had to answer an Adjournment debate upon the subject. It was an immense help to me to be able to say that it was not the responsibility of my right honourable friend; it was a decision that had been taken by the British Transport Commission, with the approval of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee. Therefore, while I desire to see the Transport Users' Consultative Committees done away with, for a reason that I will give a little later, I feel it is desirable that the Minister should be protected in some way from political pressure.
As a result of recommendations of the Select Committee, it is proposed that the Minister should be the authority to decide upon social needs. Of course, that is exactly the kind of thing which attracts the interest of constituents and results in Members of another place rising and claiming that, however un-remunerative some transport service may be, it is essential for the welfare of a particular part of their constituency that the same number of trains should continue to run and the same number of stations should be open.
It is a trifle ironical that it should be the Tory Party which, in this White Paper, is showing signs of introducing the old-fashioned nationalisation that at one time used to be fashionable on the Back Benches of the Socialist Party; and I am afraid that, unless we are very careful with this White Paper, the Minister of Transport is going to be in very much the same position as the Postmaster General. My right honourable friend the present Minister of Transport was an extremely successful Postmaster General. He has, as an individual, many of those qualities of initiative, imagination and enterprise which, first of all, made him successful in business and then in the Post Office. But I am not a bit convinced that it is desirable that the Minister of Transport should have all these powers, for, however well they may be discharged by my right honourable friend, it does not follow that all succeeding Ministers of Transport will combine those special qualities which command our admiration.
680 I fear that this White Paper is not likely to provide the necessary kind of co-ordination at the centre. The Minister of Transport is responsible for building roads and I cannot believe that he is likely to give the necessary consideration to co-ordinating them with the railways. As a matter of fact, that was made very plain by the Select Committee, in paragraph 335 of their Report, in which they said:There was no national planning of how the competition should develop; it was for the railways to assess their own future prospects (although the Ministry would then, in a non-technical way, consider whether the assessments seemed to be valid, before consenting to plans for investment based on them).I cannot think that that is going to prove entirely successful for the future.
Certainly, when M.1 was authorised (I was at the Ministry then) there was no careful consideration of priorities. If there had been, I can hardly believe that M.1, running parallel with and close to the Midland Railway, would have been the first motorway to be built. I should like to ask my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary this: what is the present position with regard to licences issued to coaches under the Act of 1930? Has the building of M.1 resulted in licences being granted to coaches which, in the earlier days when I was at the Ministry, would have been refused on the ground that it was uneconomic competition?
I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, that he was not quite fair to the Conservative Party when he said that they had never accepted the need for co-ordination. His Act of 1930 was accepted by a Conservative Government and continued to be applied. In the 1933 Act 1933 principles were applied to goods haulage which were somewhat similar to those which had been applied by him, when Minister of Transport, in the Act of 1930. So, when I am pleading to-day for a certain measure of co-ordination in transport policy, I am not speaking as a pink Socialist but only asking for a coordination of general policy, a coordination which a Conservative Government has followed in the past.
If there is going to be an insufficiency of co-ordination at the centre, I am even more sure that, unless something further is done, there will be an insufficiency of co-ordination in the regions. Under the 681 Act of 1953 the boards that were set up were called Area Transport Boards. They were given that name in order that they should be able to assist in coordinating all forms of transport in the areas. I noticed that they are to be replaced by regional railway boards. These clearly would not have the powers which the previous boards had (although I confess that those powers were never effectively used) of co-ordinating road and rail in the regions. That is going to become of far greater importance in the comparatively near future than it is now.
Paragraph 7 of this White Paper draws attention to the need to reduce the network of British Railways until they can be economic. That will inevitably result in the closing down of large numbers of stations in rural areas, and I hope that when the railway lines making large losses are closed down they will be replaced by bus services. It may be that many of these bus services will also make losses, but they would make much smaller losses than those that are being made by British Railways. If this great change is going to take place, it is surely essential that there should be co-ordination of this policy of the replacement of the costly railways by the more flexible and cheaper bus services, and that that should be done in the regions. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider the desirability of making a change in the title and powers of these regional railway boards, in order that they may be effective for the purpose which I am sure the Government have in mind.
These decisions for co-ordination must be taken at a fairly low level: they must be taken by the people who are dealing with the day-to-day problems in the regions. It is most important that there should not he a financial inducement operating against co-ordination. The bus services, under the plan or, the last page of this White Paper, are to be owned by the Holding Company. The whole policy of that Holding Company, it seems to me, must he to try to maximise their profits, and that may not be in the interests of transport as a whole: it may, indeed, induce them to indulge in cut-throat and uneconomic competition with the railways. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give further thought to 682 these matters. It is unfortunate that we are obliged to discuss these matters before the publication of the Jack Report. There will be great need to look carefully at the whole problem of rural transportation.
In conclusion, therefore, I would say there is much in this White Paper that is good. It is probably a necessary step forward in dealing with the problems which face us, and especially those which face the railways of this country. But I think a good deal more thought requires to be given before a Bill is drafted. As I have pointed out, it has not been the policy of the Conservative Party in the past to encourage cut-throat competition between different forms of transport; and this appears to me to be a time when it is most necessary that we should consider carefully, when the railways are being reorganised, how we are to ensure that some more modern, flexible and effective system of transport will be provided to take the place of what is being closed down.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, may I add my congratulations to those offered by Lord Molson to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on his admirable and interesting maiden speech. He comes from the delightful city of Perth, from which my family also come, and I have lived a good deal of my life in Perthshire, a county I know very well and love dearly. It was a breath of fresh air to hear the noble Lord's well made and cogent remarks, and I congratulate him on a very worthy speech.
I propose to say a few words about the railways in Scotland, but first I should like to say something on the paragraph in the White Paper dealing with fares and charges. A great deal of anxiety is felt at the present time by season ticket holders, from whom a large part of the receipts of the railways is derived. While, on the one hand, the Minister of Transport is trying to discourage people from taking cars to the centre of London and there parking them, on the other hand season ticket holders are being milked more and more freely; and London is the discriminating point. It is open to argument that in relation to the cost of other commodities the cost of transport is still fairly cheap. The inquiry that is being conducted into the question of fares in the 683 London Region is trying to bear out that point, but not, I think, very convincingly. The corresponding service which is being given to the season ticket holders is really not good enough: the punctuality of trains still leaves a good deal to be desired, and the availability of carriages is still inadequate.
I cannot see that one is going to attract more passengers, more season ticket holders and holders of long-term tickets, unless something is done about improving services. Trains are being cut out—and nobody is more conscious than I am of the necessity of cutting out uneconomic trains. I live in an area on the Southern Region which is electrified, and it is incredible on Sunday afternoons to see trains going through somewhere like Epsom with only three passengers. But the following morning on the half-past eight train there are probably something like 3,000 passengers. That may be an exaggeration—
§ LORD AUCKLAND
—but in comparative terms there is some logic here. I feel that the Government should look into the problem of season tickets. Excursion trains for football matches, and trains for rambling parties are all run at cut-price fares; and frequently one reads of heavy damage being done to carriages by holders of excursion tickets going to see Everton, or their favourite football team, play. I know that this will he an unpopular thing to say, but rather than try to extract more and more from the season ticket holder, who has to travel to his place of work by train, unless he is prepared to face a long and tedious car journey and the risk of being "told off" for parking in Central London, he should receive the benefits, if necessary at the expense of excursion trains. It seems to me that the economics of our transport system in this respect need a good deal of looking into.
I should like now to say a word or two about modernisation. At present, as I understand it, the railways cannot budget for their modernisation programme more than twelve months in advance, whereas the Electricity Authority can budget for something like seven 684 years. Of course, there are difficulties in any transport system, financially and in every other way. But it is rather discouraging to the railways if they are to be given no better lead than this. Already there have been tremendous improvements, particularly on the Kings Cross to Cambridge line. The trains are much more punctual; and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, knows that line well.
I should like to put forward one specific suggestion. The new town of Stevenage, which is to have in due course, I believe, a population of some 65.000, is at present served by one tiny, ill-lit station. I know it well. I believe that there are plans for building a station in the new town. I have not given the Parliamentary Secretary notice of this matter, so naturally I cannot expect an answer to-day. But I know that the people living in that area would like some indication as to how long it will be before something is done about building a new station there.
Scotland has been touched on very adequately by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government whether there could not be an extension of the London-Perth car ferry service, which I am sure must be a profitable part of the London-Scotland railway service. I have used it several times and found it both convenient and efficient. It would seem to me that, particularly in the Cairngorm winter sports scheme, there is a case for running this service for a longer part of the year than it is now, and also for an extension of the service, possibly to Inverness. At present, as I understand it, one can go only from York to Inverness, and I am quite certain that if an arrangement were made, particularly for tourists, for facilities for a through car-sleeper service from London, Kings Cross or Euston, to Inverness, railway receipts would go up. Of course, the operating costs must obviously be borne in mind, but I feel that a profit could be shown here.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, in many areas North of Inverness road transport is extremely difficult, particularly at this time of year. Here again, there is a great deal of anxiety about the Government's proposal for the Inverness-Wick railway. People up there are very 685 anxious as to the future of these stations. I am a great believer in the closing of an uneconomic service, provided that there is suitable alternative transport. In the south of England that can usually be organised; but in Scotland, for obvious reasons—climatic conditions and other things—that cannot often be organised. We are trying to open up and popularise the Highlands, but some of the public transport services leave a great deal to be desired. Another important car ferry service is the Surbiton-Okehampton service, which was very popular last summer. I would ask the noble Lord, the Parliamentary Secretary, whether there could be an extension of this service, with trains running two days a week instead of one.
The White Paper has merit, in so far as it is proposing at least some solution towards the problem of running the railways successfully. I believe that the policy of making the railways a separate entity is a good one, because with docks, inland waterways. British Road Services and the railways, the British Transport Commission has become a very cumbersome organisation. I believe that more decentralisation is a good thing. In prewar days one could see how much cleaner many of the engines were in the areas where they had inter-regional competition. In saying that, I am not trying for one moment to denigrate the work of the railwaymen of to-day: I believe that they do a very good job. In many cases their pay, even with the recent increases, is appallingly low. I believe that many signalmen in places like Crewe and Banbury are underpaid in comparison with many unskilled labourers in other jobs. Many of these railwaymen—I have spoken to some of them—are in favour of more regional competition.
In the Daily Telegraph last week there was a letter from an ex-railwayman, and with your Lordships' permission I will read a short extract from it. It says:The appalling tragedy of 'nationalisation' and its consequential elimination of all effective administration, management and operation utterly discouraged thousands of railway officers and staff, who had, despite their experience since 1931, endeavoured to maintain efficient service in work which had. in many instances, been the primary interest of their existence—particularly perhaps on the G.W.R.That is a letter from a railwayman. I certainly have not sufficient experience of the railways to comment on it one way 686 or the other. But there is still, I am sure, a feeling of frustration. Part of it, I think, is towards the Government, who I must say have been rather dilatory in their plans. There have been inquiries after inquiries into various aspects of the railways. I think the Stedeford inquiry has come out with something positive, and I hope that its recommendations will be put into practice as soon as possible so that at least the future of the railways—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, so rightly said, it is the future of the railways about which we must think—can be seen with some degree of certainty.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, this debate has obviously suffered to some extent through having to follow on another rather lengthy debate. But it has been notable for two of the speeches which have been made, the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Hughes, which I thought had everything that a maiden speech, or any other speech, should have—brevity, wit and good sense. I am particularly pleased to hear these Scottish accents on this side, because in recent months, owing to the illness of some of my noble friends from Scotland, I, having nothing of the accent and nothing of the local knowledge, have had to don almost everything Scottish, except the kilt. Therefore it is a great pleasure to have my noble friend Lord Hughes here. Equally, it was a very considerable pleasure to us on these Benches to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molson. Only last week we had from him a very remarkable maiden speech, and, if I may say so, with respect, although in a different context, the one that he delivered just now was equally outstanding. He spoke, of course, from deep knowledge of the subject, as we are all aware, but also with the constructive detachment which I personally long for but never achieve.
I know that we on this side of your Lordships' House echo the noble Lord's plea for co-ordination and, regrettably, share his misgivings as to whether the present proposals are likely to satisfy us in that respect. We support his plea that a great deal more thought should be given to the various matters, particularly the matters raised by the noble Lord, before a Bill is drafted. It was 687 some encouragement to learn from him that it has never been Conservative policy in the past to encourage cutthroat competition in transport, and I hope that it will not be so in future; otherwise, we shall not have public transport, either publicly or privately owned; we shall have to go by motor car or moped, because there will be virtually nothing else.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, underlined what I think is the difficulty of all of us in this debate: namely, that despite the White Paper, and despite—or perhaps because of—Ministerial statements, the Government's intentions with regard to the railways in most, or at least many, important matters are still far from clear. Unhappily this uncertainty is extremely confusing to the railway staff and very bad for their morale, which has never been lower. I believe that if things are not to get even more desperate in that respect it is imperative that these uncertainties, which were also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, to whom we are grateful for introducing this subject, should be cleared up as quickly as possible.
With everyone else who has spoken so far, I have no quarrel with the financial proposals, which will go a long way towards removing one of the primary causes of hopelessness and discontent, and will help to put the railways on a stable basis. The proposals are, in fact, no more than justice. Because most of the losses which have been written off—and doubtless the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, will disagree—have arisen primarily from Tory policy; from the Government's interference with the Transport Commission's freedom to operate as a commercial concern. I do not think indeed it would lie with noble Lords opposite, and I am glad that they have not yet done so, to complain of railway losses for which, in my view, their policy is responsible. Indeed, the railways were earning a surplus in 1951 and 1952, and also in 1953. It is only since the 1953 Act that we have had the catastrophes which we all deplore.
But although the financial proposals are very satisfactory a number of questions arise out of them. For example, will the railways, as paragraph 36 of the White Paper appears to imply, really be able to pay their way within five 688 years? I think that only a super-optimist would say "Yes" to that. At present they have a working deficit of some £60 million, and to "break even" five years hence they have to increase their earnings sufficiently not only to wipe off that working deficit but also to cover the estimated £60 to £70 million interest charges, a total of £120 million in increased earnings. When one considers that over the last three or four years total gross receipts—not earnings, but gross receipts—have not averaged much over £450 million, the size of the task becomes apparent. It means increased earnings of at least 25 per cent. in five years' time.
There again, there is really nothing in the White Paper about the Government's policy in respect of uneconomic services. As only one example the position of Scotland was clearly brought out by my noble friend Lord Hughes. Who is to decide this matter? The noble Lord, Lord Molson, said that the Minister would have to decide social questions, but is it going to be the case, as we read in some of the newspapers, for example, that rural services are going to be cut by 20 per cent. and replaced by bus services? If so, will the bus services be economic? Those are very serious and important questions. I am thinking at the moment of the effect on the Railways Board's finances and their prospects of making a profit, because apparently, according to the White Paper, the Railways Board must still bear the losses of uneconomic lines which are retained for social reasons. The Government, of course, promise in the White Paper to consider the question, and meanwhile any such losses will be recovered from the contributions from public funds. But they will still be included in the Board's accounts: they will still be shown in the red and we shall not know—at least we do not know now—the extent of the losses on these uneconomic services. The only fair way to deal with the Railways Board in regard to this will be to ascertain the losses on uneconomic services and for the Treasury to pay these losses by means of separate direct subsidy. That, at least, is my view.
Again, we still do not know from the White Paper the proposed size and shape of the railway system. It was only last October that Mr. Marples set up his Committee to study this particular problem, and no one knows what conclusions 689 have been reached. There is no evidence whatever to encourage the belief that there will be such a major improvement in the railways over the next five years as to give them a chance of earning an extra £120 million. The British Transport Commission, I know, in its Reappraisal of July, 1959, a most overoptimistic reappraisal, did anticipate that by 1963 their earning power would have increased by anything from £45 million to £93 million. But that was based on a number of provisos which have not been fulfilled. They estimated a 15 per cent. increase in passenger traffic as compared with 1957. Instead, there has been a decline. They estimated a return to 1957 freight earnings, but instead there has been a decline. It is true that there was an improvement last year, but there is still a long way to go to reach the 1957 level. There have been wage increases since the Guillebaud Report, as well as disappointments and frustrations over the mechanisation plan.
Truly my Lords, the new Railways Board have an enormous task to justify the White Paper's optimism. I think their one hope is that they will be given real freedom to compete with road transport, especially for freight, and also that they will be able to compete on fair terms. Even if they are free to charge what rates they like, and to run such services as they deem to be economic, the competition will not be fair until they are allowed to get their equipment up to date. I do not think it is ever sufficiently acknowledged that commercial road transport has at its disposal completely modern equipment, and that the welcome road programme is ensuring that their road track is steadily improved, free of charge.
That brings us to the second major query arising from the White Paper—namely, will the modernisation programme be allowed to proceed speedily and without interruption, and will Government interference really be less under the new regime than it is at present, or was, under the old régime. I do not think the signs are encouraging. We know that wherever modernisation has been completed there has been an increase, sometimes a spectacular increase, in traffic and receipts and unquestionably the best, almost the only, hope of achieving viability within five years 690 would be to speed up, not to slow down, the modernisation programme. But what do we find? On January 30, in another place, the Minister of Transport, announcing the long delayed decision to complete the electrification of the London-Crewe-Manchester line, said:This does not mean that other main-line electrification schemes will necessarily be approved.So the uncertainty about the scope and pace of modernisation is just as great as it was before the White Paper.
In the same speech, Mr. Marples said:The Government think that these proposals provide a firm and clear hope for the future of the nationalised transport industries.How can that possibly be true, unless at the same time there is a firm and clear decision to modernise the railways as swiftly as possible? The Minister may tell us tonight that that is the Government's intention, but how can we really accept that in the face of the Government's obvious lack of enthusiasm? What encouragement is there for believing that the Railway Board will get its programme approved and then be allowed to get on with the job without interference?
Mr. Marples, the Minister of Transport, has not only taken over the tasks to which the noble Lord referred, but he has taken upon himself the task of reviewing any capital scheme costing more than £250,000. It is extraordinary, astounding, that the Minister should have to review a scheme of, say, £300,000 in the context of what the modernisation of the railways is going to cost. Who is really going to make the necessary decisions? Perhaps the Minister will tell us that when he comes to reply.
The White Paper, in paragraph 14, says that the British Railways Board will be responsible forthe determination of the future size and shape of the Railway system.Yet the Minister has made it clear that he, with his special study group, is going to do precisely that, and not the British Railways Board. What is the truth? In my view, the new arrangements in the White Paper are going to make it an even more difficult and long-winded process to obtain sanction and a starting date for essential developments. When are we going to start? Major legislation is necessary. The White Paper makes that clear, and we agree. It cannot be 691 on the Statute Book for about another two years. That is two years out of the five years in which the railways are supposed to become viable.
What is going to happen meanwhile, during this most crucial period in the modernisation programme? I submit that the Government must decide to act now. They cannot wait in this vital matter for the new Act. We are faced with the situation where our railways are still declining, while the number of road vehicles is increasing faster than we can improve our roads to cope with them. The development of the road system is an important and urgent, but a separate, problem. It must go ahead without impairment; but, equally, this need must not obscure the necessity for developing the rail sytem to the highest level of efficiency as quickly as possible. For that, modernisation is vital, and when it is accomplished and the railways can compete on fair terms it will ease our road problems. If the Government are honestly determined to rebuild and not destroy the railways, they will allow nothing to stand in the way of the speedy development of railway modernisation.
Even this may not be enough. We were promised co-ordination. The only co-ordination in the White Paper that I can see is the co-ordination of the ancillary departments, which are going to be hived off; but they are already coordinated at present within the British Transport Commission. They are going to be broken up and then co-ordinated together again. There is no particle of co-ordination suggested to cure the deep-seated cause of our transport problems—the great unbalance in the flows of long-distance freight traffic between rail and road. We have already poured hundreds of millions of pounds into rail and road without getting a proper return. No matter how much more money is poured in, and however efficient the railways become, they will never pay their way until they can carry an adequate tonnage of freight.
As my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth said, the Government has pinned its faith on competition. But transport history, here and abroad, shows that it is not enough. The railways will pay and our roads will be better used when we have the kind of co-ordination which will lift millions of tons of freight from our 692 over-used roads to our under-used rails and enable the roads to cope more adequately with their traditional traffic and the ever-expanding private motoring. I am certain that that is the only cure. I am equally certain that it will not come from this White Paper. And I am equally certain that it will not come without a change of Government.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Teynham for putting down this Motion this evening to give us an opportunity of discussing this most important White Paper on the reorganisation of nationalised transport. I am only sorry that we have rather a poor attendance in the House due to our first debate taking rather longer than we anticipated. I should like, first of all, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on his maiden speech. I am sure we all enjoyed it very much and hope to hear him again.
Paragraph 2 of the Government White Paper states:The Government's aim is that the nationalised transport undertakings shall be soundly based both in organisation and finance.I should like to say that I support very nearly all that which is contained in the White Paper, but there are just a few things that I am a little worried about. If I may speak first of all on the organisation, I should like to know who, ultimately, is going to decide the size and shape of British Railways, because undoubtedly we shall need to have a smaller British Railways. I think we shall have to cut out a large number of uneconomic lines. My noble friend the Minister set up a Working Party, and there is also the Jack Committee which is inquiring into the question of rural services, bus and rail services, and uneconomic services. I am only sorry that we do not have their Report in front of us to-night. I understand that it is going to be published in the very near future.
I think that ultimately Parliament will have to decide, because if such a large number of uneconomic services are going to be kept going they will require a subsidy. I think Parliament ought to decide what subsidy they are going to give, 693 otherwise, of course, we shall never be able to try, as we all wish to do, to make the railways break even. A certain number of these uneconomic services will, I am afraid, if they are to he kept going, require to be subsidised.
There is only one other point I wish to make in regard to organisation and the new structure. Like my noble friend Lord Teynham and, I think, my noble friend Lord Molson, who made a most interesting and instructive speech, I am a little dubious about the wisdom of the Minister in putting himself in the position of chairman of the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council, because if the Council disagree an appeal goes to the Minister himself. I think that it is wrong to make an appeal to oneself. He is, of course, responsible to Parliament for that. I should have liked to see an independent chairman taking the chair over representatives of these nationalised organisations which are going to have seats on this Advisory Council: the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board, the British Transport Docks Board, the Inland Waterways Authority and the Holding Company.
The second point I wish to raise is on finance. I am extremely worried about this, and I think that Her Majesty's Government have been very courageous in attacking this problem and suggesting writing off the very large sum of £400 million which has been lost, in order to give the railways a better chance in the future. But, of course, the story goes further than that. It is a very depressing story when one studies the accounts of the British Transport Commission, as I have tried to do over the last week-end. Of course, I can only study the accounts of 1959, because the 1960 accounts are not yet out. If your Lordships would turn to page 44 of the Annual Report and Accounts, you would see that a sum of £25,492,578 was provided for depreciation, but last year the railways had an operating loss of £41 million. So they did not earn their depreciation, and if we take depreciation of £25 million from the £41 million operating loss, we still have a loss of £16 million.
Something like £100 million of new money from the taxpayers is each year being put into the modernisation programme. If they cannot earn even their depreciation, let alone their interest, and 694 they have an operating loss, which last year was some £40 million and this year is a great deal more—in addition to which the working loss will be increased because of the recent wage awards—then, of course, the assets of the new money being put in will waste away, and we shall have to write off another very large sum of money. So I think the Minister is perfectly right in saying that we must have good financial control and he must know what is going on. Therefore I welcome the setting up of the Railways Board and giving the railways the capital assets which belong to them, and also the setting up of the Regional Boards and giving them an operating account, an important thing that they have never had before.
I do not know whether it is going to be possible when this is announced, but I was hoping that, when they are given an operating account, and we shall know how they are faring in the various areas, they may be given also a capital structure, so that we may know, for instance, what return we are going to get, or are likely to get, on this very large sum of money which is going to be put into the London Midland region and which I think is something over £130 million. At present we are unable to find that out; we know only the total losses, because they do not have regional accountancy in any form. I think the Minister is perfectly right, and it is a very great step forward that the men who are going to sit on these Regional Boards should know their operating accounts; and, if possible, they should be given a capital structure from the Railways Board. But, in any event, they will probably know, roughly, from their operating accounts what new capital has been put in and what sort of return they are getting.
I was reading an interesting article the other day about the French railways. The electrification there, according to the density of the lines, has shown anything from 13 per cent. up to 17½ per cent. return on the money. I should think that at any rate 15 per cent. to 17 per cent. is wanted to make it a profitable undertaking. But I think we must not go ahead too fast. I quite agree that we must try—and I believe that the Minister is endeavouring to do this—to give the railways, like the roads, a forward plan for their capital requirements 695 for the next three years. He is trying to do that. But, in view of the very large losses that the railways are now incurring, we must be careful that this very large sum of money which has been authorised on the London Midland region is going to earn its proper return, because, as I have told your Lordships, I think it is very disturbing to see from the accounts that they are not even meeting their depreciation. If they do not make that in future years we shall have to write off another large sum of money. So I very much welcome this debate, which has given us an opportunity of discussing these important matters before the final legislation is framed, because I have no doubt that it will be a major Bill with which we shall be presented in the autumn. I thank my noble friend Lord Teynham for raising this important matter.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I also should like to thank my noble friend Lord Teynham for bringing up this subject: because it is a matter of extreme national importance, and I think the great majority of the public are very perturbed by the railway accounts. There have been £400 million accumulated losses over the last few years against the B.T.C. since it came into operation. That is a great deal of money. Even £400,000 is a great deal of money, and if a company like I.C.I. lost £400 million I think the shareholders would be extremely upset.
Before I proceed I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, on his very charming maiden speech. He need not think that there are no people with Scottish blood in the House, however, because, although I am not a Scottish Peer, my mother and my grandmother were Scottish. So he can feel quite at home. The noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, and one or two others in the House who took part in this debate are also Scottish, so he need not worry about being Scottish; in fact he ought to be proud of it.
Now, my Lords, I was rather surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth said. I understood the noble Lord to say that it was quite fair for the nationalised industries, which are 696 being heavily subsidised out of taxation procured from private industries which are paying their way, to cut their costs to under-cut various private industries. I am, of course, referring to coastal shipping.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
It would take a little time, and time is precious, for me to repeat what I did say; but I did not say what the noble Lord says: I said something else.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said it was quite in order for British Railways to under-cut coastal shipping.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
No; what I said was that one cannot have the argument both ways. If the Government are the apostles of free competition, then supporters of the Government must not get red in the face and indignant when there is a hit of competition the other way round, with competition for private enterprise from public enterprise.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
But by "free competition" one does not mean that when the taxpayer is handing hundreds of millions of pounds to an industry that industry can under-cut private industry. I do not call that free competition.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, if the noble Viscount will forgive me for intervening, do we not put hundreds of millions of pounds into roads and road construction as a subsidy to road transport, which is in competition with the railways? Road transport is more heavily subsidised by the taxpayers and ratepayers than railways are.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, road transport is used by millions of private car owners; it is not used only by commercial vehicles. I do not see that the two things can be compared: but I must continue. I personally am all in favour of the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. Something had to be done, and they are proposing to do it. The railways have been operating at an annual loss of £60 million a year. My noble friend Lord Wolverton said that the figure was £40 million but I believe 697 the actual loss is £60 million. That cannot go on. I quite agree that a great deal of the railways' trouble in the past has been through the competition of road transport. If, however, we consider the amount of taxes that commercial vehicles pay (though I have not worked it out), I suppose they probably pay for one-quarter or one-third of their road usage; but I have no figures to bear that out.
The great thing about this decentralisation is that, under the Railways Board, we are to have all these Regional Boards (the former Great Western, L.N.E.R., L.M.S., and so on), each of which is to have its own accounts. I am almost sure that the British Transport Commission have not been doing their costing very well. I have often wondered whether, when they have ordered 500 diesel engines or multiple diesel units, they have ever really worked out how much oil they are to use, how many passengers they have to carry and how much profit they are to get. By having these Regional Boards, there will be far closer scrutiny of the accounts. And I am all for that, because the public, the taxpayers, do want value for their money; and they are entitled to have it.
Take, for example, the introduction of diesels and electrification. Looking at one particular aspect, I understand that there are about 5,000 multiple diesel trains, and it is true that they have increased railway receipts. I understand that the Leeds-Barnsley diesel service has increased the percentage receipts on that line by 460, but I should have thought it would have been more economical to have ordinary diesel locomotives, since those could have been used not only for passengers, during the rush-hour, but for other traffic when all the passengers had gone to bed. These multiple diesel trains, on the other hand, are standing idle all night. That is only one reason why I believe that the British Transport Commission have not always been very good in their costing.
I can quite understand that the traction industry and the electrical industry should be worried that the Government should have gone fast and slow on allocations, and should now have slowed up. I understand that the allocation for 1960 has been cut by 12½ per cent. I believe. though, that the Government are quite 698 right. They have given the "Go-ahead" on the London-Crewe electrification plan. No doubt the industry feel they should do the same for the London-Doncaster service, but surely the Government are quite right to see first how the London-Crewe electrification works out. It is possible, I suppose, that it may he found that it would have been more economical to use diesels. I do not think that is likely, but it might be so; and I feel that the Government ought not just to give carte blanche for £X to be spent over four or five years. I believe that they are quite right to keep the closest scrutiny on the expenditure, because, after all, the history of the last few years has not been very happy.
There is no doubt that there have been benefits through modernisation, from the point of view of operating costs and the amount of train services., but I wonder whether the comfort of passengers also has been taken into consideration. I have brought up before the question of the Kent Coast Line, on which the trains are far from comfortable and the vibration is very great. There are other inconveniences also. Passengers cannot turn the heating on or off, and in this very mild weather we have had great discomfort as a result. That is a fault of the design. If something can be done about the vibration on the new electric trains, I hope that it will be done, because that can be very unpleasant.
My Lords, there is another point. If only the railways could wrest the heavy freight from the roads, how different would the position be! Every day one passes these huge coal lorries and car transporters. The answer, probably—it obviously must be—is to have fast freight trains; but it is not possible TO have fast freight trains without the right brakes. Other countries have these brakes: why cannot we have them? The average goods train goes at about 20 miles an hour, I think; which is quite absurd.
Another point I should like to make is as to these lines that are to be electrified. Was it really economic to put diesels on them? There is now a mixture If steam and diesel trains. Obviously, that is uneconomic, because it means having the steam motive-power depôt and the diesel depôt; and it means chopping and changing. I should have thought that it would have saved a great 699 deal of money if the lines which are to be electrified had remained on steam until electrification was completed. I hope, too, that the Railways Board are not going to scrap all these steam engines that they do not require, because there may come a time when they will be needed. It is possible, I suppose, that we could have a hold-up in oil, or something like that; and if we found ourselves without any steam engines at all there could be a very great reduction in the train services. My Lords, the time is very late, and, to end, I will conclude by saying that I approve of this Government scheme. It is bold, it is imaginative, and I can only hope that it has every success.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard will not mind if I follow him only to the extent of saying that I do not agree with what he has had to say with regard to the continuation of the London—Doncaster—Leeds electrification scheme. This evening I propose to endeavour to make only a few points with regard solely to the railways. As I see it, one of the most important functions of the British Railways Board will be the determination of file future size and shape of the railway system, apart from having to assume the responsibility of running the railways as an effective national system. In view of these two considerations, it seems to me that considerable attention should be given to the question of the composition of the Railways Board.
I should like to see, as chairman, a highly qualified, technical man of considerable standing and experience, and with extensive knowledge of the operational side of the railways. I would opt for someone of the calibre of Louis Armand in France, who did so much for the French Railways during their modernisation programme after the Second World War. To the task he was able to bring at least three essential qualities: a highly-qualified technical brain, a dynamic personality and a capacity for hard work. As I see it, during that post-war period in France the emphasis with regard to their railways was on achieving greater operational efficiency. It is interesting to 700 note that, in 1959, there were 28 passenger services running at average speeds in excess of 68 miles an hour, ten services running at an average speed in excess of 74½ miles per hour, and two services running at an average speed in excess of 77½ miles per hour.
With regard to one of these services, the Sud Express, which runs between Paris and the Spanish frontier, I remember a taxi-driver telling me as I boarded his taxi at Austerlitz that he could adjust his watch as the train pulled into the station. With regard to this question of good timekeeping, I was also struck by the fact that, when I travelled in the cab of one of their main-line trains, the driver's constant attention was on the question of perfect timekeeping; and I think it is true to say that, at the present time, 97 per cent. of the French expresses arrive on schedule.
I think it is only when our railways are operationally efficient, and when they are provided with an appropriate fares structure, that we can expect to see any improvement in their finances. The Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries devoted a fair amount of time to this question, and I should therefore like to quote, very briefly, some extracts from paragraphs 375, 377, 378 and 379. They read as follows:In real terms, both passenger fares and freight charges are on the average substantially lower than they were in 1938.For the fact is…that passengers in general and commuters in particular have not been paying the full cost of their travel. In earlier post-war days they were subsidised by freight; more recently, by the taxpayer.Freight charges are now believed to be competitive;…But, both in freight charges and in passenger fares, flexibility in charging can only be effective after costing and financial accounting have established the true facts about the traffic in question.The important relationship between the service provided and the charges was mentioned in an editorial of the Daily Telegraph which appeared on July 10, 1959, and I should like to quote a brief extract from that editorial:There is one thing, and one thing only, however, which will help it"—that is, the Commission—with the travelling public: that is the conviction, which is certainly not widespread at the moment, that the railways are determined to be competitive both in the standard of service offered and in the level of charges imposed. Price increases are bound to cause 701 some resentment, but elsewhere in the economy there is plenty of evidence that the public is prepared to pay a good price—once it is used to it—for a good service.My Lords, in view of, as I see it, the importance of the operational side of the railways, it seems to me that one or two part-time members for the Railways Board is insufficient. As I see it, these part-time members should include representatives from such technical organisations as the Association of Consulting Engineers and of such Institutions as the Civil Engineers, Railway Signals Engineers, Locomotive Engineers, and so forth, so that these technical organisations can give qualified advice on matters of a definite operational aspect. No doubt the Regional Railway Board representatives will advise on the actual operation of the railways, but I feel that these technical organisations can play a big part, especially at the present time when the whole question of reorganisation is affecting the railway system of this country so much.
With regard to priorities appertaining to modernisation, I should like to see, first, that part of the plan implemented which is purely on the operational side; that is, track re-laying, overhead equipment, signalling, tele-communications, automatic train control, civil engineering 'work, new locomotives and new rolling stock. Such work as station rebuilding, remodelling or renovating which is not directly concerned with the operational side of the railways should, I think, take a lesser priority. In view of the present financial situation of our railways, I feel the primary need with regard to passenger traffic is to give, as soon as practicable—that is, at the optimum rate at which the railways and the supplying industries can provide the facilities—fast and reliable service, good time-keeping, clean and modern carriages, and a rapid diminution (I think this is an important point) of mixed forms of traction. Because mixed forms of traction make for less attractive train schedules, delay with regard to increased receipts, and also a duplication of servicing and maintenance.
As the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, the Minister announced in another place the continuation of the London-Midland electrification scheme. But he also went on to say, as was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that the continuation of that scheme did not 702 necessarily mean that approval would be given for the King's Cross, Doncaster, Leeds and York schemes. The Parliamentary Secretary also went on to say, with regard to the London-Midland scheme, that there would now be a two-year delay which would be partly due to the reconstruction of Euston Station. That was said, in spite of the fact that where there has been an introduction of electrical services, or of diesel services, there has in every case been an increase in traffic and receipts. I think your Lordships might be interested to know that the London-Midland electrification scheme represents under 50 per cent. of the electrification scheme provided for under the original. modernisation plan.
I think it can be truthfully said that electrification pays when the traffic warrants it. According to M. Pierre Weil—the figures were quoted by my noble friend, Lord Wolverton, but M. Pierre Weil is Chief Press Officer of the French Railways—the yearly return on the investment on their electrified main lines is in the region of 12 to 17 per cent. With regard to traffic density—and that has an important bearing on dieselisation and electrification—the British Transport Commission assess the break-even point for electrification at 4 million trailing ton miles per annum: in other words, over 4 million trailing ton miles per annum for electrification; under 4 million trailing ton miles per annum for dieselisation. Surely the British Transport Commission and the Minister of Transport must have the traffic density figures for the Kings Cross, Doncaster and Leeds services. Therefore it seems to me that if the traffic warrants it, as in the case of the London-Midland electrification scheme, steps should be taken to put this scheme in hand fairly shortly.
It may interest your Lordships to know that there is up to two years' planning work with regard to overhead equipment before actual physical work can be undertaken in that field. With regard to electrical rolling stock, there is a time-lag of nine to twelve months from the time the order is received and the moment when work can begin on the shop floor. This brings me to the pressing need for a long-term plan for capital equipment. It is now three months ago (minus three days) that the Government 703 received the Commission's proposals for the next four years. Naturally, with a view to obtaining value for money, the Minister asked for further information from the British Transport Commission. Is that further information now available, and when will the Minister make his intentions known? I hone his intentions will be made clear in the form of a White Paper, so that the Railway Board, the general public and the supplying industries will know what to expect. In other words, I hope that there will be a firm indication of the rate and extent of the modernisation plan.
I think a clear indication should be given, too, as to the capital expenditure programme for the next four years, not on a year-to-year basis, as has been mentioned before, but so that the industry, the general public and the Railway Board will know what they can count on during this four-year period. A succession of policy changes can only be detrimental to an industry committed in the past to considerable research and development by the British Transport Commission. Understandably, the Minister wishes to undertake a complete reorganisation of the railways' accounting and costing system.
A Bill which is to be laid before Parliament during next Session will lay the foundations for a new railway system of the right size and shape. But the putting into effect of such a measure will take several years, and if, during that time, the major orders for capital equipment are held up, the results may well be disastrous for the industries concerned. I should think it is fairly certain that there will be increased redundancy and even closure of some firms. That may even happen next year. A stable home market is recognisably essential for a flourishing export trade, for that is the only way to maintain an effective showroom for export sales. Empty shop floors are no incentive to overseas buyers. During the necessary period of reorganisation, which is sketchily outlined in the White Paper before us today, surely it is essential that the railway supplying industries should not come to a standstill—at least, if I am putting it too high, they should not be in the position in which they are at the moment, of finding themselves between the British Transport Commission, the 704 British Railway Regions and the Ministry of Transport, with the whole question of further orders shifting from one body to the other and slowing up very considerably further orders to the supplying industries.
I would urge my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary in his turn to urge his right honourable friend the Minister to announce at the earliest possible moment the Government's four-year plan, if he wishes to see the plant, the skill and the key personnel of the various industries concerned properly absorbed. To end, I would stress the importance of this matter and ask my noble friend to give the House this evening some indication when this "Go ahead" signal will be given on a four-year basis.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, first of all, perhaps I should declare an interest, for, until a month ago, I was a working railwayman and I am still a voluntary officer of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which is the trade union catering, for the clerical, technical, professional, supervisory and administrative staffs of the British Transport Commission. My approach to this discussion will be that of a worker in the industry. May I make it clear that though, as workers in the industry, we rightly are concerned about as high standards of salaries and working conditions as it is possible for us to achieve, we are also concerned with efficiency within the industry and with giving the travelling public and industry generally the best possible service? May I assure your Lordships that it is not much fun and not much satisfaction to work in an industry which is always in the red and when you are always under public criticism? We would rather be paying our way and giving satisfaction.
Though it has been our objective to secure the highest possible standards of salary, of efficiency and of good service, we have failed in all these objectives, but through no fault of our own as workers in the industry. In regard to salaries, for generations railway workers and transport workers generally have subsidised the travelling public and industry by their low rates of pay and their bad working conditions, as has been admitted by one of the noble Lords opposite. The only attraction to railway 705 employment before the war was its security. We got starvation wages, but they were regular.
We fell short of the standard of efficiency within the industry because we lacked the tools to do the job. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, my noble friend Lord Dalton, got into trouble by saying that after the Transport Act, 1947, we took over a bag of useless assets from the old railway companies. That was a colourful phrase, but it was perfectly true. One cannot blame the old railway companies entirely. Tribute has never been paid to those technical officers who had to "make do and mend" during the prewar years on the budgets made available to them by the old companies.
I want to give just a brief history, because, after listening to some noble Lords this afternoon one would think that trouble has arisen in the railways only since the establishment of the British Transport Commission under the Transport Act, 1947.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, if it was true, as the noble Lord said, that the nation received a bag of useless assets at the end of the war, the railways would never have stood up to the wonderful work they did in the four years of the war. Surely they must have been in good condition in 1939, though they could not replace their assets during the war because our whole effort was concentrated on the war. I think it is unfair for the noble Lord to say this.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, the noble Lord is a long way out. In the inter-war years, particularly between 1930 and 1939, the engineering sides of the railways were having their budgets cut. Many civil and district engineers had to cut out re-laying because money was not available, and had to take the risk of possible accidents, which meant that they themselves would have to take the responsibility at any inquiry which might follow, because they had authorised deferment of maintenance. In 1939, when the war started, there were millions of pounds' worth of deferred maintenance, and we were able to keep the railways running during the war years only because the railwaymen and technical officers worked with great skill and efficiency and "made do" and mended.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD CHESHAM)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Before he leaves the point, I want to ask him for clarity, which I may need when I come to reply. Is he saying that the six years of tremendous war effort did not have any appreciable effect on the railways? So far he has been implying that the "rotten bag of assets" was due to pre-war events, and rather discounted what happened to the railways during the war.
§ LORD LINDGREN
Noble Lords get very touchy about private enterprise. Nobody has come to the rescue of the British Transport Commission, but as soon as one suggests that the private enterprise railways companies were not as good as they might have been, speakers come up in hundreds to defend them. What I have said is that because of the improvident condition of railway receipts in the inter-war years, we had to make do and mend, with the old basis of maintenance. It was a case of deferring maintenance year after year. Part of my job was the programming of the re-laying works which were recommended by the permanent way inspector. Re-laying that he thought ought to he done in 1934 had been knocked out in successive years by the district engineer because of the short budget available, and when the war started in 1939 it still had not been done. Every technical officer in the old railway companies did the best he could and never took unnecessary risks, but the assets—mechanical, signalling and permanent way—were all in a very bad condition because of deferred maintenance in 1939, let alone what they were like when the war finished.
But because noble Lords opposite are so tender to private enterprise, let me give your Lordships a little of the history. I entered the railway service as a boy in 1914, and the railway service has been in the doldrums ever since—although not, I think, because I joined the service. In the 1914–18 war the railways did not measure up to national responsibility. There were 111 different railway companies. Our transport was interfered with and was not as efficient as it ought to be because of that multiplicity of control. What did the Tory Government do immediately after the 1914–18 war 707 finished? We then had the Railways Act, 1921, which gave us the four mainline companies, the London, Midland and Scottish, the London North Eastern, the Great Western and the Southern.
But even amalgamating the 111 railway companies into four did not solve the problem of the railways. One still had the problems of deficiencies in the railway system developing year by year, because of the development of road transport and road transport competition. That is why we had the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, which established for the first time the licensing authorities, to which the noble Lord who opened the debate referred, and gave the railway companies the right to object to the granting of A and B licences. The Act also made provision for C licences. We had the "Square deal for the railways" campaign; we even had the Government coming to the aid of the railways on the financial side by guaranteeing their interest if they raised the money in the open market.
This problem with which we are dealing is not something that has arisen because of the existence of the British Transport Commission. It is a fundamental problem which has arisen because road transport takes off the cream of the traffic paying higher rates, leaving the railways with the most difficult and, generally, lower-rate traffic.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
Would the noble Lord tell me, if railway maintenance was so bad before the war, how it was that the railways had so few accidents compared with those under nationalisation?
§ LORD LINDGREN
The railway accident rates since nationalisation have been no greater than before. Railwaymen do not have accidents on purpose. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, in his defence of private enterprise, is prepared to bring in the question of the skill and the human element which comes into railway operations. May I say this to the noble Viscount? Prewar and post-war railway operating could have been much safer if the capital had been available to put in the automatic signalling. The invention has been there, and the possibility of doing it; and the desire of railway signal engi- 708 neers has also been there to do it. But it was not done pre-war because of the lack of capital; it was not done during the war because we did not have the opportunity; it was not done after the war, again because of lack of capital; and since nationalisation it has not been done, although it has been developed to a much greater extent.
§ LORD LINDGREN
The noble Viscount, in his speech, did not show a great deal of knowledge of railway operation. If he thinks that he is a better technical engineer than railway operators who have spent their lives in the business, then I think he should have second thoughts. We see transport as a whole, and its function is to move goods and persons from place to place, in safety and, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, with regularity. In doing that, it should use the vehicle that is most suited to the traffic being carried and to the undertaker. Every traffic expert who has ever expressed an opinion on the organisation of transport has always come down on the side of the integration of transport. Ignore politics; forget nationalisation or private enterprise. Every traffic expert who has expressed any opinion has always come down on the side of integration of transport. The first and only attempt at integration was the Transport Act, 1947. From my point of view, that did not go far enough, because it failed to deal with the problem of the C licence, and unless you are prepared to tackle the C licence, then you cannot tackle the transport problem, so far as this country is concerned.
This afternoon and this evening noble Lords opposite have been blaming the British Transport Commission. The problems of the day are not the fault of the British Transport Commission. We had the Transport Act, 1947, which came into operation on July 1, 1948. In three short years, with all the difficulties of bringing 709 in thousands of small road haulage operators, and all the other problems arising from the setting up of the organisation of the British Transport Commission and its various activities, it was making a profit. When the Conservative Government came into power the British Transport Commission showed, in 1952, a profit of £8 million. Of course, in 1959 there was a loss of £70 million. That was the result of tell years of Tory rule, and, in fact, of the Transport Act, 1953. That Act broke dawn the road and rail integration under the 1947 Act. It dismembered the B.R.S. and decentralised the railways.
The 1953 Transport Act was not a Transport Act in the real sense of the word it was playing politics. It was a pay-off to the road hauliers of this country for contributions they had made to Tory Party funds. It was politics, not transport. The effect of ten years of Tory rule, as I said, was to turn a profit of £8 million, as it was in 1952, before the 1953 Act, into a loss of £70 million in 1959. It is not the British Transport Commission who have created the loss; it is the Tory Government and their playing politics with transport rather than dealing with transport as a service to industry and the people of this country.
Since 1953 we have had decentralisation of railways; we have been reorganised, disorganised, reappraised and further reappraised. We have not been left alone for five minutes without Government interference. If only your Lordships knew of the waste of money, of time and effort of highly skilled, highly paid railway officials, with their technical and clerical staffs behind them, who have been preparing plan after plan and reorganising plan after plan, at the behest and at the whim of successive Ministers of Transport, you would be shocked at the cost. Parts of the loss have been due to this political interference that we have had to suffer from successive Ministers of Transport. I may be a little prejudiced and biased—I am prepared to admit my bias as a worker in the industry. But the railway officers are highly qualified and highly skilled; they are men of integrity, and they are dedicated to their job—and that is a good list of qualifications. But they are not supermen. They cannot do two jobs at once. Nor can the staff, of which I was one, who were supporting them from behind. 710 Whilst we were preparing report after report for Ministers of Transport, we were not doing the real job for which we were paid: maintaining and operating the railways. In fact, if we had been able to get on with our job of securing traffic and maintaining and operating the railways, instead of preparing all these statistics and plans for the Minister of Transport for political purposes, then, despite the 1953 Act, the British Transport Commission would have been in a better position to-day.
Under this White Paper we are to have a further upheaval. We are to be reorganised and disorganised again. We are in for a period of uncertainty which is going to last for at least three years, if not longer. You cannot get good service if the morale of officers and men is had. The morale of railway officers and railway employees to-day is at its lowest ebb, not because of something in the British Transport Commission, but because of continued political interference with the job they have to do. Let us face it. The reason for the White Paper is not the shortcomings of the British Transport Commission; it is the failure of the Government, the' failure arising from their 1953 Transport Act, from their subsequent blunders and the pressure and interference by Tory Back Bench Members of Parliament.
I am speaking for longer than I intended to, but I think this ought to be said, because not only should your Lordships know it, but as we in this House are getting a greater degree of publicity, perhaps even the country may know. This White Paper does not arise from the Stedeford Committee. It arises from a wage claim in 1957–58. As railway workers we went right through the whole of the negotiating machinery. It took us eighteen months to take the claim through, and when we had finished the tribunal said: "The claim is justified; a case for it has been made out. But we cannot make an award, because there is no money in the kitty." So we had to go to see the Prime Minister. See the political interference! The Chairman of the British Transport Commission could not negotiate with us. We had to get permission from the Prime Minister to give the Chairman of the British Transport Commission elbow room to negotiate on wages, which he did. As a result of those negotiations, 711 we got a 3 per cent. settlement. Noble Lords may laugh, but if you are a worker in the industry and dependent upon it, you do not laugh. We are concerned with doing the job of serving our country; we are not concerned with playing politics and upsetting the industry which makes the flow of goods and people from place to place possible.
As a result of that 3 per cent. settlement. or together with it, we secured an independent inquiry into the structure of railway wages and salaries. That inquiry was finally carried out under the chairmanship of Professor Guillebaud. Its findings became known as the Guillebaud Report. When his Report was issued, of course, it showed what those of us in the trade union movement had claimed for years and years: that the rates of pay and the salaries of railway employees were very much below those of their colleagues in commercial undertakings and industry generally. Because of public opinion, the Government had to find the money in order to implement the Guillebaud Report. In order to appease the Tory Back Benchers, who did not like the Government making an outright subsidy to the railways, they had to have the Stedeford Committee.
I want to protest, as I believe one noble Lord opposite did, against the non-publication of the Stedeford Committee's Report. I was one of those who gave evidence twice before the Committee, and I admit that we were courteously received and could say what we liked. I am not making any complaint about the Stedeford Committee, but I think it is monstrous that their Report has not been published. The Minister has had a copy; the British Transport Commission have a copy—they have a perfect right to it. The Government are providing the money, and the B.T.C. have been responsible for administration. But we as railway workers have put our lives into the industry: it is our future, too. Are we not to know what the criticisms are, and on what they are based; the recommendations, and why? Yet we are denied that. May I remind your Lordships that, from the point of view of Parliamentary responsibility, we have a White Paper which is supposed to be based upon the Stedeford Committee Report. But do we know that it is? We 712 do not know what those recommendations are. We do not know which recommendations the Government have accepted and which they have rejected.
As trade unionists we are very critical of the White Paper, and we are critical of it because it does not deal with the problem of transport. If I may say so, I was delighted to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who has gone some way towards accepting the responsibility for the integration of transport. But this does not deal with the basic problem of transport in any shape or form. Road transport is not mentioned; the question of the A, B and C licences is not mentioned. Under the new proposals, of course, the British Transport Commission is to go.
Apart from the question of its coordinating function within the various undertakings over which it has control, the Commission had another very vital function to those of us who are trade unionists. Under the umbrella of the British Transport Commission we have been able to secure a measure of coordination between the salaries and wages paid in the various undertakings for which the Commission has been responsible. We have had independent negotiation machinery for each of the undertakings—railways, docks, inland water ways, London Transport and B.R.S. But when we have come to a sticky patch, as one always does in negotiations, we have always had the Chairman or Deputy Chairman of the British Transport Commission to whom we could appeal and who, in his own way, could make arrangements for the parties to be brought together and for agreement to be reached. So far as the employees are concerned that co-ordinating factor has gone, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said in his speech, the co-ordinating function is to be undertaken by the Minister of Transport as the Chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee. Is he going to act as the court of appeal when there are problems of wages and salaries within the various undertakings still under the umbrella of transport? I hope not, for his sake; because he is going to have a very busy time if he is.
We have no objection, as trade unionists, to the setting up of the Railways Board. As has been mentioned by many other noble Lords, it is a reversion 713 to the 1947 Act and the Railway Executive. But, quite honestly, if we are to have the Railways Board, there is no reason whatever for the Regional Boards. They are redundant: they are an extra link in the chain of communication and administration which is unnecessary. There has been talk about a regional accountancy. But that is a lot of poppycock. The traffic in this country, the goods and services which have to be moved, is not dependent upon whether there is this region or that region. It originates in Dundee and comes down to Penzance. Are we going to have the whole of the Railway Clearing House set up, as we had in the days of the 1931 railway companies? We refused it when we had the four main-line companies. It is impossible to get regional accountancy on any true basis because traffic does not originate or terminate within the same region. Most of it is through-traffic or coming into one region or the other.
On the question of finance, there had to be capital reconstruction, but this is not a realistic capital reconstruction. The Railways Board is left with £400 million of its own, £280 million from the railway "Super" funds in the savings bank, and to accept the responsibility for future investment under the Modernisation Plan. That means that to service the capital it is left with it must provide £60 million to £70 million a year. In 1959, the gross receipts of railways were only £457 million and on the operating costs alone there was a deficiency in that year of £42 million. In 1960 the figure was £60 million; and in 1961 most probably it will be £100 million. Let us face it; a 13 per cent. increase in receipts is needed even to meet the working deficiency. In order to service the capital as well, an increase of 25 to 27 per cent. on receipts, an increase on receipts of £120 million, would be needed. As a workman in the railway industry I am optimistic: given the tools I think that we can do a good job. But it is just foolishness to expect that with depleted railway systems the Railways Board can be viable in a matter of five years.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, to the fact that it was undesirable that the Minister of Transport should be the person to determine the social value of a branch line. Thai is perfectly true; and he cannot 714 do it. The Government speak with two voices—and I am quoting this illustration in no spirit of personal criticism. There is a closure of the Colne Valley line. That line runs through the Home Secretary's constituency. Mr. R. A. Butler, as a Member of Parliament under pressure from his constituents, puts in an objection to the closure of the line. He goes before the Transport Users' Consultative Council. Mr. Butler does not appear, but his agent does, and on behalf of Mr. Butler puts up the case for the retention of the Colne Valley line. What does the Chairman of the Transport Users' Consultative Council say? With a little wisecrack he turns to the agent and says, "Is Mr. Butler as a member of the Government prepared to authorise a subsidy if I recommend the branch line should be kept open?" It is an impossible position for a Minister of the Crown to be placed in, that he should have to make these decisions.
My Lords, I must just add one word, in spite of the time I have taken, about modernisation, because except for the question of finance the White Paper does not mention modernisation. The Government itself, by its action, has cost the British Transport Commission hundreds of thousands of pounds.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Millions.
§ LORD LINDGREN
No I stretch a long bow, but I do not go to that extent. It has cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds by its stops and starts, reappraisal after re-appraisal. We have had an upsetting of the programme to such an extent that it has not got value for the money it has spent, and money that has been spent has been lying idle. As the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, said, if you are going to have a modernisation plan you must have a programme. There has to be a period of time over which it can be done. There has to be the getting together of the technical staff, the survey, the programming of work, ordering of materials, obtaining of equipment.
What has happened because of the Government's stops and starts? At the office which I have left we have had hundreds of highly paid technical people standing idle, not through their own fault but because the work they are engaged on has been stopped overnight, 715 as a result of Government action. Those people are civil engineers, young fellows, vital fellows, good teams. They are not prepared to stand about. As soon as the job stops, off they go, the best of them. One or two—perhaps those you would like to go—have stayed. Now as soon as we get the word "Go" we have once again to collect the technical team and start the whole programme again. As trade unionists we have met the Minister of Transport. At our last meeting he told us, as apparently the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale has also heard, that he was prepared to sanction a four-year programme; but so far as the Eastern Region is concerned, we have not yet had the word "Go". I think we ought to have the opportunity of having a programme, of knowing what we are going to do and of being allowed to get on with the job.
My Lords, I apologise for speaking for so long, but it is impossible to work for nearly 50 years in an industry without having some affection for it and wanting to see that it is a success. We, as workers in the industry, will support the Government in anything it will do to develop transport. But we are a little sick and tired of playing politics with our living. So I say: for goodness' sake, create a policy and let those appointed to administer it get on with the job! As trade unionists and workers in the industry we will give them our full support to make it efficient.
§ 8.37 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, am one of those noble Lords who are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, for giving us the opportunity of discussing this problem of the nationalised transport undertakings. It is unfortunate that this debate was preceded by another one and we had to start so late, because this problem is one of enormous difficulty and of great importance. Before I move on, I think we must all agree that the noble Lord who has just sat down speaks with enormous sincerity and knowledge, having given a great many years of his life to the railways. We agree with him that the men on the railways are, and always have been, a magnificent lot of men and they are capable and efficient. At the moment he says their morale is low, and I would agree with him; but as to the 716 causes why it is low I do not altogether agree with him. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, but I thought he said that the making of the regional boards was bad for the morale of the workers.
Then I am wrong; I must have misunderstood him. I personally do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, on this point. I have gone into this matter and talked to a great many railwaymen, and I can only say that those I have talked to are all for the regional system. This regional system has been a hobby horse of mine, because I have lived for many years on what I describe as a family railway, and all the people I have met on that railway, on that region, are in favour of an organisation of that degree.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I will give the noble Lord this: it is quite true, so far as the Great Western and Southern regions are concerned; they have always been units and they are inclined to accept it. But you do not get the same feeling in the North Eastern and L.M.S. They are all much together, interchanging on the lines.
I thank the noble Lord. I think the regional system leads to greater competition and therefore to greater efficiency.
Most of the points which I wanted to make have, at this time of night, already been made. My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard, touched on one of them. Coming to modernisation, I am not going to speak on electrification because that has already been dealt with at length, or dieselisation, except to say that I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard that it is better to have diesel units pulling ordinary trains rather than diesel multiple units. The essence of a diesel multiple unit is that it is rather like the underground or the local Southern electric, where the acceleration is good; but that would not be so if you had a diesel unit pulling that train.
I want to talk on a matter on which he touched. I consider the most important aspect of modernisation to be this question of automatic brakes on freight trains. If you have high density 717 traffic the whole thing is completely wasted—all modernisation is wasted if you have goods trains which, because they cannot stop, are not allowed to go at more than 15 to 20 miles per hour. That must seem obvious to everyone. I understand that a great deal of money has already been spent on this question of putting vacuum brakes on to goods trucks. But if a number of them have been actually converted, they are not in use. Further, I understand that it is impossible to put these vacuum brakes on to some types of truck because it is impossible to tip them. But surely we must get on with that, because it bolds up the Whole of the traffic and, incidentally, it takes a long time for the goods to get from one point to another. I understand that the average pace of a goods train throughout the Kingdom is still not much more than between 3 and 5 miles per hour.
The other point, which was touched on by Lord Lindgren and one other noble Lord, was the question of automatic signalling. As the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, knows only too well, it has been operating on the Great Western section for some forty years. I believe that in the past it was not taken up by other railways because of jealousy. Surely, nowadays we must get on with it straightaway. I should like to know how far it is being done, because with the density of traffic nowadays to places like Lewisham (which we all remember) to the South, in the Manchester area, and all over the country where there is high density traffic, it is hardly fair to ask drivers to carry on in foggy weather. It is not impossible to provide this system. It has been done. We have had it for forty years on one section of the railways. Surely we can have it over the whole system.
I am not going to detain your Lordships any longer. I approve of this White Paper. I believe that the Government have "started the ball rolling"; in fact, they have given it a pretty good shove. They have written off the enormous money losses in order to give it a free run. Now it is up to everyone—it is up to the Boards of the various concerns; it is up to the railwaymen, and to the public as well—to give it a fair trial and to make the railways in particular, and the transport which was once the pride of Britain, a good service again.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, paragraph 5 of the White Paper says, and I think quite rightly, that the heart of the problem is the railways. That is the reason why I felt I might speak for a few moments, even at this late hour, because for the last twenty years, I suppose, I have been a part-time railway man. The first ten were spent connected with one of the more amusing of the South American railways, and the last ten with the locomotive manufacturing industry. For that reason, I have to declare an interest and shall not be able, for example, to follow up all the things that my noble friend Lord Merrivale said.
I think we are all bound to give a general welcome to this White Paper because it is a serious attempt to deal with the situation which now exists in the transport industry. Never mind what are the causes of it and why it exists, but it certainly does. I would welcome this White Paper not as something to be taken in isolation, but as a step in the evolution of British Railways to meet modern conditions, which they certainly have to do; and from the financial point of view—I shall have a little more to say about that in a moment—this White Paper comes none too soon.
I do not know whether all noble Lords, except the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, realise the great length of time which it takes to carry through the physical and the organisational changes which are called for in the post-war modernisation programme of the railways. It takes an immense time and an immense and largely unrewarding effort. That is why I was so glad to hear one noble Lord earlier this evening sing the praises of Sir Brian Robertson, because few people know, except those close to the industry, what an immense task he has had to perform, what an immense responsibility he has had to shoulder, and what little thanks he has had for it at any time.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, said—I agree with a lot of what he said, but by no means all, as noble Lords opposite can imagine—this problem has been in existence since before the First World War. There is no doubt about that. It would be wrong to pretend that 719 the old private enterprise companies were very forward-looking or were wonderful financiers, or possibly made the effort that they should have made to shake themselves free from the shackles of legislation which was quite unsuitable for the age in which they lived. Then, as other noble Lords have said, came the War, which left the railways "out on their feet". After the war, came nationalisation. I am not going to argue tonight whether nationalisation was right or wrong: but I am going to say that it was impossible for the managements of the railways to carry through the organisational changes consequent upon nationalisation and, at the same time, attend to the technical problems of modernising the railways after the war, because at that time it was not merely a question of putting the railways back as they had been in 1939—that, in fact, would have been utterly wrong, although at one moment it looked as if the managements of British Railways were trying to do that when they designed the whole of their range of steam locomotives, some of which have never left the drawing board from that day to this: and that at a moment when everybody else was turning his mind to diesel and electric traction.
To my mind, whether nationalisation was right or wrong, from other points of view it most certainly had the effect of delaying the modernisation of the railways, if only because the unfortunate people who were running the railways could not attend to nationalisation and modernisation at the same time. Therefore, at a point, if you like, ten years ago, the modernisation of the railways and the mechanisation of its processes off the rails—goods yards, stations, accounting and so forth—was at a very low degree. As a result—and this is something on which I do not think anybody has spoken so far—because modernisation and mechanisation had proceeded such a little way, there were places in the railway industry for a larger proportion of low forms of industrial life than in any other industries that I know of in this country. Hence, with these low forms of industrial life in an industry I do not see how the morale of the industry can prosper. I can also understand the great difficulties which the managements were faced with in trying to get 720 a proper wages structure applying equally to the high-grade footplate men, the signalmen and so forth, and to the Teddy-boys whom you and I can see on the platforms of any main-line station. My Lords, that sort of thing is no good. So now the bill has to be paid. There is the bill, and we have to pay the bill at the right price. But we have to pay it.
To come back to paragraph 4 of the White Paper, it says that "Sweeping changes will be needed." Of course they will. Paragraph 4 is all very well, and sweeping changes may well be necessary but, if they are, for goodness' sake! this time let us go all the way and see that whoever is going to make those changes really makes a job of it, once and for all. I doubt very much whether anybody who is not close to the railway industry knows just how much there is yet to do. I think the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, said in his speech that, once a decision had been taken on what was to be done, professional railwaymen should be left alone—or words to that effect: I think I have quoted him rightly.
It will be necessary to spend money on modernisation. And though we all moan and wail about the enormous losses the railways are supposed to have made, I very much doubt if anybody at the present time knows whether the railways in this country can be run without a subsidy. We should know a great deal more if we knew what the Stedeford Committee had said about that. I wonder whether any railway line, except the most heavily trafficked, is capable of running without a subsidy, and whether all this talk about the wickedness of the railways losing so much money takes sufficient account of the fact that the roads are entirely subsidised and the motor user, apart from his licence, pays very little for them.
At all events, as many noble Lords have said, we shall not get the matter right until we go through with the modernisation programme, complete it, and eliminate redundant labour and redundant operations, thus leaving the railway industry with a labour force of a much higher average skill than they have now, doing worthwhile jobs and being paid worthwhile proper wages. 721 That, to my mind, would eliminate a great many of the complaints which have been before the public about railway wages for a long time.
To come back for a moment to this question of profitability, I feel myself that it is a great pity that the Government so far have not followed out a number of recommendations which were made by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in another place, which I think was largely chaired by my right honourable friend, the Member for Blackpool, North. In paragraphs 421 and 422 they talk a great deal about this question of profitability. They say, I think rightly, that if the need, social or strategic (though I do not think they use the word) means keeping certain lines of railway in operation—and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may think of some of the railways in the North of Scotland—these should be frankly and openly subsidised and the railways should not have that can tied to their tail, for reasons which I am going to try to explain, if noble Lords will bear with me for a moment.
I think we are still in a state of some doubt about how to handle passenger traffic, because this Report on the country buses—which I think we are to expect in a day or two—has not yet appeared. Yet that subject is tied up most closely with it. If I may he allowed one criticism of British Railways, though I certainly do not want to make that my tone tonight, I think that the integration of railway services with bus services has had nothing more than lip service. A great number of stations have been closed recently in my county of Shropshire, in my view perfectly rightly, but the people who used those stations have to be carried there. And, supposing I went into the inquiry office at a main-line station, and asked for the bus service which was to replace the train service which had gone, I can just imagine—and so can the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren—the abuse and scorn which would be poured out on me. Now, my Lords, that is one of the things that must be put right. It is all part of that problem, and its solution would provide a good deal of the answer to the problem of profitability.
All this work has got to be done by professionals. I am not going to argue about diesel, steam and electric traction 722 tonight, though I would say, with great respect, that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was entirely right in what he said in his speech about the relationship of diesel and electric. Diesel can move about anywhere on any line, and therefore they can come in, temporarily if you like, to take over from steam which is now being replaced, and run a service until that line is electrified.
On that same subject I think that a great deal of hot air has been talked on the doubt about whether this or that line will pay if it is electrified. My Lords, surely the answer is well known. Even if statistics are not available from the Manchester—Sheffield line, they are certainly available from the Continent, where heavily trafficked railway systems in France and Italy, I think in Western Germany, and certainly in Sweden and Spain, have been running for some time. Why, then, is there this smoke screen of doubt about whether or not a line will pay? Frankly, my Lords, I do not believe it.
But all this technical work, which can be done only by the railways—it cannot be done by politicians, civil servants or anybody else—must be done against the background of this set-up. I should like to say (if I am not detaining noble Lords too long) that in certain places the set-up leaves me in some doubt. If I can put it shortly, there are three ways in which the Government can control a nationalised undertaking. The first is the very simple way: to have the Government Department and the management the same, as we have with the Post Office. The Post Office people can argue very nicely with themselves and one hears nothing about it.
The second way is the sort of relationship the electricity industry has had with the Ministry since nationalisation; and no one has known better than the noble Lord, Lord Citrine, how to "make that tick". The third way is the way that we seem to be having with the railways; that is to say, with the management of the undertaking to some extent duplicated by the Department. That may he necessary for certain special circumstances, and for a certain limited time, but for a great many reasons it is most certainly undesirable as a long-term piece of organisation. That I feel quite strongly 723 about. I wish now that that view had been recommended by the Stedeford Committee; that would fortify my views on it a good deal. But as it is, with the proposed Advisory Council and so on, it may be all right when there are great and good men in office, assisted by great and good men in the Department. It is, nevertheless, fraught with a good many dangers, because, to put it bluntly, by this system any Minister can deal himself a hand of jokers.
Nor am I particularly keen on the Advisory Boards; but then, my Lords, I am never keen on advisory boards or consumer councils. If you are going to collect eminent businessmen or tycoons, or whatever you like to call them, to serve an undertaking or an industry, I cannot help thinking that it is better to use them in the way they are accustomed to be used in industry, as members of boards of directors, and give them not only the responsibility but the power. There again I think we may find that some of the proposals may need a new look.
Then we come to the cutting up of the existing Transport Commission, and here the picture begins to be less in focus. We do not know, from the White Paper, a great deal about the degree of centralisation and decentralisation that is to be expected. It has always seemed to me that "centralisation" and "decentralisation" are not two creeds to be held, one by the Right and one by the Left, any more than in the old days, when some of us were boys, Free Trade and Protection were two different religions to be followed slavishly. Both are expedients to be adopted, in this case, or that.
It strikes me that one can make quite a good case for decentralisation in regard to certain operations—civil engineering, and commercial operations; but when we come to design, research, development and similar things, one would have to go a long way in industry to find anybody who would recommend any such practice. I believe also (I think the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, mentioned this point) that decentralisation of accounting would have its dangers, and very great ones. By that I do not mean that the local accountant in a region should not be responsible for keeping his own 724 accounts. I mean that the whole system should be on one design, making the best use of business machines and treated in such a way that the results of the regions of the railways as a whole can be consolidated and compared. But if we go back to the technical decentralisation we shall revert to what one might call the "jungle fighting" which took place over continuous braking and automatic train control, because the survivors of the old days in the regions are like members of very good regiments; they do not always realise who is the real enemy and sometimes mistake the regiment next door for the enemy, when in fact they are not. I have made one or two criticisms, but I hope I have made them, as I meant to do, within the framework of the White Paper itself.
Before I sit down I want to say one thing, arising from my connection with the locomotive manufacturing industry, which I do not think will be controversial. That is that, whatever criticism one may offer to the railway managements—and a good deal has been offered at different times, here and elsewhere—one of the things that have happened in recent years is that British Railways have taken in the international railway world a place which I do not think they occupied a few years ago, because there was a time when one could quite fairly have described the British railwayman as an introvert compared with his Continental counterpart.
Two or three years ago the railway manufacturing industry in this country was severely threatened by a French organisation called Sofrerail, sponsored by the French nationalised railways, S.N.C.F., with suitable banking and manufacturing support. That organisation set out, and goes out, to offer railway advice to countries with supposed need of it, with, no doubt, the result that Continental equipment is bought on that advice. To my mind, it was an urgent matter for the railway manufacturing industry in this country that something of the same kind should be set up. That has now been done through the United Kingdom Railway Advisory Service (U.K.R.A.S., for short) and before I sit down I should like to pay a tribute to those high officers of British Railways and people in the Board of Trade who have given their support 725 and preached the gospel to other people and thereby have shown that the railway industry—whether part is nationalised and part is not does not matter—is one industry, and that we have a part to play opposite other railways in the world.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I should like at the onset to express my warm felicitations to my noble friend Lord Hughes for his most impressive maiden speech. It was a penetrating and informed speech dealing with transport in Scotland, and he was speaking from an abundant and continuing experience. I am sure that we should all hope that in like matters and otherwise we shall frequently have the benefit of his contribution to our debates.
The Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, refers to:the reorganisation of the nationalised transport undertakings.I am sure the noble Lord will forgive me when I say I felt that in his speech he dealt rather more with detailed management and matters of detailed policy, such as the competitive relations between the railways and coastal shipping and with road passenger transport, than with the subject matter of his Motion. What we are discussing this evening is really the consequences of the monumental injury done to our economy by the Tory Government when they dismantled the integrated system of transport in 1953.
The Times, on December 21, 1960, took occasion to remind us of the statements made by the Opposition, as they then were, to the proposals of the original Transport Bill; and I think it is worth while reading this statement of The Times leader for that day:Fourteen years ago, when Parliament debated the Transport Bill which nationalised the railways and much other transport besides. Mr. Herbert Morrison, as he then was, and Mr. Barnes saw in the Bill a plan to 'weld the, transport needs of the country into an efficient and economic whole' and 'the largest and most extensive socialisation measure ever presented to a free democratic Parliament.' Mr. Anthony Eden"—as he then was, now Sir Anthony Eden—and Sir David Maxwell Fyfe"—now the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack— 726saw in it a national disaster' … they thought little of the co-ordination' and 'integration' which were on every Labour speaker's lips, and Mr. Oliver Poole evoked the loudest cheers when he said that 'he could only look forward to the day when they would reverse some if not all of its provisions'. The Conservatives have looked forward to some effect. What their 1953 Act began, their 1962 Act, if it follows the organisation plan now outlined, will complete. The last remnants of co-ordination between different forms of transport will then be liquidated"—and how satisfied the Tories will be!—And the tone of the White Paper suggests that, if it had been practicable to liquidate co-ordination between railway regions themselves, Ministers would not have been averse from it.Even now they are still unsatisfied in their desire to dismantle the integrated system of transport which was ushered into this country by the Act of 1947. But what disastrous effects and results this policy has had! This White Paper is the evidence and record of the disaster which this policy has brought upon the transport system of this country. In truth, the wreckers of national transport have destroyed worse than they knew. Having dismantled an integrated transport system designed to serve the public interest, they find that they cannot put the pieces together again—pieces that they have mis-shaped out of all utility. And so the Government are in a continuing mess. There have been four Ministers of Transport and one overlord for a brief spell, and things have proceeded from mess to muddle and then from muddle to mess.
In 1953, as former speakers have mentioned, the Government sold off to private enterprise the profitable road transport and dealt a mortal blow at integration and the profitable operation of the transport system of this country. All the Executive Committees were abolished except the London Transport Executive, and Area Boards were created. In the result, according to the White Paper, there is a deficit of £500 million in the Commission's accounts. That, my Lords, is a measure of the price which is being paid by the nation for this obtuse, doctrinaire wrecking of the national transport service and system. And now the Government are in a fix. This exercise of pulling down proved too successful, and something had to be done about it. The Ministry did not know what to do. They have tried everything, one way and 727 another, especially when new Ministers were appointed to the office.
So the Government went outside to a number of "wise men" in industry, and asked them how to get the Government out of the mess. The proceedings were to be private: the public were not to know the extent of the mess. More than that, the recommendations or the Report of the "wise men" are still withheld from publication. The public, my Lords, who are the owners of the public transport system of this country, must not know what is wrong, or what the "wise men" advise; whether the Government have adopted their advice, or whether this pitiful scheme of so-called reorganisation is based on the advice of the "wise men" wholly, or partially or at all. I cannot think that the so-called reorganisation envisaged in the White Paper is based on the advice of able, competent and informed business men.
In the light of this scheme of reorganisation, I can understand the Government's keeping things dark. What is the scheme, if it can be so called? What does it set out to do? To abolish the Commission, the one unifying element in securing co-ordination and integration. That is to be abolished. Disintegration is to follow, as my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth said in his speech. And who, if you please, is to take its place?—the Minister. In paragraph 9 of the White Paper, it is stated:The activities of the British Transport Commission as at present constituted are so large and so diverse that it is virtually impossible to run them effectively as a single undertaking.That may or may not be so, although there is no evidence that any one of the units of the Transport Commission's properties and activities suffered. But, if that be the case, how does it come about that the Minister will have the time and capacity to do what that paragraph states the British Transport Commission could not do? In any case, the British Transport Commission was free from political interference; the Minister, of course, will not be. He will settle policy. True, he will be advised, as we are told, by the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council, which, as Lord Teynham and other speakers have said, will not enjoy any real independence because the Minister will be the chairman.
728 It strikes me, when one looks at the chart of organisation, that the idea of a Nationalised Transport Advisory Council was an afterthought and was put in after the arrangements had otherwise been settled. In any case, it will have no functions except to say "Yea" to the Chairman—namely, the Minister. We are told that the Minister will settle the problem of the future size and shape of the railway system; but, as one noble Lord has stated, he has already appointed a study group. It was appointed in October to do precisely that—to settle the future size and shape of the railway system. I refer noble Lords to the OFFICIAL REPORT of October 26, 1960, column 2365. But this duty is also given to the Railways Board. The end of paragraph 14 of the White Paper says:… the British Railways Board will be responsible for such matters as national staff and wage negotiations, overall control over finance and investment, policies for safety, training and research, and the determination of the future size and shape of the railway system.So there are to be two bodies dealing with that one question. But that is not enough for these people who can really reorganise, for, in paragraph 7 of the White Paper, it says this:The practical test for the railways, as for other transport, is how far the users are prepared to pay economic prices for the services provided. Broadly, this will in the end settle the size and pattern of the railway system".So it is going to settle itself, on the basis of economic prices for the services provided. Right through the White Paper this muddled thought, and equally muddled expression, prevails.
Now that, as a master-stroke, the Commission has been supplanted by the Minister and the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council, which has no executive functions, one is entitled to inquire: Who initiates new developments? Which organisation is going to be the dynamic organisation, moving towards modernisation and development? It is now proposed to re-create as Boards the Executives which were abolished in 1953. The old Railway Executive now becomes the new Railways Board. Area Boards become Regional Boards. What profundity! What fundamental wisdom! The Minister of Transport, if he is responsible for this White Paper and this scheme, must be a genius. Before 1953 the Railway Executive, as part of the 729 Commission, was co-ordinating with the other activities of the Commission—the associated activities. It was always a part of the integrated structure. Under this precious scheme, the Railway Executive, as one of the Boards, is separate. It is isolated from other forms of transport. The position of British Railways is, in fact, worse off, so far as relationships and co-ordination with other transport facilities are concerned, whether publicly owned or privately owned, than were the railways in 1930.
In its leader of 30 January, The Times said this:Decentralisation is being carried too far. In many respects, there will be less integration than there was in the 1930s".It went on to say:Of this plan two broad criticisms can be made. The first is that it may isolate the railways too much from other transport operations. The second is that the decentralisation proposed is unreal and even within the terms of the White Paper natural forces will tend as the years go by to bring about centralisation once again".I wonder, my Lords, at what cost that slow process of repairing the disastrous mistakes and injuries to the nation's interests by the Tory Government will be carried out.
Then we are told that the Regional Boards are to be autonomous. But how can they be autonomous when the Area Boards are limited to an expenditure of £100,000 on any single proposal? The Commission itself is limited to an expenditure of £250,000. The Treasury have first to give consent. How can it be said that Area Boards are autonomous when they are limited in their expenditure to £100,000, and when the Commission, dealing with traffic receipts amounting to nearly £500 million a year, are limited to an expenditure of £250,000? Will the Under-Secretary say whether the Minister is to be under this limitation which the Select Committe stated, on the evidence given to it by the Commission, was the case?
On January 30 this year the Minister made great play that the British Railways Board would have the assets transferred to them, and of course the capital debt. What does that mean? It does not mean anything at all, because British Railways must conform to the policy which is to be settled by the Minister, not by an independent Commission. This is the 730 precious reorganisation scheme as regards structure. My Lords, it is a pretty sorry attempt to meet a condition for which the Government are wholly responsible. In these respects, where the proposals are of value, they are a return in fact, if not in appearance, to the structure of the Act of 1947. And where they are not, they are of little or no utility.
I come now to the finance of the proposals, into which, at this late hour, I do not propose to go in any detail. I join with other noble Lords who have expressed doubt as to whether the railways can within five years increase their net receipts by something in the region of £125 million. After all, a good deal of unjustified criticism is levelled at nationalised transport, and especially the railways, because of their deficit on operations. Practically every industrial country with a railway system finds that it is not paying. Eighteen months ago there was a deputation of chairmen of many of the railways in the United States to Washington asking for a subsidy because of the deficits being accumulated by their respective railways. The French Government are taking steps to co-ordinate road, rail and water transport and to fix freights on a basis which will make the most economic use of all transport. They propose to raise road freights in some cases where road transport is taking business away from the railways. When we come to West Germany we find that the number of vehicles to ply for hire or reward outside a 50-kilometre radius has been limited to the number in operation in 1958. Long-distance road and rail charges are fixed by statute to prevent harmful competition; and for some bulk traffic the charges are deliberately fixed to favour the railways.
It was stated by the Select Committee, and repeated by the Minister, that fares and charges in this country on the railways are, in real terms, lower than they were in 1938. If that be the case, it means that the railways have been giving a continuing subsidy to industry as regards freight charges. I think those circumstances should be borne in mind and remembered when the railway systems come under the criticism they do, most of it uninformed. So much for the so-called reorganisation. In my submission, my Lords, it will not achieve the putting of the railways on to a sound 731 basis. It is tinkering with the job. It transfers to the Minister the running of transport in this country. It plunges straight into the cockpit of politics and ministerial autocracy. The Minister will settle policy with the assistance of the National Advisory Council. In short, the National Advisory Council will "rubber stamp" the Minister's decisions.
I should now like to say a few words about the Victoria line. The Victoria line project was approved in 1949, eleven years ago. Powers were obtained from Parliament in 1955, six years ago. The powers for compulsory acquisition of land expire in December of this year. Renewed powers are being sought in the current Commission Bill. Experimental tunnelling is proceeding. In February, 1959—that is, ten years after—the Minister asked the London Travel Committee to report upon the value of the tube. They were asked to consider whether the £55 million which the Victoria line would cost would pay a better dividend were it spent on off-street parking or on some other project. In their Report, which they presented to the Minister in July, 1959, the Committee described itas essential to meet present and expected future demands for travel on the underground system.They found itthe most effective means of relieving the severe peak hour congestion on many of the present underground services.They concluded thatthe construction of the line should be started as quickly as possible.That was in February, 1959. On March 2, 1960, the Minister of Transport said that he was unable to make any statement. He was pressed again on March 23, and said:The scheme must be considered in the general context of the British Transport Commission's position.The Minister was asked again, on November 25, 1960, when he expected to make a statement about the Victoria line, and he said that he could make no definite forecast. On March 1 of this year he gave a similar answer. Why the Minister cannot make up his mind with regard to this, I find it difficult to understand. Here is a project which would reduce bus traffic on the roads by about 2,000 bus trips a day—and a bus trip is 732 the double journey. It would cost £55 million, including the rolling stock. Had it been done in 1949, it would have cost £38 million. Its benefit to transport can be put in another way: namely, it is estimated that the line would have the transport potentiality of five new six-line motorways through the heart of London and out to the North-East. The cost of these new motorways would be vastly larger than the cost of the Tube. The cost of rehousing the displaced persons from the properties which would have to be demolished and of resiting the industries which would have to be moved would be vastly larger in total than the cost of the Tube, including rolling stock.
I have suggested that this project should be regarded as an underground road and should rank for grant on the basis of a Class 1 road—namely, 75 per cent. If that were done, we should find that the project would not only be of benefit to road congestion but would also be able to pay its way on the reduced capital expenditure arising from the gift of the grant.
Finally, may I refer to the pipelines, a new element of transport which is emerging in this country, as it has emerged and been adopted in other countries? It will have profound effects on our freight transport and on our social and economic life. It could be fairly stated to be revolutionary in its potential effects. We can see the situation in which pipelines might supplant railways in the way that the railways supplanted the canals. This would involve not only a loss of traffic for the railways but also a diminution of earning power of the railways, and the value of their assets would be rendered obsolescent or redundant in that measure.
On March 6, the Minister of Fuel and Power made a statement in another place and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, for information on some points in that statement. I understand that some rough indication has been given to the noble Lord of the information on which I should like some clarification. What is the orderly development to which the Minister referred? Is it orderly by reference to what criteria—national planning, public interest or private interest? Who will be the planners and what will be the plan? Will it be a national one, or will it be a plan which is determined piece 733 by piece, until, of course, there is no plan? Are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past?
In his statement the Minister refers only to objections; provision is to be made for objectors to be heard. But supposing there are no objections, is there to be no inquiry? And is there to be orderly development but no control? What will be the incentives and terms upon which private ownership will be permitted? Or is private ownership to be combined, as would seem to be the case, with public control? If there is no compulsory purchase, what kind of control will exist in any case? Are the lines (and I regard this as being very important) to be the monopolies of the owners? Are they for the use of the owners only or are they to be of common use and become common carriers?
We may well be on the threshold of a great development in transport. Pipelines are not limited to the conveyance of liquids but can also be used for the transport of solids. If we are to have an integrated system of pipelines, it should also be integrated with our transport system. It should be regarded from the start as a part of national transport. It should be publicly owned and publicly operated. It is to be profoundly hoped that the Government will not dither with doctrinaire considerations and repeat the mess and muddle and tragedy of the replacement of the canals by the railways in the nineteenth century.
I hope that the noble Lord may be able to clarify the points I have indicated to him. This White Paper, which ought really to be a white sheet, is an attempt to cover up the results of this dismantling of the national transport system of the country and to piece together one or two pieces of the structure which they dismantled and destroyed. We hope that the time is not far distant when the winds of change, which are blowing in this country as well as elsewhere, may lead to the situation in which there will be in office a Government who will once again restore a proper system of socially owned, socially operated transport for the benefit of the people of this country.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, as has been said by other noble Lords, I am sure the House should be grateful to 734 my noble friend Lord Teynham for starting off this debate, which is coming towards its end; but because of the important nature of the subject we have been discussing and the many things that have been said in various ways, I am sorry to say that it is not coming quite so near to an end as your Lordships might perhaps think. I appreciate very much the way that my noble friend has welcomed the Government's proposals, by and large, as I do the way that other noble Lords behind me have done, too. I am glad that he raised and dealt with, I think quite effectively, the question of integration, to which I will come in a moment, because, while I greatly appreciate such a measure of approval as some noble Lords opposite were able to give, it seems to me that there is no doubt that what difference they find between us is based on a political concept rather than the more practical and realistic approach that we have been endeavouring to make. Quite frankly, the tone of speeches from noble Lords opposite has been political, with the notable exception of that of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, whose admirable, well thought-out and interesting maiden speech we all enjoyed; and I hope that we shall hear him often in the future.
I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren. I thought for a while that, with his great knowledge and expertise, both of which are extremely welcome in transport debates in this House (and I hope he will always take part in them, as no doubt he will, as well as others), he was going to speak purely, if I may so put it, as a railway-man. But I am afraid his political inclinations rather got the better of him in respect of a number of things that he said. To the extent of being highly political, this debate is very like the one in December; and in some ways it has gone so very like it that I almost began to think that one or two noble Lords, and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, had rather forgotten what had been said in that debate. However, the noble Lord did not adduce any evidence to support any of his criticisms on any basis other than a political one. I think the 735 political approach of noble Lords opposite, which, in my view, is out-moded by events in the meantime, just will not do.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, can the noble Lord say what the Government have been doing ever since they have been in office?
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
It has been politics, dogmatism and a doctrinaire policy. Now they are getting to the culminating point. Why should the noble Lord be so superior about politics? Anybody would think that he was innocent.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord will be a little patient I will continue with my speech and, even if it puzzles him at the moment, he will find out exactly what I mean. That is precisely what I am saying: that noble Lords opposite are quite unable to approach this matter from any viewpoint but that of politics.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, would the noble Lord say that accepting money for political purposes from the Road Hauliers' Association is not a political purpose? The Tory Party accepted monies from the Road Haulage Association as a contribution to their political funds, as a result of which they gave them back road haulage.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am no expert on these things, and I will not deal with it myself, but I am not sure that the noble Lord is in order in saying that kind of thing. It sounds to me as if he is getting up and alleging bribery and corruption. That is what I understood him to say, and I think he should stand up again and repeat it clearly.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I do say that. And if it wants to be disproved, the Tory Party can do it by publishing their accounts. They are the only political Party who do not publish their accounts.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, if it were not for the noble Lord's not having been in this House very long. I would practically go so far as to say that I think that is probably the most disgraceful thing I have yet heard in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD CHESHAM
There is absolutely no foundation or evidence for what the noble Lord says. It is not a question of publishing accounts, or anything like that. The noble Lord has made a charge, which he says he can substantiate, of bribery and corruption by the Government. There let the matter stand, because I have a lot to talk about which is rather more relevant.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, would the noble Lord refer to the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Mr. Hay, which referred to the close co-operation between the Government and the Road Hauliers' Association?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord considers that some form of bribery. I thought that the relationship between the various forms of transport and the Government was supposed to be a close one. I thought that was what noble Lords opposite rather liked. Otherwise, I do not know why we hear so much about integration, a subject about which I am going to talk now. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, referred to the pronouncement of transport experts of various kinds, and I have no doubt that he would regard the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, as a considerable expert in the matter. Unfortunately, the noble Lord was unable to be in his place, but he wrote a letter, which was published not long ago in Modern Transport, which I know has aroused a good deal of interest. He points out that integration envisages a large measure of common ownership of the various forms of transport. In fact it requires the placing in the hands of a central authority with a high degree of centralised control a very large part of our transport facilities. But how much might this common ownership or central 737 authority be? It does not seem that the Transport Act, 1947, could have provided enough.
More than one noble Lord opposite has complained bitterly that noble Lords on this side of the House blame the British Transport Commission for everything. That is not correct. Let us get it perfectly clear. We do not blame the B.T.C. for everything; we blame the Party of the noble Lords opposite for creating the B.T.C. in the circumstances in which they did. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, himself said that the Act did not include the C-licence vehicles; nor did it extend to private cars or any other means of private passenger transport. But it is just that private transport, including the C-licence vehicles, which offers the most effective and massive competition, particularly to the railways. Did those who advocated integration really believe that it could be secured without some material curb on these other forms of transport, without a lot of private cars being heavily controlled and the C-licence vehicles being nationalised as well? If they believe that, did they think that it was practical or realistic to expect that any such curb would be desirable or acceptable to public opinion?
The answer to that question must be, No. The fact is, that experience has shown that, given the scope of the Transport Act, 1947, it did not prove practicable to extend the control of the B.T.C. even as far as that Act envisaged. The fact is that the Commission did not have, nor have they ever had, control over sufficient part of the transport facilities of this country to effect integration, even if it were to be practicable or the right course to pursue—which we do not for a moment believe. Nor do we believe that it is sensible to expect that a central authority—whether it be the B.T.C. or anyone else—with monolithic control over the major part of our means of transport is best placed, or is able to decide how trade and industry and individuals should send their goods or travel and what, in the very many different and complicated and practical circumstances of day-to-day operation of trade and industry is the method best suited to individual needs. We do not believe it, my Lords.
I thought at first that the word "integration" was being avoided from the Benches opposite, but it came in 738 in the end. I do not believe that, as long as Lord Hurcomb is something like right about its meaning, the wind of change will blow many Governmental changes into the transport world for a good many years to come. But we think integration is wrong; we think it is irrelevant to the practical problems, and against the background of a reasonable freedom of choice for transport users we seek co-ordination, which is a very different thing, and for which my noble friend Lord Molson asked. As I have explained to your Lordships on more than one occasion, each form of transport should be in a position to attract the traffics most suited to it. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, agreed with me, at least to a limited extent, that that was so.
The Government, in its control of public sector investment, should foster the development of all forms of transport by road, rail, sea, air and, very likely, as the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said, by pipeline. They should foster it in the way which is most effective and most in the interests of the user and the national economy. It means, in short, bringing together, in an efficient and flexible relationship with each other, the different forms of transport, and not seeking to weld them altogether in one vast, great, rigid framework, which is unsuited to practical circumstances and the problems of the day.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That betrays a certain financial irresponsibility to which I shall return, but I will do that in due course, if I may. The noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, made the remark that coordination which carries no clearly realised degree of common ownership is unlikely to be effective in practical application. The fallacy of that approach is the assumption that co-ordination can be achieved in practice only by direction from the top, under a huge and unwieldy structure of control which owns all the different forms of transport concerned. I do not think that is true, because co-ordination is achieved in two main ways. It is achieved through investment control, and through the co-ordination of operation. I must just touch on those. I agree that co-ordination of major policy and development 739 through investment control needs to be exercised centrally. This is a function in which the Minister will certainly be better placed than the B.T.C. has been, because it is his function to oversee a wider field going beyond the nationalised transport sector and, in particular, including roads. He has a broader view and a greater knowledge of the main factors to be taken into account. What is more, he is responsible to Parliament for the allocation of investment in this public transport sector.
The White Paper, in paragraph 28, says:… the Minister's main charge will be for overall co-ordination and for securing the general efficiency of the undertakings …While it is true that the broad co-ordination of investment and development must be from the top, the opportunities of operational co-ordination occur in day-to-day working and management. This is properly the responsibility and the result of efficient management. It does not require direction from the top in the same way as co-ordination through investment.
I should think that the most important example is the working arrangements between British Railways and London Transport, and not least important because they have been in existence over a large number of years, over a wide field of common concern. They were in operation long before the B.T.C. was established. I have no doubt, and the White Paper has no doubt either, that they will continue in that form. Effective co-ordination in operational matters can surely best be secured and developed by direct contact between the management concerned in the ordinary course. The nationalised transport undertakings are, after all, living in a competitive world which they do not dominate. Co-ordination between them has to take due account of whatever effect that may have on their competitive strength, and I am sure that their respective managements are best placed to make this judgment. I hope my noble friend Lord Bridgeman will not find anything in what I have said which contravenes his views on the matter.
There is one further aspect which has been referred to by a number of speakers, and that is that the Minister, in 740 exercising his co-ordinating functions, will have available the advice and help of the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, before my noble friend goes on to that subject, may I ask him whether he would go a little further into what he has just been referring to? Under the Act of 1953, there were Area Transport Boards who were supposed to co-ordinate the different forms of transport in the regions. Under the proposals of the White Paper, their name will be changed into Regional Railway Boards. Having regard to the likelihood of the railway system being somewhat reduced, I should like to ask whether it will be a function of the Regional Railway Boards, or of some other kind of authority, to arrange for the substitution of some other kind of transport when any contraction takes place in the railway system.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I thought I had been fairly specific on what our view of co-ordination is. I do not know quite how much further my noble friend really expects me to go. I have traced the possibilities and desirability of co-ordination—at least I was just going to finish doing so—from my right honourable friend down to the Regional Boards, and I do not know what more I can offer at the moment.
§ LORD LINDGREN
We are, in fact, having closure of branch lines. There are supposed to be substituted bus services to take the traffic that originated in those areas. Who is to supervise that matter? Who is to arrange it, and where is the co-ordinating point?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, perhaps noble Lords will wait a little until I get a little further on in my speech. I have a great many things to say, and a number of these things will probably become more clear.
On the subject of the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council, it is just as well to bear in mind exactly what that title is, because there seems to have been some misapprehension about that. The Council will not only have the full knowledge and experience of the nationalised transport undertakings, but will also have, through its outside membership, a wider knowledge and experience of affairs generally. Perhaps I 741 may refer your Lordship to paragraph 30 of the White Paper, which explains what it is intended, or suggested, shall be the make-up of the Board. My noble friend, Lord Teynham inquired whether it was right that the Minister should be the Chairman of this Board; and the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, was doubtful about it. It seemed to be thought in some way that the fact that the Minister was Chairman of this Advisory Council somehow put him in a sort of pre-eminent position, so far as taking decisions and running the whole of the nationalised transport undertaking was concerned. But this will be an Advisory Council set up to advise the Minister.
It may be said that if there is a divergence of views on the Council it will mean that the Minister has to appeal to himself. But that is not so. He has to take the final decision anyway, arid if he has first-hand knowledge of what the Council has been talking about, I should have thought that will be a rather than a hindrance, in reaching his decision.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. It is a most curious set-up that there is an Advisory Council to advise the Minister, and the Minister is in the chair taking part in all the discussions of the Council. I can understand an Advisory Council in which there is no Minister and on which independent outsiders send their advice to the Minister. Then he is uncommitted; he is free. But if he is sitting in he is bound to say something; and knowing this Minister, I think that he will say a lot. Is this not an instrument of the Minister's will rather than an Advisory Council?
§ LORD CHESHAM
I do not see how it becomes an instrument if its function is advisory to the Minister.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, but not a very practical instrument. It does not convert the Council into having some executive function, which is what I am trying to explain.
I must come on to the White Paper proposals, because it seems to me that there has been so much curious misapprehension. I thought that some of 742 the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Morrison of Lambeth and Lord Lindgren, even allowing for a political slant, were rather curious, though not half so much so as the extraordinary misunderstandings and misconceptions which were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Latham.
Starting from the point that the main defects which experience has shown exist in the structure of the British Transport Commission's organisation stem largely from those features of the 1947 Act which the Commission's organisation still bears, paragraph 9 of the White Paper says:The activities of the British Transport Commission as at present constituted are so large and so diverse that it is virtually impossible to run them effectively as a single undertaking.British Railways, in particular, representing about three-quarters of the Commission's organisation, and responsible for the problems and the difficulties which overshadow the Commission's activities as a whole, have no authority with the single-minded task of running them.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The House of Commons Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries picked up the point and they said:It cannot have helped to achieve efficiency in the higher direction of British Railways that there should have been no one authority whose only duty in the field of transport was to ensure an efficient system of railways".
§ LORD LINDGREN
What we should really like to know is this. After three years of operation, the British Transport Commission, under its structure of the 1947 Act, was making £8 million a year. Now, as a result of ten years of Toryism, it is making a loss of £70 million, and that is all due to the 1953 Act. The noble Lord is not answering that point.
§ LORD CHESHAM
For the second time, may I say that, if I am allowed to make my own speech in my own way, I shall come to that. Come to it I will.
743 Noble Lords are constantly interrupting me; I hope they will go on; I will willingly give way; I like to be courteous to the House. I am prepared to stay till one or two in the morning.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes, some people are; it will surprise the noble Lord to know that we can do it. I am quite prepared, if that is what he wants. The proposals in the White Paper recognise the things I have been talking about, the lack of a single-minded authority and so on. They provide, in the Government's view, the right framework in which the co-ordination from the top can best be administered without what one might call blurring the responsibility or intervening in the ordinary processes of management and operation; and the working co-operation to be achieved in these processes. The White Paper proposals are also designed to overcome the main difficulties of the present organisation that I have just mentioned.
In separating the various major activities of the Commission, they recognise that there are two main kinds of activity. There are those which, by their very nature and the problems to which they give rise, need to be conducted by a statutory authority with the necessary statutory powers and duties. These are, of course, British Railways, London Transport, British Transport Docks, and Waterways. Each of these very large activities ought to have their separate statutory authority strictly designed for their particular needs and purposes, and equipped with the necessary powers and duties for their efficient conduct.
The other activities—the noble Lord listed them before—buses, road haulage, shipping services, Thomas Cook, hotels and so on, are, in fact, commercial undertakings. They do not require to be conducted by a statutory authority but in the Government's view, can best be operated, as commercial undertakings dependent upon their own commercial strength. They are therefore to be run as separate commercial companies under the Companies Act and grouped under the holding company. The holding company will not actively intervene in their management and operation but will, by advice and encouragement, ensure that 744 the right standards of operation and financial judgment are applied. I am sure it is in this way that these undertakings are likely to make the most effective use of, and get the best return from, the considerable public assets they will have in their charge.
The White Paper proposals therefore amount, in all, to the replacement of the present organisation by an entirely new structure, specially designed to provide those charged with the responsibility for conducting the various activities with the best opportunities to give of their own best. Each management will have a clearly defined task in a set field, and the authority as well as a clearly defined responsibility to carry it out. That is what is most important of all for the railways. They are so big, their problems are so severe and pressing, that it is essential that there should be a strong authority with the single-minded task of running them and bringing them on to a sound basis of operation. It is essential that they should be run as a national system—that is not in question. The railways are a single entity, and must be effectively conducted as one.
The setting up of a strong Board to tackle their problems will also provide the means and opportunities for an adequate devolution of authority to those who are charged with day-to-day operations. While the Railways Board must, of course, keep in its own hands those functions of prime importance to the railways as a whole, including of course, as I think has been mentioned, the national wage negotiations and the general responsibility of its position as employer of its staff, the British Railways Board will not seek or wish to do everything at the centre. If it is to be free to deal with the major problems that it will have, it will certainly need to be relieved of a good deal of the press of everyday operational affairs. Therefore, the Regional Boards are an important feature of the new organisation. It will be their job to translate into terms of regional operation the national policies of the British Railways Board. By their representation on that Board the Regional Boards will be able to bring to the formulation of the national policies the energy and experience which they will get from being in day-to-day and close contact with railway operations.
745 The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said he found many of the proposals in the White Paper very vague. I am not particularly surprised, because the White Paper does not set out to be a blueprint in exact detail. The proposals are a broad outline of the new organisation and do not seek to cover all the details. In fact, a number of doors have been deliberately left open on the practical arrangements that have to be made. Some of those are matters of management and operation which do not require legislative provision and which will be primarily for the new Boards to work out. On the other hand, others will require consultation with the interested bodies and people. The Government propose to provide, in the course of preparing the Bill, opportunities for full consultation with the people mainly concerned.
The Commission are, of course, already in close and continuous consultation with the Department. They have publicly announced that they will fully co-operate with the Government in giving effect to the White Paper proposals, and this they are doing. As the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, told us, the Minister has already started consultations with the trade unions. He tells us that they had what was, I believe, quite a long meeting the other day; and I understand that the Minister undertook to consider various points put to him, and the trade unions agreed to let the Minister have their views on certain other matters. No doubt there will be a number of other meetings to follow. The Minister attended a meeting of the National Production Advisory Council on Industry in February last and spoke to them. He asked them for their views, particularly about the size and composition of the Boards. After all, on that Council are represented all the main industrial interests.
§ LORD STONHAM
Will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I have not done so before. I am most grateful for what he has said. But my difficulty (and I think it is one of the difficulties which confronts the people in the industry) is to know whether action will be taken in relation to the White Paper arising out of those consultations—things are being left deliberately vague—or have we to wait until after the Bill is on the Statute Book?
§ LORD CHESHAM
May I just get that point right? Will action be taken in the sense of something physical happening, or looking ahead to decisions and plans? Which does the noble Lord mean?
§ LORD STONHAM
Of course, something can happen only after decisions have been taken. The noble Lord has said that the White Paper is vague—in other words, decisions have not been taken. What is going to happen, for example, about the Modernisation Plan between now and the time the White Paper is converted into an Act on the Statute Book?
§ LORD CHESHAM
As it happens, I was about to come on to that point. In the process of drafting the Bill it is the Government's intention to have extensive consultations with the people who should be brought into consultation and, as my noble friend Lord Merrivale advised us, certainly fresh consultations will be particularly necessary and likely to be helpful in regard to the composition of the Board. As preparations for the Bill proceed, the position of each new Board will be worked out with those most closely concerned. As the White Paper says, regard will be had to the special contribution which can be made by those with trade union experience.
My Lords, I should like now to turn for a moment to finance. I think it is true to say that the financial proposals in the White Paper have been generally welcomed and have had a largish measure of support in your Lordships' House today, not least from those who have had other points to make. Of course the financial provisions are an essential part of the proposals for reorganisation, and certainly the full benefits of one cannot be realised without the other. But they seem to me clearly set out in the White Paper and they are well understood, I think. Therefore, I do not think I need go into them at all except to make one or two points.
The first point is that figure of £1,600 million attributable to the railways. My noble friend Lord Teynham was rather worried about that figure, which he thought was wrong. But I know of no reason to query it. I think he should realise that that figure refers to the 747 capital liabilities and not to the value of the assets. It is not supposed to do that, and I think it is probably a perfectly fair figure to take for that purpose. Of that sum, only the £400 million, which is left "on the railways' plate", so to speak, can be accounted sound. That sum, my Lords, has all been invested since 1955, mainly in modernisation. A good deal of it, therefore, has perhaps not yet fully fructified, but it is reasonable to assume that that capital is capable of earning its keep. If you do not assume that—if you think otherwise—it throws a strong doubt on the process of modernisation as a whole, and I think it is perfectly reasonable that the railways should be expected to carry that burden.
The second point which I want to make about the £1,200 million, of which the railways are going to be relieved, is that this cannot disappear into thin air. It will fall squarely on the taxpayer, and the Treasury will take over responsibility for the existing British Transport stock. I am not sure, when you have considered those figures and the other figures of investment yet to come, plus any deficit grants, that you would be entirely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, about the roads enjoying preference over the railways. I do not think, however, we need argue that point out now, because I want to come on to the fact that the whole object of these measures is to give the railways a fresh start from a hopeful position. While they will certainly be faced with a formidable task to achieve solvency, they have at least the practical hope, and I trust the resolution, to attain it.
My Lords, we know that the task is formidable, and we know that the drastic reduction in their immediate capital debt will not of itself be enough to enable the railways to carry on. More still will be required from the Exchequer to meet the deficits likely to occur over the next two, three, four or five years, or whatever the period may be.
There seems to be a feeling that perhaps the Government are being a little over-optimistic in this matter. Well, we shall have to see; but we will try our best to make it work. It is certainly no use writing off past deficits if you allow others to pile up straight away.
748 I do not want to argue with anybody about whether my right honourable friend is or is not anti-railway, but I should not think it easy to accuse anybody who has taken the kind of action I have been talking about, and which we have been discussing, of being anti-railway. But he certainly is also protaxpayer, and he fully realises the burden which the taxpayer will have to take over. That is why it is so important to overcome the present difficulties in the structure of the nationalised transport undertakings, and to put them in the best position to make the best use of the very considerable public assets in their charge, so as to give real value for money.
If the railways are to have a fair chance of achieving their targets, they must be given as free a hand as practicable to conduct their commercial operations on a commercial basis. Why the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, felt so strongly that the Government had busily prevented that for a long time I could not understand; but perhaps we shall not mind that, either, because only in the London Passenger Transport Area will it be necessary to have a statutory control; otherwise, as paragraph 57 in the White Paper says, the railways will be free to fix their own prices. But it will be no good giving them freedom to fix their own prices, unless they exercise that freedom—or so it seems to me. Railway fares in general have lagged behind both railway costs and the general movement of prices.
§ LORD STONHAM
If the noble Lord will allow me, to intervene, I said that surely he knows that the railways have not been free to fix prices and freight rates—indeed, the Government have deliberately thought fit to prevent them from raising their freight rates. They have not been free and that has contributed to their losses.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps I expressed myself badly. What I meant to say was that I thought it was rather odd that it came from him. Perhaps if he were criticising such an activity, it would probably be the pot calling the kettle black.
§ LORD CHESHAM
That is what I meant. I am sorry—perhaps I should not have taken the point up at all. It is no good the railways having freedom to fix their own charges unless they exercise that freedom. And it seems to me that they will need to have a pretty purposeful kind of fares policy to ensure that they can reap the reward for the commercial freedom they get, and see that it makes its due contribution towards improving railway revenues and towards solvency. At the same time, I think the public should get a better deal out of it all round.
This brings up, as has been mentioned, the question of coastal shipping. The statutory restrictions which have been imposed on the railways in the interests of coastal shipping are, of course, a limitation in the way that I have been discussing. I am quite aware of the problems, as I think my noble friend knows, and we are now considering them most seriously, as I think is also generally known. The General Council of British Shipping have submitted a memorandum giving the views of the various shipping interests, and consultations are taking place with them.
My Lords, I have said that the proposals in the White Paper are not the whole picture. They cover those matters on which legislation will be mainly required. They are, indeed, no more than the first essential steps in the long haul to get the nationalised transport undertakings, particularly the railways, on to a sound basis.
Now I am going to turn to modernisation. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, complained first—though not very strongly—that there was very little about modernisation in the White Paper. I do not think that is particularly unreasonable, because the White Paper, after all, is entitled Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings. I do not see why lie should expect to find a great deal about modernisation, in view of what the White Paper set out to do.
But, my Lords, what I think was a little more serious were the complaints made about interference by the Government and "messing about". The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, told us that the railways were in a very bad state in 1939. He admitted, rather reluctantly, if I may say so, that the war must also have had 750 an effect on them. But, my Lords, there was a time, as he also said, when the B.T.C., as a whole, made a profit—not a vast one, but a profit. I ask: How in the world could the Party of the noble Lords opposite, had they been in power, have carried on the operation unless they had done the same kind of thing—provided vast sums of money for modernisation? The noble Lord tells us that, for one reason or another about which we need not argue (we could, but we need not), they were unable to improve the railways much in the first years after the war. How can it be claimed that if certain things had not been done the position today would have been very different? The noble Lord may claim that, but it is difficult to argue these matters on a hypothetical basis. It might be that. British Road Services, if they were reconstituted, might have operated at a profit of £10 million; but that would not have gone very far against the £100 million a year deficit with which we are now faced. Perhaps I am in some way wrong about this.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, the difference has gone to the road hauliers, who picked up the traffic previously carried by British Railways. That was the intention of the 1953 Act and that is where that has gone.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am very surprised to hear that, and I should think that the road hauliers would be shattered. But never mind: I must get on with the modernisation aspect, because I know that wants talking about. What exactly has happened in regard to that? In 1960, it became clear that the financial forecasts associated with the modernisation proposals were unlikely to be realised. That resulted from the re-appraisal. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, rather complained that the reappraisal was some covert kind of action on the part of the Government, but it was the British Transport Commission who carried out the re-appraisal and it had nothing to do with the Government.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It may well be that they did. I cannot remember; but I do not see that it makes the slightest difference.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The re-appraisal was by the British Transport Commission, and surely it was the organisation looking at themselves. I do not think that that was any queer kind of action on the part of the Government. Indeed, in view of what was seen, if it did result from Government action, then I should have thought it was a jolly good result.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I thought I had already said I could not remember off-hand whether the re-appraisal was made at the request of the Government. But I have said I do not see that that made any difference, because it was a question of the organisation looking at themselves.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I could answer that, but I will not, for the hour is too late. What the Government then did—and here I thought the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, was a little less than just, at any rate in the words he used—was to institute, in agreement with the Commission, a scrutiny of all investment projects costing over a quarter of a million pounds. The noble Lord rather implied that the Commission were limited to that amount. They were limited to spending more than that without reference, but there was no reason for it not to be spent with consent, and I do not think that that can fairly be described as a limitation. In any case, and by any standards, a quarter of a million pounds on an individual scheme is quite a lot of anybody's money.
There was also agreement on the rate of investment while modernisation was being looked at again. But even with that pause the allocation to the railways for 1961 was fixed at £140 million, as noble Lords know; and that is 8 per cent. of the total investment in the whole of the public sector. Perhaps that should 752 not really be described as a halt to modernisation. The measures taken were no more than any prudent banker would take with his client—and were benign also, because the position in regard to the rate of investment did not stop work from going ahead under the procedure for scrutinising major projects. Work went ahead on 70 such projects costing £140 million which were already well advanced or whose justification was self-evident, or where essential replacement was involved. Little or no delay could have been caused to any such projects. Other projects were re-examined individually and work on them has proceeded where there were existing contracts. Indeed, I believe I am perfectly right in saying that no contracts have been cancelled.
Your Lordships already know about the London-Midland electrification scheme, the total cost of which is £175 million—which is rather more than was thought by my noble friend, Lord Wolverton. I believe I have spoken of the next part, from Crewe to London, for which the figure, I think, is £130 million. My noble friend, Lord Merrivale, made a point which I did not think was entirely fair. He spoke of taking two years longer, implying that sometimes there were delays when in fact, as he rather suggested, it was a question of extra work being brought into the original scheme.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I think it was mentioned by the noble Lord, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, that the plan for this electrification scheme was delayed by two years. One of the reasons was it was decided to rebuild Euston Station; and that was what I said.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It is merely a question of words, and I am afraid we are rather falling over them tonight. I should have thought "extended" would have been the right word. It has been said, too, that because my right honourable friend has not so far been able to fix the investment allocation for the railways for the period beyond January, 1961, they will be hampered in placing orders for rolling stock and locomotives. In fact, expenditure during 1961 on programmes for freight stock amounted to over £14 million, and for passenger stock, over £17 million, has been agreed.
753 The situation with regard to locomotives is a little different. The Commission's 1961 programme costing £46 million was already in hand before the pause occurred, and orders for nearly £24 million worth of locomotives have been placed for 1962. The Ministry have co-operated with the Commission in examining proposals for batches of locomotives before the full programme is available and in agreeing to the ordering of materials in advance. It is always open to the Commission to put proposals to my right honourable friend for expenditure in advance of the settlement of investment allocations for a particular year, and that they do.
My noble friend Lord Auckland made some mild criticisms, as did my noble friend Lord Merrivale, about forward planning and budgeting. My right honourable friend is anxious to make investment allocations to the Commission for a period longer than one year. His aim has been for the Commission to produce a firm programme, properly phased, indicating priorities of expenditure in relation to modernisation plans as a whole and in relation to any changes that may take place in social and industrial patterns that would affect the matter. It is for this very purpose that the Commission produced a set of proposals relating to the proposed expenditure on the railway modernisation over the next four years. Those proposals were received on, I believe, December 19, and are under discussion with the Commission. The task is a considerable one, and involves a good deal of money. It will necessarily take some time to complete. I quite appreciate the point made by my noble friend Lord Merrivale that the earlier some decision can be announced the better, but at the present moment it is not possible for me to say when something may be announced.
My Lords, to sum up, modernisation must, and will, go on; but it must be worth it. These are the means by which the Government will seek to discharge their obligations both to the railways and to the taxpayer, to ensure that the large, though still limited, funds available for investment in modernisation are channelled into the right parts of the railway system, so that we can work towards a modernised system of the right size and shape.
754 I have been going on for a very long time, I am afraid, but I must come to the "64,000 dollar question", as it is nowadays called, and that is, the size and shape of the railways for the future. We know that the present size and shape is unsuited to modern circumstances. The railways were laid out in the last century, in a very different set of circumstances from those obtaining to-day. The system has to become more compact, and there has to be a purposeful process to achieve it. It must be done to give railwaymen the best chances of efficient and profitable operation, and to enable effort and modernisation to be centred on those operations which the railways can do best. But the real point is this: that the size and the shape of the railways for the future cannot be settled as a blueprint in complete detail at any given moment of time. We are not starting with a clean slate—it would be very much easier if we were. We have to face the fact that the present railway system is an existing and extensive organisation with a long history and is built into our economic and social set-up.
Whilst the process of making the railways more compact must be purposeful, it must also be evolutionary: and, by one means or another, we must pick out what to modernise and what not; what to keep and what not to keep. Rationalisation is very much bound up with this question, and, in the process of rationalising them and making them more compact, modernisation will obviously have to be guided in those directions which will give the best value for money. It must be applied to those operations of the system which have the greatest contribution to make to the future rôle of the railways and their struggle for viability.
The question I have been talking about, the determination of the size and shape of the railway system of the future, cannot be on the basis of a once-and-for-all decision, but must be on the basis of an evolutionary process in which the Minister, through his investment control; the Railways Board, in their effort to modernise the railways, both in layout and shape, as well as in techniques and equipment, and in their struggle for economic viability; and the transport user, in what he is prepared to pay for the railway services and the use he makes of them, will all have a part to play.
755 My Lords, I have been speaking for a very long time, and I am aware that there are a number of points that noble Lords have raised to which I have not yet referred—the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and his pipelines, and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and his Scottish points. But I really think that many of the points are matters which will be for consideration when the reorganisation comes into being, or by the B.T.C. in the meantime—and some, indeed, emphasised the need for reorganisation. As it is rather late, I should like, if I may, to consider a number of these points, and to write to noble Lords about them, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Latham.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me? I appreciate the point he has made. He has been speaking for a long time, and it must be wearying; but I wonder if he can answer me now, and, if not, write, on the point whether administrative, executive action is being taken in anticipation of legislative power coming later on.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I am not quite sure how to answer that properly. Would the noble Lord say the first part again?
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
Yes. The first part, which I think the noble Lord wants, is: how far is administrative, executive action being taken in advance of legislative authority, if at all?
§ LORD CHESHAM
Yes. So far as I am aware, it is not being taken. I have been explaining that there would have to be consultations, and so on, as the legislation is prepared, and these consultations will enable the detail to become clearer. As far as I am aware these have now started, and the process will no doubt become more obvious as the discussions continue.
My Lords, I should like to finish by assuring your Lordships that what has been said to-day on all sides of the House will be studied with the greatest attention. The views that your Lordships have 756 expressed will be most useful and most welcome in the many and difficult and complicated considerations that lie ahead. I want to give your Lordships this final assurance: that the fact that they are many and difficult and complicated will in no way deflect Her Majesty's Government from their determination to achieve a successful outcome from the proposed reorganisation—a determination of which, I think I may judge, your Lordships largely approve.
§ 10.47 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have had a full and interesting debate on this very complex subject of transport. I think the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has covered most of the points very well indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, has chided the Government with "messing about" with transport. I would say it is a very good thing to take a second look when you are going to have a very big reorganisation. He also said that the Conservative Party have destroyed integration. As I maintained in my speech, we have never had integration. You cannot have integration except in a Communist State. I think we had a very valuable speech from the noble Lord. I will not detain the House any longer, but I hope we shall hear from him again.
I was also much interested in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, with his working knowledge of the railway industry; but I cannot follow him in his statement that the railway system was in a very poor state before the war. If it had been, it would never have lasted the war out. I must also differ, I am afraid, from the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in his statement that road users pay little for the roads. I would say that, on the contrary, they pay a great deal. They pay a very large sum every year in road taxes and road licences, and they also pay a heavy fuel tax. Incidentally, the railways, with their diesel oil, pay no tax at all on their fuel. My Lords, I do not want to keep the House any longer this evening. I think we have had a very good debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before eleven o'clock.