§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by Lord Cooper of Stockton Heath—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, there was a time when transport in its broad aspects was a topical and regular subject in your Lordships' House, but it is some time since we had a debate of that character. I have wondered whether it was a reluctance by noble Lords to move into a preserve which I think was recogised to be very much that of our late friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He was a good friend and a formidable opponent. I well remember when, from the Benches opposite, he would thunder out his attack upon the Government of the day, certainly in terms quite different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. He spoke from years of experience; and even when he had left the Opposition Benches opposite and moved to the Cross-Benches he still carried on his work. I am sure it distressed all of us that he should have had such a long period of illness—but still he attended your Lordships' House. Now that he has gone, I am sure we should all wish not only to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, but also to send a message of sympathy to his wife and his family.
My Lords, last Session we discussed one or two aspects of transport. Perhaps the most notable was the Bill, which is now an Act, on drink and driving. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will remember that I gave a firm undertaking that the Government would see that the purposes of the Bill, the administration of it and the penalties under it would be made known to the public. I would pay a special tribute to the tele- 50 vision authorities, the radio authorities and the Press for the manner in which that publicity has been carried out and the matter brought before the people; and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will feel that the Government have carried out their promise in this respect. Certainly from conversations that I have had, I think one can say that already there have been some changes in habits. I hope and trust that there will be a marked effect on accidents. But we all recognised that this was only part of the problem. Clearly we needed to improve our highways; we had to see that we incorporated more in-built safety factors in our vehicles; and we needed better maintenance and more considerate driving. The Government, through the Ministry of Transport, will continue their research into all these fields, and when the new Transport Bill is brought before your Lordships' House it will be seen that there are added provisions in the field of road safety. Some of those aspects I shall deal with in the course of my speech.
I think it is true to say that some twenty years ago, or even more recently, few people would have appreciated what impact the revolution of the internal combustion engine would make upon our way of life. In 1956 private car ownership was some 4 million; in 1966 it was 9½ million; and in 1980, it is believed, it will be some 20 million. We therefore have this paradox. On the one side, we have the immense benefits that come to our family life and our ability to move across the countryside. We also see the effect upon the location of industry. Yet, on the other side of the paradox, we see our villages destroyed, we see the misery of commuters, and we have the noise, the fumes and the fatal accidents.
I have not the slightest doubt that the challenge that faces the present Minister of Transport is perhaps the most difficult of any which have faced anybody who has ever held that office; for although vast sums of money may be available—and certainly more is now being spent than ever before—even setting aside the problem of resources and assuming these are unlimited, our towns and our cities are unplanned for the motor age. One has only to see the major effect that a stoppage in a small street in London has in congestion throughout the 51 area to appreciate that. I do not believe that there is any alternative while pressing on with reconstruction, but to seek a better use of our existing methods of communication. The Transport Bill of this year, a major Bill, will seek to provide some solution to this problem.
The legislative framework which the Government inherited is not adapted to the problems of to-day or to-morrow. For example, the Transport Act 1962 broke up the British Transport Commission into five constituent bodies: the Railways Board, the London Transport Board, the Docks Board, the Waterways Board and the Transport Holding Company. I think we should agree that the British Transport Commission (as it then was) was too large. It was dominated by the problems of the railways. But in our view, when we were in Opposition and as of to-day, the legislation had two major defects. First, the severely commercial duty laid upon the Boards was unrealistic. The result has been that, despite very great savings by the railways—a reduction in costs of some £115 million between 1963 and 1967—the Board's deficit last year was £135 million, and an even larger deficit this year, of some £150 million, has been forecast. The London Transport Board have also found it impossible to square their statutory duties to break even, taking one year with another, and to provide an adequate public transport service. Last year the Government had to promote interim legislation to make deficit payments to the Board. The Waterways Board are also running a deficit, and have little hope of being able to eliminate it.
Secondly, the Act created a framework for open competition between nationally-owned road and rail transport, especially in the carriage of goods. This, in our view, is a plain misuse of nationally-owned resources. The situation, therefore, called for fresh thought and action. The Government have taken a comprehensive look at the transport problems of the country, and the broad lines of their policy were sketched out in the White Paper, Transport Policy, published last year. The Transport Bill will lay down the framework of a reshaped transport system suited to the needs of to-day and to-morrow—the social needs no less than the economic 52 needs. We have adopted a functional and not a doctrinaire approach in our transport policy.
My Lords, before coming to some of the details proposed I should say some words about our broad proposals. We recognise the importance of an efficient transport system to the economy of the country. We must therefore provide a framework in which the nationalised part of the transport industry, and indeed the whole of the transport industry, can develop efficiently to meet the requirements of the rest of industry and the whole community. We must establish the right incentives for management, but we must also have regard to economy in the broadest sense of the word. The demand for the movement of both passengers and freight is growing so fast that we must make the best use of all our resources. Since we have a well-developed railway system, which we have decided to retain with a basic network of some 11,000 miles, it would be economic nonsense not to make the best use of this system, to let it lie idle while our roads become more congested, in spite of the great efforts which are being made to modernise them. Our aim is to make the most efficient use of both road and rail, but in such a way that the public is given the best possible service. We intend to get back on to the railways that traffic which they are most suited to carry. This should help to reduce the burden on the taxpayer of the present heavy deficit on the railways and bring some relief to our roads, and that, certainly, without doing damage to the road transport industry which I believe will continue to grow with the growth of the economy.
My Lords, I should like now to refer to the National Freight Corporation. I think it would be agreed that the key to any freight policy is efficiency and safety. Bulk movements of heavy freight are usually made by rail or by sea, and there is limited scope for improving efficiency in that respect. But regarding general merchandise and parcels there is, in the public sector, a great deal of wasteful and inefficient direct competition for the same kind of traffic between road and rail. The Government have therefore decided to set up a new organisation to integrate the publicly-owned road and rail freight services in this connection and to provide a comprehensive range of 53 door-to-door services using both road and rail. The National Freight Corporation is to be a new nationalised undertaking, appointed by and directly responsible to the Minister. It will operate the T.H.C.'s road Roods services, and take over and integrate them with the railways' sundries and freight-liner services. It will have a particular duty to make the maximum economic use of rail transport.
There seems to be considerable misunderstanding about the role of the National Freight Corporation. I must repeat what is involved in the reorganisation of freight transport in the public sector (which is justified by the need for greater efficiency). The railways will concentrate on providing the wholesale service which they are designed to do—the conveyance of bulk materials over long distances, company trains and trunk haul of freight-liners. The National Freight Corporation will offer the customer a door-to-door service, a through service by road or by combination of road and rail as appropriate. The freight-liners will play a great part in this field, and we must use them to the maximum advantage. It is Government policy that as much freight as is economically justified shall go by rail, and the N.F.C.'s road haulage connection will help to ensure that freight-liners will get more traffic than would otherwise have been the case. Proposals in the forthcoming White Paper on Freight will show that the Railways Board will be well rewarded for hauling the freight-liner trains and for their contribution to the development of this concept. We shall welcome the co-operation of private hauliers in using freight-liners. But, my Lords, the N.F.C. cannot depend entirely upon them. It must have freedom to provide a through service to ensure maximum efficiency and to provide competition for the private sector. The public sector, too, will be enterprising, and I believe that the hauliers will be able to respond.
The N.F.C. is going to expand, and will do so as fast as is possible on a commercial basis—and I stress the words "on a commercial basis". It has been said that this expansion will be done by buying up private firms at knockdown prices after the N.F.C. has undercut them with the help of a subsidy. My Lords, this is not so. This has been 54 called nationalisation of road haulage. My right honourable friend has already said publicly that road haulage will not be nationalised, and that the N.F.C. will not have a freight monopoly. The private sector will still have an important role to play. Freight-liners are a valuable asset, and they will not need a subsidy. If they should undercut road hauliers it will not be because of a subsidy but because they are more efficient and a more economic form of trunk haul transport. The N.F.C. will be expected to facilitate and exploit the use of containers on a big scale. The freight-liners will indeed be a key to the N.F.C.'s ability to operate a comprehensive and integrated through service, for containers are, in themselves, an integrated form of transport. They can be moved equally well by road, rail, sea or even by air.
Much has been said about a container revolution. I was recently in Singapore and Hong Kong, where I saw that the authorities are concerned about the development of containerisation. But this is only the beginning. The full impact is yet to come. The railway freight-liner network is being expanded, and containers are coming into increasing use, particularly for short sea movement to the Continent and Ireland. United Kingdom shipping lines are investing in new fully containerised services with specially built ships for the trades with the United States, the Far East and Australia.
My Lords, if I may, I should like to say a few words about ports, for there may be seen the big implications of containerisation. Ports, clearly, are a key factor in the economy of an island nation. The Government have developed a three-pronged policy to bring big improvements in the ports. During the Conservative Government's period of office the average investment was some £18 million a year. In 1965 it was some £26½ million. In 1966 it was £35 million, and the 1967 figure is expected to be some £45 million. A considerable part of the investment is to be devoted to new container facilities at Tilbury and at Liverpool, and the Government are giving port modernisation grants of 20 per cent. of the cost of approved port works and equipment. The Government have been able to end the casual system of employment of dock labour and the excessive number of employers of casual 55 labour. The new system, which was introduced on September 18, provides that each man shall work permanently for one employer—a major event in the port transport industry. The new arrangements are working satisfactorily in most ports, with the possible exception of Liverpool and some parts of London. The new scheme provides a great and overdue social reform. It provides improved conditions for men and also opportunities for great advances in efficiency in the ports. The Government have already announced plans for reorganising the ports on the basis of public ownership, and the appropriate legislation will be introduced in a later Session of this Parliament.
My Lords, I turn now to road goods transport. In order to get the most efficient pattern of freight movement in the country the Government are concerned that road and rail should play the roles for which they are best fitted. This will be achieved in the public sector by the N.F.C. But the greater part of the country's freight is moved by the private sector, by public road hauliers and the "C" licence operators. The existing system of carriers' licensing was established some thirty years ago, in very different circumstances from those which now prevail. The Government have therefore proposed a completely new system of licensing control over road goods transport, with the twin objectives of securing the most rational division of freight movement between road and rail and promoting safety and higher standards in the industry.
The licensing of goods vehicles was initiated by the Road and Rail Traffic Act 1933 and the present system is substantially the same as it then was. The system was designed to regulate competition within the road haulage industry, in view of the depressed conditions arising from rapid, unregulated expansion; to protect the safety of the public and the drivers by providing sanctions against the operators of unsafe vehicles; and to give some protection to the railways by allowing them to object, along with other road hauliers, to the grant of licences to public haulage operators.
The Minister had to consider not only whether the system effectively achieves these objectives, but also whether they are 56 relevant to present-day needs. I believe there are two valid objectives which licensing should seek to achieve. The first is the protection of public safety. The promotion of high standards of maintenance and operation within the industry is just as important to-day as it was in 1933—perhaps more so, since the roads are more crowded, the vehicles more powerful and the incentive to break the law for financial gain remains. Yet the existing system does not allow for adequate inquiries to be made into the suitability and competence of intending operators, and its disciplinary powers have proved inadequate. The second objective is that licensing should contribute to the overall objectives of freight policy by helping to ensure that a more rational division of traffic between road and rail is achieved. The bulk of present road traffic is unsuitable for rail but a relatively small amount—which would make a big difference to the railways—could be transferred to rail without imposing additional costs on industry and with benefits to the economy as a whole.
My right honourable friend proposes, as a first step, to exempt from all carriers' licensing the 900,000 light vehicles that do not exceed 30 cwt. unladen weight. These are nearly all operated on own-account and are mostly light delivery vans and tradesmen's vehicles used for local runs. There are no economic grounds for subjecting them to quantity control. As regards quality control, most of these vehicles are operated in towns and, although their accident rate is high, the accidents in which they are involved tend to be less serious than those involving heavier vehicles. But in any case, these vehicles will still be subject to the same annual tests as private cars are and also to roadside checks by examiners.
It is therefore proposed to concentrate the controls of the quality system to the 600,000 vehicles over 30 cwt. For the operators of these 600,000 vehicles there would be a new type of carrier's licence. It would be granted only if: first, the licensing authority were satisfied that the applicant intended and was able to provide adequate maintenance facilities for his vehicles, to keep proper control over their loading and to arrange satisfactory checks on the hours worked by his drivers; second, the licensing authority were satisfied that the applicant's financial resources were commensurate with 57 his proposed scale of operation and that he had sufficient business in prospect to maintain reasonable financial stability; third, the applicant held a new type of personal licence (a "transport manager's licence") issued by the licensing authorities and entitling him to manage a transport undertaking or to employ the holder of such a licence in a position of responsibility.
These criteria are designed primarily to uphold the proper standards of conduct and operation in industry, and in particular to protect public safety. The power to investigate the applicant's financial prospects is necessary because operators in financial difficulties are sometimes tempted to neglect maintenance, to overload their vehicles and to overwork their drivers. The Government—and I am sure that the House will agree—cannot continue to tolerate a state of affairs in which anyone with a prospect of a few cut-rate contracts, can buy a secondhand lorry on hire purchase for a few pounds, neglect its maintenance and so become a menace on the roads. It is proposed to make these financial tests discretionary and not mandatory and to leave it to the licensing authority to decide whether they should be applied. A further safety measure to be implemented in the Transport Bill will be a reduction in the maximum hours in a day and in a week that a professional lorry driver may work.
I now turn to quantity control. The second objective of licensing—a more rational distribution of freight between road and rail—will be met by a new system of quantity licensing. It will apply to only a small proportion of the vehicles liable to quality licensing. It will apply to some 70,000 of the 600,000 vehicles, to those which are more than 16 tons gross weight and engaged either in hauls of over 100 miles or in carrying certain bulk commodities, such as coal, over shorter distances. The reason for applying the new scheme is that, broadly speaking, these are the ones carrying freight which is suitable for rail movement, whether by freight-liner or in bulk train-loads. The railways—and the N.F.C., as operators of the freight-liners—will be able to object to an application for a quantity licence if they reckon they can carry the traffic more quickly, reliably and cheaply. It will be up to the road operators to show that they cannot. But I should like 58 to stress that there is no question of forcing traffic on to rail where the service that rail can offer is inferior to movement by road. This is no revolutionary thought. It is, in fact, a current trend of policy on the Continent. I need say no more, I think, in regard to these particular proposals, for we shall have the opportunity to do so when the White Paper is issued and the Bill is before the House.
I will turn now to passenger transport. The House needs no reminding that public passenger transport has been finding it increasingly difficult to pay its way and to provide a reasonable service in the face of an ever-increasing shift to private transport. But public transport is essential, not only for peak hour commuter traffic, but for many people who have not, and will not have, their own transport. The Government therefore propose a range of measures to re-investigate public transport. First, I believe that there is a need for substantial change in the present pattern of the organisation of public transport services, especially in the large conurbations. Public transport is not planned and operated on an integrated basis. The Government therefore propose taking powers to set up passenger transport authorities over wide areas, with powers to plan and operate public transport services. They will be able to cut out duplication and overlapping and the different fare scales operating in the same districts. A start will be made in the West Midlands, Merseyside, the Manchester area and Tyneside.
The Government are proceeding on the basis that public transport services are public services, which should be organised for the general benefit of localities. The passenger transport authorities, therefore, will be under local authority control. It will be up to the authorities themselves to decide their financial policy—for example, whether to increase fares, to reduce costs through economies and even perhaps less satisfactory services, or to subsidise services through precepts on the rates. This is not the destruction of competition. There is, in fact, by agreement and by virtue of the licensing arrangements, very little competition in the bus world. There is a need for rationalisation and for greater local control over the pattern of transport required to serve local needs.
59 I turn now to financial assistance for public transport. The Government will be bringing forward measures in the Transport Bill to provide for financial assistance for public transport—for example, for grants towards new capital investment in fixed structures such as bus stations or towards new rail or monorail systems; and power for local authorities, with Exchequer support to contribute to the provision of bus services in rural areas. In regard to traffic measures, public transport is badly hit by increasing traffic congestion. There is no hope, even with the increased resources which the Government are putting into urban road building, of coping with this problem solely by road improvements and construction. The long-term solution depends on getting a better balance between public and private transport. But in the short term, traffic congestion must be minimised by expert traffic management and by sound and vigorous parking policies. This is a national problem, but the solution requires local decisions and local action. Local authorities must have adequate powers, and the Government will be bringing forward measures in the Transport Bill to improve their powers to manage traffic. Around this framework, local authorities will be encouraged to develop comprehensive traffic and parking plans for the future.
I have mentioned that the Government have been devoting an increasing proportion of the road programme expenditure to urban roads. That does not necessarily mean less for the inter-urban trunk roads, because we have the biggest road programme ever. The total spending this financial year is expected to be some £270 million, more than double the expenditure five years ago, and it is increasing; in three years' time, it is expected in England to reach some £320 million. The Ministry of Transport are very conscious of the need to get greater value for money, and there is much research going on. New ideas are coming forward all the time and these are being carefully considered. The House will be aware of the White Paper we have issued dealing with waterways. These waterways still have some economic use. But for the first time we are giving particular stress to the amenity and recreational 60 facilities that are offered by the canals and other waterways.
The changes outlined for the pattern of freight and passenger transport will obviously have a big impact upon the role of the railways. The position of the railways has been central to Government thinking. The Government firmly believe in the continuing need for a sizable railway system, and they and the Railways Board have already indicated the size and shape of the network to be used as a basis for modernisation and development. The railways are an important national asset, to be used to the most effective purpose. With the enormous development of road transport, this means concentration on the role railways can most effectively play, in the mass movement of passengers and freight, in intercity passenger trains, in commuter trains, in the movement of bulk freight and freight-liners. This will be very much the pattern of railway development.
The Railways Board will need a new and realistic financial framework within which to operate. To determine this framework was one of the main tasks of the special review of railway policy set up by the Minister of Transport in the summer of last year. The report of the Joint Steering Group for that review will be published as part of a White Paper on railway policy within a few days. Clearly, I cannot anticipate what is in that White Paper, but I can say that the Government fully intend to relieve the Board of the obligation they are under at the moment to pay for socially necessary but unprofitable services which, with the Government's agreement, they maintain, so that the Board can set up a sensible financial target.
I set out to make a brief speech, but on such a subject as transport one finds oneself covering far more ground than intended. I wish to say this in closing. My right honourable friend has had close and detailed discussions with both sides of industry. These have not been restricted to the transport industry alone, for manufacturers, shippers and local authorities are as closely involved as the transport industry. I hope that your Lordships will regard the new Transport Bill as an effort to meet changing circumstances. I recognise that it may not stand the test of time in every detail, because all those involved in the industry recognise the need for changes that come 61 from technological advance. When the Bill comes before your Lordships' House—I fear it is a rather long Bill—if we can examine it on the basis that it is a sensible approach to the whole problem, as I believe that noble Lords opposite will in the end come to believe, I am convinced that the Transport Bill will play a significant part in the growth of the communications industry of this country.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he possibly give the House any idea of the increased number of civil and local government servants that will be employed as a consequence of the new proposals?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I think that that is a question which the noble Lady might put more appropriately when the White Paper is issued. Certainly my noble friend and I could not answer it without notice.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, may I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for his wide-ranging exposition of this vast and complex subject, and may I say how much we enjoy seeing him back in the field of transport, despite his other ministerial responsibilities. I feel bound to observe that his attractive manner and emollient words have contrived to make the Government transport policy sound eminently respectable and reasonable. Indeed, as I shall come to show, there are some good features in it. But although, as he has already observed, I am not one to thunder, this afternoon I am going to make a few sharp criticisms, and I hope to disperse the reassuring impression the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has managed to give to your Lordships that the Government's transport policy is good in every way. My own belief is that there are features in it which are both unsound from the transport point of view and even more unsound in their impact on the national economy.
The three features on which I should like to say a word or two are, first of all, the formation of the passenger transport authorities; secondly, the new system of licensing of freight vehicles; and thirdly, the formation of a National Freight Corporation. I have observed in speeches elsewhere that the Minister of 62 Transport has been at great pains to explain that the private bus companies which are going to be taken over into the passenger transport authorities are not going to be nationalised; they are going only to be regionalised. I noticed that the noble Lord this afternoon was El pains to explain that these new authorities would be under democratic control by boards composed of local authorities. Perhaps the noble Lord would confirm that it is the Minister of Transport who will appoint the chairman of each authority, and virtually will appoint the chief executive, too; and as the Minister will also control their annual capital allocations, there is not much doubt that she will have pretty well the same control over these transport authorities as a Minister has over any other nationalised industry.
I readily acknowledge that the Minister is right to be concerned that public transport in our conurbations should be of a high standard—indeed, the life of these big areas depends upon it—and that services should be integrated. Where I feel the Minister is completely wrong is to set up these new regional authorities to acquire all private and municipal bus undertakings. In my judgment, it is a complete illusion to think that the mere change of ownership to a bigger public authority covering a bigger area is of itself going to achieve any benefit in the transport services given. In fact, the general impression of experience is that the bigger the transport authority, the bigger the management problem. If we take the example of London Transport, which the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, will remember examining when he was the Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, your Lordships will see the severe management difficulties which exist within this in many ways admirable service. Here is a comment which that Committee made in a Report in 1965:Your Committee believes that the managers of London Transport may have resigned themselves too readily to the difficulties that face them, and appear to be unduly complacent about their own responsibilities in these matters.Those were the matters of labour relationships. They go on:Your Committee's impression is that London Transport has been slow and unimaginative in seeking longer-term solutions.63 The fact is that London Transport, although it is still a superb city transport service and superbly equipped and constructed, has within it serious weaknesses in its labour relations and serious weaknesses in management, particularly in the remoteness of management in the day-to-day work on the ground and on the road. I therefore make the point that, by contrast, the smaller bus company, whether privately run or municipally run, has the great advantage, which is found almost invariably, of much closer relationships between management and men and, therefore, a much better spirit in the services concerned.
I should have thought that a privately-owned bus company, where people are prepared to put up their own money and provide the capital to equip the buses, and run them risking their own money if they suffer a loss, would have a unique attraction. Heaven knows! there is not much profit to be made out of it. I would suggest that these private companies have the attraction of economic operation, which is a most valuable yardstick for all other bus undertakings. Incidentally, their affairs are controlled, and therefore their profits are controlled, by the traffic commissioners who give them their licences; and, indeed, the traffic commissioners, in my judgment, achieve a very satisfactory degree of integration. Noble Lords will be familiar with the general principle by which the traffic commissioners, who are officials of the Minister of Transport, issue licences to bus undertakings, on the basis that the profitable urban routes are protected on condition that the unprofitable rural routes are continued to be run by the bus undertakings. That works out very well.
I suggest that the Minister, in her enthusiasm for nationalisation, public ownership or whatever euphemism you may like to use, has completely overlooked the vital importance of management in providing satisfactory transport services. I suggest to noble Lords that the right way to keep our public transport services working, and working satisfactorily, is under two heads: first of all, fiscal; and secondly, traffic engineering. On the fiscal side, it really was crazy for this Government to remove the investment allowances to the private bus companies. They should obviously be restored. 64 Secondly, the principle of petrol tax rebate has already been granted, and here is a way, costwise, in which fares can be satisfactorily equated, and where some further rebate can be given.
Secondly—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had something to say about this of which I warmly approve—all other city or conurbation authorities have much work to do in the field of traffic engineering to see that the public transport services have the necessary priorities, in regard to routes, stopping places, bus stations and so on, to ensure that satisfactory services are given. But I would urge noble Lords to accept the view that, the Government having set the stage in that way, the right thing is to leave private and public bus companies to run together. They will undoubtedly serve the public well and stimulate each other.
I should like to say a word or two about the new system of goods vehicle licensing. There are three or more features of this to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred. First of all, there is the intention of the Government to end the existing licensing system. With that I certainly agree. I think that for some time most of us have felt that it had served its purpose and it was time to make a change. I agree, also, that it is right to get rid of the whole system, and that greater flexibility will get greater use of all vehicles. I speak particularly of "C"-licence vehicles being free to carry any freight that they may wish to carry. I entirely agree with the noble Lord's comments about quality control of goods vehicle licensing, and I welcome those measures. They are, as he will recognise, steps in a long progression for gradually improving the safety of these vehicles. Those are sensible measures. I should like to see them detailed in due course, but in principle I support them.
I feel that the Government are making a serious mistake on distance control for heavy freight vehicles. The noble Lord has explained that these heavy freight vehicles are to be limited to 100 miles radius, and that over that British Railways can make objection where they can maintain that they can provide an equal service. Inevitably, in most cases they will so maintain. This is to apply to all heavy vehicles; not only to "A" and "B" licence vehicles, as of now, but 65 also to "C" licence vehicles—that is to say, vehicles owned by manufacturers and traders. It seems to me that this kind of measure, which really sets out to clip the wings of the private sector of road transport in the heavy trade vehicles, a vital part of the commercial life of this country, is one which a railway protection league might put up; not a Minister of Transport.
The fact is that nowadays, as we all know, not only the light vehicles but the heavy vehicles as well are used by industrialists as a sort of expandable conveyer belt by which they can carry manufactured goods, their goods generally, about the country for assembly purposes. This has made it possible for manufacturers and traders generally to operate their plans with the very minimum of stock carrying, because they can be certain, both as to time and as to quality, when they will get the components or stores, or whatever the supplies may be, that they want for their particular process. It is because they have 100 per cent. reliability when they are using their own vehicles, or some other road haulage vehicles, that this system has been such a sound economic matter in the development over the last twenty or thirty years. Undoubtedly, the saving in cost in reducing stock-carrying is very significant indeed for the manufacturing world.
I would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. If manufacturers are to be asked to operate under the threat of this restriction, or if they are left in a continuous state of uncertainty because they can never be sure they will be able to use one of their own vehicles—the railways may come in and object, and this will mean that their goods will have to go by rail—this is bound to have a seriously disruptive effect on the industrial and commercial life of this country. We can all refer to many examples of delay and poor quality in railway service—of course, they are legion—and there is an infinite number of jokes about them. I do not propose to make any, because I regard this as a most serious matter.
The fact is that, except for the new specialised services, the quality of the freight services of the railways is simply inadequate to deal with the kind of situation I am speaking about now. It is adequate enough to deal with bulk supplies, where time is not of the essence, 66 where the value of goods is not very high, and breakages are not so important; but the railway freight services are not adequate to deal with the kind of service which industry requires to-day.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, before the noble Lord carries on (because I am sure he would not wish to be misled or to mislead the House), may I repeat something I said earlier? I said that I should like to stress that there is no question of forcing traffic on to rail where the service that rail can offer is inferior to the movement by road. And I set out the series of criteria. I should have thought that if the noble Lord would read those words with care to-morrow he would see that I dealt with pretty well all his fears in this field.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I dare say that if the noble Lord were Minister of Transport I might feel differently about it. But I have read the Minister's speech to her Party Conference, and I have not much doubt about what her intentions are in this matter. The document I am particularly relying on is, of course, the Ministry of Transport Press handout of July 20 of this year, and it sets out exactly what de noble Lord has said. But these factors have to be judged by some sort of tribunal, and that means to say that the manufacturers who wish to use their own vehicles are at risk to that extent. At the end of the day it is simply a matter of judgment as to what is to be the speed, reliability and cost; and I am quite sure that this is going to introduce a factor of uncertainty, and indeed of rigidity, which is bound to increase manufacturing costs in this country.
I suggest, my Lords, that it is time the Minister of Transport realised that we here, at any rate, are concerned, not to give a new deal to the railway unions, which the Minister told her friends at the Party Conference she was concerned to give; we are concerned to give a new deal to railway users, both freight and passenger. I am sure that the proposed system will not turn out to be for the benefit of our manufacturing industries. The right way is to leave road and rail to compete freely in this field. The noble Lord said specifically that this was the opposite of Government policy, and 67 that he felt it was unwise and wasteful to have competition. But competition will stimulate efficiency. Indeed, in regard to the new National Freight Corporation, the noble Lord said that this was something he welcomed. Well, why not have it here as well? The fact is that manufacturers and merchants take tens of thousands of decisions every day about what form of transport they will use, how they will send their goods, when and in what quantity—
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, this is very interesting. Does the noble Lord recognise that under the present legislation, which no doubt he has supported, the organisations are required to break even, one year with another? The noble Lord believes that there should be competition, a fight for business. Would he say, however, that those authorities who have to fight for business with private enterprise should still have a statutory duty to provide an adequate service, which clearly they are now unable to provide?
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, the adequacy of the services is, of course, something which is laid down in general principle. But the noble Lord may have forgotten that the railways no longer have a common-carrier responsibility. They have a trading responsibility. While I agree that there is always room to consider the structure, and perhaps there may be further improvement, there are big elements of management weakness which the noble Lord must be aware of, and it is not possible to judge the efficiency of the railways until the picture is clear. But I think that throughout the economy competition of services and supplies is the right way to give satisfaction and to get efficiency, and I believe that it is retrograde to clip the wings of one of the services in order to favour the other. And I believe that the outcome will be that it will increase costs, and not reduce them.
May I now say a brief word about the National Freight Corporation which, as I understand it, is to combine the British Road Services element from the Transport Holding Company with certain rail freight services, including liners and containers. This proposal has certain attractions, and I thank the noble Lord for his description. 68 I should like to look at it very closely in due course when we get the Bill. But it raises certain anxieties in my mind. The fact is that the Transport Holding Company has been a success, and British Road Services have been a success—they have made a profit; they have done well. I feel, therefore, that it would be unwise to pull them out of the Transport Holding Company and combine them with this section of rail freight services, all in the interests of integration.
I have heard said that Sir Stanley Raymond, Chairman of British Railways, has objected strongly to losing this growth sector of British Railways. Whether this is true or not, I myself see a great disadvantage in a situation in which the railways, which in the main are bound to be a shrinking service, lose the brightest aspect of their whole service by its being taken over by this new authority. I should have thought there could be disadvantages in this—in the use of B.R.S., to some extent, perhaps to cross-subsidise certain rail services. However, we shall wait to see the details of this in due course when we have the Bill before us.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, not in order to argue, but to ask him to clarify a matter? I think he will agree that British Road Services have always been profitable, and were profitable before the British Holding Transport Company was ever created. I think he will also agree that they have never been under British Railways.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, I do indeed. I do not think I have said anything to the contrary. They were originally under the Transport Commission and, mercifully for them, we took them out, as the noble Lord will remember.
I should like now to turn to two aspects of this Bill as I see them affecting the economy as a whole. I speak, of course, of the further nationalisation measure, which I regard as by far the worst feature of this Bill which we shall in due course see before us. First of all, I wish to speak about the private sector, and then to say a word about the nationalised industries. As we all know, the private sector is about three-quarters of the national economy, and the Government policy now of taking over another section 69 of the private sector is clearly seen as a further attack on private business, and also in restricting the private road transport in favour of the railways. Inevitably this is taken as further evidence of this Government's basic hostility to private business, and it still further shakes the confidence of managements, large and small. They see the prospect that under this Labour Government there is no certainty which sector may come next for the attention of the Government, possibly with further measures of complete nationalisation.
I must say that it seems the greatest possible pity to me that, with the acrimony of the steel nationalisation just about subsiding, the Government should spark this all off again for another twelve months with these proposals of nationalisation in the passenger transport sector. Confidence within the private sector is already dangerously low. Next week we shall be having a debate about the economy, when I am sure we shall hear much about this. The main factor with which we are concerned, namely an increase of exports, depends almost 100 per cent. on the private sector of the economy, and surely it must be the top priority of the Government to encourage and strengthen confidence in the private sector rather than have this transport policy, which does exactly the reverse. It seems to me that to strike a further blow at the private sector now is both irresponsible and partisan; and in saying that, I choose my words most carefully and responsibly.
My Lords, let me turn to the nationalised industry sector, which represents about 25 per cent. of the economy. The nationalised industries are the favoured children of this Government, and I dare say they may find this Government's caresses as unwelcome as the private sector finds their cuffs. It would be interesting to hear the comments of the Chairman of the Railways Board on this particular point. The fact is that all boards of nationalised industries really want to be left alone, free from political interference and pressure, to get on with the job of running their vast industries.
The Government action now in taking over another sector of private enterprise inevitably arouses among the whole population an acute political feeling against nationalisation. Public opinion polls may 70 be somewhat fickle on some things, but on one thing they have been remarkably constant, and that is that the majority of the nation is against nationalisation. It is a fact that this undercurrent of hostility underlies the normal flow of complaints which are inevitable in any service, about the services provided by nationalised industries. The greater number of these are sent in to Members of Parliament, of all three Parties, and many of them end up as Questions in another place. By sparking off now a new conflict over nationalisation the Government boost and exacerbate this situation and do a grave disservice to the nationalised industries. As a result, the industrial and commercial life of the nationalised industries gets drawn even more deeply into political, and Party political, issues.
On the one hand, Ministers are pushed into taking increasing responsibility for the management of the nationalised industries; on the other hand, the boards of the nationalised industries are increasingly called to account on management matters by Ministers. Here I must pay credit where credit is due, to those in this House who were the architects of the original Acts, which provided that the day-to-day management should be in the hands of the boards and entirely insulated from Ministers. But the fact is that this continuing political pressure, which has gone on for the last twenty years, has eroded those safeguards, and at the end of the day the sufferer has been management.
Weakness in management has been the Achilles heel of the nationalised industries. I have had a long opportunity, which I very much welcome, of studying the nationalised industries, and, in my view, when the history of this post-war era is written nationalisation will be seen as the great economic experiment of these post-war years. And I would suggest to noble Lords, in the dispassionate atmosphere of this Chamber, that we should face the fact that the success of this experiment still hangs in the balance. The two "bull" questions cannot yet be clearly answered: one, does the nationalised corporation result in a fresh discipline to strengthen the work of a nationalised industry; and the second, does it result in a soft option which dodges financial discipline and weakens the national economy? Those 71 are the two "bull" questions, and the urgent need to get our balance of trade out of the red reminds us that financial discipline in this context is no theoretical requirement but a harsh reality, which we dodge at our peril. The fact that a nationalised industry works for the nation and not for private profit, will not of itself make it an asset; it becomes an asset only if it is managed with efficiency, at low cost and without waste of manpower and resources. Weak management results in higher prices for consumers and higher taxes for taxpayers.
During the course of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to the financial targets as being unrealistic, and I have already mentioned that there is a confused picture here—partly in regard to structural problems, which should be put right, and partly in regard to management problems, which very much should be put right, so the two run together. Nationalised industries face the challenge of serving the national interest with two inbuilt disadvantages: first, that they are insulated from the trading risks of the market, and secondly—and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of it—the divided control at the top between the Chairman and the Minister.
During the period of the Conservative Government we made a determined attempt to overcome these weaknesses.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
The noble Lord will have a chance to speak later. We decided that for most of these industries which had been nationalised by the Labour Government it was in the national interest to avoid another change of ownership and, in spite of our misgivings, we felt that if the nation wanted the experiment we should do our best to make it work. Also, we hoped that a generous gesture from us would invoke a similar gesture from the Labour Party, and we crystallised our approach in the White Paper, Cmnd. 1337, published in 1961. This established financial targets for nationalised industries, defining a realistic financial target for each, and at the same time underlining our intention 72 to give nationalised industries the maximum independence in the interests of good management.
We also clarified the arrangements for the annual capital allocations, which we regularised, and removed the uncertainties and fluctuations of the past. I would not claim that there has been no interference in the later years of Conservative Government. Inevitably there has been some. Pressures of national considerations sometimes make them unavoidable—this, of course, is the dilemma of much nationalised industry—but they were far less: I can claim that in all certainty. We were able over the years to strengthen the management and strengthen the financial discipline in the nationalised industries, and, I believe, to cool the bitterness about the issue as a whole as a national controversy. In this improved atmosphere a direct benefit accruing to the nationalised industries has been the possibility of attracting a wider choice of top calibre men for the chairmenship of these industries. This, of course, is the sine qua non of greater success, and I think the financial results have reflected this, at any rate in some of these industries. It is clear to me, however, that the present Government's policy of reviving the whole issue of nationalisation, and keeping it going now with a further measure, is fast destroying the progress made, and can but cause the weakening of the nationalised industries.
The public's animosities over nationalised industries are now in full flood again, and by the time it has all been fought over in the next twelve months they will be very much worse. More and more Ministers will be seen as the people deciding what is to happen in each industry. Inevitably, Ministers are coming in more on labour relations problems, more on financial targets and prices, thereby generally weakening the standing of management and weakening the financial discipline. Therefore it is with deliberation that I make the charge to the Government that, by persisting with further policies of nationalisation now, the Government are not only doing great damage to the national economy, but are also fast wrecking the prospect of the experiment of nationalisation which they launched upon the nation. I can but hope that during the coming 73 months the Government may have second thoughts, both in their own interest and in the nation's.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I do not intend to follow the two noble Lords who have just spoken and who have made what have really been Second Reading speeches on a Bill which has not yet appeared before us. But I should like to say a few words. I always find a certain difficulty in dealing with transport, because it is very difficult indeed to separate it from traffic. Traffic and transport seem to me to be one and the same thing, and it is very hard to separate them. Proper traffic control and management relieves congestion and makes public transport operate much more quickly and comfortably than otherwise, which is what we all want to see occur.
Before I develop that point, I should like to take your Lordships across the Channel for a moment into France. Supposing one motors there—I am not talking about big towns where they have by-passes right round—when one comes to the smaller towns one finds that the heavy traffic, the traffic that does not want to stop in the town, is diverted round the town by roads not specially built but specially worked out for that traffic so that there is no need for it to go into the town. They are well sign-posted and easy to follow. This means that you do not require this destruction of the centre of some of the smaller towns which has occurred in this country, and in the middle of these French towns you find narrow streets, cafés, shops, and so on. Most town dwellers, I think, would much prefer some kind of road like that round their town. I remember the town of Baldock which was an appalling bottleneck on the Great North Road or the A1, and yet when the by-pass was being built the people of Baldock were afraid that it might take trade from the town. I think I am right in saying now that with the by-pass the traffic does not need to come into Baldock. Baldock is used for its proper purpose; people come in from the country with their cars, they can shop and they are really leading a more profitable and comfortable life. Traffic going through the town, particularly the commercial freight traffic, does not stop 74 in the town to shop they want to get through as quickly as they can.
There is a second point in favour of the idea of diverting traffic round the town; you get rid of a large number of dangerous loads in the town. I remember the town of Lincoln in particular—it may have changed now; I was there during last summer—where there is a steep hill going right down the middle of the town. All the big lorries, many with containers of fluids of various sorts, come down the hill at considerable speed. I think there are two sets of traffic lights on the hill, and if the brakes of the lorries were to fail an appalling accident could occur with a good deal of destruction and loss of life. One wonders why something has not been done to make a way round Lincoln for the heavy traffic.
The same thing is occurring in Edinburgh. There has been talk for a longer time than I can remember of building a by-pass round Edinburgh. The authorities there have concocted some kind of not very satisfactory ring route (I think it is called), but that has not done a great deal to ease the traffic congestion in Edinburgh itself. Now they have the Forth Road Bridge. One has the magnificent road from the North via the new road of the Forth Bridge, and one would have thought that it would have been possible now to decide that the next stage would be to make a by-pass right round Edinburgh, so that traffic would not need to go in, and in that way get rid of this tiresome ring route round the town. I think that is one of the things that has disappointed one in the past.
I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, say that the amount of money spent on roads is to be greatly stepped up, because our road development in the past has not proceeded as quickly as it should and, indeed, not as quickly as has taken place in quite a number of European countries. If one is dealing with traffic and transport, one must think very much about the safety of the people travelling on the roads, particularly the new motorways and other main roads which are being constructed. I should like to put in a plea to the Government to encourage more ordinary police patrol cars. I do a good deal of motoring about the country one way and another, and the number of 75 police patrol cars I see on these great roads is not really very great. One is impressed with the way drivers behave far more quietly and sensibly when they realise a police patrol car is somewhere near. I think that does far more good than having policemen in a car which looks like a normal car and which can just pop out and catch somebody who is going too fast. That will merely deal with the single person caught, whereas the fact of the patrol car being seen means that it has a sobering and calming effect on the people travelling on that road.
The British motorist is not very good at keeping to the speed limit—but that can be common to other countries. The second thing the British motorist is bad at is driving in his proper lane; people wander about the road, and it is amazing that more serious accidents do not occur. If you drive in the States, where they have far bigger roads with many more lanes, and where one would expect to find people drifting about far more than here, one finds that they keep pretty well in the correct lane and go at the correct speed. When I have inquired why this is they say, "We have got to do that, because you never know when you are going to run into a police patrol car, and if you are wandering about or going too fast you are for it on the spot". One would like to see more of that control occurring in this country. It might make the British driver a lot more courteous than he is at present. I think that drivers in this country are more discourteous than those in any other country that I have driven in. If one passes a car at any speed at all one gets hooted at, or lights are flashed, while some drivers follow at one's back with headlights on, behaving generally in a discourteous fashion. I have found that certainly is not the case in the States, where one would have thought it to be far worse.
I should like now to turn for a few moments to the carriage of goods. There is a good deal to be said for competition between rail and road, for one would like to see as much freight as possible brought back on to the rail. That is what the railways were built for, and that is what they can do. Now that the railways are settling down to a time of more reliability, I trust that that will happen to a greater extent. The railways 76 have had some rather bad publicity in the Press, about goods going astray and being mislaid. I do not believe that it is as unsatisfactory as some Press reports make it out to be.
The railways certainly have to perform some function as a social service, and I am pleased to see that the Government are prepared to give some kind of assistance in that connection, particularly in the commuter areas where we must have the railways running, otherwise road congestion would be appalling. The same applies to the remote country areas. I think I am right in saying—perhaps I should be corrected if I am wrong—that there is only one country in Europe where the railways are not subsidised in some way. I am not going to say that there is a direct subsidy, but they get certain advantages. Some get a direct subsidy, some get other advantages, and in some countries the railways are so mixed up with the national economy that they cannot be separated. I cannot see why the same thing should not apply to the railways in this country.
I think the policy stated in the White Paper is that supposing the railways were to break even or were to make a profit, that profit would go back to the Treasury to assist in wiping off the deficit. That does not seem to me to be an encouragement to people to work harder, to produce more and to make their railway pay, if by doing so the proceeds are merely going back to the Treasury to wipe off a deficit which has probably been written off some time ago. I believe the 1962 Act said that the railways should break even as soon as possible. That would lead to a paring down of the railways which is socially impossible and economically undesirable, for the facts that I have already stated do not make it possible for an efficient railway service to exist without some kind of subsidy.
There is a plan to allow local authorities in rural and other remote areas to assist when bus services are faced with declining passenger traffic and rising costs. Again, I think it is right that operators should receive some kind of assistance from local authorities, because they are performing a service which is socially necessary. If the services are going to run to a halt and are not going to work any more it will lead to a great 77 deal of discomfort, and worse, to a large number of people using them. So I certainly think that the bus services should be maintained, if necessary by the local authority.
The plan to make them work on a regional basis has some merit; but I share the apprehension of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, about whether they will not become too bureaucratic and too controlled. One will want to go into that question a great deal more carefully when the Bill comes before us, but, in general, probably I would accept it as a basis for conversations or talks, although not as something to adopt completely.
I said a few moments ago that I was disappointed about the way the road programme had developed in this country. Certainly there is a need for a great many more motorways. Suppose we get the Channel Tunnel. I do not know whether that is ever going to happen. I have been a member of the Parliamentary Channel Tunnel Committee since 1945 or 1946. We have talked about it—that it is going to come. It is always round the corner; but it does not seem to be arriving yet. But suppose it does come. There would be a need for a great passenger way from the South-East corner, where presumably the Tunnel will emerge, to the Midlands and the North. We shall not want it to go through London. It must in some way be diverted so that it does not have to go through London. Whether that means a tunnel under the Thames I am not quite sure. That is something which the experts can decide.
At the same time, we want a series of motorways going to the docks. That idea was put forward, I think, by the Liberal Party in 1929, in their Yellow Book, except that in 1929 the roads were not called motorways. The idea was completely ignored and, so far as I know, nothing much has been done about it since. I know that these roads are costly, but we in your Lordships' House discussed the question of toll roads just before we rose for the summer. I have never understood the objection to toll roads. They work well in other countries. France has them. Italy and the United States have them. One is not compelled to travel on them. If one wishes to travel speedily and easily one must be prepared to pay a little more. 78 If a driver does not want to go on a toll road he can use the old road, which then would be more comfortable than it is now, because the sensible traffic will have gone on the toll road.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if the noble Lord would permit me to say so, there was a rather useful discussion last week on this particular matter, about which there has been a change of mind.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I am trying to make the Government change their mind. I know that we talked about this matter, but I think we shall have to talk about it more than once before anything is done.
In conclusion, there are two minor points to which I should like to refer. One is not quite so minor. I am pleased that there is going to be a control over the safety of lorries and that the Government realise the dangers that arise where firms have not enough capital to maintain their vehicles. This constitutes a danger to the public, too. I would also suggest that something should be done about diesel lorries which pump out great quantities of black fumes along the roads. I am sure that that must mean that they are not working efficiently. If you have an efficient engine it does not cause that kind of nuisance. If we had more police patrols on the roads that is the kind of thing that they might be able to deal with. I have never yet seen a person stopped for emitting large quantities of black fumes from his vehicle. Sometimes if one is trying to pass such vehicles going up a hill it is impossible to see what is coming. I think that matter ought to be dealt with.
I should now like to make a minor point about traffic in conurbations. Why is it not possible to transform our bus services so that people tend to stand all the time rather than to sit all the time? If one goes to any capital in Europe one finds that the buses are for the most part single-deckers. There are a few double-decker buses in Rome, but the bulk of the people stand. There are a few seats in the corners for people who are frail and feeble and cannot stand, but one can get the same number of people, if not more, on the bus, and the bus does not have to be so large. It would not be a case of five or six unfortunate people standing in the middle during rush-hour 79 and the rest of the people sitting comfortably in their seats. I feel that the adoption of this suggestion would make some contribution to the speed of the traffic and to easing congestion.
I recently noticed a proposal to make a 40-square-mile parking control area round London. It seems to me to be something worthy of a great amount of support, because anything one can do to make it more uncomfortable for the commuter car to come into London should be done. If there were fewer cars coming in one could probably run a better public transport system, which would make the life of the commuter not more difficult but easier.
I should like to put one question to the noble Lord. I have informed him that I shall not be here at the end of this debate as I have an engagement I cannot break. I would ask whether it is the Government's intention to go in for the manufacture of containers for road and rail, and if the noble Lord could reply to-day or let me know by letter, I should be happy. When my noble friend, Lord Wade, spoke on transport matters in 1965 he finished with a quotation from the Yellow Book to which I have already referred, and I shall finish with the same quotation, which seems particularly appropriate:Time saved on the roads is money saved for the nation".
§ 4.24 p.m.
My Lords, although I would not follow the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, in all the points he has mentioned, other than to say that I am quite sure Her Majesty's Government take the noble Lord's advice seriously, I hope that at least they will not take his advice when he suggests that London buses should be so made that one could only stand in them. I have always found that one of the attractions of coming back to this country from capitals on the Continent is that in London you do not have to stand, and you can occasionally sit, in a bus.
It is not insignificant that the longest paragraph in the gracious Speech which Her Majesty delivered yesterday referred to the Government's intention to reorganise the transport system of the country. Indeed, one realised, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, this after- 80 noon, as he went over the whole canvas of the transport system, what a colossal undertaking this is going to be—and doubtless what a colossal Bill it will create! We have known for a long time that the Party who at present form the Government have wanted what they describe as a fully integrated transport system which can make the best use of the country's resources. That is an entirely understandable desire and is in many ways praiseworthy. For, after all, transport—either the lack of transport or the superabundance of it, its efficiency or inefficiency, its cost, its hazards and dangers—affects the life of everybody, and indeed of every business. Therefore we all wish to make the best use of the resources of transport. But the question is, how best to do so. The Minister of Transport, in her speech at the Labour Party Conference at Scarborough, spelt out quite clearly exactly what was in her mind, and presumably it will form the basis of the Bill which will come before Parliament in a short while.
The first thing I would say to the Government, irrespective of what one may think about the Minister's views and her proposals, is that I hope the Government will consult and discuss, and not merely inform, all the way along the line with the people who are going to be affected by any decisions. It does not matter how good or how uncontroversial any proposals are—and I am quite sure the Minister's proposals will not be uncontroversial—a master plan is needed. If it is to be imposed on an industry without full discussion beforehand about how best to avoid the violent problems which are bound to arise with such reorganisation, then the plan will be bound to fail. To read the Minister's speech at Scarborough, in which she described herself as being an impatient woman and claimed for herself the position of overall authority, one might have been forgiven for feeling that possibly such plans as she had in mind had been made without adequate consultation with those who were going to be affected by them or were going to have to operate them, or even those who would have to use the system.
What lies behind the plan for integrated transport? Indeed, one wonders what is the cause of the desire for integrated transport. Is it not in fact the huge 81 annual deficit of the railways? If it were not for this fact, I do not believe there would be anything like the call for an integrated transport system that there is at present. There is no simple answer to the problem of the deficit on the railways. Clearly, we cannot continue to have the same services, the same stations, the same people employed in the same types of jobs and, at the same time, mysteriously remove an annual deficit of £150 million. When the Conservative Party were in power they tried to find the answer by running the railways on fundamentally businesslike lines. This provoked a violent reaction from some members of the Party opposite, who felt that this was a most disgraceful thing to do. But it at least had the effect of reducing the annual deficit. In the last three or four years this situation has changed and the annual deficit is again mounting.
But the answer of the present Minister of Transport is to put on to the railways traffic which, if there were complete freedom of choice, would go on to the roads. The great danger is that while this might make the railways deficit smaller—though it has yet to be shown that just extra traffic will do this—we may be in danger of making industry far less efficient in making them send their goods by a method which would be unacceptable if normal commercial circumstances prevailed. In order to achieve this aim more public bodies, more authorities, and more corporations will be set up; and this will curtail, rather than enhance, the ability of the men whose job it is to run transport to do their work effectively.
One wonders what will be the effect of all this. I suppose that in the long term it is likely that long-distance haulage and bulk haulage by road may largely disappear. This may be fine for the motorist, but will the railways really be able to cope with the extra traffic which they will be given? And will they be able to give industry as efficient a service as is now afforded? I think that road hauliers will be alarmed to find that if the railways object to their being given a quantity licence it will not be issued, unless they, the road hauliers, can show at a public inquiry that they can carry the goods more economically and effectively than the railways can. That may sound fine, except for the fact that 82 it is an impossible condition for an applicant to accept: that he must show that Ins method of transport is cheaper than that of another, when the facts of the other are not open to him.
In the short term, hauliers who are now engaged on doing work which the railways will claim will either have to cut down their activities or go out of business altogether. Already they are facing problems as a result of this plan, in that many of the day-to-day management decisions, such as the replacement of new vehicles, are subject to a new uncertainty. This is merely one example of the uncertainty that prevails in every aspect of the transport industry at the moment, whether it be the hauliers, the bus operators, the port operators or the local authorities, or even, indeed, the taxi drivers who apparently, according to the Minister, are going to find a new competition from the passenger transport authorities.
If the Government want to tackle the transport problem truly effectively from the root, I respectfully suggest that they should tackle the worst part first. They should tackle the huge problem surrounding the vast annual deficit of British Rail. Are the administration and the management of British Rail beyond improvement? Are the techniques used in management the best which can be obtained? Indeed, is the structure of British Rail the best that it could be, or is it so complex that, as a friend of mine who is employed by British Rail once told me, it is more difficult to get a decision out of British Rail than out of a Government Department? Then, what action is being taken about over-manning on the railways? Should uneconomic services be run on social grounds; and, if so, should there be a Government subsidy to British Rail for providing them?
My Lords, these are highly relevant questions, the answers to which might help the Government to attack the first major weakness of our transport system, which is the vast and recurring deficit of the railways. Instead, they have not decided to tackle this major problem directly, but intend to interfere with the other side of the industry which has proved to be running itself efficiently, in the hope that by joining the two together the efficiency of the one may offset the difficulties of the other. This is a perfectly feasible thing to do, but I doubt 83 whether it is the right, the best or even the wisest thing to do.
Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opening the debate this afternoon, one felt that possibly these proposals were not quite so alarming as might have been feared. But, of course, he did not mention all that was in the Minister's mind—indeed, he could not do so. She has said that she intends to give to the passenger transport authorities a whole host of different responsibilities, which can have little relevance to the modernisation of British transport.
She has said—and she said this at the Labour Party Conference:I am also going to give them some of the more lucrative opportunities, so I intend to empower them to engage in a whole range of ancillary services—their own vehicle repair shops, refreshment rooms and bookstalls at bus stations, the provision of parcels services. I shall empower them to run taxi services or to enter into agreements with taxi-cab operators to provide a more flexible service than applies now. I shall give them the power to organise ferry services, hovercraft services, hire car services, express bus services, tours and excursions.One wonders how such provisions can really help the transport of the country, or make it more effective and competitive. Indeed, one wonders what is the relevance of tours of these types which are to be given to this authority.
The whole object of this policy, to quote the Minister's own words, was "to give us a Socialist transport policy". The criterion was not that it should be an efficient transport policy, but that it should be a Socialist one. I do not for one minute suggest that those two are not compatible, because they could well be; but they will not be compatible if ideas are to be put forward and placed upon an industry which will have to use them, without the proper detailed consultation that is so necessary to make them really effective.
I beg the Government to consult the whole way along with all those who are going to be affected by this changeover system, for the success of the policy, once it is put into practice, will depend upon the ability of those who run the transport system and whose job it is to make the policy work effectively. And, after all, what we all want is for the transport system to be truly effective and successful. So often, with reorganisations and larger 84 public bodies, one finds that a characteristic of them is that one has more regulations and more curtailments, whereas, as my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said, the real criterion of success is the ability of the management which is put there to implement the new policies. I hope that the Government will do all they can to see that the overall policy and the rearrangements which they desire are workable and acceptable right the way through the structure, and efficient for those who have to use them and work them.
§ 4.37 p.m.
My Lords, first I should like, if I may, to add just one sentence to the discussion about whether it is better to sit or to stand in London buses. Whereas most of us would agree that it is best to sit if there is somewhere to sit, it is better to stand in the bus and to be transported to one's destination than to be left standing at the bus stop in the rain, which is too often the lot of Londoners to-day.
We have all listened to many debates on transport, and to those of us who are not specialists it always seems that there is a danger of lapsing far into the world of theory and falling back on technical jargon. We have not been entirely free of that to-day. To the ordinary men and women of this country these debates can so easily seem out of touch with their daily needs; they are not interested in long words like "containerisation". What they want to do is to be able to travel or to send their goods by rail, and they find all too often that the services—and here I should like to except some few honourable and remarkable improvements of which we all know—are increasingly inconvenient, increasingly expensive and, what is most important of all, increasingly unreliable. This is all very unhappy for the future of this country.
In the gracious Speech there are a number of paragraphs about strengthening the economy of this country, and then a little further on there are references to transport which seem utterly irrelevant to me, because all the emphasis is on public control which is something more likely to hinder the present situation than to help.
We all admit that there are great difficulties facing any Minister of Transport 85 in this country, and we should hope and think that modesty and patience were qualities which we should find in any person holding that office. There have already been references to the speech which the Minister of Transport made to her Party Conference, and I think the sentence:No, friends, when it comes to transport planning I have got to be the overall authorityis really rather alarming, and it even makesI am an impatient womana little later on fade into something mild. Surely the decision to centralise the operational control—and that is what she wants to do—which means taking management out of the hands of the several industries concerned and concentrating it in some division of the Ministry of Transport, must be a mistake. However brilliant the civil servants in the division of the Ministry of Transport are, they have not been trained for that particular job.
My Lords, I hope my noble friends do not think that, having criticised the Minister of Transport, I am going to lavish praise on them, because in their day they made some mistakes, too, even if they were small in comparison. For instance, they lived in a state of mind where it seems they thought the most important thing was to be able to travel to and from London, wherever you might live. There are many people in this country and many in Scotland, I think the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will agree, who do not wish to come to London unless they must do so. One admits our railways were laid out on the basis of the main lines radiating from London—that was something that happened a hundred years ago—yet the late Government was, I submit, too keen to let the cross-country lines be thrown on the scrapheap. That has not made to-day's problems any easier. The problem is not one of ownership. It is not the problem of who owns the railways, who owns the buses and who owns the long-distance transport, which is the Socialist pre-occupation today. The problem surely is: how can we best improve the existing services of all kinds so that we can travel easily between all parts of the country—all parts of England, Scotland and Wales.
I should like to give an example without going into too much detail, and 86 because I know the North-West of England well I shall speak particularly about it. Within the area we have West Cumberland, which is the most difficult industrial area in this country, because it is the most remote, and we also have, in the Lake District, our foremost tourist area. The late Government allowed the East-West railway connecting West Cumberland with the North-East Coast to be pulled up, so that coal has now to be moved by road; and the present Government are intolerably slow in authorising the money to build the necessary replacement road to the East, or, again, to improve the coast road to the South, where, believe it or not, my Lords, there are still places where two vehicles of any size are unable to pass. The Government are generous with words of sympathy about the regions, but really it is no good continually talking about the regions unless some of their problems are clearly seen and solved.
Again, in the case of the North-West of England the senior official of the Ministry of Transport concerned with roads has his office in Newcastle-on-Tyne. The chief officer of British Railways for the area has his office at Preston. This is a very long way away, and since Preston is, in the eyes of the Department of Economic Affairs, in a different region from Newcastle-on-Tyne, I think it is open to question whether those two officials have ever met. The Prime Minister himself was in West Cumberland the other day, and he knows all this, so I will not elaborate it here; but I am sure we can all agree that new industry will not move into any of the development areas, and least of all into West Cumberland, until this question of communications is improved. Communications must be the most important single factor, and without them the rest is just words.
My Lords, it is not difficult to effect some improvements quickly, provided we avoid the temptation of always adding a fifth wheel to the coach in the shape of some new authority, committee or control. First, I should like to look at the railways. Surely the railways must be urged to reverse their present policy and to delegate more responsibility to their regional staff; and to try to staff their 87 regional offices with good men. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred to local decisions, and I am sure he would agree with me here. There must be better liaison, too, between the railways and the elected local authorities. I do not speak here about the appointed planning councils—they are something different. The elected local authorities, even if they are not responsible for the railways in their areas, are surely the people who know the needs of their counties and ought to be in close touch with the railway regional offices.
Further, the railways could well be in closer touch with their customers, particularly customers in industries which could offer them a lot of traffic. There are many industries in this country which send all their goods by road, thinking that the extra reliability outweighs everything else, when if there were better local loading facilities and some guarantee of delivery it might well be possible for them to put some of their traffic on the railways again. If they could do this, there would be a great saving of extravagant journeys by vehicles, often with "C" licences, carrying, say, one small spare part. Too often the unreliability of the railway services means that it is only by sending some load by road that there is any hope of getting it to its destination, perhaps only 100 miles away from a factory in the Midlands, within several days.
I should also like to see far greater liaison by local authorities with their bus services. It is all too rare in a country town that we see the buses passing the yard in front of the railway station and connecting with the trains. That is very important where there is much holiday traffic and where the passenger services on the local railway lines have either ceased or are likely to cease. I would put in a plea, too, for the strengthening of the T.U.C.C.s and for an increase in their powers. I was sorry last year when a Private Member's Bill which endeavoured to do this came up and was sat on heavily by the Government. If we are going to have the T.U.C.C.s, surely they should have some continuing function instead of just responsibility for hardship when there is a suggestion that the services on some particular line should be terminated.
88 Here I should like to pay a tribute to the Post Office, who have recently introduced mini-bus services carrying both passengers and their mails. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has gone. Some of us have been pressing for these services, as he has for the Channel Tunnel, and for just about the same number of years. The Post Office did me the honour of asking me to inaugurate one such service only last Monday which is going to run from Penrith into a remote part of the Lake District. I hope that if these mini-buses are going to prove a success, the Government will do what they can to encourage the Post Office to extend their range and to add to their numbers.
The problem of the roads is largely a problem of money, and on finance I hope that the Minister of Transport will try to get away from her extreme policy of "Stop" and "Go". This has characterised the road policy in this country over a number of years but never in so extreme a form as during last year. In my own area there was pressure on county councils to contain their expenditure, if not actually to cut it back; and then, the other day, out of the blue, county councils were told that there was £4 million to spend in the North of England if they could spend it quickly. That is not good administration. Then, but without any consultation, they were told how is was going to be divided among the four counties concerned. One can only suppose it was done on the advice of the Economic Planning Council, which I would submit is not the right body and just encourages their sense of "power without responsibility".
I submit that there is no case for the doctrinaire legislation which the Government have been describing to us. It means ever more centralisation and ever more public control. There is no case for that. On the other hand, there is a very strong case for decentralisation and for employing all administrative means to give greater responsibility "in the regions", if I may use the current jargon. The Government should encourage local authorities to take a much greater interest than they have done to date in the transport problems of their areas.
Finally, my Lords, I am going to make one simple suggestion which will appeal greatly to the ordinary men and women of this country. As it would actually 89 save money and cannot fail to be a spur to efficiency, it must be worth a try. I would suggest that all the senior staff in the Ministry of Transport, including Ministers, and all the senior staff of British Railways, including the Chairman and Board Members, should for three months, which is from now until after Christmas, deny themselves their first-class travel passes and deny themselves, too, the use of their official cars except where there are no train services, and travel as ordinary men and women of this country do, with second-class tickets and without reserved seats. It is arguable, too, whether both Houses of Parliament ought not to be included in this scheme. From such an experiment we should very rapidly see a large number of improvements of the sort that the people of this country are looking for.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, this debate is extremely interesting; but in some respects it can be said to have been conducted in a vacuum in so far as we have in the gracious Speech reference to what the Government intend to do but we have not yet had before us the blue-print of their actual desires. Therefore, we must relate what is in the gracious Speech to the document published in July last year and from that form our own conclusions. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford—and I am sorry that for the moment he is not in his place—and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, attempted in their speeches considerably to denigrate railway management and the management generally of nationalised undertakings, public undertakings. Lord Nugent of Guildford said—if I noted his words correctly—that it is the general desire of the public to let the public industries get on with their job, free from political interference. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said that it was under the Tories that the deficit was reduced, so far as the Railways Board was concerned. These are two very interesting observations—because it was only through the influence of Tory policy from 1951 that the railway deficit commenced.
My Lords, when transport was run under the auspices of the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, the British Transport 90 Commission (a small policy-making body with various executives responsible for the respective undertakings) were able to turn the railways deficit into a profit. In 1947—the only year after the war that the railways ran under private enterprise—there was a deficit of £60 million. But by 1951—only three years after the passing of the 1947 Transport Act—not only did the railways meet all their working expenses, they also met all the interest charges and in three years had produced a profit of £100,000. By 1952, under the wise auspices of the British Transport Commission, as organised under Lord Hurcomb, they produced (after meeting all working expenses and interest charges) a profit of £8 million. By 1953 the operations of the Tory Government in 1951 began to be felt, and that profit was reduced to £4,500,000. The year 1953 was the last profitable year. From that time onwards, the dead hand of the Tory 1951 Administration resulted in a constantly accumulating and increasing, year-by-year deficit. By 1956 they could not meet interest charges at all; they could not even meet working expenses. What a direct contrast to the wise policy of the Herbert Morrison Act of 1947! What a change took place!
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, would not deliberately mislead the House, but if he looks at the figures he will find that inability to meet working expenses and to pay interest charges has caused an accumulated deficit since 1953 of well over £1,000 million. These are staggering figures. But these are the facts—and they are consequent upon the change of policy that became operative at that time.
My Lords, I am fascinated by the noble Lord's observations. I am sure that he, equally, would only wish to be fair. I am sure that he would agree that in 1947, or thereabouts, there were only 3 million vehicles on the roads, and that this fact would have some effect on the difference in profitability.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, if the noble Earl will be patient, I will deal fully with that aspect of the transport situation. But it now appears that the noble Earl is accepting the position that the figures he gave, the picture he painted, was inadvertently wrong.
My Lords, with the greatest respect, I accept no such thing, and did not intend to do so.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, if the noble Earl looks again—he is a man of honour—I feel sure that he will be prepared to come to this House and say that he was wrong. Let him look at the Reports of the Railways Board, the British Transport Commission, through the years. He will find that by 1965 the capital liabilities of the Railways Board to the Ministry of Transport, including interest, was some £872 million. The suspended debt account (carrying no interest at all until the Minister so directs) was no less than £705 million. These are absolutely staggering figures; but they indicate what has taken place through Tory Government interference. I appreciate the point that has been made: that there should not be so much Government interference. It is that type of Government interference that I believe has brought about this deplorable position.
The story of the Railways Board finances is a fantastic one. We have two chairmen of the Railways Board in the House; and they have had to deal with this problem. Under a Tory Administration, Parliament has had to pass successive Acts, transitional borrowing powers Acts, authorising the British Railways Board to go on to the open market to borrow money at 6½ per cent. or at whatever rate they could get it in order to pay interest on money borrowed previously at 4½ per cent. This is Alice in Wonderland finances; and it is all brought about directly through the policy adopted by the Tories in 1951 and accentuated by the 1962 Act. During this period the function of the British Transport Commission was changed from policy-making into operationally controlling the railways side; while, at the same time they had those other organisations below them. This in my opinion was a very retrograde step, to say the least. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge—Sir Brian Robertson as he was at that time—must have had an extremely difficult task when he tried to run the British Transport Commission and its undertakings, and at the same time assume responsibility for the Railways Board; and all the time he was receiving constantly negative directions from the Government. It is this picture of Government interference which 92 is so real, and it was brought about when the Conservatives were in power.
Let us look at some of the things that happened. We all know that at that time Sir Brian Robertson's plan for the railways was for the electrification of all the main lines and the dieselisation of certain branch lines. That plan was scrapped. Those of us who took an interest in these things know of the tremendous fight to get the first stage of electrification, from Manchester to Crewe. We know that the then Minister of Transport, the much-vaunted "Ernie" Marples, stopped electrification from continuing down to London. What had been achieved was allowed to lay waste for five years before the development was continued to London.
We know that the general desire at that time was to electrify the East Coast route, from King's Cross to Newcastle and Leeds. We know the expenditure in which the Railways Board were involved, in the heightening of bridges to accommodate the overhead electric cables. Then the dead hand of Government put a stop to these things. Now everyone is praising the service provided on the electrified line from Manchester to London. That is something which ought to have happened years ago, when railway-minded people wanted to do it. But in the sacred interest of oil and the oil companies it was decided to go on to dieselisation.
These are things which we should bring to light, particularly in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford said: that this is an interesting experiment in the history of a nationalised industry. Here I share the views of the noble Lord completely. But when the history comes to be written it should pinpoint how the Government of the day, in those early stages, used every possible action to prevent publicly owned undertakings, particularly transport, from paying. We have only to look at the hiving off which constantly occurred; the closing down of the railway workshops, and the prohibition which prevented the railways from producing their own motive power unit, something which private enterprise railway management had to do in the early days because of the inefficiency of the product available at that time. We all know about the dieselisation which is taking place on the railways, and about 93 the number of breakdowns of diesel locomotives and units, which is phenomenal. I suggest that had the Railways Board been allowed to undertake the necessary capital expenditure involved in re-tooling to produce its own motive power unit, the number of breakdowns would not have been anything like so great.
In the main, these things have been brought about since the advent of the noble Lord, Lord Beeching (Dr. Beeching as he then was), as Chairman of the Railways Board, and with Mr. Marples as Minister of Transport. It is to the everlasting credit of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that he resigned sooner than carry out the policy which was advocated because he knew it would be the ruination of a truly co-ordinated and efficient transport system as he saw it. That is the only interpretation which I can place on his resignation. Under the "Tory/Beeching line" what happened? We had the new philosophy of the city service being the determining factor and the hiving off to road transport of all the freight traffic possible. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to a desire to return much of that traffic from the road to the rail, but the noble Earl must not forget the years in the past when traffic was deliberately turned from the rail to the road for the benefit of road haulage interests. These are the facts of life as we see them.
Now there is a claim for the efficiency of liner-trains as though they were something new. My Lords, liner-trains were well known before, though in a different form. They are just the modern development of the old special trains—the potato specials, the rhubarb specials, the tomato, mushroom and strawberry specials and the fish specials, which ran from one end of the country to the other, conveying produce to the markets. This happened even in pre-war years. I know that a certain union has been condemned because it wanted N.U.R. men to man the liner-trains. In view of the number of reductions in manpower in the railway service it is understandable that railway-men should not be prepared to stand by and see work which they have been doing for decade after decade—ever since railways became a service or an industry—taken over by people who had never worked on the railways before. This was not a question of vanishing traffic but 94 of people other than railwaymen being brought in to do the work that railwaymen had been doing. These are the things which should be kept in mind.
We have seen (and again I say this in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers) the hiving off of some of the most profitable sections of British Rail. We see the steamship service between Southampton and Jersey and St. Malo handed over to a French company. We see the deliberate handing over of the cross-channel service to a Norwegian line which converted it into a car ferry service and built new ships. The Railways Board, under the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, and in pursuance of a Tory Government policy, refused to allow expansion in that direction. We have also seen during that period a deliberate drop in coal and coke traffics and iron and steel and other traffics. The figures indicate the interference which has taken place at top Government level. It is not a question of weakness of management but of a refusal at top Government level to allow management to develop the industry in the way it knew that the industry should develop.
With this background in mind I very much welcome the suggestion of this new line of policy. I must confess that I have some qualms about the structure of some of the undertakings. I sincerely hope that the National Freight Corporation will not be an independent body in the same way as we have other independent bodies to-day. I should like to see a return to a small policy-making body like the old British Transport Commission, with overall control of planning, finance and development. I am not satisfied with the proposal that the National Freight Corporation should come directly under the control of the Ministry, unless the Ministry are going to take all-over control of the Railways Board, the transport holding companies, docks and harbours and the whole transport set-up. One of the biggest weaknesses of our approach to the transport system has always been, apart from a brief period, that every section has been looked at as a separate individual undertaking. Of necessity, transport must be looked upon as a whole, and as a public service.
Cross-subsidising seems to be a "dirty" word nowadays, but the running of a successful transport 95 system involves some cross-subsidising somewhere. It is not right that non-profitable routes should be cut out completely, simply because they cannot show a sufficient margin of profit. The whole history of transport shows the necessity of bringing certain unprofitable routes under the general umbrella, so that the more profitable can meet the situation. But what have we seen?—the cutting down of branch line after branch line, the closing of railway station after railway station and goods depot after goods depot. We have seen the deliberate refusal to give the people the services they need. Instead of the Government decreeing, as in the past, that the transport undertakings must seek and fight for traffic, they have allowed traffic about which there has been some difficulty to be handed over to private undertakings. Hence this loss of over £1,000 million since 1956.
Last week, on an Unstarred Question on toll roads we had an interesting debate on the road programme. I do not want to repeat what I said then, but I want to compliment the Government once more on building the highest mileage of motorways yet constructed. There is every prospect that by the end of this year nearly 100 miles of additional motorway will be built. This is a step in the right direction. It is on these lines that I welcome the Government's proposals as outlined in the gracious Speech, although when we see the full details of the Bill I may have certain reservations and criticisms, especially if we do not return to the broad principles which have operated so successfully under the 1947 Act.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, will forgive me if I do not follow him along the lines on which he was addressing your Lordships. I do not know much about the railways, about which the noble Lord knows a great deal. I should like to address some observations to your Lordships on the roads side of the transport problem, which was referred to in the gracious Speech.
First of all, there is a little paragraph in the gracious Speech to which no 96 reference at all has been made this afternoon.A Bill will be introduced to establish a central system of vehicle registration and licensing.What is the object of this? I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate will give us some indication why this project is being brought forward at the present time. It is difficult to see how it is going to increase efficiency. At the present time, the number plates of all vehicles indicate the localities in which they are registered, and therefore they are easily and swiftly identifiable, whereas if registration marks are centralised in one big computer it will be an exceedingly difficult thing to identify a vehicle from its registration mark.
Probably, also, the change will necessitate the running of two systems in parallel for a long time. I should think that it would be at least fifteen years before the last of the modern cars is off the road and the whole system can be changed over to a centralised one. The running of two systems in parallel is bound to be a comparatively costly business. I can only hope that the additional cost will not fail upon the unfortunate motorist, who is already paying exceedingly highly for the privilege of being permitted to have a car on the road at all.
I turn next to the question of freight transport. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave us some indication of the Government's proposals with regard to the changeover of the licensing system for freight vehicles, but he did not go very far in indicating exactly what changes are to take place. The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, replying to the noble Lord, gave a clear indication that the abolition of the "C"-licence system would enable the owners of "C"-licence vehicles, if they obtained the quantitative and qualitative licence which is now proposed, to carry any traffic which they could obtain.
If that is the proposal of the Government, it would be a very good thing. It would improve efficiency considerably. But I beg the Government to move in this matter only after close consultation with industry, and with very great care, because at the present time some 86.2 per cent. of all freight transported is transported by road; and if we upset the transport 97 system which is now carrying that vast amount of freight, it is going to create chaos in our industry and in exports, as well as in the whole life of the country. So I beg of them to move gently and cautiously, and only after careful consideration and consultation.
We now see that the Government are committed to a policy of integration between road and rail. In theory, there is a great deal to be said for the integration of freight traffic by road and rail, but in practice it just will not work. We cannot force people to send their traffic by rail if they want to send it by road. They are going to find some way of sending it by road if that is the way they want to do it. We in Sussex have an old proverb which says that the Sussex people "cannot be druv". I have always found that this applies also to any other county: that the people will not be "druv", whether by a Government or by anybody else. I am sure that, in practice, it will inevitably be found that integration between road and rail cannot be operated successfully.
Reference has been made to the problem being tackled nationally, but there is a great deal of traffic which passes locally between different points in the country. Perhaps I may quote an example from my own county. Supposing one wants to send something by road from Uckfield to Haywards Heath, one wants to pick up the telephone and ring the carrier, and arrange for it to go the next day. If the matter is being dealt with nationally, presumably it will be necessary to put in an application in writing to Waterloo. They will send it to Redhill, and after about ten days a reply will come from Tunbridge Wells. It really will not work that way.
The Minister, in her speech to the Labour Party Conference recently, to which reference has already been made, said:I do not believe that public transport is a suitable field for private profit.That may well be her opinion, but it certainly indicates that profit has been made by private enterprise out of public transport. She then went on to say:Public transport cannot do its job without Government financial help.Presumably, that is when it has been nationalised, regionalised or brought 98 under control. It is inevitably going to be necessary for the Government to support it by some form of subsidy, notwithstanding that, on the Minister's own admission, when it is run by private enterprise it makes a profit. That does not sound a very sensible alternative means of proceeding. Why scrap a profitable system for one which requires subsidies?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The noble Lord refers to "public transport". Is he referring to passenger or freight? They are two totally different problems.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I think that on that occasion it was a reference to passenger transport.
Another thing which struck me rather forcibly was the apprehension of my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford about this business of the regionalised public passenger transport being under the auspices of the Minister, because, studying the Minister's speech, one gets an extraordinary impression of her powers of dictatorship. Some references have already been quoted from her speech, but I should like to put a slightly different emphasis upon it. She said in the course of her speech:I will give passenger transport authorities power to acquire bus undertakings. I am also going to give passenger transport authorities some of the more lucrative opportunities. I intend to empower them to engage in a whole range of ancillary services. I will empower them to run taxi services. I shall give them power to organise ferry services … I have got to be the overall authority for transport planning.My Lords, it strikes me that the Prime Minister is wasting his time in contemplating the reform of your Lordships' House when the whole business is going to be taken over by the Minister. According to the Minister, Parliament will not be consulted about any of these things. So what is the object and point of our being here, when we are going to be completely by-passed—even if that is the only by-pass the Minister of Transport is going to be able to make?
Another aspect of this matter which strikes one is the additional cost that will be involved. Although the Minister may perfectly well decide on doing all these various things, it will not be she who pays for them. The things which have emerged so far as additional costs, so 99 far as I have been able to extract them, are capital grants from the Exchequer to help public transport to provide the services we need; subsidies for socially necessary railway lines; financial help for rural bus services; 50 per cent. of the approved expenditure by local authorities; an Exchequer grant for the conversion of 1,400 miles of canals to cruise-ways for recreation. What it will all add up to, and where the money will come from, I shudder to think.
The Minister has already given us some indication which I think causes even greater apprehension than anything else. She has said that:It should be possible to use revenue from any transport service (including parking) for wider transport services.That includes subsidising all public transport. I hope that she will remember that the Government have pledged that the parking meter fees shall be used for the provision of off-street parking. She must not raid that particular source of revenue in order to subsidise other aspects of public transport.
The motorist at the present time pays nearly £1,200 million in taxes. That represents some 11.2 per cent. of the national revenue. On the other hand, Government expenditure on new roads, of which the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was so proud, is running at the present time at the rate of about £200 to £250 million per annum. That represents 2.5 of the national expenditure. So although the motorist is contributing 11.2 per cent. to the national revenue, there has been spent on the provision of new roads for their benefit only 2.5 of the national expenditure.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The figure which the noble Lord has quoted is rather close to the one that I gave—it is slightly lower, but I forgive him for that—but mine was for roads expenditure in England, and not for the nation as a whole.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
I will certainly accept that from the noble Lord, and I apologise if I said anything misleading in that respect. But it does not get away from the fact that even to-day, after all the Government's efforts, over half the roads in this country are unclassified; 100 and the length of unclassified roads exceeds the total sum of lengths of trunk roads, motorways, first-class, second-class and third-class roads. That is not something of which we can be very proud.
In addition to that, the traffic density in this country—that is to say, the number of vehicles per mile on the roads—is far and away the highest of any country in the world. It stands at the present time at about 65.8 vehicles per mile. That there are not far more accidents than there are is a great tribute to the driving skill of the people of this country, because, with crowded roads to that extent, accidents are absolutely inevitable. If, therefore, instead of "soaking " the motorist and private transport by the imposition of additional expenses and taxes, the Government could devote more of the proceeds at present contributed to the Revenue by motorists to new roads and road improvements, and particularly to the provision of offstreet parks, we should be getting somewhere.
I am sure that we are all equally anxious that the road and transport policy of the country should be successful; that there should be real improvements in the public services; and that there should be a contribution by the Government to the provision of parking places at the suburban termini of the railway system, so as to enable the person who wants to come into the centre of the city to work to go by car to the railway station and then to transfer to the railways. But he cannot do that until the price which he has to pay for the parking of his car during the day is substantially reduced, and until the railway services are substantially improved and room made for him to travel at the time he has to travel. So one hopes that the Government will do something about that.
I sincerely beg the Government to implore their Minister of Transport not to be so dictatorial as she is being at the present time. She really should realise that she cannot gain the good will of the people of the country by overriding the private interests, and that most families in the country nowadays have a car; and every family that I have ever come across with a car intends to use it.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, it will be perhaps to some extent predictable that some of the remarks I have to make will, for a change, follow those of my noble friend Lord Brentford. We are so accustomed to saying, "The noble Lord who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him", that on this occasion perhaps I may say the opposite, and that I shall follow the noble Lord. However, my place on the list of speakers, after that of my noble friend's, is entirely coincidental.
I should like next to apologise to the House, and especially to those noble Lords who opened this debate, because I was not able to be here as early as I would have wished. I could not be here. I may also have to apologise to the House, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, because it may be impossible for me to remain to the end of the debate.
I apprehended that a certain political flavour might enter into this debate. If I had not apprehended it, I should have been made aware of it in listening, as I did with great joy, to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. It is a great temptation to me to engage with him in a verbal duel across the Floor about what I regard as his political inexactitudes—I stop short of calling them piffle, as I might have done in other circumstances. My job, as your Lordships know, is not to wear that kind of political hat these days, which in circumstances like these is very awkward for me. But I am not going to yield to the temptation, and I will try to be as good in this respect as I can be.
From time to time we hear the cry about transport being taken out of the realm of politics. This is splendid in theory, but so long as we have two major political Parties in this country with different transport policies, so long will transport remain in politics, and so long will there be people who are nonpolitically engaged, such as myself, inevitably favouring one transport policy more than the other, or disfavouring one less than the other. I may well be branded as part of a motor lobby. I am very pleased to be so branded, if that is true. I know that many of your Lordships share my concern, and that that concern is linked with a knowledge 102 of the subject. I am grateful to know that; if it were not so, I should continue the job as a one-man job.
It is for this reason, because I feel like this, that I must say so when I think I see the transport situation going wrong, as I believe it is to-day. I think there is no doubt that the proposals specifically forecast in the gracious Speech to integrate road and rail transport have been fairly thoroughly dealt with, and I want to cover certain other aspects which have not been dealt with at such length, although I have no doubt that I and others will be returning to such matters as and when the Bill sees the light of day. All I want to say about that now is that if trade and industry are anything like right in their beliefs, with the corollary that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, may be wrong in his optimism, complete chaos may well ensue when the Minister's proposals, so far as I understand them at present, come into effect. I say that, because it seems to me very doubtful to take steps to force traffic on to railways, which are not by the majority of commercial tokens commercially equipped to handle that traffic with efficiency.
Therefore, I say that, when this Bill appears, we must see to it that there is ample room for subsequent changes which may well be found necessary to be made by regulation, without waiting for further Parliamentary time for a new Bill. I am not one of those who are very much in favour of Government by regulation; I prefer the more open channels through Parliament. But if this is going to be the form, it seems to me that there must be every possibility of allowing subsequent amendment in the case of this particular Bill.
The Minister, on her own admission, apparently, is autocratic, and she is also patient. My Lords, she has other excellent qualities: she is lively, dynamic, progressive, aggressive, if you like, and simply splendid; and how sad it is that it stops with her. The only thing about the transport policy taken as a whole at the moment that can be seen to be dynamic or aggressive or progressive seems to be the Minister herself. The moment anything begins to move towards any kind of implementation, those words disappear into an unfortunate fog.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord would agree with me that he ought to add that the Minister is pretty.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I would agree to that with the greatest pleasure, my sight being only restricted to short range. Whether that gets the policy much further forward, I do not know. I hope it does. Perhaps that was in the mind of the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister when he appointed her. I do not know. But the fact remains, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood says, that nothing very much happens.
If we cast our minds back over the period of office of the Minister and her immediate predecessors since 1964, we see that all we have had is control, restriction, endless committees and bodies set up to study and research and look at things which have been the subject of study and research and investigation for a good many years. We have got nothing that I can point to, or that I think anyone can point to, which is some sort of dynamic, lively, intelligent thing brought into being, such as one might have expected from such a Minister—I repeat, nothing. The exceptions, of course, occasionally, as now, are proposals that seemingly, at any rate for some of us, are based more on political doctrine than on anything else. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said it was quite the other way round. Forgive me if I say that. I am not the only one who holds that particular view. In particular, it strikes me as rather strange that a road transport system which has, by acknowledgment all round, about 90 per cent. of the passengers and about 80 per cent. of the freight traffic, and which pays £1,200 million a year into the Exchequer, is to be at any rate curtailed, if not actually damaged, in favour of a system which takes £150 million a year out of the Exchequer.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, would the noble Lord give me a promise, because he really is getting the wrong end of the stick? Will he give me a promise that he will read rather carefully what I said earlier this afternoon? He was not present at the time, and he is now wide of the mark; and he has yet to come to a point of real substance in criticism of the case that is being put. 104 Will the noble Lord promise me that he will read what I said?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I promise the noble Lord that with the greatest of pleasure. I should have done so in any case, but it does not detract at all from what I say about the cost of the system. I trust that the noble Lord is not challenging the figures I have given, because they are right.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Lord surely sees that the quantity control, presumably, to which he refers applies only to a relatively small number of vehicles in this great transport system. I went on to deal with the criteria, and I am quite sure that even the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, will be satisfied that they are fair and right criteria, and that in fact they meet many of the criticisms made by noble Lords in all quarters of the House; that it is about time we got certain of the freight off the roads and on to the railways, where it could be better carried.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I will certainly re-read the noble Lord's argument, and if I have drawn a wrong conclusion I will put it right, at least in my mind. But I do not think I have.
I do not want to make any apology, even to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on this matter, because I still have not been able 'to satisfy myself that in the transport picture as a whole I can find anything very much being done. Therefore, for lack of anything better to search, I started to search the White Paper, which is rather more specific than the recent announcements. There was one remark in that White Paper (it is about the only one, incidentally, with which I absolutely wholeheartedly agree) where it says thatthe nation has not yet begun to face up to the implications of the motor age".What it does not then go on to do is to give us very much about any kind of bold or imaginative plan, which we so urgently need, to tackle the problems, and particularly the movement and the parking of motor vehicles. True, it recognises that these problems will get much worse as time goes on, but instead of giving us any hope that anything will be done about it, the Paper talks more of further restrictive measures that will, 105 in particular, affect the users of private vehicles.
There cannot be any dispute about the economic necessity for the provision of adequate road transport facilities. In the years ahead, as my noble friend Lord Brentford said, all adults will be drivers; and more and more they will want to use their vehicles to the best possible advantage. I will now quote Sir Geoffrey Crowther's Steering Committee in the preface to the Buchanan Report, where it was pointed out that a car-owning electorate will not stand for severe restrictions as a remedy for the problems of living with the motor vehicle.
At the same time, the White Paper acknowledged that roads will continue to have the dominant role in the movement of passengers and goods. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, evidently agrees with that, and he sees no inconsistency—
§ LORD CHESHAM
I should prefer the proof of the pudding to be in the eating. I still do not see, if that is so and even if this is agreed, that we have much prospect of this working properly, because there is no indication of any kind of satisfactory intention to make proper provision for the development which is urgently required and for the improvement in the road system that we want. Certainly it does not seem to us who read these Reports and Papers that the future plan set out for the roads does anything other than to compare unfavourably with what is intended for the railways; and always such future references as do appear are carefully qualified by reservations about the level of national resources which it might be possible to devote at some unspecified time in the future.
I am worried, too, about the ports and airports, because I see little sign of progressive plans on the scale necessary for the access to them. If noble Lords do not want to take it from me, there is ample expert evidence to hand. There was a Report by Professor Morgan, called Economic and Financial Aspects of Road Improvements, which proved this case quite definitely. The Report, which was published by the Roads Campaign 106 Council, recommended that new arrangements for financing and administering the road programme—and in general terms it referred to road loans and a National Highways Board—should be made to secure completion of a specified road programme within a fixed period, with guaranteed finance. In paragraph 42 the White Paper dismissed this proposal, which had had a good deal of support from other organisations, without providing what seemed to be any convincing reasons for doing so.
Such a new arrangement for the administration and financing of the roads in this way need not by any means take away the Government's control over the extent of national investment in roads and the determination of priorities, but it must be recognised that a more progressive policy in this respect is vital to the prosperity of the nation. To quote the Buchanan Report:… society cannot go on investing in vehicles without investing equivalent sums for their accommodation".It is very nice in theory, my Lords, but we should like to see a little more constructive thought about it in practice.
I should like now to spend a couple of minutes on road safety, because the White Paper, Transport Policy, referred to another White Paper which we have had since, called Road Safety—A Fresh Approach. In my organisation we have always thought that the three most important requisites in road safety were better roads, more traffic police and more and better driving instruction for the young. That has been one of the main stays of our own policy. The White Pa per said that the Road Research Laboratory is intensifying its research into road safety generally and into particular aspects of it, such as human behaviour. I am sure it is good that it should be intensified, and no doubt it is beneficial. But there is also ample evidence to indicate that a substantial reduction of accidents will come about as a result of better roads. We have had evidence that more police have the same effect, and we have evidence that improved facilities for driving instruction also have this effect. These things are effective not only in terms of human life, but also in economic terms, because I gather from the White Paper that road accidents are estimated to be costing, about £220 million a year, and I 107 understand also that congestion costs as much, if not more.
In common with the White Paper, Transport Policy, the White Paper, Road Safety—A Fresh Approach, does not provide any promise of much greater expenditure on the roads. As I say, research has already demonstrated the improvements that come about from motorways; the first figures from the first year of operation of the M.1 were very impressive, and subsequent results have shown the same trend. If we have not enough experience in this country, we have plenty of American experience to go on, where at times they have reduced accidents on urban motorways by up to 50 per cent.
I was a little disappointed that, although the White Paper on Road Safety says thatthe Government will intensify its research into driver training methods, and will encourage the best methods of driver training for young people at school,there really seems to be little sign of any progress. It also includes information about consultations which are being carried out with local authorities by the Ministry towards the adequate training of learner motor cyclists. I most certainly hope that these researches and consultations will be speeded up no end, because there is so much evidence, particularly from America, that young people properly trained have fewer accidents and commit fewer traffic offences than those who have not had training. We have asked the Ministry to speed up these investigations and to carry them out, and to let us get on with the job as we have been doing for a long time; but I am sorry to say it appears from our consultations that the investigations, the research and so on, will take a considerable amount of time. I just wish it was going to take much less.
Neither did I see any reference in the White Paper to the advantages of employing more traffic police. We have always thought and believed that this was a great advantage, and just recently we have had the evidence from the experiment that was carried out in 1965; we have had it very belatedly, but we have had it. It shows that the special arrangements made for better policing in 1965 of certain primary routes in South-West England paid off by accident reduction of 108 something like 20 per cent. But again there is not a word of that in the White Paper.
I cannot leave this subject without a word about road pricing. The White Paper says that the scheme on road pricing is still under investigation, although it has been acknowledged that it has not yet been established that a reliable and workable and enforceable system can be devised. In November last year the Minister told us it would be two or three years before it was known whether such schemes were either practicable or desirable, and I think in June of this year the Minister said that if we believed everything we read in the newspapers we might imagine she had made up her mind in favour of this system and that that was far from the case. That was a very nice piece of news. But in September of this year a senior official stated publicly, addressing a conference of the Municipal Passenger Transport Association, that a system of road pricing could well be usedto vary charges as between private and public transport in a way which would establish a proper economic basis for choice between them".I should not have thought that this bore out the fact that the Minister had a very open mind with regard to this matter.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Lord must be fair. The Minister has made it quite clear that she has not made up her mind. The noble Lord quoted an official who used the word "could". Of course a scheme could do this or it could not. I am quite sure the word "could" meant that it was a possibility. Because the official used the word "could" the noble Lord is raising doubts on what the Minister said, and I think it is quite monstrous.
§ LORD CHESHAM
But if the Minister on one occasion says that she has an open mind, and a senior official on a public occasion—and I am quoting what is available to everybody—states on behalf of the Ministry, as I understand it advocating this system, that it could be so used, it does not indicate to me that the Minister's mind is open.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Lord could walk out of this Chamber and be run over by a taxi. It is a possibility, not a certainty, thank goodness! But the noble Lord is bringing into question the views of my right honourable friend, and I know for a fact that her mind has not been made up.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I accept that from the noble Lord. I shall certainly not take it further. For his own information I shall send him, in case he has not seen it, the complete report of this occasion, and then perhaps in some quiet moment he and I could make up our minds which of us is justified or otherwise. In any case, we will leave that for the moment.
This opinion was put forward sufficiently strongly on this occasion to make me feel that we must strongly object to any development of that kind, because it would be an entirely unjustifiable restriction on road users and virtually price them off the road, which is ridiculous. I would strongly resist the introduction of any system of road pricing at the present time. In view of the social and practical objections to anything of the kind, the resources and the manpower which are being used to investigate this might well be used to investigate something more constructive. More than ever do I object to this because it appears that it would be yet a further intolerable addition to the already overburdened road user.
It is helpful that the White Paper recognises that public transport is at times unattractive and that people wish to use their own cars, but at the same time there is a strong tendency to try to compel people to use public transport, to force them back on to a public transport system which cannot provide the same freedom of movement and convenience as the public enjoys in its own cars, and which has certain other disadvantages. I would certainly echo what my noble friend Lord Brentford has said. I should like to see an endeavour to get more people—to attract more people, not compel them—on to public transport by improving its efficiency and by encouraging what is generally called the "park and ride" system, by providing free or cheap parking accommodation at 110 places where it is convenient to leave the car and get on the bus or train.
This is the only question I want to ask. I shall be quite happy, if I cannot have an answer this evening, to receive a letter later on. Paragraph 62 of the White Paper refers to proposals for financial help for various purposesincluding terminal and interchange facilities on public transport systems.I should like to know quite definitely whether such financial help would, as I hope, apply to the provision of parking garages, and so on, at such places.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I may be able to help the noble Lord. I may perhaps refresh his memory that this is one of the things I asked him when he was Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Transport a number of years ago, and he rejected it. Under the scheme we have in mind it is possible that this sort of provision could be made if the local authorities wished to do it.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for being so quick with his Answer, but I would remind him that it was his Government's White Paper I was asking about and not anything in the past. But I am glad to have that answer, and I feel fortified with what he says, which I take as a satisfactory assurance in the matter. But over and above that, I think it is extremely desirable that we should give urgent consideration to more financial help becoming available for off-street parking. I think that the provision of off-street parking in appropriate places, in areas of high congestion, should become, if not completely, at least part of the actual road programme. It should be planned integrally with the road programme and should, if and when necessary, be subsidised with money from the same sources and in the same way as the roads.
Again, I would echo what my noble friend Lord Brentford said in regard to guaranteeing full resistance towards any form of removal of surplus revenue gained from parking purposes, within the law, such as is hinted at in the White Paper, that is, that revenue from parking meters should go to other wider transport purposes. I think that would be a breach of the undertakings given at the time, and of the law as I understand 111 it at the time; and I should certainly be happy to oppose that if ever it came anywhere near to being a practical proposition.
To sum up, again with the aid of the Ministry, their Annual Report for 1966 said four things. I am not going to read it all, but I assure your Lordships that this is not out of context by reason of being extracts. The Report said that:Between now and 1970 it is estimated that the traffic volume will increase by as much as a third.It said that:The present road programme cannot keep pace with this rising tide of traffic and the consequent spread and intensification of congestion.It went on:It is estimated that the mileage of seriously overloaded trunk roads in England will have increased from an estimated 1,450 miles now to 2,250 miles by 1970, and urban congestion, too, will continue to grow.Finally, it said:It is the Ministry's estimate that there will be a doubling of traffic between now and 1980.These things, taken together, and others like them, indicate the need for bigger and more constructive thinking and planning. The 1967 Report went on to say similar things. There has been no indication that arrangements are really going forward for any substantial increase in the road programme, which would be required to remedy that situation. The future economic prosperity of the nation, and to a considerable extent its social welfare, will be greatly dependent on the efficiency of the road communications. We must have a completely new approach, without delay, if we are to prevent complete stagnation on the roads; and at present we are not getting that approach.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, as we all know, there have been occasions when nationalisation has been justifiable, but the overall blanket nationalisation of nearly all forms of transport, as visualised in the Minister of Transport's doctrinaire speech at Scarborough, must be anathema to those who have any regard for the concept of freedom of choice in Britain. The imposition on the individual of such ruthless, bureaucratic control, to be exercised 112 —or so one suspects—by bodies situated at strategic spots, protected by ever-increasing numbers of civil servants, and isolated from public reaction by both distance and anonymity, is not justified.
There are other considerations also. In the Highland counties of Scotland, and elsewhere in the more remote rural areas, nationalisation of rural bus services would cause considerable inconvenience and hardship. Many of these services are run by individuals and can help to spread employment over some of our remote areas. Take, for example, the nationalisation of such transport in the Island of Lewis. This would require transport to be carried on by operatives from the burgh of Stornoway. The same kind of centralisation would occur for the greater proportion of arrangements made by the Northern Counties for the conveyance of school-children. My own education authority makes every effort to use local transport in rural areas so that the smaller companies can provide the service. This is extremely valuable to scattered communities, especially in winter when there is no income from tourism.
As we know, the railways, I am afraid sometimes to our cost, are nationalised. So far as my own country is concerned, frequently the loss of money and efficiency is due to an ignorant and heavy-handed control formulated with no imagination in London, a fact that is well known and much resented by many British Railway workers. Coming, as I do, from a country were roads are few and never adequate to cope with present-day traffic, especially during the summer months, I would gladly see some of the vast and dangerous loads transferred back on to the railway. With imagination and effort, I am sure that this could be done. But these qualities do not seem to flourish around Euston and King's Cross. In this connection I should like to ask the Minister what is the amount of money due to be allotted to Scottish roads. No mention was made of this. It was all concerned with English roads. In my opinion, there is much to be said for regional control of the railways. To-day this exists in name only.
Again, where I come from the sea services are of the utmost importance. How is the Government grab of this service going to help? By a large subsidy 113 to MacBraynes, who as we know serve the Western Isles, the Government of the day created a monopoly which obliterated other non-subsidised competition. I doubt whether any Islander, whatever his political opinion may be, would hesitate in saying that the service is now less good and that the charges are much too high. No doubt the car ferries are satisfactory; but they mostly serve the tourist trade, and are of no help in carrying the heavy freight and stock for the crofters, farmers and fishermen of the Islands.
Several small but valuable air companies are becoming viable and more and more useful for intercommunication. I hope that the Government will keep their hands off these. British European Airways would at once say that they could not afford to run them; and they would probably be right. So let us leave them to people who can. I do not intend to touch upon the great problems presented by the conurbations; there are others who can best deal with this particular headache. But one can be excused some scepticism about the blessings of more nationalisation when one considers the position of British Railways and London Transport, who in 1966 had a deficit of £5.9 million.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I wish to speak for only a few minutes. I want to plead for a little more money to be spent in future on the roads in East Anglia. It is a rapidly growing area, containing the ports of Felixtowe, Harwich and Ipswich. A large amount of industrial traffic comes from the Midlands through the towns of East Anglia, especially the towns of Newmarket, Bury St. Edmunds and Cambridge. Very little money has been allocated for major trunk road improvements in East Anglia. I spent nine years on the West Suffolk County Council, and during that time I served on the Roads and Bridges Committee, so that I have seen something of the working of these matters from further down the line. I can assure your Lordships that it appears to take years in this country, from the planning stage to the completion stage, for any major road improvement or new road.
I was interested in the debate on tolls the other evening to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, say that he had just taken 114 over responsibility for roads in Scotland and was amazed at the length of time it took for the famous 31 steps to be taken. Before the war there was talk of having a by-pass around the town of Newmarket where I live, which all had to be shelved because of the war. Then, seven or eight years ago, this proposal was again taken up actively by the then Minister who asked the two county councils of Cambridgeshire and West Suffolk to formulate a plan to get a trunk road by-pass around the town of Newmarket. This is an important matter to the town of Newmarket, which carries two major roads, the A.11, London to Norwich, and the A.45, from the Midlands to East Anglia. The scheme has taken something like seven years from the planning stage, and it has now reached an advanced state where the Minister has issued draft orders and has in the objections. The plan for the road scheme has been made to his satisfaction, trial borings have taken place, amenity committees have been consulted and so on. But now we are told that probably it may not even be in the plan to be constructed in the mid-1970s.
I was interested in our debate in this House last Wednesday when we touched on the question of whether there should be a toll on motorways. I personally do not approve of tolls on motorways, although I approve of tolls on tunnels and bridges, which are very expensive items. In that debate it was mentioned that in 1966 £350 million was spent on roads, and that a very large proportion of that sum would be for maintenance and minor improvements. It also came out in the debate that the Government were now collecting in total taxation—in road tax, petrol and purchase tax—a figure of £1,155 million and there has been 525 miles of motorway completed. But the average so far is only 50 miles a year. It also came out in that debate (I speak here subject to correction) that the cost of motorways in this country amounted to something like half a million pounds per mile. Therefore, we are spending only something like £25 or £30 million a year (though I know that it is a large sum) on actual motorways. If we do not speed that up considerably in the next few years, I do not know what will happen. I think that traffic through these towns will come to a halt since they cannot take very much more traffic.
115 There is very little allocation for trunk road improvements in East Anglia. There is a certain amount for the A.12, from London to Ipswich round about Colchester, but for the other stretches there is extremely little. Therefore I plead for more money to be allocated in future. Although we have heard that the Government will try to encourage more road traffic to go by rail, I doubt whether they will have very much success, because one cannot hold up progress. One sees on the roads these vehicles with dual braking and these great containers laden with goods, so that they can be lifted straight on to the ships. I think that a lot of this traffic will never go back to the railways.
I was quite depressed to hear trotted out again by this Government the old policy that we must have further integration and co-ordination. For, in my humble opinion, this means more control from the centre and less freedom of choice for the individual. Surely the trader, who has to pay the bill, knows the best and most economical way for him to send his goods. At the same time we must do all we possibly can to modernise the railways and make them more efficient, but I must say that I have not been very impressed with what has been done so far.
I must tell your Lordships one small story. This did not happen under Lord Beeching's administration of the railways, or under Mr. Marples, the then Minister of Transport. It happened under the present Labour administration, under the present Minister, Mrs. Barbara Castle and the present Chairman of the Railways Board, Sir Stanley Raymond. As your Lordships know, the town of New-market is the headquarters of racing and breeding in this country, and is renowned worldwide. The double line there runs between Cambridge and Ipswich, and the Board decided to cut out a large number of the rural stations and to make others unmanned halts. They also decided to make Newmarket—a town with a population of 12,000 which it is proposed to expand by 3,000 or 4,000 of London's overspill—into an unmanned halt.
The Railways Board, after long negotiations with the local authority and our M.P., refused even to keep open the 116 parcel service and booking service, and refused to keep one or two porters there for the convenience of the public. They said that the public lavatories and waiting rooms, on which they had spent something like £20,000 two years before in modernising the station, must be closed unless the local authority paid the bill to clean and heat the waiting rooms and lavatories on the station. I listened with interest to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, but if that is the sort of service the British public are to get from British Railways, will it encourage them to travel by rail?
The only answer we had was that, with a deficit of approximately £150 million this year, and £135 million the previous year, there would have to be economies. Surely if one is going to run the service one ought to give the public better facilities than that. No wonder people take to their cars and over-congest the roads! There is not enough money to go round to undertake these big road improvement schemes. We in our time tried under the Conservative Government by the 1962 Act to try to break the railways system up into regions so that the day-to-day management would be more in the hands of the regions, instead of its all being in London, in the Railways Board and the Transport Commission.
We are debating this subject before we have seen the Bill, or even a modern White Paper, but I understand that it is now more than likely that the regions are going to be done away with and that control is all going back centrally to the Board in London. As my noble friend Lord Cromartie said, Scotland is too much controlled from London and I think he is perfectly right. More power should go to the management in the regions. They had an excellent regional management in the Eastern area, but Mr. Fiennes, the former General Manager, unfortunately had a difference of opinion with his Chairman because he could not get sufficient control regionally, so he was dismissed for being rude to the Board in London. Now we hear that the Chairman of the Railways Board will probably go, too, because he cannot get on with the Minister. All that is most distressing.
In the old days my family was very much connected with the railways, and my great-grandfather was first chairman 117 of the London and North-Western Railway. I feel that we must get better labour relations. Also, I would ask whether we shall get more efficiency from the great unheaval which is going to take place at enormous cost, and from setting up all these organisations. In addition, I hope the Minister will look into the question of trying to get more money for the urgently needed motorways, and for bypassing the big towns. Otherwise, in a few years' time the traffic will come practically to a halt.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
My Lords, I should like to begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for not being here when he began his speech, but I was unavoidably detained. I object very strongly to the proposals to reorganise transport of which we read in the Queen's Speech, because I personally believe they are a straight product of doctrinaire Socialism. My noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford commented on the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I wholly agreed with him. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, speaks with enormous charm and with great fluency, and he almost lulled me into a sense of complacency. In fact, somehow I thought of the Irishman with a silver tongue who was referred to one day as honestly believing what he knew to be false. In spite of all that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, told us this afternoon, my mind went back to a statement made by the Minister, Mrs. Castle, who referred to the proposals which we are discussing to-day as "a dramatic extension of public ownership".
If I may say so humbly, my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford dealt very correctly with the view which we on this side take of nationalisation. Practical experience has shown that nationalisation leads to waste, to confusion and to frustration, and it is normally accompanied by periodic crises and a fall in the standard of living. The nationalised industries have already saddled the tax-payer with an appalling burden of deficits, and now, as a result of these proposals, when and if they become law, the taxpayer will have another immense millstone tied round his neck.
I believe that the Government are perpetrating a fundamental error in treating transport as an industry in itself, as the 118 Socialist Government did from 1945 onwards. I believe transport to be the handmaiden of industry, an adjunct of industry, and not an entity in itself, as the previous Socialist Government treated it. I believe it is essential that every user should have the freedom to choose the particular form of transport that he wants to meet his individual requirements. I was interested to hear this point very strongly stressed by my noble friend Lord Brentford.
I remember talking to a market gardener in the North of England during the 1945 Labour Government, and he complained most bitterly to me that, three times out of four, his vegetables arrived rotten at Covent Garden, where he was trying to sell them, because he had to accommodate his deliveries to the schedules of the nationalised transport instead of the situation being the other way round. This is but a small example of the frustration which I believe will take hold of industry in this country if these proposals go through.
To be efficient, transport must be flexible, it must be varied and it must be competitive. These are three qualities which are notoriously and outstandingly lacking in the nationalised industries. Industrial experience all goes to show that better service is obtained from a variety of medium-sized organisations rather than from one monolithic organisation such as is now proposed. Another lesson which we have learned from experience is that it is a pretty safe generalisation to say that the larger the organisation, the worse will be the labour relations. People just do not like working for the boss they never see and against whom there is no appeal; nor, indeed, is there an alternative source of employment. I hope most sincerely that I am wrong, but I foresee that the public may well be continually held to ransom by a handful of malcontents, who will be very much more powerful under the new organisation.
Turning for a moment to integrated passenger services, I have a great fear that they will mean schedules which suit the convenience of the operators rather than the convenience of the fare-paying and travelling public. The travelling public may well be faced in time with what I would call the soul-destroying utility attitude, the "take it or leave it" 119 attitude—"Do not bother me with the problem, because there is nothing I can do about it. It is the Minister's decision".
Lastly, there are the ports. The principal users, who are the British Shipping Council, do not want any more changes at the moment, and have said so clearly. Surely they are better able to judge their own requirements than any politicians in Whitehall. Mr. Peter Walker, the Opposition Shadow Minister of Transport in another place, has referred to these proposals as "doctrinaire lunacy", and I feel inclined to agree with him, because these proposals are basically the tail trying to wag the dog, and as such I strongly object to them. I very much hope that those of your Lordships who are on this side of the House will do your best to make very substantial changes to the Bill when it reaches the Committee stage.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I am sure that most people will agree that among the list, inspired or otherwise, of the proposed Government legislation announced in the Queen's Speech, the issue which stood head and shoulders above all others was the proposed Transport Bill. That is a Bill to tackle one of the major lifelines of this country; a lifeline which I think it is agreed by all has shown signs in recent years of a creeping thrombosis; a lifeline which, again agreed by all, requires the most careful surgical operation to keep it free-flowing. But it is a lifeline on which there is not agreement about what surgical treatment is required. Should it be, as the Minister suggests, a compulsory intergration of all forms of transport by nationalisation? Or should it be integration by consent, by a change in the fiscal policy on transport to make the balance between road and rail transport more competitive? From what I have read in recent months of the Minister's proposals to be incorporated in her Bill, I would entirely agree with her diagnosis of the transport problem facing the country, but her remedy or cure is, I suggest, both old-fashioned and a proved failure. It is a remedy which will prove, I believe, both a costly and an unworkable piece of legislation.
To-day we have had a pretty formidable list of speakers, most of whom have 120 been road men, with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell. In view of this, I should like to concentrate my few remarks on the role of the railways under the proposed legislation. One of the real tragedies over the last two decades of railway planning and management, and something which more than anything else has sapped the vitality of the railways, has been the way the railways have been used as a political ping-pong ball. This was most clearly brought out in the recently published book by the late manager of the Eastern Region, Mr. Fiennes, when he described how regional managers' lives were plagued by continual reorganisation and massive inquiries to the point where such interruptions seriously disturbed the continuity of management. The proposed nationalisation of transport will, in my opinion, cause yet another and unfinished chapter in this ping-pong game.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl could tell me (because I am getting a little confused; I know it is getting rather late) which nationalisation measure he is referring to in this particular Transport Bill. It would help me if he could tell me that.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am talking of the threat of the National Freight Authority and the P.T.A.s, which have been suggested.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
The National Freight Authority is not new nationalisation. It is merely a body to co-ordinate the nationalised railways and road services. Therefore it is not in that sense fresh nationalisation.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I think that if the noble Lord has studied the Minister's proposals—I know he has been abroad—he will have noticed that the railways are in fact to be split into two. This is the sort of reorganisation that I suggest will not help the future of the railways.
My Lords, as I understand it from the Minister's proposals and as I have just said, the railways will in fact be split into two by the National Freight Authority and by the local passenger traffic authorities. How these two bodies will successfully and happily integrate 121 with the railways is, I suggest, difficult to imagine. It is already known that the Railways Board themselves hate the idea, and it is not too difficult to imagine or to forecast that the staff will like it even less. If one examines what information we have so far been given about the National Freight Authority, we find that the Minister, so we are told, will be directly responsible. Beyond that, the Authority, we understand, will consist, on the one hand, of a number of road haulage men, from both private and national concerns, and, on the other hand, of a number of railway men. This joint team will decide, one presumes dispassionately, in the interests of the country, what freight will go by what form of transport. Overnight they will bury their differences; overnight they will sink their prejudices and forget all their past competitive battles for the market. This, in theory, is what the Minister hopes will happen. But in practice the very opposite effect is feared. What is anticipated is a continual and bitter wrangle among members of the Authority leading to a thoroughly inefficient body. In my opinion, the setting up of the Authority would be totally unnecessary if the Minister changed the fiscal policy on road haulage and allowed the railways to become more competitive in the freight market.
As to the passenger transport authorities, the railways, as I understand it, are to be controlled by a certain number of local authorities; and, knowing how in the past there have been continual feuds between local authorities and railways boards, one can only assume that this will be something of a shot-gun marriage. We are told that the P.T.A.s' control is vital to obtain a properly integrated bus and rail service, to avoid duplication of routes. This, of course, is just not true, as Liverpool City have themselves proved. This council alone has achieved co-operation with the railways, and planned an integrated transport service in their area over two years ago. A very genuine fear that has been expressed to me over the setting up of the P.T.A.s has come from a number of rural district councils. What they fear is that when the four P.T.A.s are initially introduced the rural district councils' services will suffer; that they will be left out in the cold. I hope 122 the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he comes to reply, will be able to give some assurance to the rural district councils that their interests will be properly looked after.
Whatever reorganisation is in store for the railways under this proposed Transport Bill, there are two points I should like to draw to the Government's attention before a decision is finally made on the drafting of the Bill. The first is the present unsatisfactory procedure of the T.U.C.C. hearings, in particular where passenger closure proposals are heard. As the House will know, under Section 56 of the Transport Act the T.U.C.C.s have very limited powers at present, and may accept evidence from objectors only on the slender grounds of hardship. In the past, this limitation has led to objectors feeling, and I think rightly feeling, that their case had been only half presented. On top of this, no cross-examination of the railways' case for closures is ever permitted. I think it is now generally accepted that the hearings and their procedure are at present unsatisfactory, and I hope that the Minister will, under her new legislation, correct this position.
The second point concerns the publication of the railway network maps. These maps set out what lines were to be definitely retained for both passenger and freight traffic, and they also set out what lines were still being considered for closure. Since the publication of these maps last March, the railways, and in particular the Eastern Region, have proved to themselves that many of the threatened lines could in fact be made to pay, or anyway break even. With this new change of heart on the part of the Railways Boards, I hope that an immediate re-assessment of these maps will be made to cut out the uncertainty. As I am sure everyone will agree, it is the uncertainty that does so much damage to the railway revenue.
As I said at the beginning, I am totally against a forced, dictated system of integration, which I believe will in the long run prove repugnant to the majority of the people in this country. I believe, however, that integration could be brought about by consent through the means of a fiscal policy. A result of the proposed Bill, as I see it, will be a loss of efficiency in transport, a loss of pride 123 and a loss of service. This effect on one of the main lifelines of this country could be disastrous. The Minister has described herself—I believe she did it at Scarborough—as "an impatient woman". The proposals in her promised Transport Bill have, I suggest, all the qualities of this impatience, and in my opinion they have all the qualities of failure.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Earl cannot have it both ways. His noble friend Lord Chesham was complaining of the long time it had taken the Minister to produce these proposals. Now the noble Earl is complaining that she has been impatient.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I rise to make only a very few remarks, because I am an absolutely inveterate supporter of the railways. I do not believe that even the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, can be a greater supporter than I am; and I shall take every opportunity I have for speaking up for the railways. I shall not take more than five minutes, because much of what I wanted to say has already been said by one or two Members of your Lordships' House on this side. I also agree with a good many of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, said, although I did not agree with him when he put all the blame on the past and none of it on the present. I think that the blame ought to be shared almost 50–50.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, spoke up—and very rightly—for the problems of the North-West. I want to speak up for the problems of the Borders. Here we have an area which is by way of being developed industrially and where money, we are told, is to be made available for industrial development. And yet we have Dr. Beeching's threat to do away with our railway. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that the uncertainty that hangs over the railways, the uncertainty about the threatened lines, is absolutely devastating. It eats into the confidence of the people who are running the railway, and it makes the job of the people who want to support them—as I 124 do, and as many others do—far more difficult. I hope that in a very short time we shall have decisions about these lines, because it is the uncertainty which is most unsatisfying and it is very hard luck on the railway officials, on the railwaymen, and on those who are in charge of the railways.
It seems to me that the heads of the railways, the people in charge, the "high heid yins" as we call them in Scotland, do not consider the needs of the consumers, the passengers, nearly enough. In their offices far away from the area involved, they put out these plans; they make decisions; and then they expect those decisions to be in the interests presumably of the consumers as well as of the Board. But that just is not so. I think it is time that someone spoke up for the users of the railways, for the strengthening of the Transport Users Consultative Committees, for the general feeling that the railways are there to serve the public, the public that is not going to be pushed about all the time by the people in the offices at the top, people who never travel by rail at all.
I was intrigued by Lord Inglewood's proposal that some of these people should have the experience of travelling on our railways, not as V.I.P.s, but just as ordinary travellers in order that they may see how difficult it is sometimes (though with the best will in the world) to support the railways. The line on which I travel twice a week has had the "Beeching axe" hanging over it ever since the Beeching Report was issued—I do not know how many years ago. This has been absolutely devastating. The line has been running down; people are no longer interested in it. If I say that we should support the railways by taking some traffic off the roads, people are quite uninterested. I cannot imagine running a business whose publicity is as bad as that of some of our railway lines. I think a leaf might be taken out of some other book—I do not know who could do it—to get better publicity for travelling by rail. The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, has pointed out several things in connection with the railways which are very discouraging to people. I could quote experiences of a more or less similar kind on other parts of the railways.
125 I feel strongly that the new Bill is an opportunity for the Government to encourage people to travel by rail. The railways must be encouraged to serve the public as they used to, and not merely to serve the people sitting in Whitehall, or wherever is the centre of the railway network. Without this encouragement on both sides the railways will not be made to pay.
My Lords, there are a number of people who want to support the railways. There are services of different kinds that are tremendously successful. I think of the service whereby people going on holiday can put their cars on the railway and have them carried a long distance before taking them off and driving on to their holiday. This service is an enormous success. Indeed, so successful is it that they cannot provide enough trains to operate it. In that service the railways have struck a good line of business. In any other business it would be developed tremendously so that more and more people could buy that particular "line". But not at all. You have to book your car on to a train many months ahead, in order to be quite sure that you can travel where you want. This service is a very good idea. Why do they not "sell" it to the public? There are many other things which the railways do well but which the public do not appreciate or understand because the railways do not "sell" them to the public.
I hope that the new Bill—though it may contain some matters with which we shall not agree—is at heart going to be a Bill to help the railways, to help the railwaymen and to make our system a really efficient and good one which will serve the public. That is what it is there for. I hope also that the Minister will cast a glance at the railway lines in the rather remoter parts of the country (in one of which I live) and will make decisions, favourable decisions, so that we in the Borders may keep our railways.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is not here at the moment. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will tell him that we thought the first of his three speeches the best. May I begin by disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell; although I am going to agree 126 with him in a minute. He conveyed the impression that we were discussing this proposed legislation more or less in a vacuum and without knowing enough. That is usually so in a debate on the gracious Speech, but in this case it is not. The Minister and her Department have both "opened their mouths" very frequently and loudly, and we have a very good idea of the Minister's intentions. We have the White Paper and we have—and this is particularly important—the Minister's Circular in July. We also have—and perhaps this is almost as important—the speech of the Minister at the Labour Party Conference at Scarborough. That, I think, tells us a very great deal. I agree with my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford that we should probably accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says if he were the Minister; but I say very bluntly that we are not prepared to accept everything he says because he is not the Minister; he was speaking from a brief.
My Lords, in winding up for noble Lords on this side of the House I am not going to try to cover all the proposed legislation and everything that has been said this afternoon. I am not going into any detail of the several things that we know are in the Minister's mind and with which we basically agree, such as her new safety regulations, quality licensing, and so on. I am not going to deal with them except to say that, broadly, we agree with them—unless, when the details are disclosed there are some that we do not like. I shall therefore deal only with those matters that we at present dislike, those which we at present oppose, and those which, if they appear in the Bill, we shall probably continue to oppose. At any rate, that is giving due warning to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when he comes to reply and, of course, to the Minister when she produces her Bill.
Reading the Minister's speech at the Party Conference, and various other speeches made by Members of the Party opposite, one would really not think that at this moment we were fighting for our lives in an economic war. There is little in the gracious Speech or what we believe is the proposed legislation that seems to me in these very desperate circumstances—and I call to my aid in those words the Prime Minister himself, who has never said anything except that we have a very 127 hard struggle ahead of us economically—that really has to do with this crisis. The Minister in her speeches and at other times occasionally mentions that the whole idea is to have efficiency. She says, of course, that the way to get efficiency is by nationalisation and public ownership—and she shouts it louder and louder. But she has never yet tried to argue that case on any platform of which I have heard, and she certainly did not do so at the Labour Party Conference. What is in her mind was made abundantly clear from her repeated statements in her speech, and in her final triumphant last sentence, when she said:It will give to us all a Socialist transport policy.Not an efficient policy, my Lords, but a Socialist transport policy. A friend of mine, who was there, said that it was greeted by the comrades with enormous enthusiasm, except for a small section who sat somewhat glum—they were all people engaged in transport.
My Lords, I wish to deal, first of all (because it bears most directly upon our economic difficulties) with the question of the carriage of goods, whether by rail or road. May I say that although the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, was highly political, and very onesided—he put only one side of the ease—I shall not argue the whole of that case because it would take all night. I agree with him that the management of all the nationalised boards, and particularly the Railways Board, have been faced with enormous difficulties by successive Governments interfering with management. What the noble Lord did not say is that, as far as I can see, the interference by the present Government has been worse than any other, and that if this Bill comes into force the interference will be continuous. Apparently, my Lords, when dealing with this question of efficiency and management, the Minister of Transport says: "This is the way to get it. We set up a new organisation, a new bureaucracy, calling itself the National Freight Corporation." But that Corporation is not going to be an independent one, it is to be responsible to the Minister in London; the Minister has said so. Her words were, "It will be responsible to me"—not even "to my Department" or to someone else, but "to me"—" and I 128 shall decide." The Minister herself is the person who is going to decide what is best.
May I ask what the Minister of Transport knows professionally about business management? This cannot be done at the centre; it must be done by people who know their job. In my view—and it was said by my noble friend Lord St. Helens—the proper people to decide what transport to use are the customers. They are the people who know what is efficient; and if the railways are more efficient in carrying certain goods, as even without any alteration they are more efficient in the carrying of certain goods to-day, then the customer will use the railways. If road transport is more efficient, he will use road transport.
May I give one true example to your Lordships to show how generally inefficient (I agree it is not entirely the fault of the management) are the nationalised industries? I have a great friend who has a large factory near Doncaster and delivers goods all over the country. Before the war all his goods were delivered by rail. He tells me that he used to ring up—I am not sure whether it was the local railway or the local railway agent—and say "Look, I have to send four tons of stuff in a consignment to Glasgow. When can you collect it, and when can you deliver it?". They used to say to my friend: "We can collect it on Monday forenoon and it will be delivered to the door next Thursday forenoon." My friend then used to ring up his customer and say: "That four tons will be delivered on Thursday next."
My friend never wanted a lorry on his premises because that would mean another department to run, and his arrangement with the railways worked beautifully. Since the war he has tried on several occasions to carry on the same arrangement, because he did not want to run a fleet of lorries; but he found that it was quite impossible. He rang up the railway and said, "When can you collect?" They said, "With luck, next week"—not giving him a day, but saying, "With luck, next week". When my friend asked, "If you collect it next week, when can you deliver it?" he was told. "Well, it ought not to take more than ten days". My friend said, "Yes, but the customer wants to know when it will 129 arrive so that he can have loaders ready. What day will it arrive?" He was told, "I am afraid we cannot tell you that". So it went on, and my friend is still running a fleet of lorries. He told me the other day that he would willingly go back to railway transport, if the railways could handle the goods. Surely the first thing the Government should do, before they mess about with anything else, is to try to help the railways to be more efficient.
My Lords, one might think that that was the Minister's intention. But the railways are not to be allowed to say whether they can carry the cream of the traffic: that is to be done by this authority. All the railways are to be allowed to carry for certain is bulk consignments—ore and so on, which is a declining traffic. That cannot be right—
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I wonder what is happening on the Government Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, says "Hear, hear!" to that remark, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd shakes his head.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, may I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that the explanation is quite simple? I said "Hear, hear!" because the noble Lord was stating the very obvious; and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was shaking his head because he could not understand why the noble Lord should make so much of the obvious.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, that is all very complicated.
The second thing the Minister apparently wants to do (although she does not put it in these words) is, where possible, to eliminate long-distance heavy road traffic, unless it is nationalised. The Ministry of Transport have admitted, as did the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, that there cannot be a great increase in the goods which could be carried on the railways rather than on the roads. In respect of any vehicle of over 5 tons which travels for more than 100 miles (or, if it is a bulk carrier, 25 miles), the railways, and I think the National Freight Corporation (though it was not mentioned to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd), are to have the right to object to the granting of a licence, on the 130 grounds that they could do the job more efficiently—not necessarily only more cheaply, but more efficiently, which covers a lot. If they object, an operator's licence is taken away, and he cannot operate at all. Then the operator has to go before a tribunal, which may be sitting, heaven knows where! This tribunal, presumably, will be run by civil servants. The operator will try to prove to the tribunal (which probably knows nothing about running transport) that he could do the job more efficiently than the railways. If, eventually, the railways, or nationalised transport, find that they cannot do the job more efficiently than the operator, he may get his licence back. But by that time he may have gone out of business. It really is a most nonsensical performance. That is one of the things we shall watch, and if it is as I have said (and if the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, reads the Minister's speech, he will know that it is as I have said)—
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will read the 1933 Act, he will see that all the strictures which he is placing have been in existence from that time.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, the power to ban a licensed operator because the railways object to his having a licence has not been in existence before. It is clearly the intention of the Minister to do away with long-distance haulage in private hands, if possible, and she makes no secret of that. She wants to socialise it; and she repeated that again and again at Scarborough. My Lords, it is a wonderful thought—tribunals all over the country run by civil servants; people being asked to prove something which it is almost impossible to prove, probably to people who do not even know what they are talking about. It really is an extraordinary picture.
May I now say one word—I do not want to detain your Lordships, as it is getting late—about roads and road programmes. It is natural, of course, that most goods must be carried on the roads. I think I am right in saying that there are 200,000 miles of roads in the country and 11,000 miles of railway track. We are all in favour of the railways' carrying more goods, where possible, and taking them off the road, but the Ministry themselves say that the amount that can be 131 switched is limited. The Minister boasts about the road programme, as noble Lords opposite have done this afternoon. But the Government are spending more on roads because costs have gone up. It is a rolling programme which has built up over the years. What the Minister has done to help that programme was to make a £55 million deferment in 1965 and a £14 million cut in 1966; and it is now impossible, however much money is spent, to complete the road programme by the date laid down by the last Conservative Government.
May I say a word about the ports, which I gather are to be nationalised. The trouble here is that we do not know much about what is going on; and it is the appalling uncertainty that is causing the difficulty. I hope that we shall hear the details very soon. The Harbours Act 1964 made far-reaching changes in order to increase the efficiency of the ports. My advice is that the Government Departments have made little or no effort to make this Act function. One wonders whether it was not too good an Act, one that was likely to function so well that it would prevent nationalisation, and therefore they had orders not to make it function.
I am not going to say anything about the nationalisation of bus services, because we shall hear a great deal about that subject. I suppose that I should not say "nationalisation" but "public ownership", because in certain cases the losses will be met, not by the taxpayer but by the ratepayer. I have a feeling that the rural buses will not be very effective. They will be run for the convenience of the organisation and not for the convenience of the people who live in the country areas. As in other nationalised industries, the fares will go up. When we come to the brilliant idea of nationalising taxis, I am quite certain that the fares will go up. It seems that the Minister hopes that one day we shall not be able to travel by transport but will all have to walk. Both the Minister and her team know a lot about walking. They are experts in that: they were all Aldermaston marchers.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I think it would be appropriate if I referred at once to the speech we have just heard. 132 It has undoubtedly been the most entertaining speech we have heard this afternoon, perhaps because the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, did not feel that he was under any obligation to confine himself to fact and by referring to fancy gave himself greater licence, without needing to go to any tribunal to have it confirmed. I thought that he started off on a most ungenerous note, even for him—for he can be very ungenerous when he decides that that is the right line to take. He said that if my noble friend Lord Shepherd had been the Minister, he would have accepted everything he said, but that, because he was not, he was not prepared to accept what he said. I suggest that when the noble Lord reads that to-morrow he will see that it is not the sort of thing that we expect to have said in a House of this kind, and I am certain that the noble Lord himself would have bitterly resented such a remark if it had been made from these Benches when he, as a junior Minister, was speaking for a Department.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am sorry if I was misunderstood. What I meant was that if the noble Lord had been Minister and produced a brief, I would have taken it from him; but if the present Minister had made such a speech, I would not have been prepared to accept it. It would not have been the same speech.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, that is not what the noble Lord said. He said that he would not accept what my noble friend was saying. He went on to say that my noble friend was speaking from a brief. Did the noble Lord think, from his own past experience, that if a Minister without departmental responsibility was speaking from a brief he pulled it out of the air, and that it was something which would be totally unacceptable to the Minister for whom he was speaking? Surely the fact that the noble Lord admitted that there was a brief gave the direct lie to what he himself was saying.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, as did another noble Lord, went on to speak about what the Minister had told the Labour Party Conference. She told the Conference that she would give them a Socialist transport system. The other noble Lord who quoted my right honourable friend went on to admit that 133 this was not necessarily inconsistent. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, did not concede that there was any possibility other than that they would be inconsistent. He went on to say that he did not agree with everything my noble friend Lord Popplewell had said. That did not surprise me in the slightest.
The noble Lord said that, in his opinion, under this Government there was greater interference with the nationalised boards than there had ever been before. I do not understand noble Lords opposite. In two recent by-elections, and I have no doubt in the by-elections which are being fought at the present time, they have made considerable play with the increases in electricity charges. Have they said that the Electricity Board should be free to follow the commercial trends, which they had laid down as the Board's objective? No, what they have said is that the Government should have intervened and stopped the Electricity Board from increasing their prices. It may well be that that was the right thing to do, but noble Lords cannot argue both sides of the case at the same time.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord is being very strong on this point—and doing it extremely well, if I may say so—but he is not setting the whole stage. The reason why our friends and ourselves have been saying that is because the Government have established their prices and incomes policy, under which all prices, for private industry as well, are being held down. In these circumstances, it is only reasonable that this increase also should be looked at.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having made my point for me. The best way to deal with these things is the way that seems best at the time. There will be circumstances when the correct thing is to leave the Boards to their own devices, and there will be circumstances when the Boards should be required to conform to general Government policy. In the case of this Board it required, and received, interference from Government in the past, and in the future it will receive the same sort of intervention from Government when it is necessary that the Board should be working in the national interest.
134 What I am pointing out is that when noble Lords opposite are calling, in the national interest, for intervention in the affairs of nationalised Boards, that does not stop them from saying that this is a bad thing to do. They should not say bath at the same time. They might be right in saying one thing at one time and the other thing at another time, if the circumstances are totally different; but they cannot both be right at the same time. This is the point I seek to make. I am sorry for being so political on this subject, but it is inevitable, following the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who introduced a rather welcome return to pure politics on the matter. As I said, he did not wish to be restricted by fact, and so often a purely political case is helped very much if you can do it in the Hans Andersen style rather than statistically.
There was one thing the noble Lord said with which I agree wholeheartedly. He said that if the railways are more efficient the customers will use them. That is one of the objects of the Bill which is going to be introduced. We want to give the railways more efficiency; we want to help them to be more efficient; we want to cease placing obstacles in the way of their becoming efficient. If we can accomplish that, we shall have done something which is worth while, helping the railways and the general economy of this country and helping the Government to attain their principal objective of getting the economy of the country permanently on a sound basis.
I do not think noble Lords opposite could argue with very great sincerity that in the 13 years between 1951 and 1964 it had been a prime objective of the Conservative Government's policy to help the railways to pay.
§ LORD NUGENT OF GUILDFORD
No. I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord and to prolong his speech, but the Conservative Government not only pursued a general policy of supporting the railways, but they financed a complete modernisation programme. This was a £1,500 million programme, started in 1956 put up by the railways. This was not cut by one farthing.
§ A NOBLE LORD: Withdraw!
§ LORD HUGHES
Certainly not. But if you require the railways to operate in such a framework that it is impossible for them to make money, there is not much good in giving them the capital. That is what was done by the previous Government. I would invite noble Lords to study what my noble friend Lord Popplewell said about railway results. I think it is pretty correct to say that the beginning of the difficulties of the railways was when the Government of the day decided that a policy of integration should be abandoned. From that point on it became more difficult for the railways to be profitable. We are on subjects of complete Party difference here, and I know that I have no more hope of converting noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, and far less on the Back Benches, than they have of converting me. So shall we leave that for further argument on the Transport Bill, perhaps on the basis that at the moment honours are even?
I should now like to go back in time to the first points that were made. At the outset, I want to change my manner completely by saying how grateful I am—and I say this with all sincerity—to the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for the way in which he followed my noble friend Lord Shepherd. I am not just seeking to find nice words when I say that in his usual manner he sought both to praise and to condemn. It may be that I am taking more from what he said than he intended, but I did genuinely find that on the whole there was more praise than condemnation, simply because of the fact that the praise was on a wider field and the condemnation was on a fairly narrow field, although perhaps the total wording was about the same. The noble Lord said that he had some doubts about the P.T.As., and I can at least remove his doubts on one of them. He asked: "Will the Minister appoint the chairman and chief officers?" The answer quite definitely is, No.
§ LORD HUGHES
I will go on to another point raised by the noble Lord, on which I can give him some answer, although not quite so specific as on the last one. This refers to the question of the relationship with the municipal and privately-owned bus services. Generally speaking, within the framework which the Bill will prescribe, it will be for the P.T.As. themselves to set up precise arrangements with private bus operators and the railways.
The noble Lord, speaking in fairly general terms, indicated that the Government were wrong in assuming that bigness was in itself something which necessarily produced good results. I would agree with him about that. But I think he went on to make the mistake of assuming that smallness, on the contrary, always produced good results. It is just as wrong to generalise in the one direction as in the other. The noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, when I was out for a short time, referred to conditions in Scotland. I would not choose to speak for what happens to small bus undertakings South of the Border, but I know that part of our difficulties, particularly in the North of Scotland, is the extent to which the small operator has in fact gone to the wall simply because he could no longer continue to be viable.
The same thing applies to labour relations as to finance. Some of the small companies have excellent relations because the proprietor of the concern knows every man running it. But sometimes in the smaller undertaking the relations are the reverse of good because every man has to come in contact with the proprietor. Do not let us generalise on these matters. Let us accept that one of the primary objectives of any organisation should be to seek efficiency in every direction, and this could not be attained either through bad financial arrangements or through bad labour relations. Good arrangement in the one case are just as necessary as in the other.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, welcomed the freedom which my noble friend proposed to give to the vehicle of 30 cwt. and less, but I thought the noble Lord was a little less generous in not being similarly appreciative of the freedom which we are giving from quantity control over all vehicles up to 137 100 miles, with the limited exception to which my noble friend referred of the bulk traffic. I think if I were to criticise generally, rather than in detail, what the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, said, it would be by saying that in his speech there was too much of the attitude of: "Things are better left as they are". The one thing which is quite certain with transport in this country at the present time is that no Minister of Transport can afford to leave things where they are.
The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, raised two points to which I should attempt to give an answer. First of all, he asked about the railway profit. He said there was not much incentive for the railways to make a profit if at the end of the day they had to hand it all over to the Treasury. The answer I would give to the noble Lord is that the railways will certainly not be left without a full incentive to make a profit. The second point upon which the noble Lord asked for an answer from me was on the question of the manufacture of containers. He asked whether the railways were to go into the manufacture of containers. The answer is, Yes. In fact, the railways are already in the business of manufacturing containers, and one of the things we propose to do in the new Bill is to give them wider powers to manufacture in this way.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was quite intriguing on the subject of integration. I liked his phrase very much. He said integration was praiseworthy or even desirable. Then he went on to ask why we wanted to have it. I should have thought that if it was praiseworthy and desirable, that was enough in itself. But that was not the only reason why we want it; there are many praiseworthy and desirable things we should like to have but cannot go about getting them.
My Lords, I was, in fact, referring more to the most appropriate use of all one's resources, as opposed to integration.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, that is just a long, roundabout way of saying "integration". He went on to indicate his acceptance of integration, saying the same as I do, and he asked why the Government wanted it. He asked whether it 138 was prompted by a desire to eliminate the railways deficit. I should have thought that a desire to eliminate the railways deficit also could be described as praiseworthy and desirable, and it is an objective to which any Government should set themselves. In fact, it is one of the prime objectives of an integrated service that, first of all, we should give a better service to the customer, and that it should be allied with better results. So the general acceptance—I must put in the word "general"—by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, of an integration principle is indeed well-founded.
The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, also referred to the standard of British Railways management. In more than one way this debate is rather unfortunate in its timing, because within the next week a report on this subject, in the form of a White Paper, will be issued, and I have no doubt at all that the noble Earl will read this with great interest.
I think it would be correct to say that the point on which he laid most stress in his remarks was the call for consultation and discussion—as I think he put it, not just telling people or just informing people. I agree, and so does the Minister; and that is why she had so much consultation, both with industry and with the trade unions, before this Bill was drafted. I doubt very much whether, prior to the drafting of the Bill, there had been more intensive consultation on any Bill. I use the word "consultation" in the sense that the noble Earl was thinking of.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, was rather interesting. He defined the best qualities a Minister of Transport should have as patience and modesty. The thought occurred to me, when he was speaking, that a year or two back noble Lords opposite thought that Mr. Marples was the acme of perfection so far as a Minister of Transport was concerned. I doubt very much whether Mr. Marples would have claimed to be either patient or modest.
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I do not think that he means to do me an injustice, but I do not think I used the word "best".
My Lords, I referred to patience and modesty as desirable qualities, and that implies qualities among many others. But I did not use the word "best". I do not want to spoil the noble Lord's argument.
§ LORD HUGHES
I do not think it will spoil my argument in the slightest, but I will substitute for "best" the word "desirable", and I will now rephrase my remark. I doubt very much whether the former Minister of Transport, Mr. Marples, would have claimed that he possessed the qualities of patience and modesty.
§ LORD HUGHES
No. But what I am suggesting is that the noble Lord was implying at least that the absence of these qualities meant that a person could not be a good Transport Minister.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for admitting that Mr. Marples was a very good Transport Minister.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if I had admitted that, the noble Lord would have grounds for gratitude. What I said was that I thought noble Lords opposite were of that opinion. Then I was trying to go on to say what I thought Mr. Marples would have said about such a claim. I doubt whether he would have claimed these qualities for himself. I have twice been deprived of finishing the sentence I was making: I was going on to say that I doubt whether anyone would have believed him if he had claimed them.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, asked for closer relationships between local authorities, on the one hand, and bus companies and railways, on the other. I am in complete agreement with him. I think it is very desirable. This is one of the primary objects of the P.T.As. We have therefore to be grateful to him for his support in advance.
My noble friend Lord Popplewell made the only speech from behind me this afternoon. I do not think he will criticise me in the slightest when I say that, like 140 the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, it was purely political. But, unlike Lord Derwent's speech, it at least had the basis of some fact in it, because what he said about the figures was factual. The Box confirmed that he had not used the wrong figures. I do not propose to follow him into the past. It has never struck me as very useful, in trying to work out what should be done now, to argue the rightness or wrongness of what happened in the past. But at least it is worth reminding ourselves of the history. It was a time when, under a different system from that which existed between 1961 and 1964, the railways could pay; and we believe that getting back to a system of that kind will in some ways make it easier for the railways to return to profitability.
I know that there are others ways. I attended a dinner in a small town in Scotland a couple of years ago, and because I was the Minister present, and that town was in process of losing, or had lost, the local railway, the Provost had some fun at my expense. To my horror, he associated me with the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, and he summed up the policy of Lord Beeching (which of course was really the policy of the Government, because the Government of that day laid down the remit for Lord Beeching) by saying, "I recommend to the Government that the only way of making a railway pay is not to have a railway". And the Provost said, "He has started here. We do not have a railway". My noble friend Lord Popplewell reminded us that there was another way of making a railway pay, even in the difficult years after the war.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, raised a point which no one else had touched upon in the debate at that time—the question of centralisation of licensing. I have no doubt at all that there will be very considerable advantages and economies of operation in doing it in this way—by making full use of the computer service which will be available. He was quite wrong in assuming that it would take fifteen years to bring the service fully into operation. It is intended that it shall start operation in 1971, and be in full operation by 1974. I should also like to add that I think he will probably be wrong in his assumption about the index plates. He did not take the line which the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of 141 Guildford, and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, took on integration.
The noble Viscount was not prepared to admit that it could work at all. He said it was the sort of thing which was all right in theory but just would not work out in practice. All I would say to the noble Lord is that I thought my noble friend Lord Popplewell, who spoke immediately before him, had answered that in advance. He indicated quite clearly not only that it was theoretically possible for it to work, but that for a period of years, until it was stopped, it in fact did work. He then went on to give his idea of what would happen if one wanted to get goods moved from one point to another under an integrated system. I must admit that it was very funny, but it was equally fanciful. That is also the only way in which I can describe his references to the Minister's powers. The Minister is seeking to do various things, but she has never at any time indicated that these are other than proposals which she is to ask Parliament to carry out. She is not seeking to dispense either with this House or with another place, and I would invite the noble Lord to look at what my right honourable friend has said, and to look at it in context. Perhaps different people read the same words in different ways.
Finally the noble Lord referred, as it was quite appropriate for him to do, to the £1,200 million raised in taxes from the users of motor vehicles and compared it with the amount of money spent on the roads. Not since the late Sir Winston Churchill raided the Road Fund has any Government accepted that there need be any relationship between the money raised in taxation and the amount spent on roads, any more than it has ever been suggested either to, or by, any Government, that all the money raised by taxes on drink should be spent on building better public houses.
I was sorry that I had to be out of the Chamber when the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, was speaking, because he was one of the two Scots taking part, and I had just an idea that he might have injected a Scottish note into the debate. He did so; he asked for information about expenditure on Scottish roads. The position is quite good. In 1962–63 the total road programme was £14.9 million, and in 1967–68 it was £31.5 million, so the 142 parallel quoted by my noble friend can certainly also be quoted for Scotland. In 1970–71 the figure will rise to £40 million, which again is in line with the national figures quoted by my noble friend. I doubt very much whether any noble Lord, either on the Front Bench or anywhere else, can get out of that one by referring to the increase in prices, because we know that we are certainly not spending £31.5 million in 1967–68 in order to get the same mileage of roads as we obtained for £14.9 million only five years ago. Of course, I will concede that we are not getting the same mileage because costs have risen. So I hope, not that the noble Lord will be satisfied, because I do not want any of my Scottish friends to say that they are satisfied with the programme at any given time, but that he will concede that we are making the right sort of progress, even although it is not as fast as he would wish it to be.
I have already spoken longer than I had intended to, but it would be wrong if I were to close without a reference to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. It would also be very foolish of me. I welcomed the remarks which she made. She was critical of the railways, but it seemed to me that she made it abundantly clear that it was the criticism of a friend, of one who wished to see the railways making the best use of their resources, and that she hoped that she, and anybody else either on this side or elsewhere, would do everything possible to encourage the railways to make the best use of their resources, and that the railways should be permitted to keep in use at least certain of their assets about which there is some doubt at the present time.
The noble Baroness knows full well that she is not alone in Scotland in thinking that way, and not all thought in the matter necessarily rests in those who oppose Her Majesty's Government. The best answer which I can give to her is that the most useful thing we can do for the railways is to give them every encouragement to make the best use of their assets; that they should not have to think even of limiting services which are potentially profitable simply because they do not have the resources at a given time properly to exploit them. I think if we did only one thing for the railways, that is, if we gave them heart to go on 143 with their work, this itself would be worth while. But we are going to do more than that: we are going to give the railways heart, not as an isolated part of a service but as part of a service which should be working, with its component parts, to give the best results to the community as a whole. This cannot be accomplished if one is unduly profitable only at the expense of piling up unnecessary losses on the other. What we wish to see is that each, by making its most efficient contribution to the community (which must include a reference to profit) will provide the greatest overall advantage to the community.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether the railways want this "new heart" which he describes?
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I should think they would be even more foolish than some noble Lords think they are if they did not want it. Surely it is a reasonable thing to expect that at least some of the people on the railways, if not all of them, want to be given the opportunity to do the best job they can. One of the things which has been said so often is that people on the railways are discouraged: they feel that they are fighting a losing battle and that nobody is on their side. We want them to understand clearly that we are on their side, though that does not mean "My friend, right or wrong": it means "helping my friend to be right, giving him the opportunity to be right". And if we do this I think we shall put the heart into the railways which may well have been lacking in recent years.
I am conscious of the fact that the necessity for compressing a speech into a reasonable time at what your Lordships still surprisingly call "this late hour" has, of necessity, compelled me not to reply to all the points which have been raised in the debate. After all, your Lordships have spoken for something like four hours, and if I were to deal adequately with 144 everything that has been said I should reply for four hours, but if I did so there would be nobody present to hear the end of my reply. However when, on reading the Record of this debate, I find that there is any individual point to which I should have given an answer, I will certainly take the opportunity of writing to the noble Lord concerned; and, of course, it will always be open to him to make such use of that answer, either privately or publicly, as he thinks necessary.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will let me know the position in regard to East Anglia, because we feel strongly about the allocation of capital for roads in East Anglia.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shepherd took notes of points which were raised in my absence, and the only justification I have for replying to a special point about Scotland is that Scotland, unlike East Anglia, is a nation. However, that does not mean that the East Anglian point should not be referred to. But it seemed to me that it was something to which an answer could be given afterwards. It was that sort of point that I had in mind, and I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that I will give him an answer in writing. That will probably be better than if I gave him a verbal one, because I would not claim that my knowledge of East Anglia is my strongest point in geography.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carrington I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until to-morrow.—(Earl St. Aldwyn.)
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes before eight o'clock.