I beg to move,
That in the opinion of this House, present conditions no longer justify the retention of the increase of fifty per cent. in passenger railway fares imposed during the War, and these fares ought to be restored to the pre-war rate without delay; further, that, in order to meet the needs of the general public, the present inadequate train services should be increased and provision made for the running of cheap trains on a scale at least equal to the pre-war standard.
The subject-matter of this Motion is one which creates a good deal of feeling, especially in our mining districts, and it
has taken up a very large amount of the time of local Members to explain the attitude taken up by the Government upon it, though with due respect I think it would be more correct to describe it as the want of sympathy and attention to a matter which is of great importance and which very closely affects the interests and welfare of the huge mass of the people, especially in our large congested areas. I did not know that this question was so popular until it had been placed on the Order Paper of the House, and I find that it could be extended to cover the whole of this Kingdom. Perhaps I may be pardoned if first of all I place the matter before the House in the way in which my Constituents look upon it. They remain quits convinced in the belief that the Government should long ago have made some move in this matter without waiting to be urged to do it, and more especially in the district where I come from, in the stated or agreed periods of holiday times provided by arrangement between employers and workmen. No one, I think, believes that six months after the Armistice and on the eve of the declaration of peace terms, which we all hope will bring the complete cessation to the great World War, that this increase of railway passenger fares is either justifiable or necessary. The reasons brought forward for its establishment have been swept away, and it is not possible for anyone to defend its continuance, even as an emergency precaution to prevent unnecessary travelling, in order that the railways should be entirely used in the work of carrying munitions of war or the rapid transit of troops from whatever point became necessary from time to time. Looking up the records of this House I find that the discussions on this subject are very meagre, because it was brought about and these increased rates imposed at a time when it was argued that it was solely on the ground that it was a war regulation. It was put forward as a question not to increase the revenue in any shape or form, but was asked for and pleaded for and granted submissively by this House as a war regulation to give full and unlimited means to those in authority and responsible for the transit of human and material machinery requisite to a successful issue on our behalf in the great War. Very little was said, and I think I would not be far wrong in saying that the statements would be better described as whispers. It was only on one point that it was sought to justify these
increased rates being extracted from the great mass of the people on account of its being fair or even due to the railway companies. On that ground I must say the reply which was given on the 14th of April last came rather as a surprise. On that occasion the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, in reply to a question put by an hon. Member, stated that nothing could be done in the shape of providing cheap excursion fares, or oven more trains for the workers at the Easter holidays, and then he said, I suppose as an after-thought, "An effort will be made by the railway companies to afford greater travelling facilities during the coming summer." The terms of this announcement by the Under-Secretary are very mysterious and altogether vague. Outside official circles it is thought and believed by us that it is the business and paramount duty of railway companies to provide and afford travelling facilities at least within reason. The mere promise to run some sort of train service does not arouse in us any gratitude. If it is intended to run a better train service, why not say so in definite terms, because that would create a very much better impression? The Armistice is now long past, and peace, we hope, is now approaching. For over four years the people have borne the strain of war and its anxieties, and they have suffered in silence. Work and worry tell the tale on the nerves of the nation, and the stress is all the greater with the relaxation following the end of the actual fighting. I want this House to mark that.
We had in this House some sort of a promise with regard to improved trains, and a statement was issued from the office of the Railway Executive Committee which set forth that there will probably be no cheap trains run this year, which in effect means that unless this House pays heed to the strong appeal of the general public and insists upon it no cheap trains will be run. This decision of the authorities surely is lacking in imagination as to what is desirable should be done. I suggest that nothing would have been more acceptable to the general public than the restoration of cheap travelling facilities for the last Easter holidays. With deference I submit that if it was too difficult and too complicated to be done at the old-time peace rates, some measure of improved facilities could have been granted on some reduction of the 50 per cent. increase Cheap- ness of travelling is what I have aimed at in the Motion I am placing before the House, and it is the whole point as far as the working classes are concerned. The mere running of a few more trains is entirely beside the question, and it will simply resolve itself, in my mind, to a slight increase of comfort to the ordinary travelling public, or people will travel who are now scared of the railways by the dreadful overcrowded conditions. The people concerned are those who are bound to travel and those who are able to afford it, with whom the spending of money is of no object. The mere promise of increased or additional facilities will not mean a holiday for the large mass of the people, and they are the class of people who are mostly in want of it. They simply cannot afford the luxury of going into the country or to the seaside with their families at a rate of 1½d. or 2d. a mile for a third-class fare.
To begin with, they live in overcrowded districts, and in a very large number of cases they rear up large families of four, five, six, or even seven children, and in many of these cases only the father, the head of the family, is a winner of wages. To all this class of people—and they are numerous—unless there are to be cheap trains there might as well be no trains at all. From that point of view they are tied hand and foot for all times to come in those closely-congested districts, and they can never hope to enjoy the country air or breathe for a short day even the health-giving powers of the sea. I conjecture that the reply may be given that the rolling stock or the engine-power is at the present time deficient. In passing, I might point out that no munitions or troops on the same scale as in war-time are now being moved in any great quantities on our railways.
If it is said it is a question of revenue and it is the cost of it, since I have been in this House, and that is only a very short time, I have heard it argued very strongly that the good health of the mass of the people is a great national asset and of interest to everyone. Whilst agreeing with that sentiment, might I respectfully, point out that the spirit and temper of the people on this question with regard to railway travelling cannot be disregarded. I cannot say, indeed nobody can say, what fares and restrictions are justified and what are not. Hon. Members of this House, by means of questions, have asked for the necessary information, but they cannot get it. As far as I know, no one outside official circles knows the facts and figures, and I urge upon the House and express the strong hope that it is no penny wise and pound foolish idea that is at the bottom of this decision to shut out from the fresh air and relaxation the vast numbers of our population in the great towns and districts of our country.
The railway authorities have already decided as to the last holiday. The general public have learned during the last War to form fours and implicitly to obey orders, but there is a growing feeling and a very high temper being cultivated in this country with regard to this question. If it is said that it is impossible to provide cheap facilities for everybody all round, I would suggest that a start could be made in some of the special districts where the ordinary strain and conditions of life are of the heaviest. If we are to be told that it is impossible that anything can be done to relieve this feeling of unrest and vexation, it would be wise to tell the House and the public frankly and freely what are the obstacles and impediments in the way. I think it would be conceded without argument that the control and right of travel is of vital necessity and importance to the public, and our complaint now is that some months after the War is over this question is being treated as if it were the exclusive concern of a small number of officials in the railway executive. This being so, I want to declare that it is of sufficient importance to engage the attention of our front line of Ministers as a whole. It will be obvious in the near future, if it cannot be discerned now, that our comprehensive and beautiful plans for a new Britain and for the abolition of our slum districts and the distribution of our population over a larger area must necessarily be doomed to failure if workmen living at a long distance from their work, as a large number of workmen do, are involved permanently in very heavy travelling expenses and conditions of discomfort in the extreme in passing to and fro to their work, and in this respect we have a grievance, and we approach the authorities to remedy the same. When we do this we are politely told that the public have no right to penetrate or attempt to remedy this grievance
The time at my disposal will not allow me to deal with the policy of the local
railway companies in taking off trains on the branch lines, but it is notorious in the district which I come from that if you want to get on to the main lines, either going to or from Cardiff, you cannot do it without a great deal of time being wasted every day. I am aware that the other day in this House the railway authorities published a mass of figures, but I should like to point out that they are entirely valueless at the crucial point as to how far these increases of fares are justified or necessary. They do not indicate in any way what each increase has yielded in revenue. It may be said that the miners, whom I more or less represent in this House, have had a considerable increase in wages under the award of the Coal Commission. That may be true, but I do not want it to be forgotten that in that same Report there was a pronouncement that such increase could be well met even with a lesser price per ton to the consumer than was paid at the present time. If that is so, then unless the pre-war railway fares are going to be restored, we stand to lose. Our extra wages are dissipated, and we obtain no greater measure of comfort and no higher standard of living. There seems to me to be a clear case for the redemption of Ministers pledges. I may be asked on what ground I base my assertion that Ministers have pledged themselves with regard to this matter. I will only bring forward two of the heavy guns. I am sure the House will agree with me in regretting very much the reason of the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and in wishing him a safe and speedy recovery in order that he may resume his duties and again take his part with the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, in his election address, dated November, 1918, stated—
With regard to the increased railway rates, the 50 per cent. will be abolised as soon as possible after the War has ceased, and pre-war standards and privileges will be again established.
That was emphasised, if possible, in a speech which he made at Ashton-under-Lyne on 4th December, 1918, which is more than six months ago, when he said—
The time is rapidly coming—it was close at the door—to remove the fifty per cent. increase in the railway fares and to restore all the pre-war privileges that had been in operation.
Again, on 6th December that pledge was repeated; indeed, the next heavy gun is
the Prime Minister himself. He sent a message from Paris to the people of this country, and, put shortly, the text of the massage was as follows: "Every one of the pledges given by the Ministers or myself to the Constituencies will be redeemed to the full. All the conditions and privileges of pre-war time will be restored." If the provisions brought about by the War, universally regarded as temporary, and well-known as the War Traffic Regulations, are to be continued, then we shall have lost the War with a vengeance, but I believe they can and will be swept away by the strength of the desire of the great mass of the people of this country for the restoration of the pre-war rates and a larger number of trains to deal with the dreadfully overcrowded state not only of the third-class but of the first and second class compartments as well. I have here a mass of telegrams and letters showing that the conditions which prevail with regard to the third-class are also applicable to the first and second classes. One writer very graphically described it, and said that if anybody but the railway authorities did it and sold tickets wholesale they would be sent very shortly to Devil's Island, and we should be invited to take them out and shoot them. I am afraid that time will not permit to deal with the unfair distinctions that are made by the way in which the Railway Executive, or the authorities carry on their work, but I would like, briefly, to point out the hardship entailed upon commercial travellers and other business people. They have been pleading, if it is not possible owing to deficiency of rolling stock to restore pre-war conditions, that they should be granted some small concession having regard to their particular and special work in respect of week-end tickets.
I have been deluged with telegrams and letters from holiday resorts showing that the Government attitude is not justified on account of the higher cost of labour, coal, materials, or anything else. In pre-war times they ran cheap trains in every direction at a cost of less than one-fifth of 1d. per mile. I am informed on very good authority that the working cost to-day is not more than 10s. per mile including all expenses. I have no knowledge whether that is correct or otherwise, but, supposing it to be wrong, if we add another 50 per cent. the same as has been done to the fares, making it 15s. per mile, even then 120 third-class passengers at 1½d. per mile would defray the whole of the cost, and the second-class and first-class passengers and all the other traffic carried by that train would be clear profit. Every train by which I have travelled has contained more than 400 third-class passengers, being crowded to the extent of fifteen, eighteen, and twenty in each compartment. There was in the train by, which I travelled on the Taff Vale Railway when I came to London this week—it was one of the earliest trains, starting at 7.30 a.m.—412 third-class passengers all the way to Cardiff. I desire to point out that we compare very unfavourably with other countries in respect to the cheapness of public travelling. Turn to whatever country you like it will be found that the fares are very much below even, our pre-war rates. Take either of the nations on the Continent of Europe or any of our Colonies, and you will find that our fares are more than double theirs. In some of the Colonies you can travel second-class for fifty miles for 2s., or ½d. per mile, whereas in our own country the mileage rate for third-class at 1d. per mile is 4s. 2d. In each case, of course, I am quoting pre-war rates. The answer may be that in all these other countries the cheapness of the rate is due to the fact that the railways are nationalised. If that is the case, then is it not both desirable and essential that in our own country no time should be lost in bringing out system up-to-date and thus conferring on the working classes a great boon, removing discontent, allaying much of the present industrial unrest, and at the same time bringing happiness to large masses of the people in this country, restoring the confidence of the country, and opening the avenues to good relationship, increasing production by workers and enhancing the prosperity and good of the State, thereby establishing a nobler and happier Great Britain for the workers of this land.
In rising to second the Motion, may I say I do not think the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade will deny that this increase of fares was first imposed by a responsible Minister who stated that it was not so much for revenue purposes as with the object of restricting travelling. Both the House and the country recognised the necessity and reasonableness of that, but at the same time it was distinctly understood that when the War was over this 50 per cent. increase would be put aside. I am inclined to ask the hon. Gentleman, is not the War over, and if it is over, why should there be this strange reluctance on the part of the Department or of the Railway Executive to remove this additional impost? I do not know whether to appeal to the representative of the Board of Trade from a sentimental or from a business point of view. I know he is sentimental in many respects, and, therefore, I will venture to appeal to him from that point of view. London is a huge place. Young people come up to London, leaving their parents many miles away. The parents may be overtaken by illness. Folk are naturally drawn by paternal and maternal sympathies, and in many cases they may have to make a long journey thereby incurring heavy expenditure, or, lacking the money, they may have to fail to respond to these very proper human instincts.
May I put another point of view. Thanks to a Committee over which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, presided not so many months ago under certain recommendations large industrial councils have been set up. I will speak of my own particular trade for a moment. There, happily, we have formed an industrial council and within the past six or seven weeks, in conjunction with the employers, we have come to the very happy arrangement that the whole of the men, women, girls, and boys engaged in the printing trade of this country shall this year, for the first time in the history of the industry, be given a week's holiday with pay. I venture to say that out of the many thousands of people who will jump for joy when that happy week comes round there will be a very large number who will be taking a holiday for the first time in their lives. What is going to occur? They find they are given the week with pay by their employers, but if they want to avail themselves of it, as we hope they may be able to do, they will have to face a heavy railway expenditure which, I fear, is going to destroy to a considerable extent the value of that particular holiday. Why should not this 50 per cent. impost be removed? We are about to celebrate peace—the greatest peace, I suppose, the world will have ever seen. Whitsuntide is approaching. The holiday season is near. What better action could the Department take than to respond to what I believe will be the unanimous feeling of this House, that this 50 per cent. increase in railway fares shall be no longer operative? What better action could the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues take this night than at the conclusion of this discussion to declare they are prepared to go back to pre-war fares? It is a great opportunity. It is not much use appealing to the Department from a sentimental point of view I know. I was not in this House very long before I arrived at the conclusion that the only way to influence the Government is by defeating it. There is no prospect of that to-night. We can only appeal to the good judgment and good sense of Ministers.
Not so many nights ago there was a discussion in this House with regard to Members and their salaries, and the main objection then raised on the part of some Members was that the cost of railway travelling was so excessive that they were placed in a position of great disadvantage. The feeling was strong on the part of some of my hon. Friends—fortunately I am differently situated in that matter because I am a London Member. Hon. Members who have to travel from Scotland, from Ireland, and from Wales have to pay what I may term huge sums of money to the railway company, and I do not wonder that they are dissatisfied. They have not gone quite to the extent of threatening to declare a strike—I do not know what the effect upon the national industries would be if they decided to do that—but we do not want anything of that kind. I would, however, appeal to the representative of the Board of Trade to see if something cannot be done in the direction we desire. My last word as a London Member is with regard to over-crowding—the scandalous over-crowding that is taking place day by day on our railways. I wish an official of the Board of Trade or a member of the Railway Executive Committee could see what goes on morning and night on the Underground lines. Let them try to get into a train, say, between six and half-past seven at night; let them see women and young girls being pressed into compartments already full and over full, and the doors being closed on them with the greatest amount of difficulty. You can hardly get in, and it is equally difficult to get out. It is a disgrace to the railway companies, and should not be allowed to go on. I am afraid it will go on until something happens. God forbid that anything of the kind I have in mind should happen! What would be the result if a train with six of these long carriages, crammed with people, were to meet with an accident? Let us assume that some accident does arise of the kind from which, happily, we are very free. What would be the result? Immediately there would be such an outcry, not only in this City, but throughout the country, that the Board of Trade and the Executive Committee would have to take action. Why should we wait for an accident of that kind to occur? Let us try to prevent such a thing happening. Thousands and thousands of boys and girls and women in particular have to make their way to the City day by day and to make their way home again. They are paying this extra money, by the way, and are having to stand instead of being provided with additional comfort for the increased fare. I appeal to the Board of Trade to see if something cannot be done, both in the direction of removing this additional 50 per cent. and, above all, to remedy the scandalous overcrowding which is going on week by week and month by month, and which must be known to the authorities. Something should be done to alleviate this particular matter.
I do not think that any Member of this House would envy me my position in having to reply to this Motion which has been moved by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Morgan), and seconded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman). First of all, I should like to say that I fully recognise the strong feeling that exists in the country among their Constituents, and, indeed, among my own, although perhaps not so acutely as in the London and suburban districts, and the necessity under which they have felt themselves to be to state this case as plainly and forcibly as they have done in the House to-night. I am grateful to them for having avoided some of the excesses to which some people have gone in advocating the same cause. Last night some kind friend sent me a leaderette from one of the leading provincial papers on this very subject. It began by saying:
People pay double fares for the privilege.
To start with, that is untrue. It went on to say:
High officials of the Board of Trade, and especially those who represent that Department in the House of Commons—
In the absence of ray right hon. Friend, may I thank the hon. Gentleman opposite for the very kind reference he made to my right hon. Friend. That reference can have meant myself—
Are understood to avoid the trains at the 'rush hours' and to use Government or private motor cars as their customary means of travel.
If I had a private motor car in London, I could not do a greater service to the country than use it rather than crowd the trains, but I have not. I have never used a Government caron my own requisition yet during the three years I have been a member of the Government. I share the experience of other people about the rush hours. I have "strap-hung" with the best of them—it is the only exercise I get. This article concluded by saying:
If they could be compelled to join for a week the daily fight on the platforms, all their present complacency would disappear and they would insist upon the profiteering railways giving fair play to the fare paying passengers.
Language like that is unworthy of a very serious question like this. As for profiteering railways, everybody knows that is nonsense. The complacency with which those representing the Board are supposed to face the House of Commons is one which I certainly do not feel myself. The only complacency I can feel in the matter at all is that I have tried to speak the truth in the House of Commons and not to mislead people by false hopes. The hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution spoke of the want of sympathy by the Board of Trade. I wish at the outset to repudiate that statement most warmly. If any hon. Member will take the trouble to reflect for one moment, he will easily convince himself that for any individual or any Department to adopt an unpopular attitude merely for the sake of being unsympathetic with the public, and not trying to do his best, would be a most idiotic action on his part, and one which no Department would be likely to take if they could possibly avoid it. We have the greatest possible sympathy with the intention of both sections of the Motion before the House, and we should be only too thankful if we were able to agree with what the hon. Gentleman has moved. We know quite as well as anybody else—perhaps more than some people—the great need which those people who have worked for years with hardly any respite during the War have for holidays to refresh themselves, and to regain some of that patience which, I am afraid, many of
us have lost. We feel still more the importance of making every possible provision that can be made for getting the children in our populous districts out into the fresh air to enjoy the country life or the seaside, or wherever it may be that they wish to go. I know quite well it was only a figure of speech when the hon. and gallant Gentleman said we had no sympathy with this proposal. Unfortunately, we have to look hard facts in the face. Both hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have said the War is over, but neither of them will contend that we have returned straight away to normal pre-war conditions. They put the blame on the Government for this deficiency and this overcrowding, but the blame rests upon the Kaiser and upon the Germans who undertook this War, and they know as well as I do that you cannot return to absolutely normal peace conditions even within six months of the signing of the Armistice, and although we have not yet got peace signed.
A certain amount of it has certainly ceased, but I want to put before the House—and I am sure when I have done so hon. Members will see that we have some reason for not being able to accede to this Motion—figures about the state of our railways, rolling stock, and so on.
That is not the question at the moment. The question is the railway position. However sympathetic we may be—and we are—with the objects they have in view, the present state of affairs makes it quite impossible to carry it out. The words of the Motion are that "present conditions no longer justify the retention of the 50 per cent. nor the continued reduction of the train service." I want to give the House some figures which I think will show that present conditions do justify it. There have been taken for the work of the War Office overseas 1,600 passenger coaches and 700 locomotives. Of the locomotives 300, I think, or thereabouts, have been returned, but not one of them is in action. Every one is undergoing repair. Of the 1,600 passenger coaches not one has yet been re- turned to this country. Owing to the conditions of the War, the ordinary repairs as well as the ordinary new construction of locomotives and rolling stock have dropped seriously into arrears. In normal times 3 per cent. of the rolling stock is under repair, and probably rather less than 10 per cent. of the engines. At present, instead of 3 per cent., 10½ per cent. of the passenger coaches are under repair, and 20 per cent. of the locomotives.
That does not cover the whole thing. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman is prepared to say, "We are going to take away all facilities for communication with our troops," he may have something in his argument. I am sure the House will recognise that that is impossible. Three hundred of our engines back out of 700 is pretty good work in the time. Now I come to new construction. The ordinary annual requirement to keep up stock in ordinary times is put, although it has now always been kept up to that mark, at 600 or 700 new engines. During the War something like 100 to 200 new engines—Iam giving a wide margin—have been constructed. That means that during the years of the War there has been a loss of new engines, and those the most modern and of the largest type, of 2,000. In coach-building the normal new construction would have been something like 6,000 in the War period. During the War there has been practically none. That means that during that time we have lost a huge quantity of passenger coaches which in normal times would have been serving the public. That is not the fault of the Board of Trade or the Railway Executive. The Railway Executive and the railway companies placed themselves unreservedly and patriotically at the disposal of the country to do the best they could to win the War, and the only fault which can be attributed to anyone is to be attributed to the Germans for having declared War. That is the reason, combined with the fact that many more people are travelling although the fares are not cheap, why it is impossible to revert immediately to pre-war train service and conditions. I think the House will agree with me that, supposing it were possible financially to run cheap trains, to advertise cheap trains would be to attract to the railway stations a number of people for whom accommodation could not be found. Nothing could be more cruel or unkind than to do that. It is very easy to say, "Why do not the Board of Trade or the Railway Executive rectify this position?" How are they going to do it? Where are the engines and the carriages which are to bring us back to pre-war conditions? If anyone can show me where they are and how it can be done I can understand their voting for the Motion before the House. A good deal has been said about the Railway Executive. They are making the most strenuous efforts to increase the services and the accommodation. A considerable addition has been made already, and during this month and next month more may be expected. With regard to the London suburban traffic, we fully recognise what inconvenience is caused, but it would be merely raising false hopes to pretend that we can return to pre-war conditions for many months to come. We should be very glad if we could improve the chance for working people, and especially for children having holidays in the country. The companies will do all they can.
I am not aware of that, but I shall be glad to inquire into it if the hon. and gallant Member will give me the facts. If the companies were to advertise cheap trains there would be nothing like the accommodation that would be necessary for the people who would desire to travel. If you advertise cheap trains, it necessarily implies that anybody who comes can be accommodated, and there would be a far greater outcry if, when you had advertised cheap trains, people could not get into them, than you have when it is stated frankly and plainly that the companies are unable to meet the difficulty. We were most anxious, and so were the railway companies, to provide every possible holiday facility that could be provided with the depleted stock. They informed me that it would greatly increase the number of people who might be able to get away from the populous centres if, wherever possible, employers and workpeople arranged to take their holidays at other than the Bank Holiday and week-end periods, and that if they cannot do that in the months of June and early July it may be very difficult to take even the limited number they would wish in July, August, and the beginning of September, which are the popular periods. I hope that employers and workpeople will do what they can to try to arrange that the holidays shall be taken at other than the usual time, so that the largest possible number of men, women and children may take advantage of the holidays. The right hon. Gentleman who seconded this Motion spoke of the Council that is known by your name (Mr. Whitley), or which your name honours or which honours your name, and which has done a very great deal of good, in my opinion, in ventilating grievances and diminishing disputes in many great industries, and which I did all I could to promote when I was at the Ministry of Labour. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that, owing to that organisation, the trade to which he referred had been enabled to secure a week's holiday. I hope they will go one further and secure that the week's holiday shall be taken, if possible, at a time when the traffic is less on the railways and when every member of that trade will have the opportunity of enjoying the holiday.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must be a little reasonable. He knows perfectly well that on Bank Holidays and on certain other times the crowding is worse than at other times. With regard to cheap fares, I should like hon. Members to realise that the expenses of the railway companies have more than doubled since before the War.
No. If 50 per cent. were taken off the fares, the railway companies would be involved in a loss which is calculated at £20,000,000. I think the hon. Member who moved this Resolution quoted a speech by the President of the Board of Trade, and interpreted it to mean that he had promised to take off the 50 per cent. immediately the War was over. I have not the speech here, but in the words quoted my right hon. Friend said that he hoped to see the fares reduced as soon as possible. We all hope that.
Is it possible to do it? They have not the carriages and the locomotives with which to do it. It is not possible at the present time. My right hon. Friend assures me that in that speech he never defined any time when such reduction would be possible or stated the amount of the reduction which could be made at any particular time. With regard to these cheap fares, I have already said that if there is no accommodation it would be cruel to advertise cheap excursions. The real point is that if you take off the 50 per cent., which it is perfectly true to say was put on originally to reduce the number of people travelling, but which is necessary now for totally different reasons—if you were to take that off, the only result would be that the general public—that is to say, the taxpayers—would be subsidising the travelling public. Those who support this particular Motion have got to decide with regard to these fares whether they wish the State to subsidise the travelling public. I do not agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda said about the passenger fares in this country being very much higher than in other countries. That is not my information at all. The Government hope that, by the operations of the Ways and Communica- tions Bill, great economies may be effected in the running of our railways. If these economies are effected, it may be possible to carry out the desires of the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution. I am undertaking a very unpleasant task to-night, but I should not be fulfilling my duty if I did not say quite plainly that at the present moment it is not possible to do what they desire, I say once more that there is no Government Department which sympathises more with the object that is in their mind than the Board of Trade; there is no Government Department more interested in improving and increasing the trade of the country and the railway facilities of the country. It has been said that I was sentimental. I am trying to suppress that as much as I can, as I think the truth is more important than sentimentality. I therefore have to say, with great regret, that it is impossible for us at the present moment to hold out any hope of being able now to fulfil the desires expressed in this Motion, but that whenever it becomes possible—as it becomes possible—the Railway Executive Committee will, I am quite sure, do everything they can to assist the travelling public in getting every advantage out of the railways which the depleted state of their stocks allows them to give.
I am very sorry to have heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just replied to the Board of Trade. I was hopeful, when I heard the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution, that we might have had a more sympathetic and hopeful speech from him. I think he knows how strongly is the feeling outside this House amongst the travelling public that something should be done in order to get us back to pre-war conditions. I would suggest to him that if he could have given us some facts as to what the railway companies are doing at the present time in order to get back to pre-war conditions, it would have been much more helpful than telling us what the railway companies have done during the War. We all recognise their difficulties during the War. We all know what they did to assist our men on the front. But that is all past and a good many months have elapsed since the Armistice was signed. Surely the Railway Executive Committee must have considered this matter very urgently since the Armistice was signed. The railway shops which were used for munitions have surely now been taken back for railway work. Could not the Government give us some facts as to how many locomotives and carriages the railway shops propose to turn out this year? I hope they are working at high pressure in order to turn out as many as they can. I am speaking as a London Member, and I want to endorse what my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford has said. We in London specially feel this question of the increase of fares. There is probably no other place in the country where there is so much suburban traffic for workers of all kinds, and I do not think there is anywhere where the workers—many of them people with fixed wages—have felt the increase of fares more. This 50 per cent. has been a very great tax on the suburban residents in London. Before the War nearly all the railway companies around London advertised cheap fares in order to attract people to live in the suburbs. Many people, like Government employés, school teachers, and others, whose salaries were more or less fixed, went to these suburban places. Many of them bought houses, either through building societies or in some other way, and their railway fare was put down as part of their annual expense on the income which they received. This 50 per cent. increase on the ordinary fares and on the season-ticket rates, is a great hardship which these people have suffered during the War. We were hopeful in London that at any rate something would be done, that if the whole of the 50 per cent. could not be taken off the Government would at any rate do something in order to relieve the burden on these people. My hon. Friend, in reply, talked about the amount of money that the Government would lose if cheap fares were granted.
I accept that correction. The figure I took down was £20,000,000. We have had several questions asked in the House during recent weeks regarding the figure which was given by the Minister- designate of Ways and Communications as to the prospective loss on railways if they were conducted as they are at the present time. I think I am correct in saying that, while 50 per cent. has been put on railway passengers' fares, no such addition has been put on railway goods rates in any part of the country. The railway passenger is paying a very big excess on the passenger fares. If the railways are losing money, they must also be losing equally on goods as well as on passengers, and the passenger, it seems to me, is bearing the loss which is being incurred on goods traffic at the present time. That is unfair from the point of view of railway passengers. We in London feel very bitterly the taking away of the pre-war holiday facilities. I have taken some part recently in trying to get some of these facilities restored. In pre-war times we had day excursions, Sunday excursions, cheap week-end tickets, cheap weekly and cheap fortnightly tickets, in addition to tourist tickets. They were all swept away during the War. People did not grumble about this during the War, but they will feel it a great hardship to learn from the speech of the hon. Member to-night, in view of the needs of the great population of London and the surrounding districts, that facilities from the holiday point of view are not to be restored in the immediate future. Even in cases where there were third-class fares, which were cheaper than double the single fare, some individual on the Railway Executive found this out, and in addition to the increase of 50 per cent. the return fares have been abolished and they are now double the single fares. This is felt very keenly. There is a very strong feeling among the public that something ought to be done in order to meet the special case of holiday traffic in the summer months, and I urge upon my hon. Friend to impress on the Railway Executive Committee the great urgency of doing something to relieve the situation. People who worked very hard during the War bore all the strain of the last four years with patience and never complained, but now that the War is over, and we are getting towards peace terms, the Government might go out of their way to try to meet the wishes of this great part of the population who have behaved so well in the years of crisis.
I need scarcely say that I agree that if it is possible for the Board of Trade to get the Railway Executive to give some reduction to the travelling public it ought to be done. But I would like to deal with the question from the business man's and the trader's point of view and with reference to the question of trader's contracts. The Railway Executive have put up the limit from £300 worth of traffic, which carried a trader's contract, to £500, and they have struck out all indirect traffic, and on top of that they have increased the price of these contracts. This is penalising small traders. It makes very little difference to a large trader whether he has to pay £20 or £30 a year more for his contract, but for small traders who have to travel about the country, especially big distances, such as from Manchester to London, it means a very great deal, and there are cases now of traders in the city from which I come who have had three or four contracts, and who now when they have come up for renewal find that those contracts have been refused. This is a case which the Board of Trade, in the interests of the trade of the country, should bring to the attention of the Railway Executive. There is another point with regard to the lowering of the fares. I do not approach it wholly from the point of view of the travelling public. We have got to remember the effect of high fares on those men who have to travel to their work. A great many of my workmen have to come fifteen or twenty miles by railway, and a large increase in the fares makes it very difficult for them with the other increases during the War to make both ends meet. The whole House realises the tremendous difficulties we are up against in having so little rolling stock and so few locomotives in the country, but these matters cannot affect what I urge with regard to railway contracts, the changes in reference to which have such a bad effect on trade.
I feel, in rising to address the House, that anything which I could say with regard to pre-war conditions on railways would be absolutely futile. After the speech which we have heard from the Front Bench not one of us has any hope that any relief will be given to the travelling public. Speaking for the Labour party in Scotland, I do think that everybody will agree that Scotland has a special grievance because of the great distances and because of the long time we have to be in the train, and the miserable conditions we have during those weary hours that we are in the corridors. In order to get a seat one must be at the station an hour before starting-time, and, travelling on the Midland as I frequently do, by the time we reach Leeds it gives the guard all he can do with the utmost difficulty to find his way along the corridors because of the numbers of people who are in those corridors. It is not so long ago since, when going up—and this happens every time—I saw soldiers coming home from the front for their hard-earned rest rolled up in their great coats, lying in the corridors, because a grateful Government could not provide them with seats to take them to their own homes. If the hon. Member, speaking for the Government, would reconsider what he has been saying regarding the probability of some relief being given, it would be well for the Government. I think that it is a scandal that, so many months after the Armistice, we should still be unable to find decent accommodation when travelling to and fro. Not only is the distance great, but the price is prohibitive, and here, again, I think Scotland suffers particularly. It takes, roughly, £130 for a third-class ticket to take one home once a fortnight and, so far as we are concerned, we are hardly able to afford such a sum at that.
We have, or ought to have, the greatest travelling facilities in the world. It was our people who discovered the power of steam; it was they who gave to the world the facilities that they have for railways to-day, and yet, in spite of what has been said from the Front Bench, we have to pay more than any other country in the world that we know of to-day, and that should not be so. The hon. Member deprecated the lowering of rates because it would mean a loss of money. That is where the whole trouble comes from. We are always balancing up accounts, and we fail to remember the facilities and the pleasure and the usefulness of giving those cheaper fares to the working classes, because after all it is they who chiefly suffer. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said, regarding traders' tickets, that it did not much matter to the bigger concerns. It does not really matter so very much to the people who have money to spare whether there is a 50 per cent. rise on the ticket or not, but it matters a very great deal to the working classes, especially if they are travelling long distances. As a matter of fact, even before the War, before there was a 50 per cent. rise, with all the facilities that we had with our week-end tickets, and our tourists' tickets, and all the other tickets, many of our people were unable to visit places of interest in this old country of ours, and it is surely the bankruptcy of our statesmanship that we cannot devise some means of opening up to the travelling public the great power that we have in railway engines and railway lines. We seem to be under some kind of enchantment. We have everything that the genius of man can devise, and yet we are unable to get the facilities that we ought to expect from the railways that we have built. I wish to protest for the Labour party in Scotland against the very unsympathetic speech that we had from the Treasury bench, and I hope even yet that the Government will take second thoughts on this matter. The country suffered, and suffered grandly, when it was necessary in order to carry munitions of was and to carry our troops to the point of embarkation or to carry them to and fro, and there was very little grumbling during the period of stress and storm, because we realised that that was in some measure doing our little bit in order to assist the Government. But the need for that has greatly passed away. We are a good many months after the Armistice, and there must be a great returning of those railway carriages and engines. There, should be, if there is not, and surely it is the duty of the Government to give the people who suffered so readily and so loyally some little relief now that the terrors of war and defeat have passed away from us. I hardly followed the hon. Gentleman's explanation, because, first of all he did admit that the fares were raised in order to prevent travelling, but almost in the next breath he said, "Supposing you had plenty of facilities, we could not lower the fares at all." So I got into rather a maze. We require this relief. We require more provision for the travelling public, and especially the working classes. We require the fares lower, so that they will be able to get some measure of enjoyment from those increased facilities, and when we have said that, we have given our whole case. That is our case, and I think that this House, whatever the Government may think about it, will be sympathetic with the Motion that has been moved by the hon. and gallant Member to-night, and will assist us in trying to get the Government to accept that Motion and to make an honest attempt at this great scheme of reconstruction, because this might easily form a part of the great scheme of reconstruction—a return to the pre-war conditions of our railways. I trust that the Government will hold out a little more hope and that the House will assist us in such a manner that the hon. Gentleman will be compelled to reconsider the statement he has already made.
I think the hon. Members present are very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Major Morgan) that he availed himself of the good fortune of the ballot to put down, a Resolution on this question, considering, the enormous amount of interest that is centred in it in all parts of the United Kingdom. I think myself that there are two distinct phases in connection with the question. First of all, there is the regular phase in connection with persons travelling daily, backwards and forwards to their ordinary occupations. Representing as I do a Constituency just outside London, where a very large number of people have to come in daily to their ordinary occupations, and have to avail themselves of the railways, either by paying the increased 50 per cent. on their fares or else their increased season: tickets, I know how keenly they are interested in the question, and I must say that, while I know the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is sympathetic—and I can assure the House that I know he is; he has been a straphanger, and I have been with him on those occasions—I was very much disappointed at the speech which he delivered. If I may say so, he seemed to overburden himself with an amount of responsibility. He narrated all that had taken place in the past, all of which we are glad did take place in the past. We are all pleased to think that in the hour of emergency a number of our coaches were taken to France, that our locomotives were sent there, that everything that possibly could be done was done on purpose to assist in the great struggle that was then going on. When he told us—we were pleased to hear it—of what had been returned in the way of locomotives and coaches, I suppose none of us was very much surprised to know that when some of these locomotives or coaches came back they were not quite ready to be immediately put on the lines again.
But when he had told us all that—and we were thankful to hear it—what we wanted to know, and do want to know, and ought to know in our opinion, is, what is going on at the present time in the great workshops on our lines in regard to the reconstruction of coaches or the manufacture of locomotives? If the hon. Gentleman will kindly give us information on that point, I think the House will be much more satisfied. If he wants to get, as I have no doubt he does quite earnestly and honestly, the sympathy of the House, he must take the House into his confidence, and tell us clearly and definitely that at Wolverton so many thousands of men are building coaches, at Crewe or elsewhere so many engines are being put up, and so go through the great workshops of the railways, and give us some intimation of what is being done, on purpose to inform us that there may be within a short distance of time greater facilities on our railways. So far as regards the portion of his speech as to those who have to take season tickets, I am sure it was almost sad.
The subject of general railway facilities is, I understand, in the Motion. I do not want to transgress, but I hope the Debate is not to be confined to the question of holiday traffic. I thought it talked about the entire removal of the 50 per cent. I was present, and took a great interest, when the 50 per cent. was first put on. I was one of the critics at that time. I was a critic of the Board of Trade also when, to level up the 50 per cent. on ordinary fares, an increase in season tickets took place, and I then pointed out, with other hon. Members, that a great hardship was being inflicted on a large number of persons who have to come into this great city or other cities daily, with season tickets. We were told then, as has been repeated over and over again in this Debate, that it was not the desire to raise money at all, and that it was only to stop travelling that this increase had taken place. Now we are told that that reduction of travelling has not taken place. What am I to say to people who thought they were submitting to a temporary increase on their season tickets, or on their ordinary fares, to go backwards and forwards to earn their daily bread, when we are told there is no immediate chance, and, so far as I can judge from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, no chance in the near future, of any reduction whatever? He said that, possibly there is some hope when the Ways and Communications Bill comes into force, but that Bill has not yet passed the Standing Committee, although it will pass in due course. But when it has passed and becomes law, surely the Minister-designate will not be able by the magic touch of a wand to bring about these economies. If the economies are really not to come into existence until the Ways and Communications Bill becomes an Act, I am afraid it will be a long time before the economies come about. What we want is that the Board of Trade and its officials, with the Railway Executive, shall turn their mind seriously to the great work, as has well been said, as a part of the reconstruction in getting our railways in order, and seeing whether there is not some means of economising in another direction which will enable, if not all the 50 per cent. to be taken off, at least some reduction to be made and greater facilities given on the railways. I have never been able to get what it is the Government allow in the figures with regard to the cost of the railways for the conveyance of troops. We are always asserting, and it has never been contradicted, that if they would put down anything light—a reasonable sum—not necessarily the full charge of fares for civilians—with regard to the transport of troops up and down the country, and give honestly the benefit of that to the figures, this great difficulty would not have taken place. That is the question in a nutshell with regard to what we require. We ask the Government, if you cannot take off the 50 per cent. all at once, show us at least that there is a possibility of a reduction being made, and at least show us clearly and definitely that every nerve is being strained on purpose to get locomotives and coaches.
There is the question of holiday traffic. I asked a question on Monday last, whether some reduction would be made in the fares in connection with holiday traffic during this month, and the months of June and July, and I modestly, in that question, only asked for a reduction of 25 per cent. off the 50 per cent. What was the answer I received. It was what other Members have received previously, that the Railway Executive were considering the question. Now we really do want to know, and I was in hopes the Parliamentary Secretary would be able to tell us to-night, how much longer the Railway Executive want to do their thinking in? Let us know at once that these facilities cannot be afforded, or else let us tell the public that they will be able to afford these facilities during these months for holiday folk, and they will then do what the hon. Member has so often pleaded for in this House, and that is, tend to spread out the holiday traffic, instead of leaving it all to August and the beginning of September. I do sincerely put these questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. I want him to understand that the whole of the House, I think, is prepared to afford him all support it possibly can in getting back to normal times, but we do demand, and we have a right to demand, that the Board of Trade, through its Railway Executive, should show us that the work is being taken in hand seriously and energetically, and that there is some real hope in the near future.
I, personally, am very grateful that the hon. Member who introduced this Debate has used the opportunity of the Ballot to move the Resolution on the subject of travelling facilities. I would like to associate myself with what he, and those who followed him, have said, but I do not want to attempt to repeat their statements. I only want to refer in a word to one aspect, which is very seldom referred to in this House—that aspect of the public life of our country which is very quiet, very self-sacrificing, very seldom makes itself heard, but, perhaps, all the more is feeling the cruel inequalities of the present conditions of existence. When we think of the health of the country, the health of the fathers, mothers, and children, and what an asset that is to our progress, it seems to me that the travelling facilities are one of the elements which we have specially to consider if we are going to promote that health and provide those happy conditions which we have been so fully promised. I have here a letter which I have received to-day, in view of this Debate, from a Nonconformist minister, and it is something in the nature of a human document. I am only going to quote one short extract. He says:
My own case may be more or less typical of many. My means, barely adequate in pre-war days, are now, even with a thirty per cent. increase, quite inadequate to meet the increased cost of living. Consequently we have had no holiday for three years, whilst work has demanded a greater strain, and spare time has been devoted to voluntary war work.
The consequence has been that my wife has got nervous prostration and has broken down in health, and I myself have been ordered to take myself and family somewhere away.
I would not have referred to that case had it stood alone, but it can be multiplied by thousands and tens of thousands throughout the country. These are the quiet, ill-paid, self-sacrificing portions of the community who, feeling the condition of things to-day, appeal to us that under the circumstances they may receive some consideration. I venture, therefore, respectfully, but earnestly, to appeal to my right hon. Friend to give us a little more comfort than has yet been given to us. I know the hon. Gentleman who spoke just now is one of the most genial of men, and one of the most kindly-hearted we have in this House; but a more depressing and more unsatisfactory statement I do not remember to have listened to in the House. After all, I cannot help feeling—and I think hon. Members of this House feel, too—that really "where there is a will there is a way." What we want is the war-will manifested in the direction of a little realisation of the demands of the country—that such should receive more consideration than apparently is being shown. Unless more is done I feel that the unrest which distinctly does exist will certainly be extended in directions where at present there is absolute quiet. In the interests of progress, and in some direction in the carrying out of the promises made at the recent election as to the conditions we were going to have, of happiness and enjoyment, I earnestly urge the right hon. Gentleman even now to give us better conditions of railway travelling, if only from the standpoint of the health and comfort of the people. By so doing he will be largely following on the lines of the promises made by his distinguished leader, and helping to fulfil some of the expectations which were raised.
Representing a working-class constituency in the East End of London I am not going to appeal to the sentimental feelings of hon. Members. I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade to recognise that there is a limit to human endurance. During the War workers consented to be circumscribed in their opportunities of travel when they had better the means to pay for it. In the interests of the nation they were appealed to pay the extra 50 per cent. They raised no objection, in spite of the fact that they could ill-afford to pay the increased impost placed upon them. What is the position to-day? Overtime has been stopped in most factories engaged in the production of war material. Thousands upon thousands of men and women have been thrown out of employment. Consequently they are not able to pay the fares that are now being demanded. Whilst during the War it might have been possible to meet the increased impost for revenue purposes—apart from the fact that we were told at the beginning that this impost was made not for the purpose of revenue, but for the purpose of preventing unnecessary travelling—I suggest that the reason given in the original case absolutely falls to the ground.
What is the position so far as we in the East End of London are concerned? Instead of getting increased opportunities of travel since the Armistice we are getting decreased opportunity to travel. All the local railways, all the local tramway services, now tell us that because of the cessation of hostilities they are not able to get the material to provide the necessary vehicles to carry the travelling public. It is all due to the fact that so far as they are concerned they are not able to provide opportunities for the people to travel because of the great demands made upon them during the War. Take one railway company that deals particularly with the East End of London, the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway Company, which is now a branch of the Midland. The workers who were able to travel from East Ham to Fenchurch Street, or from East Ham to St. Pancras in certain trains, are now being debarred because it is essential that city traffic should be conducted to the outer area of London. What be happening? By not stopping at East Ham and Plaistow, the ordinary worker is debarred the opportunity of getting home after his day's work
Take the ordinary workman. In the old days he could buy a workman's ticket, travel up to the City, and go back any time during the day. Now he is told he cannot travel until after 12 noon, and then only by certain trains. That used to be the custom in the old days, I quite admit; but at the present time the number of trains that he cannot travel by has been increased. What is the result? Congestion! Take the trams or 'buses. Talk about strap-hanging! Hon. Members come to this House and make great professions of the fact of their strap-hanging. I suggest that if they heard what the worker said of them it would be that they should hang and not strap-hang—in this sense, that whilst they may strap-hang occasionally, the workers have to strap-hang all the time. In the morning when they wish to catch the car it is a fight for the chance to get in. At night when the workman wants to get home it is a fight for the chance of getting out.
Take the Underground between the hours of five and eight in the morning, and between the same hours at night. You will find that there it is almost as hard a struggle to get out of the train as to get into it. Why is there this difficulty? The Ways and Communications Committee is proceeding with its work at present. We understand that thousands upon thousands of motor-cars and vehicles are on hand. If the Government cannot give us facilities on railways, or reduce the fares, can they not organise motor traffic as they did during the motor-car drivers' strike in London?
When the Tube railwaymen were on strike in London, you could provide Government cars to carry the people. Can you not do so now? You admit you cannot carry the public on the trains, you say you are not able to control the railway system as we suggest, but cannot you use the thousands upon thousands of motor cars which you have all over the United Kingdom; cannot you arrange routes and cannot you use these cars to relieve the congested traffic in the same way as you did it when the workmen on the Tubes went on strike to get improved conditions of employment? The Board of Trade pretends that it is only a watertight compartment. But could not the Ministry of Ways and Means and the Board of Trade, acting in conjunction, come together as a matter of absolute immediate necessity to deal with this problem of the London traffic? What is happening in London? Fares are being increased. We have a huge traffic combine, and the fares are not merely being increased 50 per cent. but in some districts the increase is 200 per cent. I venture to suggest that this Resolution ought to be carried by this House, because if the Board of Trade knew that they had to improve their methods, and to try and provide better facilities for the public, they would be prepared to do something on the lines suggested in the Motion.
On behalf of the workers of the East End of London, I wish to say a word on the question of holiday fares. There has been no holidays for these people during the last five years. Southend is the nearest place we can go to, in the form of a seaside resort, but it has been impossible for the ordinary working man to take his wife and family there. We are asking that this House shall at least say that after we have faced the stress of War in a large number of cases, and seeing that in many cases wives and children are absolutely left unprovided for, at least the old services shall be restored, the 50 per cent. shall be abolished, and we shall have some chance of getting back to the old conditions that prevailed in the days before the War.
I do not propose to go over the ground regarding fares. We have heard a great deal about the sentimental side of this matter and I will not touch on that, but I want to say a few words on that part of the Motion which refers to facilities. It is assumed that everybody who travels by train is a straphanger. One wonders then who are the people who get the seats. What I particularly want to mention is the holiday traffic. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that the Railway Executive Committee view with some concern the possibility of dealing with the forthcoming holiday traffic. He told us that some 1,600 coaches which were sent over to France had not come back. Hon. Members who know the distances that are travelled on the other side of the Channel, and are aware of the discomforts that our men in France are subjected to by travelling in open trucks, are not prepared to press for these coaches to be returned until they can really be spared. I am sure that many hon. Members would prefer to go on straphanging for a few months longer in order that the men overseas can get decent couches to vide in. We must realise the difficulties the Board of Trade and the Railway Executive are up against. So far as accommodation is available I would like to suggest that a bigger effort should be made to ration the accommodation. It has been tried in the North, and successfully in Lancashire. Probably there are some people who will say it has not been successful, but it has certainly relieved the situation. If the companies would try and look in advance, showing on the ticket the trains, the passenger can travel by to the principal holiday places, the passengers to those places would be saved a great amount of trouble and would be certain to get to the destination by the train by which they proposed to travel. Even before the War. so far as Lancashire is concerned, the North Wales service of the London and North-Western Railway Company was always bad. As long as I can remember, since I was at school, that service was inadequate during the summer months. It was inadequate during the War and quite inadequate at Easter and unless the Board of Trade ginger up the people concerned it will be absolutely inadequate during the coming summer. In a lesser degree the same thing applies to the Isle of Man traffic and that service will require an increase. There, again, if people are to travel with comfort under present conditions a system of rationing the accommodation available must be adopted.
I have spoken of the North and one can quite easily imagine that it would be a great benefit to the people in the South. The facilities to places like Folkestone, Eastbourne, Brighton, Bournemouth, Torquay, and other towns along the coast to which there is a big rush of traffic could be very greatly improved by a system of booking places in the trains. I do press this matter on the Board of Trade and ask that it should be brought before the Railway Executive Committee so that they can adopt the system which has already proved to be useful in Lancashire.
So far as fares are concerned I do not want to differ too strongly from some hon. Members but I think the proposal to have reduced fares in May and June in order to attract people to the holiday resorts in those months instead of later in the summer months really will not have the desired effect. Families cannot go away in May and June when the children are at school. Holidays do not depend only on the closing of works and mills and arrangements between employers and employed. They depend on the school term. If the cheap travel facilities are only to be offered in May and June it will mean that people with no families will go away on the cheap fares and the wretched man with a big family will have to pay the full fare in July and August. Therefore, I submit that if any reduction is made at all for holiday traffic it is useless to lower the rate in May and June and not in the other months. If it is possible to make any reduction at all, it should apply throughout the summer and should be restricted first to the trains which are rationed.
I wish to thank the hon. and gallant Member (Major Watts Morgan) for having seized the opportunity of the ballot to raise this question, for it is undoubtedly one that requires the best attention. Owing to the unfortunate illness of the President of the Board of Trade, it has been my lot to see something of the work of the Board of Trade and of the Railway Executive Committee, and I can assure the House that when this responsibility fell upon me one of the very first things in my mind that I would like to investigate thoroughly was this very question which we are discussing to-night. I said to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. Bridgeman) that I wished I had been supporting the Motion instead of having to resist it, because the whole of my natural sympathies are with the Mover, Seconder, and supporters of it. I have had opportunities, however, forced upon me of seeing the inside working, and I can assure the House that, in spite of my desire to persuade the Railway Executive Committee to do something tangible to help immediately, I really do not quite see what can be done without running the risk of a breakdown, or, alternatively, of a very serious interference with the commercial traffic on the railway lines. I have gone into the whole of the figures, and I hope to have the opportunity of circulating to the House within a few days a complete statement showing exactly what the cost of running she railway this been. There is no doubt that the costs are high. I do do not know, in view of health considerations which are bound up with cheap railway travelling, that the costs would have bothered me very much at this particular time, because I realise that we are passing through a transitional period, and that our people now need holidays perhaps more than ever before, and I do not think that I am laying any undue stress upon the question of costs. One just takes note of it in the general considerations. I can assure hon. Members, however, as they will realise when this Paper is circulated—it contains a mass of figures which it would never do to read out at the present time—that the financial position of the railways is not easy, and that the State is faced by a serious contribution. This afternoon I met the vice-chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, Sir Herbert Walker, and I discussed with him the situation. It is quite clear that you cannot put more travelling on to the railways at the present time than they are bearing. I can assure the House with every desire to get more traffic I do not see how it can be done. As a matter of fact, we have already brought the traffic on the railways up enormously, and when I say no more can be put on I mean just immediately, although every few days it may be possible to work in another train or two. We have had 3,677 new train services within the last few weeks. We have put on the Caledonian Railway another 250 trains. We have put them on throughout all the English lines up to this great total. The London and North-Western Railway have had 650 new train services worked in, but the difficulties are appalling.
We have still, a great demand for railway service overseas, where we have a great amount of railway material and rolling stock locked up in essential services, but we are getting more of the men and stores back. We cannot get all these men back immediately. There are still about 100,000 men to come back now to the railways, and we are doing everything we can to get them, and they are coming back just as quickly as they can be spared. Remember that during the period of the War, and more especially during the last year of the War, we had to allow the railway services of this country to run down, and we were drawing men from them far beyond the limit of the possibility of maintaining full efficiency, and we have a long leeway to make up.
At the very time when all that leeway is to be made up we are faced by a very great difficulty. I do not complain, but far from it I welcome tile fact, and nothing that I am going to say must be taken as showing any lack of sympathy; but, nevertheless, it has added to the difficulties of the situation that just at the time when this great crisis is upon us in railway working the hours of work of the men, both in the traffic service and the shops, have been substantially and largely reduced. We have cut them down to a forty-eight hours' week in the case of the men on the railway service and forty-seven hours in the shop, and although many of these men have not yet received the time benefit of that reduction, and have only received a cash benefit in the form of over- time, it still remains the fact that this change in the number of hours which the men are working, which I welcome from the point of view of the men, and their home life and health, and ultimately from the point of view of their efficiency, it still remains the fact that that change, coming at this time, has added enormously to the difficulties which the Railway Executive and the railway management have had to face.
There are hundreds of railwayman in France, doing no work today, who cannot be demobilised. I have been a personal witness of that, even before December of last year.
I know the numbers of men that are coming back, and I know the responsibilities which attach to the Railway Operating Division in France, and I think, broadly speaking—and, after all, in all these things one only can speak broadly—the War Office have done all they could to meet the difficulties of the situation. They certainly, in my opinion, played the game thoroughly. They have got responsibilities; they have to be prepared for possible emergencies. It is very easy to say there are men standing by doing nothing. It is also easy to say, after one of these emergencies has arisen—and such an emergency might be very serious from the point of view of the whole of our interests—"Why did not the Government make some provision?" It is only with full knowledge, such as I admit I have not had until a few weeks ago, that one can say: "I think all have done their best under the difficult conditions under which they have had to work." With regard to the question asked by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) as to whether it was not possible to take on new men, it is possible, and men are being taken on, as he knows. He knows, too, that the railway companies are pledged to reinstate the men who went from their service overseas and who have served so gallantly and devotedly with the forces in the field. Those men are entitled to the first consideration in regard to the posts which are available, and they must and will receive that consideration. That is one of the factors in the whole situation. But when I have said all that, when I have recognised the difficulties of the situation, it might still be urged that something should be done to increase the traffic, and I would say this to the House. Although the War is over so far as active fighting is concerned, we must remember the vast numbers of men that are being demobilised every day and the amount of cross-travelling that that requires upon the railways, and we must realise that, although the active fighting is over, there is still a great deal of military traffic upon the lines. That in itself adds to the difficulties of the position of the Railway Executive.
We now come to the question of fares. I look at this question of fares with, I hope, a perfectly unbiassed mind. I am a season-ticket holder myself, and I travel on crowded trains. I have travelled during these last few weeks over a great many lines around London at various hours, in order to see for myself the conditions which exist.
I have travelled third-class, and first-class when I could not get into the third—[Interruption]—having on that particular occasion a first-class ticket. I have also travelled in the guard's van and also in a milk van, and I have travelled in various other ways. I know what the conditions are, and I quite admit that they are just about as unpleasant and as unsatisfactory as is possible. We are seriously considering what we can do to meet the situation, but I should be absolutely false to my appreciation of the position if I held out any hope that any immediate great improvement could be made. These are not the days of the "Arabian Nights." You cannot rub a lamp and produce a whole lot of new palaces or rolling stock, or whatever it may be. They have got to be built, and I am assured by the Railway Executive Committee that the full capacity of the shops for the manufacture of rolling stock is at present occupied by new stock that is under construction. You cannot do more than that. I have been told from various sources—I have made special inquiries—that the outside wagon and rolling stock construction companies are absolutely full up with orders. You cannot at a moment's notice increase capacity. There have been great difficulties over getting steel, over getting raw materials, over getting skilled men, and over machinery, and they are being met as fast as they can. There are demands for great capital sums to be expended to open up bottle-necks which exist on the railways. We have got to make some special arrangement. It is not easy to see what that can be in the present circumstances—when that capital will be available. We have got to look at the two sides of this problem all the time. To-day I had some half-dozen demands for larger capital expenditure on behalf of the railways pressed upon me by the vice-chairman of the Railway Executive Committee. These capital sums are required in order to make it possible to get extensions of works, in some cases iron and steel works, and in some cases works of various sorts which will give employment.
No; there was no expenditure required for running special trains—entirely for works. That is a most unfortunate and unhappy remark, except, perhaps, that it gives me an opportunity of denying it most emphatically.
The meaning of my interruption was that a fortnight ago a railway company ran a special train full of gentlemen in order to go to the opening of a golf course which they themselves had laid down.
I was talking of capital expenditure for increasing facilities for traffic, and running special trains is not capital expenditure. There are large sums required for the development of the industry of the country, and I would ask the House to recognise that, as the acting Chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, I am faced by this problem which has been before me this afternoon: Is this money, which has to be raised somehow, to be put into developing the commercial and manufacturing activities of the country and, therefore, stimulate employment, or is it to be put into an ephemeral increase of service for holiday purposes this year? There can be no doubt which is the right answer. It must go to the permanent development of the manufacturing and industrial resources of the country. That is the decision which has been taken. It is a decision which goes against the desire of the Mover, the Seconder, and the supporters of this Motion. Those are the types of decision which one is faced with all the time. You have limited capacity for carrying. You have a limited number of men who are trained for duty—more are being trained as rapidly as possible. You have a limited amount of capital which can be got. You have limited conditions in which the railways are working. You have limits in the number of locomotives at work. You have limits in the number of seats available in the rolling stock you run. You have limits in the number of wagons available. You have limits in the carrying capacity of the lines. Remember that for five years there has been no development of the railways of this country worth speaking of. During those five years there have been great movements of population, and there have been developments of industries and works outside centres of population, and those developments have led to enormous increases of traffic. You cannot, whatever you do, get rid of these difficulties by a stroke of the pen or by wishing. You have to get down to the problem and try to work it out, and you are met by an almost overwhelming rush of demands. I can assure the House that neither time nor energy will be spared if by, or through, the expenditure of either, we can improve the railway service of this country. There are few things which absorb more and more time from day to day than this railway question. We are doing everything we can to increase the efficiency of the railways as rapidly as possible; but let us be absolutely sure that there are great physical difficulties which we cannot charm away. All the changes of hours and conditions that are being made—changes which I welcome—mean an increase in our difficulties It is not easy to get these difficulties overcome as rapidly as they would have been overcome if those changes had not been made. I assure the House that there will be no delay in increasing the passenger service as soon as it can be increased. If I should have anything to do with the responsibility of this matter at that time there will be no delay so far as the representatives of the Board of Trade are concerned in getting the fares down as far as it is possible to get them down. I can assure the House that everything which is possible to be done without leading to a breakdown in the service will be done in the way of cheapening fares, but it would be no kindness to the people of this country if, for a sentimental reason, we were to have cheap fares and to allow the railways to get overwhelmed, because the result of that would be to cause difficulties in the distribution of coal, which is a very great difficulty to the railways as well as industries at the present time. It would also disorganise the distribution of food and the distribution of raw materials. That would mean giving a holiday to the few and unemployment to many.
I see difficulties all around me. I see one difficulty in finding work for people. I see another difficulty here, and I see another difficulty there, because there are no lines to run the trains on I am surrounded by difficulties, and it is only by working as hard as one can that one can make any attempt to get through them. I did not make the knots: I stepped into the middle of the knots. It is only by trying to get them untied that you can hope to extricate yourself. If you start cutting the knots you will make things worse.
One of the reasons why I intervene in this Debate is that I received directions from a large and important section of my Constituents not only to be present here, but to speak. Though I have received similar instructions on previous occasions, I have never ventured to obey them, but on this occasion I hope I may be allowed to make a few observations on the question. If anything would have made me favourable to the Resolution it is that I have had personal experiences, which are only those which have been shared by every Member of this House. It was suggested by one hon. Member that only one section of the community had any experience of the inconveniences of travelling. I can only say that on the last occasion on which I travelled to my home in Scotland I was not only compelled to travel in the corridor for the whole length of the journey, but forced to compete with a fellow passenger for half of the floor space. He was either so intoxicated or in so infuriated a condition of mind that he was prepared to contest for supremacy with me. He ended by break- ing one of the windows in order to wreak his passion upon me. When the train stopped at Rugby I was required by the police to attend on one of my four days' holiday in order to give evidence against him. The only way in which I could be relieved from the necessity of attending at Rugby police court on the Monday was by paying the damage to the extent of £l, and that over and above the 50 per cent. I had been required to pay for my small accommodation on the floor of the corridor. It is not only when I go to my home that I have these experiences. When I desire to visit my Constituents I travel in the corridor. I apologise for these personal reminiscences. I only make them in order that it may not be supposed that the inconveniences of travel at the present time are felt by only one section of the population. They are felt by all of us. There is not a single Member of the House who would not desire at the earliest possible moment to have the restrictions and inconveniences removed. One matter which would induce all of us to support the Resolution is the prospect with which the large populations in the East End of London and other large centres of population are faced in the coming summer months. The hearts of all of us went out to them when the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) portrayed the unhappy condition of those who were accustomed to go for a short holiday to a seaside resort but who, in all possibility, will be prevented by lack of facilities from enjoying the holiday they deserve.
Nobody in this House, however strenuous his advocacy of this Resolution might have been, would actually have believed that it would be possible at an early date to restore the facilities and conveniences to which we have been accustomed. On that last journey to Scotland to which I referred, I had another experience which showed me that the difficulty was increased. Our wayside station has three trains a day, and our stationmaster is most of the time bored to tears. When an unfamiliar stationmaster came lately to collect my ticket I inquired the reason, and I found that the dignity of the station now required two stationmasters to perform the duties previously performed adequately by one. I am not saying that that was an improper thing, but manifestly the cost of travel on that small branch line will be very seriously increased, and the visitors to whom we are accustomed to look for assistance during our short and hectic holiday season when they come from Glasgow will have to pay a larger sum for the enjoyment of the amenities of that part of Scotland because of our having two stationmasters instead of one. The position in which we are at present is an illustration of the I way in which government control of large businesses operates If it were only possible to have a real big competition between railway companies the railways that offered the best facilities would have the largest number of passengers, whether these facilities were adequate carriages or low fares. We are deprived of the opportunity of enjoying proper facilities because owing to the necessities of the War the Government had to take over control of this large business. We now have Government control of this large business, and hon. Members opposite, when they make these moving appeals, are met with the strong opposition that is customary on the part of the official mind to appeals based, as it is said, on sentiment. We should be in a much more fortunate position to-day with regard to travelling if only the railway companies could be restored to the position in which they were before the War, and allowed to compete with each other for the patronage of the public. Unfortunately from my point of view—other
hon. Members have a different, and it may be a better opinion—we are not likely for a long time to find railway companies in competition for our patronage, and if we are to wait as has been suggested until the Minister-designate of Ways and Communications has effected such economies in railway expenditure as will enable fares to be reduced, I cannot help thinking that we may have to wait until the Ides of March for a further reduction—
|Division No. 30.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Grundy, T. W.||Sexton, James|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Hartshorn, V.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Bell, Jamas (Ormskirk)||Hayday, A.||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Hinds, John||Sitch, C. H.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Holmes, J. S.||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Irving, Dan||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Briant, F.||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Taylor, J. W. (Chester-le-Street)|
|Bromfield, W.||Lunn, William||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Cairns, John||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Walsh, S, (Ince, Lancs.)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||O'Grady, James||Wignall, Jamas|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Onions, Alfred||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wood, Major M.|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Richards, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Yeo, Sir Alfrerd William|
|Finney, Samuel||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Gould, J. C.||Rose, Frank H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Rowlands, James||T. Wilson and Captain A. Smith.|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Baldwin, Stanley||Bridgeman, William Clive|
|Armitage, Robert||Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Brittain, Sir Harry E.|
|Astbury, Lt.-Com. F. W.||Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Britton, G. B.|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Bruton, Sir J.|
|Baird, John Lawrencs||Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Carr, W. T.|
|Chadwick, R. Burton||Jodrell, N. P.||Randall, Athelstan|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Johnson, L. S.||Renwick, G.|
|Clough, R.||Johnstone, J.||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.|
|Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)|
|Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A.W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Lloyd, George Butler||Seager, Sir William|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lort-Williams, J.||Shorn, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T., W.)|
|Curzon, Commands Viscount||Loseby, Captain C. E.||Smithers, Alfred W.|
|Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Lyle, C. E, Leonard (Stratford)||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Lynn, R. J.||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||M'Donald, D. H. (Bothwell, Lanark)||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Dean, Com. P. T.||Hackinder, Hallord J.||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lard E. (Chichester)|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Du Pre, Colonel W. B.||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Mitchell, William Lane-||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Weston, Col. John W.|
|Gange, E. S.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Whitla, Sir William|
|Ganzoni, Captain F. C.||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)||Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Nall, Major Joseph||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||Neal, Arthur||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Nelson, R. F. W. R||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)|
|Gretton, Col. John||Oman, C. W. C.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Parker, James||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Hallwood, A.||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Hood, Joseph||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)||Percy, Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.R. McNeill and Col. Sir Rhys Williams.|
|Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Hurd, P. A.||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Inskip, T. W. H.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
Question put, and agreed to.