Orders of the Day — CONSOLIDATED FUND (No.1) BILL. – in the House of Commons on 24th March 1920.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON:
I am sure the whole of the House will welcome the return of the Minister of Transport to this House, and we congratulate him upon his recovery. In the past, his presence in this Chamber has been almost like angels' visits, few and far between, and now we hope he will be able to give us some outline of that great work of social reconstruction of our transport system which, we must all agree, whatever view we take, is of the utmost importance. I do not underrate the value of the work done by the Parliamentary Secretary during the right hon. Gentle man's absence. I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the excellent way on which he has represented that Department during the absence of his Chief. I think the Ministry was particularly fortunate at its inception in having at its head two men, who are essentially business men, and who will approach the questions which come before them without that official taint which so often sterilises and ties up with red tape the work of Government Departments.
During the discussion of the Supplementary Estimates the Parliamentary Secretary told us it was unreasonable for us to expect that the Ministry, having been in existence for such a short time, should be in a position to revolutionise and reform entirely our transport difficulties, but I think we have a right to ask that when we have voted £181,000 as Supplementary Estimates, and when we have voted an equivalent sum to an annual expenditure of £300,000 a year, we ought to know something of the lines upon which these reforms of administration are to work. We shall be agreed that at the present time our transport system is hopelessly inadequate, and it is in a deplorable condition so far as efficiency is concerned. I do not want to deal with generalities, but I do want to put some practical cases of the difficulties under which the railways and the industries of this country are working. Bather than deal with generalities I will give a few instances of which I have firsthand knowledge of what is occurring on the north-east coast. I do not say that the position there is any worse than in the rest of the country, but I think the difficulties from which the traders suffer there are only typical of those endured right throughout the length and breadth of the land, more particularly as regards industrial centres. I take the north-east coast in the districts of the Tyne, the Wear and the Tees, where a larger proportion of iron and steel products are made than in any other similar area. I take that area because I happen to have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties under which those industries are working. We quite understand that at the time of the Armistice and during the transition period there would be difficulties and delays, but I submit that 15 months after the signing of the Armistice we have a right to expect that things will be getting better, and that we shall soon achieve a normal condition of things so far as our transport service is concerned.
Unfortunately, so far as we on the North-East coast are concerned, the position, instead of getting better, is steadily going from bad to worse. There is a progressive tendency in the wrong direction. It is because the situation is so serious that I venture to lay before the House some of the difficulties under which we labour. In March last year, in conjunction with my hon. and gallant Friend and Colleague, the Member for Middlesbrough (Colonel P. Williams), I had the honour of introducing a deputation to the Board of Trade, the Department then dealing with the railway system of this country, to explain how seriously industry was handicapped by the lack of facilities. At that time there were accumulated stocks of iron and steel finished products amounting to 64,000 tons, which is at least three times the normal amount of stocks. As a result of our re presentations and of special efforts that were made by the Board of Trade, those stocks by the end of the following quarter, the end of June, had been reduced from 64,000 to 32,000 tons. There was still far too much, but it was a decided improvement. By September they had increased to 53,000 tons, by December to 70,000 tons, and to-day there are 90,000 tons of finished steel products waiting for customers who are clamouring for them. We heard to-day at Question time that the shipyards of Scotland are held up because they cannot get the plates. I submit that the difficulty is due to the lack of transport to convey them from the rolling mills to the shipyards, and to the lack of production at those rolling mills owing to the want of transport to bring the material to the mills.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to realise the serious position in the industrial community. It may be said that, although the stocks have increased, the output during the same period has been increased, and that the railway companies have been handling more than they did in pre-War times. I know that figures can be given to prove anything, but, so far as the output in the area to which I refer is concerned, instead of increasing during this period it has been decreasing. I had the figures taken out in order that I might be able to speak with a Certain amount of authority. In the week ending 8th February last year the joint output in that area, not their capacity but their output, was 37,000 tons. Yet we find that for the following half year ending September, the output was only at the rate of 24,000 tons per week, or 35 per cent. less. It got worse towards the end of the year, and for the quarter ending 31st December the output was only 23,000 tons per week, or 38 per cent. less than the amount turned out in a given week in February. Therefore, although the output in this area has been gradually reduced week after week, yet the stocks of finished material have increased threefold, from 32,000 tons at the end of June to over 90,000 tons to-day That shows a most deplorable state of things. The one cry which we hear all over the country is the need for increased production. It may be said that is one of the few points on which the Treasury Bench are united—the absolute need for increased production if we are to establish our credit and if we are to re-establish the rate of exchange and put the industrial and financial conditions of this country on a sound basis. Yet, although the employers and employed are doing their utmost to increase output, they are handicapped in this extraordinary way by the lack of facilities to move their goods from one point to another.
Not many weeks ago I was asked by one of the works in that district to go down and see the terrible state of things. I said that I believed what they told me, but they said that they wanted me to go down and see for myself, so that I could tell the Minister with first-hand knowledge how their sidings were congested and how men at their works had to stand off. They had stocks of 30,000 tons of material overflowing their mills and their sidings, and they had had to stand off work for over a week in order to reduce those stocks. What is the effect of this condition of things? Workmen see that if they work four weeks' full time they have 20,000 tons at the end, whereas the railways are only equal to dealing with 4,000 tons per week, or 16,000 tons per month. Naturally, the men say: "What is the use of turning out to the utmost of our capacity if at the end of a month we have to stand idle for a week in order that the railways can work the goods." Consequently, they reduce the output to meet the carrying capacity of the railways, and you therefore lose 35 per cent. of the output. So much has that been the case that some steel works in that area have taken out figures to ascertain what was the loss of output last year, and they estimate that, entirely owing to lack of transport facilities, there was a shortage of 725,000 tons. That is equivalent to something between £16,000,000 and £20,000,000 worth of goods. This, let it be remembered, is at a time when the Government are urging that we should increase our export trade in order to stabilise the rate of exchange. We have a right to ask that the Government should assist manufacturers and workers to increase their output and their export trade and thus re-establish the rate of exchange and that balance of trade which, unfortunately, is against us. The House will remember that the figures for January and February of this year showed a declension in our exports and that the margin of imports over exports was greater in January than in December.
I did not quite gather whether the hon. Gentleman gave the actual places where he says that these things occur.
I am perfectly willing to tell the House. I am referring to the North-East coast as an area. The particular works where the 20,000 tons overflowed the mills and sidings were those of Messrs. Dorman, Long & Co. of Mddlesbrough, but the same thing applies practically to all the steel works on the North-East coast, which have had to stand idle for weeks at a time owing to the lack of facilities for moving the goods which they had produced and for which customers were clamouring. Not only does that hold up the production of plates, but it holds up the building of ships which the Government have urged employers to produce as rapidly as possible owing to the shortage of freightage accommodation, These stocks are not stocks rolled on chance sales; every ton is rolled against specified orders for particular works which require them for particular jobs. Therefore, shipbuilding and engineering are held up because this particular material cannot be got at until the balance of the stocks is removed. An hon. Member the other day urged that in order to establish a balance of trade in our favour we should prohibit imports. I submit that the wiser plan is for the Government to encourage our trades and industries to manufacture and produce more and to encourage exports so that the balance may be remedied in that way. It may be said that it is all very well to criticise, but what are the remedies? The situation in our district is so serious, in fact it is so serious right throughout the industrial part of England, that I venture to make one or two suggestions. We know that there is a shortage of wagons. I submit that the Government are not altogether free from blame on that score. During the War they sent over to France between 30,000 and 40,000 wagons. In October of last year, when I had the privilege of taking a deputation to the Minister of Transport on this question, we were told that there were still 20,000 wagons left in France, and a promise was given that they should be returned at the rate of 800 or 900 per week. At that rate, those wagons by this time should have been all returned. I would like the Minister to tell us how many are overseas still waiting, when our industries are starving for the want of them. We were told, in reply to a question the other day, that 15,000 wagons had been sold to the French and Belgian people. I asked why that was done, and I was told that owing to the question of plates and fittings they were not suitable to run on our railways; but that excuse only applied to 5,000 of them.
There is also the gauge question. Some are too big to run on our lines.
That is another point. The War Office early in the War had an order to make wagons for France. They made them to the exact gauge for running on the Belgium and French lines, which is about one-eighth or three-eighths narrower than the English gauge, while our wagons will run on the Belgium lines the wagons made for the Belgium and French lines will not run on the English lines. Our intelligent War Office gave the order so that those wagons would run on the Belgium lines but not on the English lines. That is an example of the way in which the Government are to blame. Would not it have been quicker to have altered the axles and the gauge rather than to have rebuilt the whole of the wagons? I know it would have been an expensive operation, but the question of time is essential, and, so far as the fittings and the plate blocks are concerned, I submit that a great part of those 15,000 wagons could, with much less cost than the building of new wagons have been made suitable to run on our lines. I would ask the Minister to tell us how many wagons are now left in France and how soon he can promise to deliver them to the railway companies of this country. I would like him to give his mind to the time taken in the transit of wagons and trains in this country which are available for use. I believe he will tell us that the ton mileage carried is as great now as it was before the War. Unfortunately, owing to circumstances over some of which the Government have control, the distance hauled is infinitely greater, and I think a re-arrangement of the coal traffic would at any rate reduce the length of distance hauled in many cases and make the wagons available of infinitely more value. Apart from that, I submit that the time taken by the railway companies themselves in hauling traffic from one point to another is altogether excessive and shows a want of efficient organisation.
I will only trouble the House with one or two actual cases typical of what is going on in thousands of others. Naturally, I take my own district, because I am acquainted with it, and I have ascertained the facts. There are cases in which wagons in the North-East Coast area take 20 days to be hauled a distance of 40 miles. I am dealing not with part wagon loads, but with whole wagon loads, sent direct from the producers' works to the consumers' works, the haulage therefore being entirely a matter in the hands of the railway company. I have here a list of instances showing the time occupied—not on long distance journeys but on short distance journeys—in hauling wagons from the receiving point to the delivering point. For a distance of 22 miles, from Stockton to South Shields the time occupied is 20 days; from Middlesbrough to the Tyne, 16 days; and, further afield, from Leeds to the Tyne, 55 days; from Sheffield to the Tyne, 61 days; and from Glasgow to the Tyne, 61 days. These, of course, are extreme cases, but there are hundreds of them. The average time taken by the bulk of the goods trains throughout the North-East Coast service for short distance traffic is three times as long as it was before the War, and the natural result is that the carrying capacity is reduced to that extent, and even if there were more wagons than before the War they would only be doing half the work which they formerly did. The suggestion is made by traders and others on the North-East Coast that so long as this extreme shortage of wagons exists the three-shift system should be worked. I hope the Minister of Transport will bring his influence to bear on the railway companies to improve their organisation and methods of working, and to try and establish the three-shift system so that what transport there is shall be in use the whole time, thereby enabling output at the works to be increased and maintained.
I apologise to the House for going into all these details. The question is a most serious one, not only for the particular area to which I refer, but for the whole of the country. It is not merely a question of the position being bad. It has been gradually getting worse month by month and quarter by quarter. At the time of the Armistice and in the months following it was understood there would be delays, but as time has gone by the position has got worse and worse, and it is time we appealed to the Minister to see if he cannot exercise his ingenuity and secure an improvement. I hold in my hand a telegram I received this afternoon from the area with which I have been dealing in which it is stated that the shortage of trucks still continues, that the position grows steadily worse, that the stocks are now over 90,000 tons as against 70,000 tons at the end of 1919, and all this despite constant representations made to the Ministry of Transport, to the railway directors, and the officials, there being no evidence of the slightest improvement having resulted from the last deputation of the Minister on the 30th October. I appeal to the Minister to see if he cannot in some way devise means whereby there may be an improvement. We have been told by his Parliamentary Secretary that this is not a matter for the Ministry of Transport to deal with, but that the railway companies have the control in their own hands, and we must appeal to them. We on the North-East coast have appealed to them. We have appealed to the officials; we have seen the Board of Directors; we have also appealed to the Ministry of Transport, and now finally we appeal to this House to see whether, by the pressure of public opinion, it cannot influence the Minister. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man, it is not beyond the powers of a Department costing £300,000 per year, to devise some scheme whereby this terrible waste and under-production can be prevented.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Transport to the Very serious position in which the nurserymen in the Lea Valley are at the present time, owing to the lack of transport. These nurserymen occupy an area extending for a considerable distance beyond Tottenham, and they employ, I believe, 6,000 or 7,000 hands. They consume something like 300,000 tons of anthracite coal annually, and this involves a delivery of some 400 truckloads weekly. Recently they have been put very low on the list of trades to be supplied with coal; they are in fact almost at the bottom. These nurserymen use their energies in the production of food. They are not orchid growers, but they produce enormous quantities of tomatoes. Thanks to the exceptionally fine and warm weather we have recently had they have been able to do very well in the last two or three weeks, and they have got all their plants in, but they have only something like a week's coal supply in hand, and if the weather changes, as it probably will very shortly, they will not have sufficient and then their plants will be killed, there will be no work for the summer, and some 6,000 people will be thrown out of employment. Six thousand is a very low estimate, probably it will be nearer 10,000. Already in that particular district we have a very large number of unemployed persons, and I am sorry to say the total ig likely to be much increased by the reduction of the Small Arms Factory at Enfield, and by dismissals from the Waltham Abbey factory in the same area. I ask the Minister of Transport if he cannot see his way to provide an adequate supply of coal for this most important industry. It has been suggested that the anthracite coal which is used there might be sent by sea, but the nurserymen declare that that is impossible because the coal they use is in very large blocks. If it is sent by sea, it is considerably broken up in the process of handling it and transporting it from the ships to the barges, and then it cannot be used in the furnaces, as small coal falls through the grates. The cost of seaborne coal would be excessive, and when they got it it would only be worth about one-half of what it should be. I take this opportunity of drawing the attention of the Minister of Transport to the very serious position in which these nurserymen are, and I hope he may be able to provide a remedy.
I wish to take this opportunity of impressing on the House, as well as on the Minister of Transport, the position in which this country stands in consequence of the shortage of storage for grain in bulk. This, more than anything else, has caused and is causing congestion at our ports, and unless it be remedied, as I suggest it might be very readily, that congestion will go on. It must do so if we are to have in this country a sufficient stock of grain for our immediate requirements. There is no provision in this country today for holding more than from three to four weeks' supply of grain in bulk, and the consequence is that, as we cannot go on under existing circumstances as we did before the War, we are taking in our grain in parcels from hand to mouth, and storage accommodation has to be found for it, not in the ordinary way in bulk, but in sacks. Space on the quays is taken up in putting the grain from bulk into sacks which have to be purchased for the purpose, and the grain is then taken away and warehoused at the docks. Owing to the way in which the work has been done, we have heard little of the congestion at the docks due to this storage of wheat, although that storage has occupied space much required for merchandise. Even a part of the coal storage at the Port of London a short time ago was filled with wheat.
This matter received consideration by the Royal Commission on the Supply of Food in War-time in the years 1903–5, and the Commission reported that in the seven years out of the 11 with which they were dealing there had been at periods less than 2½ weeks' stock in port. Although such a condition of things might have been allowed to go on before the War, yet during the War it was the cause of much anxiety in consequence of the operations of the U-boats, an anxiety which the country would not have suffered from had there been proper storage accommodation. That is a state of things which must not be allowed to go on, and I am convinced it is only necessary in these times to impress on this House, and on the country, the fact that there is something which can readily be done, even before next season's arrivals, to ensure that the necessary steps shall be taken. The Royal Commission reported that it was desirable to have recourse to measures for increasing the stocks of wheat held in this country, and there was a scheme for co-operative storage rent free which might be tried as an experiment, although they did not think that an offer of storage rent free would prove a sufficient inducement to keep in this country wheat at present held in the country of production. It was not until 1908 that two of the largest dealers in grain in the world, Mr. Ogden Armour and Mr. J. C. Schafer, of Chicago, offered to keep in stock in this country a quantity of wheat if storage was provided for them rent free. In order that the House may realise how small would have been the cost of providing that storage, I would like to state that storage sufficient for six weeks' supply of wheat for this country could have been provided for about the same sum as the cost of running one light cruiser. In 1908, Lord Balfour, who was Chair- man of the Royal Commission, was informed that, if the storage were provided, it would be made use of to the extent of two-thirds of its capacity, and this was passed on to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the present Prime Minister. In September, 1910, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was again communicated with, nothing having been done in the meantime. In October, 1910, the then Prime Minister—the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Member for Paisley—was approached, and the matter was referred by him to the Committee of Imperial Defence. Admiral Sir Charles Hartley, the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, very, thoroughly examined the proposal and fully approved of it, and he tried to put it into operation, but in May, 1911, the Treasury decided that they would not adopt the proposal for the present. In October, 1912, the then Prime Minister stated that the question of food supplies was receiving careful consideration by a Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence. I have already said that the Executive of the Committee of Imperial Defence was fully in favour of the proposal being carried out, and a meeting of the Sub-Committee, presided over by Mr. McKenna, was held on the same day. On the 13th May, 1914, the matter was debated in this House, and Mr. Runciman, the President of the Board of Agriculture, stated that every suggestion made before the Royal Commission was rejected by the Royal Commission, and that nothing could be done one way or the other.
I have stated these facts in order to show that, at the beginning of the War, we were in that dreadful position of not having three weeks' storage space for the supply of wheat in bulk. Immediately after the War began, some of us did what we could, outside the Government, to help in these matters. I myself built in two months a warehouse to hold 40,000 tons of wheat for the Board of Agriculture That was wheat stored in sacks, and I only give the illustration to show how easy it is to give those facilities. I can assure the Minister that he will get every assistance, from those who understand the question, to enable the necessary facilities to be given during the next few months, so that we may get rid of this terrible congestion in the ports. Only yesterday, in answer to a question, it was stated that 1,500,000 tons of wheat were coming forward from Australia. It is quite true that Australian wheat, up to the present time, has come forward in sacks, but the facility is desired none the less as regards wheat in general. I limit myself on this occasion to that particular subject, which is so important to the country, in the hope that I may be able to make a point with my right hon. Friend.
I desire to raise, quite briefly, a subject which affects every cyclist in this country, namely, the compulsory carrying of a rear light on his machine. As the House knows, it was not necessary, before the War, to carry a rear light. During the War the necessity for carrying a rear light was imposed. That Order was cancelled, but during the Railway Strike of last year it was reimposed, and it is now necessary for every cyclist to carry a rear light. This affects many thousands of people in this country, and there is a very strong feeling against it. At present, owing to the rough state of the roads consequent upon the fact that very little was done towards their up-keep during the War, it is almost impossible for a cyclist to keep his rear light burning, on account of the great amount of vibration on the rear wheel. An hon. Member of this House told me that, on a very short ride which he took a few evenings ago, his lamp went out four times in a distance of twelve miles. The objections to compulsory rear lighting may, I think, be summarised in this way. In the first place, it removes the the responsibility for road accidents from the overtaking to the overtaken person. Secondly, if the motorist is not able, from the strength of his own lights, to see a cyclist riding away from him at a speed up to ten miles an hour, what chance has he of seeing a pedestrian. Thirdly, if the law at present existing is made permanent, a motorist is entitled to presume that a road which does not show a light ahead is clear, and, in case of a rear lamp either going out or being jolted out,' he can plead contributory negligence on the part of the overtaken person. Personally, I have been a motorist for a great many years, but I have considerable sympathy with that large body of cyclists who are at present compelled to carry rear lights, and I trust that the Minister of Transport, as and when he is in a position to deal with this question, will have regard to the large weight of opinion in the country in favour of the views which I have endeavoured to put forward.
I venture to make an appeal to the Minister of Transport from the diametrically opposite point of view to that of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down. Having been a cyclist myself for many years, in the old days of high bicycles, which were unsprung, I appreciate the difficulties of getting certain types of lamp, and especially cheap ones, to keep alight; but there is no difficulty in keeping lamps of the better type alight, so far as my experience serves. Hon. Members know quite well that, unless you have a well-designed tail lamp on a motor car, if you are using oil, there is always a tendency for it to blow or jolt out; but I have never found a police officer yet who has met that excuse with any degree of sympathy. It is more in the interests of the cyclists themselves than of anyone else that this matter ought to be taken into consideration. Personally, while I would be quite prepared to drive a motor ear, either in London traffic or in the country, without a tail light, I would not venture out on a bicycle on a dark night without carrying a rear light, whether it were compulsory or not, for my own safety. I cannot understand, considering what a representative body motorists are in this country, how they have been forced to suffer and submit to be imposed upon by every other class. It is asking a motorist too much, when driving on a road, to keep a constant look-out on the near side of the road, or in the middle of the road, for the various figures which loom up, especially in the half light, when a light, no matter how small, is sufficient, not only to save the driver a considerable amount of nervous anticipation, but possibly even to save the life of the cyclist himself. I do not think the cyclists have made out any case against this particular Regulation, which has been framed in their own interests, and I trust that, no matter what representations may be made, the Minister of Transport will see that they do not, in their desire for economy or convenience, jeopardise their own lives.
With regard to the question of new Regulations in connection with motor cars, I trust the Minister of Transport will not make any drastic changes without getting the considered opinion of this House. The motor car industry in this country to-day is in a very precarious position. There was a boom on the occasion of the show, but it was mostly artificial. There is every reason why road transport should be given the greatest assistance that the Minister can give. I know that his experiments in regard to lorry transport for relieving congestion have not been very successful, but I would like to ask him to compare the effective mileage of any given lorry with that of any given truck. A lorry can work 24 hours a day with two drivers, or 12 hours a day with one driver, without interfering in any way with the general movements of other lorries carrying on the same work. On the other hand, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to picture for a moment, as I am sure he has seen them, the vast acres of railway trucks due to congestion, not occasioned by their own lack of self-locomotion, but by the limitations of lines on the bottleneck principle, and to say whether or not he has actually proved, on mileage and cost, the inefficiency of motor transport to an extent which would lead him to discard it. I would like also to ask him whether he will take into consideration,' in these new Regulations, the position of the motorist who is not wealthy, but who keeps a car for use occasionally during the year. That kind of man is likely to be very seriously penalised if the recommendations of the Committee, as now framed, for new motor legislation, are carried through without discussion. I think this House has the right to ask the Minister to give an opportunity for discussion beforehand, and, if I may presume to say so, for assisting in drawing up, in the "general interests of the motoring public and of the public at large, the Regulations and changes which he proposes to make.
In reply to a supplementary question of mine the other afternoon, the Prime Minister said he had not altered his policy in connection with canals. I know he has not. He never had a policy. You cannot alter a thing you have not got. There never has been a policy of canals in this country, except in so far as there was a very definite policy on the part of all railways to close down canals on account of the competitive rates. It has been stated that no railway could live if the canal system was perfect, because canal transport is so much more efficient from the point of view of economy that it would put the railways out of business. If we are on an economy campaign it shows bow essential it is for the Minister of Transport, who presumably is not running his Department in order to exploit the people, but rather to relieve taxation and to relieve congestion, to get to work on a sound policy with regard to the water ways of this country, irrespective of any temporary injury that the railways may suffer. There are hundreds of thousands of unskilled men to-day seeking employment through the Labour Exchanges. They are unskilled from conditions which are mostly attributable to the War. They are drawing in one form or another large sums of money from the State as it is essential they should do. The State must realise the obligation that rests upon them of adopting a sound policy dealing first with canals and secondly with roads. The system which is in vogue in South Africa for example of road boards, irrespective of local councils, taking charge of large districts and repairing and renovating roads and canals, would do very much towards relieving our transport troubles, perhaps in five years' time, and would do much towards providing employment of a useful and healthy character to a vast number of men at present borne on the unemployment register.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will keep in closer touch with the Board of Trade, the Coal Controller and the various other Departments which offer him and his Department as the reason for any difficulties which any hon. Member may put before them in consequence of complaints from their constituents? I represent a constituency where a considerable amount of fruit growing and vegetable gardening takes place. In common with another hon. Member, I received a deputation yesterday in which it was put to me quite plainly that unless some relief was given on the question of anthracite coal, in the event of our experiencing cold weather next week there would be a possibility of five or six thousand men being thrown out of work and the result of their labour for the past four months utterly lost. Anyone who keeps a greenhouse knows that if once the temperature goes down that is the end of what is under the glass. These men that I am speaking of represent a large industry. The whole of the Lea Valley is occupied by them. It is their principal industry, and they are so short of anthracite, without which they cannot keep their glasshouses heated, that in some cases they have only three days' supply, and it is only by the grace of God, exemplified in the weather we have had, that they have not lost their crops now. It is not by the aid of the Ministry of Transport or the Coal Controller. The weather has been known to turn particularly bitter immediately after Easter. Unless something is done these men will be absolutely robbed of their livelihood and a vast amount of valuable produce will be lost in the way of food production. If I go to the Coal Controller, he tells me he cannot get any wagons. If I go to the Board of Trade, and ask why they are exporting it, as they are in thousands of tons a week, he says they have to export it because the transport facilities in this country as so bad. They both blame the right hon. Gentleman. By spending five minutes upon it, and ascertaining what the facts really are, he may be able to relieve that state of affairs in the Lea Valley. Generally speaking, the transport of this country is blamed for all our troubles, and not only hon. Members but the whole country is looking to the present Minister to justify not only the ever-increasing staff—they do not grudge it so long as it is efficiently administered—but the ever-increasing cost of the Department. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be driven, even by any remarks that I or any other hon. Members may make in their desire to get immediate relief for some very pressing thing, to depart from what I trust is in his mind, a comprehensive policy of the canal and road industry which will come to fruition in about five years' time or even longer—not some hastily patched-up policy, but a real comprehensive policy of transport for the whole country which will prevent the recurrence of what we have suffered from not only during the War, but even more since?
A fortnight ago I drew attention to three items which were of considerable importance to the constituency I represent. I think I am entitled to complain of the way those subjects have been dealt with, or rather have failed to be dealt with, by the Minister of Transport, for on two of them no answer was given at all nor any information vouchsafed in reply to my request. Again I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can afford to the commercial community of Nottingham who are season ticket holders any information with regard to the inter-availability facilities which have prevailed for some time past as between the Midland and the Great Central Railway. Those facilities are still in being, but most of the permits which have recently been issued by the Great Central Railway are timed to expire on the 31st of this month. Hitherto they have been timed to expire on the same date as the Midland Railway season tickets expire. Now they are all timed to expire on 31st March and there is considerable apprehension in the minds of a great number of business men, who find these inter-availability facilities of very great importance, as to what is going to happen after 31st March. I am sure it will be of considerable interest to the commercial community if the Minister of Transport will give us any idea whether as part of his general policy he proposes to make these facilities available when there are two or three railways serving any particular business centre. One of the first steps the Government took when war broke out was to make season tickets inter-available on all the railways, and it would be a very wise decision and one which would meet the convenience of the business community if the Minister of Transport could re-introduce that system.
The second point, which concerns not only the people of Nottingham, but the midland counties, and has been the subject of agitation for over 40 years, is the improvement of the navigation of the River Trent. After many years the corporation succeeded in getting Parliamentary powers to improve the river, and everything is in line for the work to be at once proceeded with. It would find employment for a considerable number of people. Its object commends itself to every section of the community. Here is a little chapter of improved transport which he could put into practical politics without delay, and I hope he will see his way to enable the corporation to proceed with the scheme. The powers they have obtained are somewhat unique inasmuch as they are compulsory powers to proceed. In the ordinary way a corporation may obtain powers for certain work to be done. If they do not proceed with the work nothing happens except that the powers lapse. In this case when the powers were obtained the corporation entered into an agreement under seal with the Trent Navigation Company that they would carry out these works within a stated period. They are anxious to proceed, and I hope the Ministry of Transport may be able to facilitate that operation.
The third item on the Agenda is not unknown to the House. Apparently it so obsessed the mind of the Parliamentary Secretary that in his reply he suggested that my preliminary remarks on the two subjects to which I have referred were really in the nature of a preface or a mere introduction to the real pith of my speech. I am delighted to think that the question to which I now propose to allude is one that so fills the mind of the Parliamentary Secretary that he clean forgot to mention the two other subjects with which I have dealt. Those two subjects are really regarded as very serious from the point of view of the parties concerned, and I hope that, in spite of the great attention which I know the right hon. Gentleman will pay to the items now under consideration, he will not entirely forget the other points I have mentioned. I think I am entitled to complain of the way this subject has been handled. The point to which I now refer is the action of the Midland Railway in closing an exit from their station which had been a highway for many thousands of railway travellers ever since the station was built. I first asked a question on this subject in July last. Had the reply shown any desire to give reasonable consideration, or any relation to the truth of the situation, no more would have been heard about it. I have far more congenial and far more important work to do than to waste time in asking questions, but if the answers are incorrect or unreasonable I do not propose to leave the matter there. In the interests of truth, among other virtues, I shall make it part of my duty to pursue the subject until I have been able to show the Government that they are wrong or until they have condescended to come down to earth and to explain the reason for their action. The Parliamentary Secretary said that I had threatened to ask questions week after week until I got my own way. That is absolutely untrue. If a suggestion or an indication of my future policy is to be treated as a threat, I cannot be held responsible for that. It may be bad tactics to give one's programme away, but I did not intend what I said to be in any sense in the nature of a threat. It would be very improper for me to attempt such a policy, and when the Parliamentary Secretary says that I propose to do this until I get my own way, I do protest that it is a most improper interpretation of the facts.
This question does not affect me in the least degree from my own point of view. What I have to complain about is that, on a subject of this character, the Ministry are apparently more influenced by the personal attitude of a Member of this House than they are by the facts of the case. All that I desire to do is to draw the attention of the Minister to the facts, and I have pointed out that so long as the present state of affairs obtain there will be in the city of Nottingham two or three thousand people every day who feel that they have a grievance, who suffer loss of time and loss of convenience, and to whom no sort of sympathy or explanation has been given by the Ministry of Transport. If I am a representative of the people it is obvious that so long as they are discontented, so long as I am called upon week after week by people who ask me to press the matter and not to let it rest, it is my duty to draw attention to it. I have been encouraged to proceed upon that campaign by right hon. Gentlemen who adorn that Front Bench. They know the secrets of Government, and have been kind enough to advise me that the only possible way of moving a Government Department which is inspired by an official of a railway company is to hammer at it for long enough, and in the end one will succeed. It is upon that plan that I have been proceeding, without desiring to use any threat. That is the last thing in the world I would do. It is only fair to give the right hon. Gentleman notice that it is not I who am proceeding to worry him, but it is the fact that he, as the Minister, is responsible for worrying two or three thousand people in Nottingham every day. If he thinks that that sort of thing can prevail without any sort of reprisal, he is entitled to another think. The Parliamentary Society said that it would be very improper for a Minister to take the action I have suggested, because some Member said he was going to worry the Minister until he got his own way. I take very serious exception to that statement.
I complain of the way in which the Minister has answered some of the questions which I have put upon this subject On Monday I asked him how many men would be required if this exit was opened. There is a general view in Nottingham that the railway companies have not employed as many disabled returned men as they might, and this particular job is suitable for the employment of men of that kind. After many questions I have obtained information as to the cost, and I proceeded further by asking how many men would be required to work the exit. He replied, "I do not think any useful purpose will be served by supplementing the information and answers already given on this subject." That is very interesting as an indication of the state of mind of my right hon. Friend, but I asked for facts, and a Member of this House is entitled to be supplied by a Minister with ordinary plain facts "Therefore, while I am interested to know that he does not think any useful purpose would be served, I ask him to give me the information because I think a useful purpose would be served. On this subject, as upon others, information helps one to form a general opinion. I also asked for information in regard to the amount of money now being collected from the public in Nottingham in the way of platform tickets. This is an entirely new system so far as we are concerned. The closed station was inconvenient enough, but now people who desire to see their friends depart or to meet incoming visitors have to pay 1d. to get on to the platform. It occurred to me that as one of the objections to the opening of the exit has been that of expense, a proper way of spending the funds now collected by the Midland Co. from, people who go on to the platform would be to use it in defraying the alleged cost in connexion with the opening of the exit. Therefore I asked a very simple question and he replied, I am not aware of the date when the Midland Railway Company's station became a closed one, nor the amount received by the Company from platform tickets." I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would suggest the appointment of another Director-General to furnish information required by a Member of this House, but it seems to me to answer this question would have been a very simple matter. The information may not have been exactly within his knowledge, but it might have been obtained very readily.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not fall into the error of misunderstanding the situation as did the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not want to be a nuisance to any Minister. I merely desire to render some little practical service to the people who sent me here, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of these people, against whom no case has been made out. The Minister is being advised by an official of the railway company, and he is standing on that advice, against the advice I have brought to him and against the resolutions of the City Council of Nottingham, the Chambers of Commerce in Nottingham, and many other trade associations in Nottingham. All these people who are interested are organising a petition, which I shall present in the near future, to which will be attached the signatures of 20,000 people who are inconvenienced, and I shall ask the House to weigh up for the benefit of the Minister of Transport the representations made, and to express the opinion that the wishes and desires of all these people should outweigh the advice which the Minister receives from one minor railway official. If this House cannot be a representative institution to carry out the wishes of the people, but is to be subject to the dictates of bureaucratic officials, then many of us are sadly wasting our time. I did not come here to waste my time. I came to assist the Government to carry on the work of the country, and I am willing to assist the Minister of Transport in any way if he cares to call upon me; and I feel satisfied that if he and other Members of the Government, instead of setting at defiance, spurning, turning down, snubbing and ill-treating the ordinary Members of this House, would realise that they have come here with a certain amount of brains and ability to assist them, and if they would use that as an asset, the Government would be very greatly advantaged and the ordinary Member would feel that he was to a certain extent justifying the position in which he has been placed.
I desire to support very strongly the remarks which were made by the hon. Member for Middles brough (Mr. T. Thomson). He has dealt with the condition of affairs in the North-East of England caused by the shortage of trucks. I do not propose to labour that point, but I must draw attention to the state of affairs in the port of King's Lynn. During the past winter there has been a shortage of transport trucks. Not only have the timber firms of that port been unable to carry on their business, but the silicate sand firms in the neighbourhood, who are a very important section of the community, have only been able to obtain 10 per cent. of the trucks they need. I am well aware of the difficulties of my right hon. Friend in arranging these matters, but it is poor consolation to a large section of the people of a borough which has no other means of subsistence to find workmen turned off for a week in the hardest part of the year, and at a time when they are being asked by the Government and everybody else to do more work that they should be stopped by a thing over which they have no control, namely, the shortage of trucks. No one appreciates more than I do the ability, the adroitness, and the capacity that has been shown since my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary took office, and anyone who has heard his speeches must congratulate him and the right hon. Gentleman, but when his adroitness consists in being able to pass on correspondence to the railway companies and to throw upon them a burden—I do not say a burden they are unable to carry, but which they do not altogether quite deserve—it is poor consolation to those who have to suffer at the port of King's Lynn. I have this morning received letters from two firms of timber merchants there stating that they have had to turn off their men for a week for want of trucks, and I have a letter from a large number of workmen complaining that they are entirely out of work and with no means of getting work elsewhere. I have besides that letters from many individuals throughout the town. I have mentioned this matter during a considerable time to minor officials both at the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport. I have also been in communication this afternoon with the railway company. They promised a train of trucks yesterday. That train of trucks, I am told to-day, has not yet started. That is very poor consolation to the Borough of King's Lynn. The right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity of gaining the undying gratitude of those men who are out of work and of those contractors and firms, and he will justify the existence of his Department by putting pressure on the railway companies and making them do what they ought to do, supply the trucks that are required.
I wish to emphasise what has been put forward by my two colleagues (Brigadier-General Colvin and Mr. Billing) from the Lea valley. The want of coal in the whole of that valley has been a very serious item. In fact, one gets innumerable letters on the subject. I did take steps some time ago to, what I may call, go over the head of the Minister and make an appeal at last to the railway companies to see if something could be done. Whether it is due to a shortage of trucks, or whatever the cause may be, there is this difficulty Now that we have a Minister of Transport the public naturally think that if there is a shortage of transport in any particular area Members of Parliament are considered responsible for that shortage, and the onus and odium that sometimes used to rest on the railway companies now naturally rest on the Ministry of Transport. I do not wish to re-echo the arguments that have already been used, but I do wish to emphasise the absolute necessity of something being done to ensure a better supply of coal to the whole of that Lea valley.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a very definite question. But before doing so, may I be allowed, as one who knows something of the facts, to endorse the plea that has been made so often by the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Atkey) for further facilities at Nottingham station. I have never said anything about this before, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the facts are as stated by my hon. Friend, and that the inconvenience caused to the public in a place which is near my own constituency is very great, and I cannot understand why he cannot put this matter right. I would urge him in the strongest terms to get rid of whatever technical difficulties there may be. I assure him that if he does so he will do a good deed in what is a small matter, but one which nevertheless causes great inconvenience to many thousands of people in a great industrial centre. The principal question to which I wish to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman is the extraordinary position into which air transport has fallen. The right hon. Gentleman may remember that he was at one time very anxious to take charge of air transport as well as other forms of transport. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] It was so stated in the Press.
I am in a little difficulty in this matter, because no one must ever disclose secrets which he has obtained in Government circles, but it is a matter of common knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman was put in his present position to control transport by land, sea and air. If he says he did not wish it, all I can say is that his Department wished it and put forward a claim. I am sorry now, after all that has happened, that his Department, which acted apparently without his knowledge, did not succeed, because this, which is one of the most vitally important means of transport, is now absolutely dying of inanition in this country though not in others. I would not base my plea as to the importance of air transport on the service which the air renders in time of trouble and strife. I think that that would be a great mistake. My right hon. Friend knows very well that at the time of the late railway strike railway transport was freely used in order to maintain communications, but if anybody based a plea for a particular scheme of transport on the ground that it is of importance in times of industrial disturbance he would get little support from the more sensible members of the community. It is true that in times of trouble air transport is of value, but so are other means of transport, and I would never base the plea of air transport on the ground that it can function when others cannot, first because it is undesirable to state it even if it were true, and second, because it is not true. But in Germany, France, the United States, Italy, and even in Russia, air lines are operating regularly from day to day. In England there is only one. That is a Continental service, and that is in great danger of disappearing altogether.
The right hon. Gentleman interrupted me to say that he never wanted the air. Now that he has had time to think it over, I am sure that he will remember the time of which I speak when for the best and weightiest reasons he said that sea, land and air transport were all one problem. Alone among the nations we are neglecting it, with the result that it is disappearing. The, other day the Secretary of State for War, in reply to me, said that we are going to let commercial transport by air fly by itself. That is a fatal policy. I would point out to the House this country. This country was confronted when the War ended with this dilemma. If we left the development of air transport to the air machines produced during the War, the thing could not pay and it would decay. If, on the other hand, we waited until peace machines had been devised suitable for the purposes of my right hon. Friend as Minister of Transport, there would be an interregnum of two, five, or perhaps ten years during which all the good brains that had been devoted to this problem would go into other channels. In France, Germany, America, Italy, and even in Russia, they said, "This will not do, and we have got to keep these good brains at work in trying to devise the best new means for air travel for peace purposes. Therefore, one way or another, either by subsidising air routes or giving experimental orders for new machines, or by diverting our mail service to air routes and charging the same sum as for any other routes, and making the rest a charge on the Exchequer, or by any other means we will bridge that gap." Here in England alone among the great nations we have not attempted to bridge that gap.
The right hon. Gentleman is a great authority on transport. I do not speak as a hostile critic. I know what he did during the War. It so happens that when I was for a short time out of the line with the Canadians under my command, I went to see what was then called Geddesburg, and the arrangement and plans made by the right hon. Gentleman for improving the transport on the Western Front, and I would like to say that I am quite sure, as the thing was so near, that the success of our arms, on the Western Front was largely due to the measures and efforts of the right hon. Gentleman. I do not speak as a hostile critic or as one hostile to the right hon. Gentleman, for I pay a devoted tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the great work which he did during the most critical time of the War, of which I happen to have some knowledge, owing to the fact that I was there and knew what was going on; but I appeal to the Minister of Transport to bend his mind to this whole problem, and although air matters are not under his direct control, air transport must be as all these transport questions are. What is going to stop the process of rapid disintegration and prevent all the best brains which know how to devise good machines for air transport being lost to this country, while France, Germany, Italy and America are continuing the process of air development?
It is all very well to say "let the thing settle itself." Of course, one would do so if it were an ordinary matter. It would do very well for the right hon. Gentleman to reply, "let all means of transport solve themselves in accordance with what pays the best." But that will not do here. Why are France, Germany, Italy, and "Russia, all countries much poorer than ourselves, going to the expense of either giving big experimental orders or adopting other measures, but for the obvious reason that if we allow the whole of our means of air transport to wither away and we ever have a fresh war, we shall be landed in this absurd position, that the most potent arm for warlike purposes will be in the possession of our foes, while we have none of them ourselves. In the case of the sea, with which the right hon. Gentleman has some acquaintance as First Sea Lord, it is very difficult to convert merchant vessels into war vessels. There are all kinds of problems of scantlings and stressings, with which he and I are very familial, which render it very difficult to mount even a 6-inch gun on an ordinary vessel. The case of aircraft is wholly different. Anything that will carry mails in the air will carry very appropriate means of offence in time of war.
If I appear to labour the point in this House I think that I may be forgiven, in view of the fact that every word which I have ventured to prophesy during the last few weeks or months has come true to the letter. I said only the other day that all our transport facilities were in process of decay. Since then Mr. Holt Thomas has resigned, and his whole concern has been handed over, I think, to the British Small Arms Company. I have not seen Mr. Thomas for weeks. I do not know in the least how it affects him, I have got no interest in any of these concerns, but I do put this. If the right hon. Gentleman, as Minister of Transport, allows our air transport to wither and to decay and takes no steps to stop it, we shall, within the next few months, be in a position of grave peril as compared with our late enemies and as compared with our neighbours across the water. We have always regarded it as essential hitherto that Britain on the sea should have such a place that no one can argue with her without knowing that she has a great and potent weapon, both of warships and of other ships, which are a card in the game. It would be a very serious thing for this country if in the near future, in any argument that took place between this and any other country, that other country had the cards and we had none at all. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, who has clear ideas on the value of Air Transport, who was largely responsible for the setting up of the Aerial Transport Committee, not to forget this matter.
Sir E. GEODES:
I would like to reply to my right hon. Friend on the subject of the air and the Ministry of Transport's connection with it. First, I would like to thank him for the extremely kind way in which he referred to what I was able to do in France. His recollection that I wanted to take the air into the Ministry of Transport is incorrect. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind on the subject, but I have not changed mine. I would rather the air remained where it is. I am sorry, therefore, that speaking for the Ministry of Transport I can give no hope on that particular subject, but I have no doubt that those who are responsible for air transport will take note of what he says. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Atkey) asked about the inter-availability of tickets. That was a war measure due to the restriction of train facilities, and certainly it will not be extended. The question whether it should be slowly withdrawn as the services improve is under consideration. As to Trent navigation, that is a matter in which finance comes very largely. The whole question of canals will have to be dealt with as one. If there is anything in particular in connection with Trent navigation with which we can deal immediately I shall be glad if my hon. Friend will see me about it. As to Nottingham station, I feel sure that everyone wishes, including myself, that success may crown the crusades which my hon. Friend is waging, and now that he has an ally in my right hon. Friend (Major-General Seely) I think I shall have to join them and see what can be done. Another hon. Member drew attention to the serious shortage of coal for tomato growing in the Lea Valley. I have not heard about it, but I can undertake most wholeheartedly to look into the matter, because it would be a very serious thing if late frosts spoilt the crop. As regards the provision of grain silos, to which another hon. Member referred, this has hitherto been mainly a matter either for dock authorities or for private undertakings. I shall be very glad to have his help and any suggestions he can make. I agree that the storage of grain in the country is very desirable.
The question of rear lamps on bicycles has been raised. We have here an example of the difficulty of this subject. One hon. Member was against the carrying of lamps at the rear of cycles and the other hon. Member was not. The question of lighting is being considered by a Committee, which is also considering the regulation of motor traffic on the roads, and other things. As was stated, I think it is mainly a question of safety to the cyclist. If you abolish the rear lamp on the bicycle I am afraid it is essential that you should permit brilliant head lights to remain on motor cars. The brilliant head light on a motor car is a serious danger because it blinds people. I am sure the Committee to which I have referred will take every possible means of entertaining the views of cyclists. I come next to the very able statement made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Thomson) as to particular difficulties in transport in his district. The hon. Member said he would not generalise. That is a very good line to take, if you are attacking a great organisation where certain mistakes are bound to occur. I regret very much the position of the steel works in the hon. Member's district. They have a trouble entirely their own and it is an admitted trouble. The reason is, that they require a particular kind of wagon. During the War bolster wagons were not wanted. None were built during the War and none were replaced. Every possible step is being taken to increase the supply of such wagons. There are 100 bolster wagons still untraced on the continent of Europe, among the thousands of wagons that remain here, but that is not a very big thing in the general shortage.
My hon. Friend said that matters were going from bad to worse, particularly on the N.E. Railway serving his district. They are not really going from bad to worse. The accumulation of stocks has been arrested since 6th March. So far as the North-Eastern district is concerned I will give a figure. I am going to make comparisons on the only high standard that is possible. I will compare on the 1913 basis. The year 1013 was the highest year in trade and railway working that this country has ever had; it was a boom year in passengers and goods. The North-Eastern Railway carried, in the month of December, 1919, nearly 10 per cent. higher tonnage, irrespective of distance—and it is going a long distance—than they carried in December, 1913. The figures are: 1,457,000 tons in December, 1913, and 1,587,000 tons in 1919. The question of the bolster wagons is receiving attention. I hope that, as the weeks pass, my hon. Friend will have the satisfaction of seeing that the interests he represents so ably are getting better results.
Altogether, I think there are about 12,000 lying in France, but I will come to that question later. I would like, on this occasion, to add to the excellent and lucid and comprehensive statement which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made to the House when I was absent, as has been pointed out, "golfing'—not without reason. I would remind the House that the Ministry of Transport, although it was talked of for some time before, came into existence between five and six months ago. I would ask the House to remember that. I divide the work of the Ministry of Transport into two parts, one dealing with the future and the other dealing with the present situation. As to the future, you could have started a Royal Commission and over a long period it could have taken lots of evidence. But the Government did not adopt that way. They decided to do it departmentally. The problem calls for a great deal of technical investigation. The proposals of myself have reached the stage that they have been submitted to the Cabinet, and they deal with the transport of the country as a whole. Those proposals have been referred back to me to reconsider six points, to which I think I have now an answer. I have made that amount of progress. I do not propose to say what the proposals arc. At the same time we are investigating, very largely with the help of the railways companies' technical officers, such things as the loading gauge, the regrouping of services, the electrification of railways, and the directions in which, in conformity with the policy recommended, future economy in the working of railways can be attained, the object being so to organise the railways as to work for the creation of traffic and not the piracy of traffic by one from the other. In so far as that work is concerned, the country and the House will have to judge, when the results are placed before it, whether we have done well or ill. It is impossible on an occasion like this to embark on a statement covering the future in that way.
Let us consider what the Ministry is doing to deal with the situation to-day. First of all, I would like to answer one or two points left over in a Debate on the Supplementary Estimates. Some stress was laid upon the fact that some members of the staff of the Ministry were paid higher than other members, that some of the salaries seemed out of relation to other salaries. The explanation of that is this. In forming the staff of the Ministry I had to consider that there are certain temporary duties which the Ministry has to perform because of the present control of railways. Wherever possible those high officers of the Ministry were appointed on a temporary non-pensionable basis, and if eventually the State decides upon a policy as to transportation which does not require anything like the present staff in the Ministry, the temporary appointments will all be available for reduction. It was therefore for that purpose and that purpose only that the difference in salary was fixed. As to Treasury control this House naturally is looking with a very jealous eye upon all expenditure at the present time, and I would like to point out that we have in the Ministry of Transport what I venture to think myself is a model form of control of expenditure, and a model which I fear very few Departments will be able to attain and for this reason. We have a Treasury officer living in the Department with us, and entirely independent of the Ministry. That has been done at my request by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That officer is Sir Hardman Lever, who has got a reputation in both hemispheres and who at great person sacrifice came to undertake this work largely at my personal request in order to ensure that during these difficult years, with vast sums of money involved, we shall place the Treasury in the most understanding position by drawing one of the very best men out of private practice. Sir Hardman Lever, who is a Treasury officer, not of the Ministry, but in it, sees every set of papers and can obtain every financial statement and arrangement. I had thought that that arrangement would have carried confidence, but apparently even the strict Treasury control does not carry confidence in the check upon expenditure.
So far as the present situation is concerned, it is the railways which concern the country most, and what the railways do. I would first remind the House that this country relied before the War very largely upon coastal shipping. It is common knowledge that coastal shipping has not picked up to its pre-War level. I am not giving that as an excuse, and I do not think the House will consider that I need any excuse before I sit down. The pre-War load of coastal shipping has not, as I say, been picked up, and the railways are being asked to undertake it. They are bringing coal from Northumberland and Durham to London, and from Wales to London in quantities never dreamed of before the War, and from Wales to Lancashire and Derbyshire because stocks were not accumulated before the great demand came. That is all putting a load on the railways, and there are many other ways I could give, which they were never designed to carry, and which is something new. I must apologise for going through these details, but I want to get the railway situation before the House. We have had five years' depletion upon the railways of plant, rails, rolling stock, locomotives, staff officers and men. The sheds of the warehouses were choked with stores, and the terminals, both railway-owned and dock-owned and privately owned, were also choked. We had an eight hours' day suddenly put on the railways, and on the docks and on industry generally. There was a total disorganisation of trade which was flowing in ways in which it had never flown before and going distances which it never went before.
There was another thing we had to face, and I would like to bring this to the notice of the House because it is sometimes forgotten. The present guarantee of the nett receipts of the railways, the nett revenue, was given for two years after the termination of the War by a letter dater 1916 from Mr. Runciman, who was then President of the Board of Trade. The present control of the railways is not the creation of this Government, but this Government honoured the pledge, and it is really rather humorous when one realises what was said when the Ministry of Transport Act was passed. The Ministry of Transport Act has already by its passing decreased that guarantee by a year. The War is not officially terminated, and the Act lays down two years after the passing of the Act so that it has reduced the guarantee by one year. I would ask the House to think what it means when you say that you guarantee the nett receipts of an undertaking. It means that for seven or eight years in this case, in a time of undreamt of dislocation with entirely disorganised staffs, you have no direct incentive to economy on the part of those operating the lines. I am not suggesting for a moment that that is going to end to the detriment of the taxpayer intentionally, but you cannot get away from the point that as long as human nature is what it is you want a direct incentive to good management. When you get a direct incentive, whether it be in profits or advantages, it is only then you get good management. That incentive has not existed since the beginning of the War. Patriotism and the desire to work the traffic existed, but the incentive to economy and efficiency did not exist. There was nothing but devotion to duty. I think when I sit down that the House will agree with me that the railway service, management and staff, have discharged their duties with great patriotism and great zeal. But there was no incentive which must either take the form of advantage or profit. There was no way in which you could praise a railway for what it had done except to say that you had a comfortable journey or arrived to time. All of us who know anything about the management of big concerns know that you must have comprehensive figures before you can apply any test to the management of a huge undertaking. There were no figures at all, practically speaking, kept during the War. When the Ministry of Transport came into being we did not know what the railways were carrying, as the figures were not taken out because of the difficulties as to staff during the War. There were no records or statistics, and we had to start from the bottom. Again, perhaps British railways—and this is a matter of controversy as old as the hills—never kept the very best kind of statistics.
In that condition, after five years and with possibly two or three more of guaranteed net receipts and with depleted staffs, you have a property put at £1,200,000,000, for which the taxpayer is responsible for the expenditure of about £200,000,000 per year. I am not trying to magnify the figures, but the incomings amount to about £250,000,000 and the outgoings £200,000,000. I ask the House to consider the problem that confronted the Ministry of Transport when it came into being officially. During the War there was no expenditure that was not absolutely necessary, and there was no betterment expenditure which could possibly be avoided and no capital expenditure. The maintenance was vastly in arrears. During the War the check on this expenditure, every penny of which came out of the taxpayers' pocket, was kept by the railway accountants, who honestly and patriotically checked each other. A checked B and B checked C to see that the accounts were honestly and fairly rendered. That was the check on the guarantee that the country had to see that the taxpayers' money was not being spent on betterment, and that the revenue accounts were fair and reasonable. At the end of the War, not officially but after the fighting stopped, with the heightening of Treasury control, and when the Ministry of Transport came into being, it was obviously wrong that that should go on any more, and it was not fair to those men to ask them to check that vast amount of money of £200,000,000 outgoings and £250,000,000 income, at present day rates, and to leave them to decide between their employers, the owners of the undertaking and the State.
So, with the Treasury, we decided that there must be a proper systematic check on this vast expenditure. It was more than the expenditure I have given, because during the War maintenance had been very low, and a cash sum of £36,000,000 had been put by by the railways, with the Government's consent, to make good arrears of maintenance. That cash sum of £36,000,000 is in the coffers of the railway companies to-day, less anything spent recently. That represents 115 per cent. of their pre-war maintenance and renewal expenses, but under agreements which were made from time to time, and which are very complicated, and which I propose to issue during the recess as a White Paper, as it is very desirable that the House should know what agreements were, entered into. The State has got to make good arrears of maintenance during the period of control at the cost at the time the arrears are made up. Look what that means. As the railways regain their prewar condition, whoever is safeguarding the interests of the State, dealing with the railways on one side and the shareholders on the other, that trustee of these large sums of money, which you may take it are certainly very largely in excess of £36,000,000 already, has to see whether it is revenue expenditure, arrears or current or betterment or capital expenditure. That means the technical examination of every large scheme, since you may let the small ones pass. That is what a very large proportion of the Ministry of Transport staff is doing to-day. Great as is my faith and trust in the railways, and railway officers I was not prepared to go on leaving it entirely to them to settle the items of this vast expenditure of money. The Treasury were not prepared to go on in that way, and the railways agreed that it was right that we should have a check. We have accountants doing so. Our accountant sits with their accountant to examine expenditure, and we have to check every large item. That is a side of the activities of the Ministry which I think few Members of the House have realised. They may have thought it is Treasury work, but it is Ministry of Transport work, and I say without hesi- tation that 90 per cent. of the cost of the Ministry of Transport is justifiable on that work alone, and I invite the Committee on Public Expenditure to scrutinise what is being done. There is also the estimated revenue for the current financial year, which shows a deficit of £45,000,000. It is easy to say, "Put up the rates," but it is not so easy to say how you are going to do it, and that is another side where a great deal has had to be done in the way of investigation, with the assistance of the Committee presided over by Mr. Gore-Browne, the eminent K.C., which is dealing with these rates, both for the present and the future. There, again, there has necessarily been a great deal of reference to the staff of the Ministry. I have no doubt myself at all that there has seldom been a check more economically carried out, and the Treasury agree with me that that is so.
I would like to give one example to try and bring to the mind of the House the diverse problems that must necessarily come before anyone considering this great expenditure, and we come down from the hundreds of millions, which I have tried to speak of with all modesty and without the megalomania of which I am accused by those best able to diagnose the disease, to a smaller item of £5,000,000, and this is to illustrate the diversity of the questions we have to consider. The income from the railway hotels, which are to-day run at the profit or loss of the taxpayer—the gross takings of the railway hotels are £5,500,000, and the net income is £750,000. It is not an inconsiderable item for us to say, "Now let us see what are the prices that the railways are charging for wines and cigars." There are two policies. I am not sure that if I were managing a railway I would not say, "I lost all my trade at this hotel in the War, and I would like to popularise it again, so I will go on selling champagne, and cigars, and dinners below cost price." I would thus get back my steady customers; but while that would be a thoroughly justifiable and sound course to pursue, the State would be paying for the popularisation. There is another class of activity which we have to undertake today to an increasing extent. Unfortunately, although the Government control is blamed for the present financial position of the railways, there are other and uncontrolled transport undertakings which are in a similar state financially. There is practically no tramway system in the country, municipal or company-owned, that has not to come to Parliament to make increased charges. They cannot meet the reasonable increases of wages to their men, which the industrial councils have agreed are reasonable, until their statutory powers are increased. If that is to proceed by Private Bill legislation, without the most careful technical and accounting investigation, it will be an interminable process. The Committees could never arrive at as accurate a decision in a reasonable time as they could if assisted by thorough technical and accounting investigation. Take, for instance, the Bill which is being promoted by the Underground Electric Railway Combine. There were two accountants for six or seven weeks working at a report on that for the London Traffic Committee, a financial report which will be of infinite value to the Committee which will consider it upstairs after Second Reading. That kind of work is being thrust upon us every day. It is invaluable work, and it is largely on that that the staff is employed.
I believe it has already been laid on the Table with the Report on London traffic. It has been published. Now I would like to come to something which is a little nearer the day-to-day needs of the country. So far I have been explaining how the Ministry justifies its temporary and some of its permanent staff on saving the taxpayers' pocket. It is a vast trust, and I believe it is being well and faithfully performed for the taxpayer. About 95 per cent. of the questions addressed to me, either in this House or less formally by letter or verbally, are on the subject of what the railways are carrying, on what is called in the papers traffic chaos, failure, and breakdown. I have taken out figures which I wish to give the House, and to say in giving them that I believe they are as straightforward and honest as any figures that I can give. They represent, I believe, a fair picture of what the railways are doing. I have taken the 16 principal railways, which form 95 per cent. of the total, and I am proceeding on the basis that for the moment, at any rate, if the railways can attain in the reasonably near future, or have already attained, the 1913 basis, which was the highest year and an abnormally high year, they are not doing badly as a recovery from the War, but not, of course, as their ultimate goal. Remember, they are being asked to do things they never did before the War, and you cannot ask a concern both to make good five or six years of the ravages of war and to do something better than they did before at the same time. We must be reasonable.
I will take wagons. Hon. Members say, "What are you doing to increase wagons?" On the 30th June, 1919, there were 650,000 wagons belonging to the railways in the country, a deficiency on December, 1913, of 45,000. In September, 1919, that 45,000 had come down to 43,400. In December, 1919, the deficiency was down to 19,000, so that from June to December, 1919, the deficiency of rolling stock in the service came down from 45,000 to 19,000,. and it is still going down very fast. That is partly new construction, but new construction, of course, has not reached anything like the full flood of deliveries as yet. Let us take the orders for new wagons, and the House should remember that roughly 25,000 wagons a year was the normal replacement and augmentation of stock before the War. On the 30th Juno, 1919, orders had been placed in the companies' own shops and with private builders for 21,000 wagons. On the 31st December that had increased to 32,800 wagons, and to-day it is 40,125 wagons on order. Those orders will go on increasing, there is no doubt at all. I will ask the House to remember, in this connection, that the moulders' strike was a not inconsiderable item in considering the actual output. For the three months ending 30th November, 880 new wagons were produced per month, and for the last three months the average has been 1,668 a month, double, of new output, and I have no doubt that will improve, because a great many orders were placed in the more recent months. Let us take repairs to wagons. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) urges us to bring wagons from France. We have got to repair them as they come, and they are not coming as fast as we had hoped, but still we are overtaking the repairs in this country, and we have not overtaken, them yet. On the 30th September, 1919, 42,000 wagons were waiting for repair, or 5.7 per cent. of the total stock. In December that had come down to 24,000 wagons awaiting repair, or 3.3 per cent., and to give an indication as to what that means, I asked the American Embassy if they would give me the figure of wagons awaiting repair in America. It is necessary to remind the House that they did not suffer in their railways in the War like we did, and there was nothing like the same amount of wear and tear as here. In America 5.6 per cent. of the rolling stock is awaiting repair, and ours is down to 3.3 per cent. in this country.
Now let us take locomotives. On the 16 principal railways again, on the 30th June, 1919, there were 17,700 locomotives in use, in traffic. That was 1,100 less than at the end of 1913. By December, 1919, that deficiency had come down to 293, and it is still improving every day, and new construction is being pushed on as fast as it can be. Now I will take carriages. I confess quite frankly that the railways are not pushing on with carriages as fast as they are with other things, and advisedly so. You have got to give place to the essentials. I regret, as they do, the discomfort in which in many cases passengers are travelling, and the passenger train service must be got back to a better standard, but let us look at what is happening. We all know that the passenger fare was put up by 50 per cent., and that was done in the belief that it would check the amount of traffic. That was the object, not revenue. The railways carried in 1919, as compared with 1913—again, I would remind the House, the boom year—in passengers who bought their tickets for the journey, not season passengers, 156,000,000 more than they had ever carried in any year in their history, and in addition to that the season tickets went up by 50 per cent., which is estimated at another 100,000,000 to 150,000,000, so that to-day you may take it that the annual carriage of passengers, even at the increased fares, is nearly 300,000,000 more than in the boom year. Now let us take the tonnage. I want to show what the railways are doing when we are told about the chaos and muddle. You can only satisfactorily measure what railways are doing by taking weight with distance. I cannot give it in ton miles, because I have not got it, but I have got the gross freight receipts for the year 1919 and the year 1913, and I would remind the House that 1919 was not a year when any increase of freight rates had been made. It is on the same basis of charges, and if you take the earnings, irrespective of Government traffic altogether, the railways earned £5,000,000 more at similar rates in 1919 than what they earned in 1913. But there is a total of £21,000,000 of services performed for the Government. I am told that roughly you may take half of that—probably half is under the freight—but adding one-half, which is £10,000,000, you get 20 per cent. increase of freight on the railways. I think that is a fair figure. There may be a slight variation in the grades of the traffic, but the freights are the same.
Let me give another figure—the actual tonnage lifted. Now the actual tonnage during the last half of 1919 was affected very much by the railway strike, not only at the time of the strike, but for a time afterwards. I cannot give an actual percentage there because of that reason, but I think the House may take it that the railways actually lifted, if we make allowance for the strike, in the last half of last year a tonnage which was 10 per cent. less than in the same period of 1913. They carried it longer distances. It is not a favourable figure. It is the one blot in the statement. But I have something which, I think, will satisfy the House, and that is that it is steadily improving. The fourth quarter of 1919 showed an increase over the previous quarter of 10 per cent. in the tonnage, which went a great deal longer distances. To-day I got the returns for January of the Great Northern, the Great Western, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the London and North-Western, and the Midland Railways, and they show another 10 per cent. up on the monthly average for the last quarter of last year. That is 10 per cent. improvement in the fourth quarter of last year, and 10 per cent. improvement this year on top of that. Then train mileage in the second half of last year is 10 per cent. up on the first half. Everything is going up.
If you take the whole position, the wagons in traffic are increasing very, very largely. Wagon repairs have improved enormously. Wagons under construction are increasing very largely, and will increase still further. The locomotive position has improved enormously in the last six months. The freight work done is improving every month, and is now reaching figures which is vastly in excess, both as regards passengers and goods, of the highest load we ever had in 1913, and I doubt to-day whether we are not in tons lifted, after the last increase in January as indicated by the companies I gave, on top of the 1913 tonnage, and on top of that we have got 300,000,000 extra passengers. And that is the chaos and the muddle of which the railways are accused! I want to come a little bit closer to this chaos and muddle, because we have heard a good deal about the port chaos. Of course, the ports, are congested. They have the aftermath of the War. It is a very easy thing to blame the railways. I have taken London and Liverpool, the two which are most usually brought up as being in a chaotic state. I have got a special return out for those. Liverpool has got a traffic factor; she always exports less than she imports. Liverpool, consequently, always has to have more empties sent in to balance. I did not believe this figure when I got it. The traffic forwarded from Liverpool—and it is mainly dock traffic—is 26 per cent. higher over the whole of 1919 than it was in 1913. I ask the House to remember that 1919 had a lean beginning and a fat ending, and the fat ending is going on. London is a far more difficult place to work because of the congestion, but in London itself we get dock traffic from Poplar, Victoria and Albert, Mill wall, Tilbury, and East and West India Docks, exclusive of coal and coke, up by 50,000 tons, or 5 per cent. on the 1913 figures; that is 600 additional wagons per day out of Liverpool and 80 additional wagons a day out of London. I submit that those facts are satisfactory. There never will be a country where you will not find complaints against the railways. That is part of the reason the railways are there, so that you can complain about them. But, taking the whole figures, comparing what the railways are doing to-day with what they did in 1913—a phenomenal year—I say they are playing their share in the reconstruction of this country in a way that deserves credit and not blame. I would ask the House to give the credit—and I know the able and devoted staff of the Ministry of Transport would wish it—to the railway managers and the railway men.