Orders of the Day — Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th May 1947.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Barnes Mr Alfred Barnes , East Ham South 12:00 am, 5th May 1947

I do not agree. What is important is what emerges in the Bill, and what emerged in the Bill, is, I think, a setttlement generally satisfactory to the trade unions and those whom they repre- sent in the transport industry. I would, however, readily acknowledge that the major part of them are already part of the practice of the existing railway companies, and I do not at all wish to assume that any startling innovations in this regard are being introduced in the Bill. Nevertheless, whenever any substantial change of this character takes place, there is a natural anxiety in the minds of large bodies of people about how their own personal position is affected, and I take this opportunity of assuring them that all existing pension rights are safeguarded; that the Commission has full powers for the modification and extension of pensions provisions for its staff, and will have the freedom to consult with the staff on any extension of pension rights and facilities. In addition, pension rights are established for officers and servants of the Commission whose positions may be worsened by reorganisation. Not all of these are apparent in the Bill, because they will emerge later in the form of regulations issued by the Minister, but the determination is governed in the provisions of the Bill. On this issue of compensation for displacement or worsening of labour conditions, I would like to say that I do not anticipate for a moment that there will be much displacement of labour as a result of the nationalisation of transport. Rather I look forward to a considerable expansion of transport services in this country and a better utilisation of the existing labour force—a more economic use of the present labour force rather than the displacement of surplus labour.

So the Bill has emerged from these discussions substantially unimpaired, but I frankly admit that, as a result of discussion both in Committee and on Report as well in consultation with experienced bodies, it is a better Bill than that which I introduced on 16th December, 1946. The experience of the winter through which we have just passed—I am referring now to the fuel crisis—was again a reminder of the importance of the transport industry and of the severe difficulties under which transport is operating at the present moment. We can see that, as trade expands and as people seek well-earned relief from the stress and strain of the last six or seven years, the transport system of this country is unable at present to handle all the traffic and the passengers which are being offered to it. That is the result of six years of war, and of the last two years of continuous strain in which there has been no opportunity of catching up with arrears of maintenance and replacement. The railways of this country, particularly, are in bad physical shape, and it will require a very great and intensive effort on the part of the industry itself, and on the part of the nation, if we are to restore them in a reasonable time so that they will be able to handle a revival of trade and industry.

I again emphasise that, taking the experience of the first three months of this year, in the severe weather we have had the railway companies could not handle the amount of traffic offered to them. If, in future, we are to face an expansion in trade and an increased desire on the part of the public to travel, as I hope we are, it will mean the expenditure of a vast sum in a relatively short space of time to enable the transport industry to undertake its job. It is because I feel that we cannot delay that operation for one moment that I consider the Government have been wise, even if it has represented some curtailment of Parliamentary, time—although with ample opportunity for proper and reasonable discussion—in pressing forward with this Bill, so that when the control agreement comes to an end on 31st December of this year, the next day the British Transport Commission can take over these vital services in the interest of the community, mobilise public credit at a cheap rate for the purpose of financing substantial improvements, and tone up our transport services so that they can undertake the task they must face in the near future.