We have listened with close attention to the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) because we recall his interest in the question of cheap fares on the railways. I must say at once I have some sympathy with his point of view. As a practical railwayman, I think that in some parts of the country the fares which are offered, particularly in the provinces, are really out of line with the times and certainly quite out of line with the competition they encounter from local bus companies.
While it is not a simple matter, I should have thought that here was a field for greater flexibility and greater power to be given to commercial managers and district managers, in the light of their local knowledge, to step up the revenue by enterprising business methods. I am quite sure that is so. There is a point beyond which it ceases to be economic, but there is an optimum point which will give more passengers and load the trains and cost no more in overheads than running a train with six or 10 passengers when it could be run with 100 or 200 passengers at perhaps half the fare and thus increase returns. I hope the Minister does not think this is a hardy annual which we are labouring ad nauseam; it is a very real problem.
Another point is that the railway companies are still clinging to the old idea that they must issue a return ticket and that if a single ticket is issued it must be something like the return fare. In fact, the services in some areas have been reduced and there is no service if one wishes to patronise the railway for a return journey. My view is that there ought to be a single fare at something like half the return fare. For example, if the return fare is 1s. it is no use charging the man who can only make one journey 11d. for a single journey. While my right hon. Friend does not want to interfere in their day to day business, I implore him to direct the attention of the Commission to this problem. We are getting concessions in the provinces for football matches, and so on, but when a man goes to a railway station he does not want to have to remember that he can have 3d. knocked off his ticket on a certain train but if he goes by the next train that comes in and perhaps has six passengers, he has to pay 3d. or 4d. more. These things should be made simple so that a man can get a fare which is reasonably comparative with the omnibus fare.
I do not think there is much point in the remarks of the hon. Member for Cheadle about men being discouraged today because, if he is talking about their employment under the four great railway companies, there was some discouragement even in those days and if he goes back previous to 1921, when there were over 120 railway companies, he is going back into ancient history when conditions were not quite the same on the railways, or in any other kind of transport.