British Transport Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th October 1950.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Albert Davies Mr Albert Davies , Stoke-on-Trent North 12:00 am, 18th October 1950

I appreciate that, but the tendency in the past was to centralise and, therefore, there was little of the personal interest which was present in the very old days. I think that a perfectly legitimate deduction from my own experience and from what I have seen but, nevertheless, it is a problem, I agree, in any kind of big organisation. In this connection I was interested in something my right hon. Friend said about the Consultative Committees. They do not seem to have got very far beyond the national level in this matter. I would like to see consultations in the regions, as he suggested, and beyond that, in the areas and districts. In North Staffordshire we are part of the West Midlands traffic region, but Birmingham will be the dominant town in the region and Birmingham's problems have nothing in common with our problem. I want something more intimate so that people in North Staffordshire and other parts of the country with similar difficulties can have access to the authorities and make their opinions heard.

Over and above the consultative bodies, which, I take it, are representative of local authorities, chambers of commerce and other bodies, the workers themselves ought to have a greater chance of consultation. There is some consultation with the trade unions at national level. I want it to extend down to the ground level. I believe that practical railwaymen have many useful contributions to make out of their own experience. Men who have spent a lifetime in the industry see what is happening day by day, and they have something useful to say. It might be something different from what is believed to be the case in Whitehall.

I want to see done what was done when there was the fuel crisis and there was the danger of a wagon shortage. The danger of not having sufficient coal wagons was quite a hardy annual in winter. I want to see the men on the job in the districts consulted as in that instance they were consulted as to how they could turn round the wagons quickly. I seem to remember that great success attended our efforts then. The men rose to the occasion, and we have heard very little since then of the collieries being held up for lack of wagons. Out of their day to day knowledge the men made their useful contribution and were able to help in a very important way. I am sure that in the matter of fares, in the matter of devolution of power, day to day matters and the future of the industry—on whether branch lines should be continued or closed, on commercial matters generally, on integration with road and water—the men have a most useful contribution to make, and we are not at present tapping that source sufficiently. However finely the Report is phrased and compiled, and I am satisfied that a very good job has been done, something important is lacking if that aspect is overlooked.

I am a little apprehensive about some facets of the development of this industry, particularly in relation to the road passenger side of it. As the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) reminded us, we are told in paragraph 6 that a Road Passenger Executive has been set up. The hon. Gentleman wondered what it was doing and why it should continue. I confess that I am very disappointed that greater progress has not been made with the acquisition of the road passenger side of the industry. So far as I can see, there is no argument for any great transport nationalisation scheme without complete integration, and while good work has been done on the goods side of the industry, I do not share the views expressed by an hon. Member that it is a great monopoly.

Nor do I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), who seemed to over-simplify the matter. He said "Close the door on C licences and the problem is largely resolved." I do not agree. The Government have erred and have been over generous in that regard, but the matter is not so simple as that. We should push on with integration where there is duplication of road and rail services. Today, three years after the passing of the Act, we have not, so far as I know, one area passenger scheme completed, and there are thousands of private operators in this country, just as there were previously. We shall not achieve integration at that rate. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he hopes he will have a charges scheme available before the required date, which is August, 1951. It will be on an experimental basis. This is a most difficult and complex matter.

When the hon. Member for Cheadle spoke about flexibility, he was surely not overlooking the fact that there is some flexibility in the railway industry. There are, as he knows, millions of exceptional rates today. The great multiple firms of this country do not pay the ordinary standard charges by which the companies are bound. The commercial managers can make deals in certain instances. While they are not supposed to give undue preference to anyone there is great scope for the commercial men in the railways and in road transport to take action in this respect.

The hon. Member spoke about fixed charges and about the permanent way of the railways being laid at a time when costs were relatively low. He thought it was not fair to compare the expenses of the railway industry with what was happening in other industries. I cannot accept his argument. If the prices of commodities such as coal, timber and rubber have increased by anything from 145 per cent. to 200 per cent. compared with prewar, it is obviously of little satisfaction to know that in the year of Noah or at some such remote period we acquired land cheaply, and that litigation charges were small and our fixed charges were relatively low. There are these day to day expenses in respect of labour, of materials, and all the other things required for the day to day running of the railway.