I realise that this Bill is covered by my Ruling of 1949, when I ruled that the Bill was a general Bill and the debate, although it could extend beyond the context of the Bill, must relate to its general purposes. I remember that I gave that Ruling, because it was the first occasion when the Transport Commission took over. While I do not want to change the procedure tonight, I think it is a matter for consideration by the House whether or not what is really a limited Bill should, in future, have a wide discussion. I can remember, for instance, in the days when there was a North-Eastern Railway and a Great Western Railway, that when we had a Bill dealing with the North-Eastern Railway we could not discuss the Great Western Railway. While I am not saying anything about the present, we ought to bear this in mind in case other Bills are brought forward in the future, as I have no doubt they will be.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for having given that Ruling and having made the position completely clear. It would be impertinent for me, nor would it be my duty, to offer any observations on what you have indicated might be considered in future, and so I will only remark that the Lord President of the Council indicated last autumn that the discussion of this Bill was one of the convenient ways of debating the administration of this nationalised industry.
The extraordinary thing about the Bill is that so ordinary a Bill should be solemnly brought forward when the whole of the British railway system is in so extraordinary a position. It is manifestly clear from the terms of the Bill that it was drafted many months ago before the present situation had arisen. I should not have been surprised if, in view of the developments of the last few weeks, those responsible for promoting it had not decided to withdraw it to see whether, in the new situation created by the events of the last few weeks, it had not become out of date.
This is a railway general purposes Bill following in direct succession on that promoted by the Transport Commission last year and the year before, with the basic assumption behind it that our railway system is, in the present situation, to continue substantially on the same lines as it has been continued during the last few years. To present this Bill at this stage, shows the complete unreality in which the Transport Commission are living. The events of the last few weeks have turned a steadily declining financial position into a catastrophic one. The right hon. Gentleman may have something to say about that when he replies, but it must be abundantly clear to all Members who have concerned themselves with this matter that, whatever the merits of the decisions of the last few weeks, they have made the financial position of the railways on their present basis of operating quite hopeless.
A steady deficit has been turned into an immense one, and turned into an immense one in circumstances which were the direct result of the intervention of two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, which, incidentally, throws a curious light on the illusion sought so sedulously to be preserved by the right hon. Gentleman, that the Transport Commission operate entirely on their own in matters of railway administration, and that it would therefore be a gross interference if he were ever to tell the House what they are doing. We observe, in passing, that the situation here is a result of direct Government action.
It is also a measure of the misdirection of our railways under the present system of operation, that in order to give to those who work on them a rate of wages which still leaves them very badly off compared with most industries, it was none the less necessary to put the railways into the catastrophic position I have described, and to present to the right hon. Gentleman—I understand from the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorney-croft) on Monday that he is now considering it—the responsibility of deciding whether to direct a further blow at the economy of the country by increasing passenger fares and freight rates.
We know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks about this general issue, because on the last occasion that a Bill of this character was debated he went out of his way to express his attitude. He then said:
All the discussions that are taking place, including those in our debate today and last week, and all the evidence submitted by the representatives of some of the major industries of this country, emphasise the seriousness of any substantial increase in railway charges at the present moment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 685.]
That was followed within two months by the increase in freight rates to which I have already referred. We are now faced with a situation in which one step, which, according to the right hon. Gentleman himself, is a very serious one, has been taken, and the right hon. Gentleman may tell us later that there is in contemplation, in order to support the financial structure of the railways, a further step in that direction. It is not necessary for me to waste the time of the House by urging the seriousness of the step, because we have had it from the right hon. Gentleman that he realised its seriousness to the country as a whole before he took the step last time.
But it goes further than that. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that when the Minister of Labour appointed a court of inquiry which sat in connection with the wages dispute on the railways, their Report gave a very clear indication of the opinion of this expert and impartial body which heard the evidence on this issue. Paragraph 232 states:
The question naturally arises whether it would be possible to meet the additional cost of further wage advances by raising the level of fares and freight charges. On the last occasion when the latter were raised, in May, 1950, the advisability of also increasing passenger fares was considered by the Railway Executive, but the conclusion was reached that this would be unwise in view of the declining trend of passenger receipts. A still further rise in freight charges so soon after the last increase would seem to us to be very undesirable"—
I referred to the "general purposes of the Bill," and "general purposes" do not seem to me to cover the rise in fares or freight rates. The general purposes are merely works, lands and protective provisions. It seems to me that fares and wages are quite outside the general purposes of the Bill.
May I, with respect, Sir, make two submissions? In the first case, when you gave the Ruling to which you referred, which is in column 1766 of HANSARD of 22nd February, 1949, you did say that on that Bill matters of fares and administration might be discussed. The question with which your mind is exercised at the moment was referred to, as far as that Bill was concerned, in the Ruling you gave. Secondly, may I, also, submit that this Bill involves the expenditure of substantial sums of money. One of its purposes is to authorise the construction of works all of which have to be paid for, and it is surely material, when a body comes to this House and asks for powers to carry out extensive works, to inquire whether the necessary funds to carry out those works can be obtained at all, or alternatively whether they can be obtained without inflicting grave hardship on the community.
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that on this occasion a limited reference to the topic which underlies the whole of railway administration would not meet with your displeasure.
I would like to put the following to the House. The advice given by the court of inquiry continues:
A still further rise in freight charges so soon after the last increase would seem to us to be very undesirable, both because of the adverse effects on costs and prices throughout industry in general, and because it would tend to drive still more traffic away from the Railways, a great part of which would accrue to forms of road transport which are not in public ownership. It seems clear that the right solution is not to be found by action along those lines, if it is at all possible to avoid it.
It may well be the only way in which such action can be avoided is for the railways to abandon the proposed works outlined in this Bill. It may be that that is the only way in which they can avoid taking a step of very great seriousness indeed, serious both in its inflationary effect upon the whole of our national economy, since freight charges and passenger rates are elements in the cost of production of practically every commodity in the country; and by reason of the
very grave consideration that a further increase in passenger fares will undoubtedly inflict hardship upon a very deserving section of the community.
I represent in this House a considerable number of people in whose daily and weekly budget the season ticket is a very substantial item, which has to be met if they are to earn their living. They live some distance from their work not because they want to but because, due to the housing situation, they cannot live nearer to it. They have to travel to earn their living, and if a further burden is to be put upon them by increasing the fares which they have to pay they will be given a very severe blow, or, alternatively, further demands for wage increases will inevitably follow. Many of those people are in the black-coated worker category, who are perhaps, in present circumstances, one of the worst-hit sections of the community.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman, in the consideration which, on Monday, he told the House he was giving to this issue, to remember how serious to these people in particular, as to the community in general, would be a further increase in fares. It is highly doubtful whether that would serve the purpose of balancing the accounts or reducing the deficit of the Railway Executive. The right hon. Gentleman will be familiar—I do not know whether all hon. Members are—with the steady downward tendency of passenger receipts. In round figures they were £122 million in 1948, £113 million in 1949, and they were down to £106 million last year.
All hon. Members who have compared the comparatively empty trains, particularly in the summer, with the overcrowded buses, appreciate that it is the height of railway fares which is driving people from the railways. The right hon. Gentleman may recall that I warned him more than four years ago, across the Floor of the House, that this would inevitably be the consequence. It seems to me to be a counsel of despair for the right hon. Gentleman, in face of these declining figures, and in our present national financial position, to seek to reinforce passenger earnings by an increase in passenger fares. I warn him again that if he does that he will see that decline accelerated not only in passenger miles but in the money earned by the Railway Executive.
One would expect that in this situation the Railway Executive, instead of producing this ordinary, routine Bill, to enable them carry on in their ordinary routine way, would have reviewed the whole of our railway system drastically with a view to drastic changes and drastic economies. One would also have expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have seen to it that they did so. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) asked the right hon. Gentleman last Monday whether he would issue any general direction to the Commission to do this. The right hon. Gentleman, in a written answer, stated:
I do not feel it is necessary for me to issue any such directions to the British Transport Commission"—
[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I ask the hon. Member who said "Hear, hear," to follow what his right hon. Friend said. The answer continued:
The Transport Act places on the Commission the general duty of providing or securing or promoting the provision of an economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport, and the fulfilment of this obligation will involve questions of the type which the hon. Member has in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 2.]
I understand that to mean that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the Transport Commission might spare some time sometime to consider this matter, but so far as any indication we have been given in this Bill or in any other direction as concerned no such steps have been taken. I would draw the attention of the Minister and of the Transport Commission to words written by Mr. Norman Crump in last Sunday's "Sunday Times," which seem to me to sum up the present situation in a couple of sentences. He wrote:
What is needed today is ruthlessness. It is agreed that redundant branches and stations must be closed.
This Bill deals, in the main, with a part of the country where there are only five route miles for every 100,000 inhabitants. In the hon. Member's constituency there are 12 route miles to every 100,000 inhabitants. Is the hon. Member suggesting that there are redundant stations in that area?
I am suggesting that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not read the Bill. If he would apply his undoubted intellectual capacity to the Bill, he would see that it covers the United Kingdom. It covers a level crossing at a place in Wales, so remote that I cannot venture to pronounce its name, and in almost any part of the United Kingdom this Bill will operate. Perhaps before intervening again the hon. and learned Gentleman will avail himself of a copy of the Bill and read it.
I do hope—and this is a point of very great seriousness not only to the Commission but to the country—that we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman tonight, whether or not he tells us that the Bill is to be withdrawn, that the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive are concentrating on this problem.
There are three types of railway operation which are really remunerative—heavy goods traffic, passenger traffic in suburban areas surrounding London and very large conurbations, if I may adopt the term of the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and fast long-distance main line trains. But every hon. Member knows that throughout this country there are branch lines which are simply not earning their keep, where there is all the expenditure on maintenance of track, signals, staff, stations, etc., in order to operate perhaps a half a dozen trains, passenger and freight, each way every day; and where the loss on that part of the system is steadily increasing, with no hope whatever of being reduced.
What are the Railway Executive doing about that? I understand that to close those lines they would require powers to be included in a Bill of this sort. Do they intend to do it? The only line which so far as I know has been closed at all as a result of this situation is one which has been closed by the matrimonial arrangements of the local fireman.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to direct the attention of the Transport Commission to consider just this sort of line; the sort of line in which it is stated that there are five trains only in each direction and in which the staffing arrangements are such that when one man enters into the estate of holy matrimony—and I am sure that all hon. Members would wish him happiness—out of the whole 610,000 employees of the Transport Commission one man cannot be found to replace him, and the whole railway is closed. I have no doubt that, by now, out of that 610,000 one man has been found; but the very fact that this incident is reported in this morning's issue of "The Times" indicates not only the rather curious workings of the staffing of British Railways, but, still more, the fact that lines of this wholly unremunerative character are still being operated.
I hope we shall not hear the old argument in support of that, that they must be maintained for strategic reasons. If they are, surely the Chiefs of Staff should consider it. Indeed, if they are there is a case for closing them, putting them on a care and maintenance basis and handing them over to the Service Departments rather than imposing the burden upon the whole community, and providing a heavy weight in resistance to legitimate wage claims throughout the industry by carrying a large number of wholly unremunerative lines where the traffic could perfectly well be carried by motor transport—and I hope that motor transport would be under private enterprise. I express that hope in the interests of the inhabitants of the areas concerned.
How has the Transport Executive dealt with the question of staff? There are still 22,000 more men employed by British Railways than were employed before the war, though the freight hauled is something like 20 million tons a year less. Must not something be wrong there? [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the shorter working week."] I am very much obliged to the hon. Member. I am coming to that, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want me to get my arguments out of order. I imagine that there are two reasons. The first is the excessive staffing at headquarters. I cannot enter into that, because it would lead me into discussing matters which you, Mr. Speaker, have indicated cannot be discussed. But so far as the actual operating staff are concerned, I think the hon. Member opposite is quite right, and that the shorter working week is in some degree responsible.
The issue has to be faced frankly by the country and by the railways as to whether in the present position shorter working hours can be accepted. Is it right that at a time when, in order to arrive at even reasonable rates of pay these huge deficits have to be incurred. the hours of work should be shorter than before the war? Is it also right, at a time when manpower is the most precious of all the commodities in our national economy, that by reason of the shorter working hours, more men should be employed on the railways, if, as a result, there is a shortage of manpower elsewhere? Surely that is a point which the Railway Executive, if they are to maintain financial stability, have to consider.
I would say at once, and I will say this for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman, that the railways have had a very raw deal from the National Coal Board. They have had the cost of their coal put up by 4s. 2d. and their supplies cut down; with the result that the railways have had to reduce their services this spring, resulting in a good deal less revenue while the overhead costs remain substantially the same. Surely that indicates that the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to get a bit tough with the Coal Board in the interests of British Railways, and I hope he will tell us that he proposes to do so.
But British Railways have not responded to this difficult situation as efficiently as they might. Hon. Members are no doubt aware of the case of a train from Dudley to Walsall which was taken off on the grounds of coal shortage; and of the fact that, as the train from Walsall to Dudley had not been taken off, and the rolling-stock was needed for the purposes of that return train, the outward train had to be operated empty—with one exception.
When a passenger, who had not read the latest bulletin about the number of trains to be taken off, desired to travel on the train proposed to be cancelled—but which was physically there in the station—with one of those wonderful acts of compromise of which the British people are capable, he was allowed to travel, not in the empty passenger compartments, but in the guard's van. While it is granted and conceded at once that the Coal Board have let the railways down, surely that was not a particularly efficient method of dealing with the difficulty thrust upon them.
The lack of effort to reform the whole system is only too apparent and I would suggest to the House that we ought not to pass this Bill authorising, as it inevit-
ably does, further financial commitments, unless and until we have some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that some effort is being made to cope with the existing financial situation; and that the Railway Executive are not just drifting on in the old way in the hope that when things get too bad the Government will come along with a subsidy to assist them. In small as well as great things we see the same process in operation, the same disregard of the necessity for rigid economy in every direction. For example, on 19th January of this year there appeared an advertisement in "The Times" headed, "British Transport Commission." It stated:
Applications are invited for the post of curator in charge of the Historical Relics Section of the British Transport Commission, which is about to be established in London. The holder of the post would be responsible for organising, on a national scale, the custody and display of old prints, models, typographical specimens and other relics... The commencing salary is £1,000 per annum.
Is this really the moment for the Transport Commission, in their present position, to go into the museum business? Even though, in close connection with the transport industry, they may not have difficulty in finding suitable exhibits?
As the hon. Member will be aware, exhibits in a museum are always of value, so I appreciate his compliment.
Then there is the advertising scandal. When, through no fault of British Railways, services are being cut down, we find stations covered with expensive and delightful posters encouraging people to travel. That shows the same lack of coordination as was shown by London Transport, who put up posters advising people to visit the West End of London to see the shop window lights at the very moment when the Minister of Fuel and Power was engaged in making any such display a criminal offence. There is the fact of the ruling by the Railway Executive to which I referred last year, that revenue was not to be obtained by the acceptance of private advertisements on time-tables, which has thrown away, at any rate, some appreciable revenue for no appreciable reason.
There is the case of the Inner Circle line in London, which is still operated in a security black-out which might well be the envy of the Service Departments. It is quite impossible to ascertain when a train will come or, it having arrived, when it will depart. There are dirty railway coaches still to be seen on a great many lines; to be quite precise, on the electric lines operating out of Waterloo into the suburban areas, where carriages are intolerably filthy for a railway operated by and on behalf of a civilised community.
There are many other points which will no doubt be raised by other hon. Members. But the biggest point, and the one which I beg the House to consider with the seriousness which it demands, is that this may be the last chance for the British Railways; vital as they are to our community and to the 610,000 faithful railwaymen who operate them; vital as they are to our defence in war and our transport in peace; and which are now carrying a financial burden which they show no signs whatever of trying to carry.
I hope that we shall be told, none the less, that at this eleventh hour something is being done. I hope that we shall have a little more than the stone-walling for which the Minister has made himself famous. This is a big issue which is vital to our economy. We in this House cannot take the responsibility of passing this Bill, of giving our authority to the Transport Commission to carry on as at present when most of us know in our hearts that to carry on as at present is to carry on along the road to economic disaster.
I hope that hon. Members opposite will not accuse me of being out of order if I stick rather closely to the terms of the Bill. I do so out of no discourtesy whatever to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), but because I think that, had he studied actually what was in the Bill and had he gone a little bit into the history of the need for the provisions contained in it, he would have found the answer to many of the rhetorical questions which he asked. He would have found in Clause 5 that of the 10 works set out, the three principal ones are in connection with improving transport in the North-East London area.
If one looks at what is probably the most important Clause—Clause 16 and the Third Schedule—one sees that no fewer than 14 out of the 15 areas taken over are areas taken in order to improve the old London, Tilbury and Southend Railway. For any hon. Members who represent those areas, those are most important and most necessary reforms. When I tried to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech, I said that in his constituency there are, roughly speaking, 12 track route miles for every 100,000 inhabitants in that suburban area. In the suburban area represented by many of my hon. Friends on the northern part of the Thames east of London, there are only five miles of track for every 100,000 inhabitants.
That, of course, has resulted in gross overcrowding on the existing railways. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know why that is so, he can find out. It is because certain types of the transport, including suburban transport, of which he spoke, as being so remunerative, were not thought to be remunerative by the sort of people who ran the railways before the war. He would have done well had he looked at the debates on the London Passenger Transport Financial Agreement of 1935. That was the agreement which was preparing for the various reforms set out in the Bill we are now discussing.
I will answer him with words from "Improving London's Transport," a "Railway Gazette" publication dated May, 1946, which is written from the point of view of the railway companies. They point out, quite fairly and openly, that of course the people who ran the railways realised that railways perform a social function, but that they would not build the railway unless there was some profit in it. They said:
Thus, in the years immediately before and after the 1914 war the projection of tube trains over electrified tracks of main-line railways was very much to the fore in the policy of those responsible for the conduct of the underground group of railways, and it was chiefly financial limitations which prevented more being done in this way.
Later they say:
The transport undertakings concerned would not, however, venture upon major additions and improvements because, although they recognised the need, they did not feel justified in risking fresh capital expenditure, even assuming they were in a position to raise such capital.…It was recognised that the area having the highest claim to consideration was the north-east sector of London"—
the area dealt with very largely by this Bill—
(i.e., that part within the London Passenger Transport area east of the River Lea and north of the River Thames), but, when the traffic came to be examined, it was found that the revenue estimated from any satisfactory scheme of new and improved railways facilities in that area was likely to be insufficient to render it self-supporting at the rate of interest that might have to be paid upon the capital expenditure involved. This was due primarily to two causes: first, a predominantly industrial population, which means that the traffic to be carried would be mainly in the peak hours, and a large proportion at workmen's fares, and secondly, the high cost of the works themselves.
What was done by these independent railways? They came to the Government and to this House to get the Exchequer to guarantee not only the principal but the interest as well in order to carry out the very works of which these we are now discussing are the continuation.
Very naturally. The hon. Gentleman should travel in a railway train on some occasion. Then he would know that one of the difficulties which hold up transport is the presence of level crossings.
Why not? I do not propose to deal with every single position, though I am perfectly prepared to do so. I will dilate a little later on these matters of bridges if the House will excuse me for taking almost as long as the hon. Member for Kingston upon-Thames, which I do not want to do. I could deal with each of these matters, and I would do so were there not many of my hon. Friends in whose constituencies these places are situated who want to say a few words in favour of these projects.
Generally speaking, all these works are designed to improve the general flow of transport in the various areas. Of course, where there is a large goods marshalling area—and this is what I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind—then it is necessary to have a large road leading into it. If I may explain it very simply to the hon. Gentleman, it is not only necessary to carry the goods in a truck to a certain point; it is necessary that there should be some access to the area so that the goods can be placed in some other vehicle and taken somewhere else. For that purpose, it is very often necessary to have a road. Having dealt with the hon. Member, perhaps I can resume the trend of my argument.
The first step in this general plan for improving a large triangle of railways was the electrification of the line as far as Shenfield. I think that I speak on behalf of all those hon. Members who represent that area when I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on carrying through that project. But what was the policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite on that reform which has very greatly increased the railway income in that area? I remember speaking, not in this House but on the wireless, with a man who I think is the principal economic brain behind the campaign of hon. Gentlemen opposite on such matters—Mr. Roy Harrod. He advocated that this plan should be abandoned. He said that the money saved would have enabled us to abolish the basic petrol ration. That is the kind of practical approach by the Conservative Party which we find when dealing with a problem of suburban traffic in an area which is absolutely vital to the ordinary person.
But this Bill deals more immediately with the problem of how we can most effectively improve and co-ordinate the old London, Tilbury and Southend line. A great deal of the delays in the traffic in this area was due to the entirely unco-ordinated policy of the old railway companies.
The hon. Gentleman says "nonsense." If he likes, I will give him some illustrations of it from his own publications. In the London district, the London Passenger Transport had running rights, but the line belonged to the L.M.S. It is true that it was a long way from the rest of the possessions of the L.M.S.—it was just a little appendage of the L.M.S. Therefore, the whole of the transport was confused, because there were not only running rights for London Transport on the L.M.S. line but there were also all sorts of crossings for the L.N.E.R.
We had a class of railways operated by conflicting interests, which meant that a man in any signal box would be saying, "You must let my train go first; I own the rails," or "I pay more, and so my train should be first." Anyone who has been held up in this fashion or who has investigated, as many of us on the South-Eastern Traffic Advisory Committee have done, the detailed reasons for this delay, know exactly that it is due to this ridiculous and stupid quarrel between the old L.M.S. Company and the London Passenger Transport Board as to who should be given priority.
One of the objects of this Bill, which I am sure we all welcome, it to provide much bigger marshalling yards on the Southend line, which carries very heavy goods traffic. The reason this line cannot carry such heavy passenger traffic during the daytime is because there are insufficient marshalling yards, and, in consequence, goods trains have to be employed in the daytime, whereas, if they could be marshalled properly, they could be dealt with at times when there is not such peak passenger traffic.
The hon. Gentleman would not appreciate this, but in my constituency most people are working people. They have to go regularly to work at regular hours, and naturally those hours are the hours of peak travel. If he visits the Tube, he will see a poster which describes peak hours and rush hours as being the hours when most people have to travel. I assure him that it is quite a well-known thing, and perhaps some of his own hon. Friends will be able to tell him more about it.
It is necessary, before we can hope to avoid moving goods trains at these periods, to increase the marshalling yards. Whether or not that is the sort of point which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) may like to say a word or two about, I do not know; whether a marshalling yard should be in his constituency or not is a matter which we may argue later on. I would only say that it seems to me that, to introduce, as I understand is to be introduced, a marshalling yard with 48 tracks, when Crewe, the largest of which I know, has only 60, is a very serious undertaking, and that, if it is done, those of us who represent other constituencies will appreciate the contribution which Barking will be making to the solving of the general traffic problem in South-East London. We are also expecting to have in my own constituency, at Upminster, a marshalling yard for the District Line trains.
I should like, before I conclude, to ask the Minister if he can tell us—and perhaps we can persuade him to deal with the Bill as well as some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, when he comes to reply—a little bit more about the reasons for these various works. We know that this Bill is to make general improvements on the Southend line, but can my right hon. Friend tell us what are the prospects of electrification? We know that, quite rightly, he has pressed ahead with the preliminary work, but can he give us some idea of the flow of traffic we may expect when this electrification takes place, because it is a very considerable problem in my constituency and in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy)? Finally, we have the level-crossing question. We have a track which is seriously impeded by hundreds of level crossings, which connect the industrial areas with the residential areas, and it is of great importance that we should press on as soon as possible with bridge building.
Now, if I may come to one more detailed point, I notice that among the other work suggested is the widening or improvement of the loop line from Upminster to Pitsea. It is quite obvious why this work is being undertaken, because that is an area of new towns, and it will result, of course, in a considerable increase, very shortly, in the population of the area. The difficulty is that we have found it difficult enough to get out of Upminster.
May I just make one suggestion here, which was made as long ago as 1935 during the debate on the London Passenger Transport (Financial Agreement) Bill by the hon. and learned Gentleman who now sits for Ilford, North (Mr. G. Hutchinson)? It is that there should be electrification of the spur line which run between Upminster and Romford, which will enable the traffic which will be brought into Upminster by means of the Pitsea line to be carried on the new and excellent electric service from Romford. The only other point which I would urge on my right hon. Friend is that he might consider, if it is impracticable to electrify the line in places where one train goes all the way in one direction and then comes all the way back again, whether it would not be possible to fit a diesel engine or something of that sort and provide a shuttle service in order to clear the congestion which we encounter at present at Upminster Station.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), if he has the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would like to deal with a number of local problems. I entirely endorse what I hope he would be able to say on that subject, especially about the need of facilities for bridges over the line. One does not need to live in the constituency in order to be run over by a train, because it is an equal danger to those people who live in neighbouring constituencies.
If I may just put myself in order with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames by talking about something which is a very pressing problem connected with the railways, but which would be as difficult to relate to the Bill as most of the things to which the hon. Gentleman devoted his speech, I should like to refer to one small but important staff matter. There does exist in certain classes or staff grades in the railways an organisation which is at present causing certain feelings of annoyance and disquiet and which is known as the Foremen's and Staffs Mutual Benefit Society. There is nothing against such an organisation existing in regard to rail transport, and, because it was taken over from the previously existing companies, 50 per cent. of the contributions are being paid by the Commission. I do not think there is anything to be said against that, but there is a rule of this body that no one who is a trade unionist can belong to it, and that seems to me to be a most undesirable provision.
Would my hon. and learned Friend allow me? I have received a telegram about this body, and I have been asking my hon. Friends to see if anybody knew anything about it. Can he give us any idea of the membership of this organisation or the date when it was formed, because, in 30 years in the railway service, I have never heard of it?
This is a matter which has been brought to me by my own union, the A.S.S.E.T. It affects a number of certain technical services. I assure my hon. Friend that it is so, and it is a matter which has been discussed by the T.U.C for a long period of time. It is most undesirable that contributions should be paid from the funds of any statutory body like the British Transport Commission to an organisation which makes it a rule that no members shall be trade unionists.
Yes, it is a general society, and it is not even confined to the railways. This society, which has some 60,000 members, performs very useful functions in providing for extra benefits and things of that sort. It is an excellent organisation in that respect, but I think it is undesirable that such organisations should receive contributions from the State or from public funds when there is a rule to exclude trade unionists.
I am not suggesting that another rule should be made that everybody belonging to the society should be a trade unionist, but I am saying that it is undesirable that they should say that trade unionists must be excluded. [An HON. MEMBER: "Closed shop in reverse."] Yes, a closed shop in reverse. It is indeed extraordinary that this organisation has never been referred to by hon. Members opposite when they have dealt so thoroughly and exhaustively with this problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have never heard of it."] Hon. Members can take it from me that it does exist and that it has some members who are employed by the British Transport Commission. I do not lay great stress on it, but I only felt that hon. Members opposite would be very disappointed if I did not introduce something which had nothing whatever to do with the Bill before us.
I am sorry. I do not think you were in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when the previous discussion took place as to the width we might go, but in view of the great number of subjects discussed, including the marriage of one railway employee, I thought that before I concluded I might at least be entitled to return to the rather wider field which had previously been traversed. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies, while dealing with those wide points, he will pay particular attention to the very urgent matters contained in the Bill which affect the constituents of many hon. Members.
I hope the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument, because I wish, rather, to deal with the administrative efficiency, or otherwise, of British Railways. I think I shall be able to show the House that "otherwise" is the operative word. We are dealing with a Bill conferring extensive powers on the British Transport Commission. It is my submission that the existing powers exercised by them are misused, or, at any rate, not used to much purpose. They are not providing an adequate railway service, and I hope to give the House some particular examples of that on the railway line in the Eastern area, which serves my constituency.
This is a matter of administration, and similar complaints were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) about the Southend service the other week: Since then, the Minister has had a good many anxieties with which to contend, culminating in a serious reverse in the House last Friday. I must say that he accepts the buffetings of public life in a spirit of very cheerful resignation, though, possibly, "resignation" is hardly the most appropriate word to use in the circumstances.
The matter to which I wish particularly to refer is, I acknowledge, a local one, but it is also, I think, symptomatic of the railway situation as a whole, and is one of very great importance to my constituents. The House will gather how important it is to them when I say that I first began to get a trickle of complaints about the service last October, which later became a flood. I have received over 90 letters on the subject, and as many verbal complaints.
During the Christmas Recess, I held a non-political meeting of delegates from all the women's organisation in North London, and this was the first matter they raised. It assumed in their minds a priority over such serious subjects as meat, coal and houses, and that is saying something in these days. If the women felt like that, how much more do the men feel who have to travel on the railways every day to and from their work? I will tell the House how they feel by quoting one or two extracts from a few letters. Mr. Townshend, of Crunnells Green, Preston, says:
For the past eight weeks I do not remember a single evening train that I have been on arriving on time.…Little interest or attention is paid to it and it consistently arrives 20 to 40 minutes late on a very slow schedule.
Another writer says:
Trains have been late in starting and very late in arriving (anything up to 60 minutes and even 90 minutes late).
Another gentleman, Mr. Lawmon, of Hitchin, says:
On Friday last, 22nd December, 1950, in common with many others I went to Fins-bury Park on instructions from the railway authorities, as per their notices, to catch a train to Stevenage. I arrived at Finsbury Park at 5.20 p.m., but no trains left for Stevenage until 7.15 p.m., and then only by the station master obtaining permission for a train—all stations to Welwyn Garden City only—to be extended to all stations to Hitchin.…We eventually de-trained at Stevenage at 8.15 p.m. A total time for the journey from the City to home at 8.30 p.m. of four hours.
He goes on to say:
The weather…was very cold and "there is no colder, draughtier place than a railway station. I saw one fellow collapse while waiting.
Another gentleman writes:
Conditions which have obtained during the past fortnight or so are nothing short of fantastic.…Getting to and from one's office
and spending up to five hours per day in the process is becoming a positive nightmare.
On a point of order. I should like some further guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the Ruling given earlier in this debate, and also to call your attention to Mr. Speaker's Ruling in 1949 on the first Private Bill introduced by the British Transport Commission. Mr. Speaker said then, and I quote from Erskine May:
The debate could, therefore, extend beyond the contents of the Bill, although it must remain related to its purpose.
I am wondering what is the relationship between the purpose of this Bill and the speech of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher).
I think the Ruling which was given was quite fair. It was that on such occasions as this it was always competent, with regard to a general purposes Bill on railways, to raise matters of the character raised by my hon. Friend. I do not want to delay the House, but I could, with reference not only to this Bill, but to that presented in 1949, and with regard to the Bill presented a year ago, give specific examples of the same kind of points being raised. If I could carry the matter further, I need only refer to the speech made by the Lord President of the Council on this subject when he specifically said that this was one of the opportunities which the House would have to raise matters of this character. He said that, when we were complaining that there were not sufficient opportunities—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree—for raising matters of this character. The Leader of the House said that when an annual Bill was presented, that was our opportunity. I think it unfair to challenge that Ruling now.
I was not challenging any Ruling. I read a quotation from Erskine May, which is something, I think, any hon. Member is entitled to do. In view of the warning already given by Mr. Speaker, during the earlier part of the debate, I feel quite justified now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in asking you how far we may go.
May I say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that Mr. Speaker gave no such warning? What he said was that this year he proposed to give exactly the same Ruling as he gave last year and the year before. The warning he gave was that it might be a matter for the House to consider whether, in future years, it would not be wise, possibly, to consider some limitation on certain aspects of the debate, but it was perfectly plain that it was for future years and not for this year.
I understand, on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, that the debate could go beyond the confines of the Bill. That seems a fairly wide Ruling. I did, however, express disappointment to the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), when he was speaking about a particular trade union.
With great respect, I cannot see the difference between introducing railway trade unions into the matter and introducing the matters already brought in, namely, wages, salaries and conditions of service. I have quoted from Erskine May, which is our authority and it would be as well, in the interests of all who hope to participate in the debate, to know exactly where we stand.
It seems to me that the Ruling is very wide. I only expressed my disappointment. I did not stop the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). It seems to me that the Ruling allows anything beyond the contents of the Bill, provided that it relates to its purpose. I think it is a very wide Ruling.
I should like to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether, following upon statements from the benches opposite about the conditions of railway stations and things of that kind, we on this side will be entitled to speak about the conditions of railway stations before they were taken over by British Railways.
May I draw attention to Mr. Speaker's Ruling in 1949? [HON. MEMBERS: "We have had that."] Mr. Speaker said then:
I should have thought that one could not challenge the decision of the House that the railways were to be nationalised, as that has been decided, but matters of fares, administration in this Bill would, I think, be in order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1766.]
I have not the page number from the quotation in Erskine May, but it says that discussion must be related to the purpose of the Bill. As I understand it, the purpose of the Bill is clearly defined in the Bill and we are anxious to know if it is Mr. Speaker's Ruling that debate must be confined to the purpose of the Bill or can relate to anything that has to do with the Transport Commission.
It could extend beyond the content of the Bill, but must be related to the railways. If discussion goes beyond the content of the Bill it looks to me as if it could go a long way so long as it relates to the railways.
I think Mr. Speaker said that discussion must be related to the purpose of the Bill, and not to the Transport Commission. If it is in order to go beyond the purpose of the Bill then I take it it would be perfectly in order for me, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to talk about the operation of road transport, canals, and so on, because they affect the operations of the British Transport Commission.
I think we might get on with the debate. As I understand it, on a general purposes Bill for the railways one can talk about railway administration beyond the contents of the Bill. It would be out of order if the Bill specifically referred to some local purpose. One could refer to road transport, for instance.
If one can talk, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) did, about the effects of this Bill on the economy of the railways and upon the wages of railway-men then surely it would be in order to discuss the effect of road haulage competition upon railway wages, and so on.
After all that discussion I feel that I must start my speech over again. However, I promise that I will not double the length of it on that account. As I understand the Ruling, we are allowed to refer to the administration of the railways, and I propose very briefly to quote one or two more examples on this point of administration. Another constituent, a Mr. Swinscow, says:
It would be an understatement to say that I should be most grateful if you could get something done about our railway service. If you could manage that it would earn you the gratitude of thousands living up and down our line.
I hope the Minister will make it possible for me to earn that gratitude. He goes on:
Many times my train home has been an hour late on a journey that should take under an hour. Even yesterday (5th January) the 5.39 was half an hour late at Knebworth, yet there was no snow and no holiday. In any case, can the snow be responsible? It has not been particularly bad. Trains run in Switzerland.
The same correspondent went on:
Can you get someone to straighten things out? Perhaps some measure of my frustration is given by the fact that this is the only
occasion on which I have written to my Member of Parliament.
Another correspondent, a Mr. Pooley, says:
They were dreadful before they were taken over.
I hope hon. Members opposite will wait, because he goes on:
But then a steady decline set in and this last few months have been worse than anything.
Here is another point. The same correspondent, in another letter, says:
Coach No. 88357 has been running on this line with a steam leak for several weeks since Christmas.…The upholstery was sodden and the door so swollen that only a strong man could force it open from the inside.
I see that hon. Members opposite are getting a little restive, but it is a fact that even last week I had a letter from a gentleman saying that the 5.39 train arrived on schedule for the first time since early October. That letter came from Mr. John Edwards of Hitchin.
They are all gentlemen in my constituency. I appreciate that individual complaints may be misleading. But many constituents have gone further and kept careful records of time-keeping over long periods. The Christmas period was the worst. The 5.39 p.m. train arrived 46 minutes late every day for a week on a journey of 30 miles. The 5.52 p.m. train arrived 75 minutes late every day from 18th December to 3rd January. In some cases the trains were from two to three hours late. It was at this period that the Londoner's Diary in the "Evening Standard" published the story that we were going to put sleepers on the Hitchin line.
Another record kept from 23rd October, 1950, to 15th January this year gives a broader view, as it excludes the Christmas period. The 5.10 p.m. train, in 18 journeys, was 11 minutes late on the average. The 5.39 p.m. train averaged 15 minutes late or 29 journeys and the 5 p.m. train, which is known as the "non-stop businessman's flier," averaged 23 minutes late. The 8.5 p.m., another non-stop train, averaged 11 minutes late. All these times excluded Christmas, which would have made the times far worse.
I hoped for an improvement after Christmas but the same thing went on, with morning trains averaging 15 minutes late and the evening trains averaging 20 to 30 minutes late. I am grateful for the barracking of hon. Members opposite, and I hope I have given the Minister enough evidence to convince him that there are reasonable grounds for these complaints.
That is an extremely funny remark, but as a matter of fact I am coming to that point a little later. I do not claim that this particular service was ever a very good one. In fact, the poor service in Hertfordshire is a reason why it has remained so unspoiled and countrified a county. People could not tolerate this sort of thing and went to live elsewhere. After all, they had to get to their offices. But, despite that, they would gladly exchange the pre-war state of affairs for the present chaos.
For my part I have been very patient, as I have been in the House tonight. I have given the authorities every chance to improve the position. I wrote many pathetic appeals to the chief administration officer and I must say that he always replied most courteously. Indeed, he always replied in the same vein and almost in the same words. On 17th November he replied to a letter which I had written on 17th October—he took a month to answer it. In his reply he admitted that the "timekeeping has not been as satisfactory as we should like."
On 11th January, replying to a letter of mine of 7th December—nearly a month this time—he wrote:
It is much regretted that the timekeeping of the trains between London and Hitchin has continued to be unsatisfactory.
The question of the punctuality of these services is a matter with which we are very much concerned at present, and every endeavour is being made to effect an improvement.
Later, he wrote saying that the services
were temporarily disorganized…largely owing to absenteeism…and sickness and other causes. I can assure you that the circumstances were exceptional. The inconveniences experienced…are very much regretted.
The last letter said:
We are much concerned at the timekeeping of these trains, and every effort is being made to effect an improvement.
It will be seen, therefore, that there are always the same expressions of regret, always the same long strings of excuses and the same pious hopes of improvement. I waited patiently for these improvements to come about, but finally I gave it up and went to see Lord Hurcomb. Lord Hurcomb and his chief publicity officer received me most courteously and listened very patiently, as the House has done this evening, to this line of talk. He assured me that something would be done, and I accept his assurance absolutely. Indeed, in the last two weeks I am bound to say that there has been a slight improvement.
But surely, in a great public service of this kind, it should not be necessary for so many to endure so much for so long. It should not be necessary for a Member of Parliament to be literally deluged with letters, nor should it be necessary for the Chairman of the British Transport Commission to have to intervene personally in a matter of this kind. It is, indeed, a sad commentary on the way in which this public monopoly is organised.
Of course, the British people are very long suffering. They always make a joke of their tribulations. I heard a story the other day about a man, I believe unhappy in his married life, who decided to commit suicide and who lay down on the Hitchin line. He died, but not because he was run over by a train. He died from bronchitis and malnutrition through waiting for the non-stop business man's flier from King's Cross. To be more serious—
The unpunctuality of these trains leads, on occasions, to very unjust
allegations. There was some criticism recently at Letchworth of their Majesties the King and Queen. It was rumoured that delays on the railways were due to the Royal departure for Sandringham. I was sure that this was untrue and I wrote to British Railways for the facts. I should like to quote from the reply which was that
neither of these trains was in any way affected by the running of the Royal train…the delays…were due entirely to the density of the relief train programme and to difficulties…in the King's Cross Motive Power District during the Christmas period.
I am glad to have that opportunity to read that, because it scotches the absolutely baseless rumour which has been circulating in my constituency.
Apart from questions of unpunctuality, complaints reach me all the time about trains being overcrowded, unheated, badly lit or not lit at all, very dirty, and with windows seldom cleaned. On three consecutive mornings there was the same very large pile of orange peel in the same compartment, indicating that the compartment had not been cleaned for three days. Another complaint was that the figure "3rd" had been scratched out from the carriage window and the figure "1st" painted in. I asked for an explanation and was told that there was a shortage of rolling stock. Of course, that may be so, but it is hardly a sufficient explanation. At any rate, it is a very cynical explanation. It means, apparently, that British Railways think it is quite all right to charge first-class fares for third-class amenities.
Another example is shown in the attitude of the staff. A complaint by a lady whose train was extremely late received this reply from one of the staff—"That is nothing; it is often much worse than that. "This casual, uninterested, cynical sort of attitude implies that it is quite absurd to complain. By contrast there was the more sympathetic type of approach at King's Cross, where a member of the staff said to a constituent of mine, "I beg you to complain because the complaints of the staff are always totally ignored." In their different ways both these approaches reveal a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.
If I may turn to the point raised earlier by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), even schedules are not beyond reproach. There is no fast train to Hitchin between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Most men cannot catch the 5 p.m. train. I appreciate that there is a stopping train, but it is inconvenient and what they would appreciate and what they want is a fast train from London to Hitchin between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. What will happen when the Stevenage new town has been developed? Already, under the existing arrangements, the railways cannot cater for the traffic, and certainly some of the people who will live in Stevenage will want to come to work in London.
May I deal, too, with a complaint from the Letchworth Manufacturers' Association about British Railways refusing acceptance of goods consigned to factories? That is a serious matter, with important production at stake. I understand that it may happen when services are dislocated, and I do not complain about that. What I complain about is that no warning whatever was given, so that there was no opportunity for these factories to make alternative arrangements to obtain their raw materials by road transport.
In my submission, all these things add up to just one word—and that is the word "inefficiency." This, after all, is the much-vaunted public monopoly in action, and it is not good enough. People are paying more and more for less and less. Like everything else under the Government, the cost of efficiency is going up, and yet we are still not getting efficiency.
Yet if we look at the Labour Party publication of February, 1950, entitled, "You and Tomorrow"—published by Transport House—we see on page 21, under a headline "Railways more Efficient":
Since they became a public enterprise punctuality has improved.
I hope we shall not have to read that sort of nonsense any more after tonight. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us tonight that there will be a speedy improvement in the administration of these services and that we shall not have to endure next winter the chaos which we have had to endure this winter.
Fares and freight charges are going up; we understand that they are to go up still further. But the people of my constituency and I believe of the whole country are getting fed up with the rail- way service, fed up with nationalisation and fed up with the Socialist Government.
I believe that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) mentioned something about the Hitchin line and sleepers being used on that line. Well, could he imagine any line without sleepers.
All the hon. Gentleman knows about railways is what he sees through 1st class carriage windows. The "Evening Standard" will probably refer him to wooden or concrete sleepers that the lines lie on. The other point he raised was the question of late trains. I do, with him, ask my right hon. Friend to give us the figures regarding the running of trains during the last three years. I did not bring them with me because there is no question of late running in this particular Bill, and we must rely on the Minister to tell us the figures, so that the hon. Gentleman can see how much improvement has been effected on the lines in the last three years.
I should like to take up something that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said. He said that, without any hesitation, without any feeling for tradition or anything else, we must be very determined in our closure of branch lines and other uneconomical sections of British Railways. I want to refer the hon. Gentleman to the continued demand from the Scots Conservative Members of this House—to their repeated and continuous demands—that large portions of the Scottish railways should be maintained. whether economical or not, for social purposes. Believe me, there are substantial expenses involved by British Railways in running the necessary communications for social purposes.
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? The demand we make in Scotland universally is for special consideration, especially in transport and especially in the North and West of Scotland.
The point about keeping open uneconomical lines I appreciate and, to some extent, agree with. As for the point which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames made about lines for military purposes, that, of course, should be a question for the Service Ministers. In both these cases, however, there are substantial expenses that must be accepted by the British Transport Commission, if the Commission is to keep open those uneconomical portions of the lines. I agree that it is necessary, and I suggest also that some consideration financially must be given to that problem.
An hon. Gentleman opposite who knows quite a lot about railways questioned my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) regarding Work No. 5 specified in the Bill.
If I had not read the Bill carefully I should have thought that. My purpose is to emphasise the explanation given by my hon. and learned Friend on the question the hon. Gentleman asked. Work No. 5 is for the purpose of widening an ordinary traffic bridge, a highway bridge—
—and the reason for widening the bridge is for the purpose of putting some more railway lines under it, thereby increasing the rail facilities. So the hon. Gentleman can see that there is something in what my hon. and learned Friend said about improving the rail facilities at this particular point.
With the permission of the House, I should like now to come to the Bill. I do not know whether it would be out of order or not. I would make the preliminary observation that we have listened to quite a number of the legal profession on railway matters now. I would suggest to the legal profession that they may know a lot about the law but that they do not know much about railways. I hope that they will not take that remark too hardly.
I want to mention that part of the Bill dealing with my own particular constituency and the railway facilities around Nottingham. In the first place, I compliment the British Transport Commission on putting forward these proposals for the improvement of rail facilities in and around Nottingham, because we were in this position not so long ago that we could not remove from the collieries all the coal that was being mined. The rail facilities, owing to bad weather, were unable to cope with the production of the local pits, and these works in and around Nottingham are for the purpose of opening a branch line to—[An HON. MEMBER; "To Hitchin."] Not to Hitchin, but a branch line to one of the most important collieries in that particular district, which will facilitate considerably the handling of coal traffics in that particular district, we were in this position during the big freeze-up.
The rail operators in the colliery districts fear one thing above all others, and that is not being able to keep a colliery provided with the necessary empty wagons. In these days when coal is absolutely essential, it is a nightmare for any rail operator to be in the position that he cannot supply empty wagons to the coal pits to keep those pits working. We experienced that difficulty during the big freeze-up, and had to develop very quickly what are called land sale facilities to load lorries. These works between Radford and Nottingham, and between Radford and Sherwin Road, Nottingham, are designed to provide extra facilities, and to give a guarantee that, no matter what the weather may be, rail operators can keep the pits working by providing them with empty wagons. Not only are these facilities designed to assist coal traffic, but they are also designed to help in providing extra facilities for general traffic.
I now wish to make one or two general observations, because I have been tempted to do so by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He said that, from the point of view of operating on a financial basis without loss, railway operations would be confined to three distinct types of traffic, namely, heavy minerals, long-distance passenger traffic, and the suburban traffic around the big cities.
My hon. Friend did not say anything of the kind. He is not here, and on his behalf I should like to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Even my hon. Friend, who opened the debate, must take some refreshment sometimes. Sometimes I wish hon. Members opposite would not take so much.
May I say exactly what I did say? I was interrupted by an observation from hon. Gentlemen opposite asking where was my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), and I pointed out that he had gone to take some refreshment. I thought that, too, was objected to, and I said that I wished sometimes hon. Members opposite would not take so much refreshment. I cannot see anything to take offence at, unless some people are too selective in their refreshment.
May I now get back to the point? I was about to remind the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), that my hon. Friend did say that the forms of traffic to which the hon. Member referred were the three most remunerative forms of traffic, but he did not say that they were the sole forms of traffic.
I am convinced that British Railways, given a fair chance of making good some of the devastation caused by the war and the shortage of equipment since the war, could operate without losing money. I make that point very strongly.
I wish to refute completely the suggestion lying behind all the criticism of British Railways by hon. Members opposite that there is a psychological reason why British railwaymen of all grades cannot adjust themselves to preparing plans and working British Railways efficiently. British Railways can be worked efficiently, and there is among the staff the will to work them in such a manner. That is one of the things not recognised by the Opposition when they so lightly criticise this great undertaking.
From the contributions made by hon. Members opposite on this Bill, and in debates on the railways in general, one would deduce that British Railways are doing worse now, in both time-keeping and general operating, than ever before in their existence. Anyone who understands anything about the railways and who looks at the facts and figures concerning railway operations knows that in the last three or four years there has been a more substantial improvement in railway operations than in any other three or four years in the history of the railways. Because of that, because of the improvements we have been able to make, because of the- operation and the expense involved in the works envisaged in this Bill, which mean that British Railway operators will be provided with the technical equipment to do their job properly, and because of the efforts that have been made over the last four years, everybody connected with British Transport, and the general public as well, can congratulate railway operators on the success they have made of the job in the last two or three years.
I am grateful for this opportunity of intervening, if only for a few moments, in this debate. I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) too closely, except to remark that he must not say that the desire to see British Railways running efficiently is confined to his side of the House. Everybody here who has the interest of the country at heart—and I hope that that is no* confined to any one side—is interested in seeing British Railways as an efficient and going concern, able to carry traffic in the cheapest possible and most economical way. But we are surely entitled to make criticisms, where we think they are necessary, of the way in which British Railways are now being conducted.
I notice that, this is a Bill to confer further powers on the Commission, and from what has happened so far I gather it is not altogether inappropriate to make some comment on how the powers they already possess are being used. We are told by the hon. Member for Nottingham, East, that the trains are not now losing so much time as they once did, and he was hoping, I believe a little optimistically, that the Minister would, in reply, be able to produce figures to show that that was so. I do not doubt that he will be able to prove it. If a very large number of trains are stopped from running at all it seems fairly reasonable to believe that the amount of time which they might have lost if they had run will make a considerable difference to the figures.
We shall see these figures when they are produced. I am speaking, from my own knowledge, only of the line on which I travel, and on which the time-keeping is simply deplorable.
The hon. and learned Member made his speech, and when he sat down he was obviously very pleased with what he had been saying. Will he permit me now to continue with my own speech? Moreover, I was not talking about the Liverpool Street-Shenfield-Southend line because I travel on the Fenchurch Street-Shoeburyness line on which, I feel, I know a considerable amount more than does the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). When he spoke, he would have had us believe that things have been considerably improved since the line has come under the control of the British Transport Commission. He rather led the House to believe not only that a great step forward is being taken—I agree that it is—but that prior to it, in the years before the war, there was so much argument going on among the railway operators on this section of the line that no progress was possible. It is not true. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and if he does not know let him find out, that it was not in such a chaotic state as he imagines it was. The journey was undertaken in a shorter time and at a cheaper price, and the trains ran more punctually than they do now.
The hon. Gentleman says that there were cheaper fares. Will he try to indicate to the House the improvement that has taken place in the standard of railwaymen's wages.
The hon. Member does not need to remind me of that. He does not live in my division, but he lives near enough to it to make his company interesting. He knows that in this section of the line we have had repeated promises, not only from the Transport Commission but from the earlier operators, that the line would become electrified. My objection to the Bill is that there is no indication that the Minister will be able to tackle that problem in the only way in which the earlier operators and the hon. Gentleman himself agreed it can be done, by having a double track instead of the single track which we have at the moment.
I am certain that the Commission will not get down to understanding how the railway services should be organised until they take into their confidence the people who have to travel upon the railways. I put a Question to the Minister earlier this week upon this subject, and I confess that there is considerable disquiet on the matter. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Gunter) will confirm, if they will talk a little with those who travel on the line, that there is disquiet at the way in which the travelling public on this section have been lumped into the territory known as "East Anglia," of which they are not a part, and because those who travel on the line have no voice about the way in which the line is conducted. That is true not merely of the Southend line but of many other places. It is a fundamental duty of the Minister to see that those who travel on the railway have some voice in the conduct of the section of the line which they use.
I am not suggesting that every five miles of railway line should have its own representative; what I am suggesting is that there ought to be a fairer representation than there is at the moment. The hon. Gentleman was less than fair to me when he tried to convey to us that there was a representative of the Southend Corporation on the Consultative Council. That is not true. There is a representative on the Consultative Council of the Association of Municipal Corporations, who, incidentally, happens to be a member of the Southend Council; but he does not travel upon the line, is not a regular traveller, and is not in the position to speak on this matter as are the hon. Member for Doncaster and myself, who are regular travellers on the line and know something about it.
I should not like it to be thought that I am suggesting that the Minister should appoint the hon. Member for Doncaster, the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch or myself as representatives on the Consultative Council. There are many capable people who are willing to serve and have the time to devote to the task. Before the Transport Commission go in for any schemes of improvement—I want them to go in for many—and seek to take to themselves any powers greater than the very great powers which they have, it is absolutely necessary that the Minister should draw into the Consultative Councils, whose duty it is to advise the Transport Commission on the interests of the travelling public, people who are really representative and who actually travel upon the railways or are concerned with the carriage of freight upon the railways, and not ignore entirely, as seems to be the case, the views of those without whose patronage the railways will never become a paying proposition. The whole attitude of the Transport Commission in recent months has been to drive the travelling public to other means of transport, and that is not the way to save British Railways.
In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Kingston - upon - Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) described the state of railway finances as catastrophic. Although he did not say so in specific terms, I presume the inference was that that was due to public ownership or nationalisation. I would remind him and the House once again that the chaotic state of railway finances is a legacy which the British Transport Commission finds very embarrassing today and it dates back some years. We need not go further back than 1935, when the Government of the day raised a loan of over £20 million for the four main-line groups and £39 million for London Transport, and let them have it at 2½per cent. so that they could put their houses in order. Within three years, an independent transport tribunal advised the Government that, unless something was done to help the railways, the railway transport of the country would be absolutely chaotic.
A very interesting thing happened between 1935 and 1938. Eminent men in the railway world came to a conclusion about public transport. I find that the late Lord Stamp, speaking at the annual meeting of the L.M.S. Company said:
We must now renew our efforts to secure the highly necessary co-ordination of road and rail function in the public interest.
A little later in the year Sir Alfred Read, Chairman of Coast Lines, Limited, said:
I look forward to a complete re-organisation in the very near future of all forms of
internal transport. It is of vital importance that they should be so organised and controlled that the best possible service shall be available for our merchants and traders at reasonable and fair remuneration, good service at economic rates being essential. Traffic should flow through its most normal route and all unnecessary wasteful competition eliminated.
The last authority I would quote is the then chairman of the L.N.E.R., Mr. William Whitelaw. He advocated the State purchase of the railways and the setting up by the Government of a body to control both road and rail traffic:
I have also no doubt that eventual State ownership is inevitable. There has never been a time"—
this was in 1937—
when there has been greater need for a general reconsideration of the whole transport problem. This, as it affects both rail and road, must be regarded not in piecemeal fashion, but as a great national responsibility.
Neither of those gentlemen is a Socialist, and they were approaching the transport problem from an economic and industrial point of view, without any political complexion.
The Lord President of the Council, in an entirely different capacity, wrote a book in 1933 in which he referred to the need for co-ordinated transport. And he wrote in prophetic vein, as I find on page 98:
At every step in the process of coordination and reconstruction under private ownership there would be a row—newspaper campaigns, petitions, protest meetings, pressure on Members of Parliament, questions to the Minister and the Traffic Commissioners, and all kinds of attempts to squeeze him and the Traffic Commissioners and to warp his or their judgment.
That prophecy has been amply fulfilled. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There has been pressure in public meetings and all kinds of agitation.
What are the difficulties confronting the Railway Executive? The fact of the matter, as the railway unions told the representatives of the Railway Executive in the recent discussions, is that the British Transport Commission and this House are imposing upon the Railway Executive an impossible task in expecting them to restore the finances of the Railway Executive to a healthy condition without giving them reasonable opportunities of competition. The aim and purpose of the Transport Act is to make the road and rail services complementary to each other and not competitive; and we shall not have a prosperous transport industry in this country until that purpose has been achieved. In the meanwhile, something must be done with regard to the basis of competition and the financial structure of the industry.
May I, without any bitterness, put this point to hon. Members opposite: on account of the slow machinery that the Railway Executive have to follow and because they cannot get their rates varied without public approval, at the moment the increase as far as freights are concerned is not more than 81 per cent. and the extreme increase, as far as passenger traffic is concerned, is 75 per cent. But the over-all average of the increased costs that the Railway Executive have to pay amounts to at least 125 per cent.
When the Court of Inquiry was sitting, the Railway Executive tried to prevail upon us to modify or withdraw our claims because of their financial burden. Taking August, 1939, and the figure of 100 as the basis, the following comparisons were made. At December, 1950, steel rails were 216, pig iron 225, iron bars 220, steel bars 212, brass bars 460, copper tubes 278, timber for sleepers 416, general timber 363, etc. Is there a businessman sitting on the benches opposite who could make a profit out of his business if he were allowed to increase his pre-war charges by only 81 per cent. while having to pay an average of 125 for all the material he used? I think that would be beyond the business capacity of the cleverest hon. Member opposite.
The Minister may join issue with me here, but if he wants the railways to become prosperous again, if he wants to give the railway employees every consideration, he must not expect us to carry the whole burden of £36 million per annum interest for the stockholders. [Interruption.] Let me emphasise once again that we are not suggesting that that interest ought not to be paid; it is an honourable undertaking and it should be paid, and we have agreed to the Government paying it. It is true that the Government assessed the figure, and in my view it is not an unreasonable figure. The unreasonable aspect is to expect the men in the railway industry to find the whole of it in view of the fact that conditions are imposed upon them which make it impossible for them to get the traffic and to carry it at a reasonable rate.
It is because so much reconstruction has to be done that the railways are in difficulties. This is not a mad-brained idea of the Socialists. Hon. Members who are readers and supporters of the "Observer" will recall that in the issue of 25th February this newspaper commented as follows:
Yet hardly a railway in the world is making a profit out of its traffic receipts. Why should we expect British Railways to be an exception? Moreover, railways have never in fact been treated by the law as a quite ordinary business. Their charges have been regulated; they have been required to assume various unremunerative obligations for the benefit of the community. Would it not be more realistic to regard them as an essential national asset and to conclude that the irreplaceable services which they perform should be in part paid for, not by their customers, but by the State?
That was the point of view of the leader writer in the "Observer," and I do not think anybody will accuse him of being a Socialist.
The restraint revealed by railwaymen during the last 12 months ought to have the commendation of the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—because, instead of paralysing trade and traffic, they have submitted concrete proposals both to the Executive and to the Transport Commission as to how they can put their finances in order. If Lord Stamp, Sir Alfred Read and Mr. William Whitelaw were right when they came to the conclusion in 1937 that co-ordination must be made effective, and in feeling that receipts ought to be pooled and a general treatment applied, all this is more than doubly true today.
The railways are still the backbone of our transport. In fact, they are the artery of our economic life. To treat them indifferently and to treat them, as did the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher), flippantly, is an insult to the intelligence of those employed in the industry. I should like to make a comment about road transport services. One would imagine that in the last three years nothing had been done—
I wanted only to point out that something definite had been done in the way of co-ordination and integration, but I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and conclude by saying that there must be a new and proper approach to the financial structure of the railway industry. When the new charges are brought into operation, when co-ordination and integrated schemes are implemented and when the railways have been given a chance under the new management to make up for the neglect and arrears of past years, they will once more be a profitable industry.
Now that the railwaymen have been given very much overdue justice, they may be encouraged to lend the Government a helping hand with a view to bringing traffic to the rails and to putting the appropriate traffic on the roads, in that way helping to give Great Britain a coordinated and integrated transport system. It is because of the failure to do this hitherto that we have been in difficulties in the past six months. I ask the House to recognise the urgency of helping the British Transport Commission, the Minister and the Railway Executive to bring about a dovetailed schema whereby appropriate traffic is taken on the roads and appropriate traffic is given to the railways. With that co-ordinated system, we yet hope to have the finest transport system in the world.
We have just had from the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), what is I think the most serious speech against this Bill which we have heard tonight. I hope my hon. Friends will not take it amiss when I say that he has now dealt in broad and comprehensive lines with the whole financial structure of the railways of this country. He has advanced arguments based upon respectable authority, authority that must carry great weight on these benches—the chairmen of the railways before they were nationalised—all of which lead to the conclusion that unless and until a great integration of our whole transport system is carried out, the finances of the railways will remain unsound.
Perhaps they always were, but what we are concerned with at the moment is this Bill, in which the British Transport Commission are seek- ing authority to invest large sums in the railways. I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, West. It was a most impressive speech and it referred to the need for the most drastic re-organisation of our transport system, re-organisation which has not yet been carried out. The Minister of Transport has come to the House this evening to ask that the House shall authorise the Transport Commission to invest large additional sums in a form of transport service in connection with which, according to the hon. Gentleman, with the support of a large number of those most intimately connected with the railways seated on the benches opposite it will be impossible for the Railway Executive to meet its financial liabilities.
What, to my mind, requires a very clear and definite answer from the Minister of Transport is how he expects the Transport Commission, and the Railway Executive in particular, are to be able to pay interest and sinking fund upon the money they are proposing to invest. I am quite confident that the Minister of Transport, when he replies, will pay due and proper attention to the weighty speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West, and will explain what are the intentions of the Government.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has pointed out, it is many months ago since the Minister of Transport warned the House of the extremely 'unsatisfactory position of the railways. Since then we have had a wage settlement and today there was announced in the newspapers a supplement which will add immensely to the expenditure. Both the Railway Executive and the Industrial Court were of the opinion that if fares were raised and freight rates were further increased the law of diminishing returns would begin to apply and these additional charges would not, in fact, enable the Exceutive to meet its liabilities.
We are fortunate in that although so many of the Ministers responsible for introducing nationalisation Bills have been transferred to other responsibilities since they piloted those Measures through the House, that does not yet apply to the Minister of Transport. He it was who, without any equivocation, said that it was not his intention and that it was not the intention of the Government that the nationalised transport system of this country should depend upon a subsidy from the taxpayer. I am sure that had he thought that those undertakings which he gave at the time when he was piloting the legislation through the House would not be carried out he would resign his office.
So I hope that tonight, when the House of Commons has an opportunity of briefly surveying the whole administration of the railways—
I gather that Mr. Speaker has ruled that the debate could extend beyond the contents of the Bill but that it must remain related to its purposes, that is to say, the purposes as set out in the Bill. In my view, interpreting that Ruling as best I can, general administration is not a subject for debate on this Private Bill.
—and will doubtless be ruled upon again. The frequent changes in the occupancy of the Chair do oblige one again to quote some authorities without, I hope, incurring the charge of repetition.
On 22nd February, 1949, on a Bill which Mr. Speaker tonight agreed was indistinguishable in principle from the one which is now under discussion, he ruled:
I should have thought that one could not challenge the decision of the House that the railways were to be nationalised, as that has been decided, but matters of fares, administration and everything else in this Bill would, I think be in order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 1766.]
Further, when this point was again raised this afternoon, Mr. Speaker's Ruling was that matters could be discussed which, even though they were not in the Bill,
were germane to the purposes of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Including fares."] Fares were already included in the Ruling given last year. In the Ruling given earlier tonight it was stated that one had to take into account the purposes of the Bill as well as what was actually contained in it.
With great respect, I did not mean to imply everything within the responsibility of the Transport Commission because the responsibility of supervision of the Commission extends to all transport, and your predecessors, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have ruled that any reference to road transport would be out of order. But the general administration of the railways was, in the view of your predecessors, within the scope of the present debate.
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. But you will appreciate that there has been today a further Ruling by Mr. Speaker which is not yet in print. It will be possible tomorrow morning for us to have a look at his Ruling, but, naturally, I defer to your interpretation of the Ruling that was given.
In the two or three remaining moments in which I hope to address the House I propose to put myself into the historic position of a Member of the House of Commons who, before supply is granted, is allowed to express the grievances of himself and his constituents. This Bill is proposing to extend the powers of the Railway Executive to invest in that service. I believe that, broadly speaking, the users of transport in this country are extremely dissatisfied with the services rendered by the railways. I have here a sheaf of complaints. I have written to the Railway Executive and my experience has been identical with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher). The reply to every complaint which one makes contains a sentence that, "the inconvenience experienced is re- gretted." I have been very unfortunate. I complained about the unpunctuality of a train, which, until it was suspended owing to the insufficiency of coal, was the train on which the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), and I habitually travelled on Mondays to attend this House. I complained about the fact that it was regularly unpunctual. I had a lamp standard sent from London and it was broken. When it was replaced I had the replacement sent by road transport. I ordered some chicks to be sent last year. The first lot were sent the right way but the second were sent the wrong way, with the result that a number of them died. They were put on the wrong train at Southport—
No, I will not.
When I was informed that they had been mistakenly sent via Buxton instead of Uttoxeter I asked that steps should be taken to deal in a disciplinary manner with whoever was responsible for the mistake. But apparently that kind of thing does not happen now on the railways. The Railway Executive is frightened of an unofficial strike if action is taken against anyone guilty of negligence—
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member has given way, but I want to pin-point just where he is putting the responsibility for these delays about which he is talking. I want to know if he appreciates that the railway staff as a whole, and especially the footplate men are a good staff? There are many things contingent upon the running of our trains, such as bad coal—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and worn-out locomotives; yes, I would say that we did work during the war with the most awful coal. It was much worse that it is now. I think we should recognise that many of our locomotives are in a bad state and need renewing. As these are contributory causes of the delays the hon. Member should not throw all the blame on to the railway-men.
Order. If hon. Members will permit me to say so, those two speeches precisely indicate the difficulty. There will be no limit to the debate if we continue in this way. It must be limited in some way. In my view, those details are not germane to the limited purposes of the Bill.
With all respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, when at the start of this debate at seven o'clock, Mr. Speaker ventured to make that Ruling he was respectfully challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), with what he said on the Bill in 1949. While he said that he did not wish the matter to be taken as a precedent for future Bills, he was prepared on this occasion to allow as wide a debate as possible.
I respectfully agree. At the same time I would point out that the complaint has frequently been made that, since the railways were nationalised, the opportunities for hon. Members to raise the grievances of their constituents are limited. They are excluded from putting Parliamentary Questions. The answer which has been given by the Government, I think with the concurrence of the Chair, is that there are periodical opportunities when the nationalised authority must come to the House to obtain authority for the investment of money, and that that, in accordance with the time-honoured tradition of the House, gives us an opportunity of raising grievances before we vote supply.
I fully accept that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Therefore, I will not follow up the point which has been raised beyond saying that I am fully aware of all the deficiencies in the matter of locomotives, and so on, because those are generally given as the explanation of the unpunctuality of our trains. The service in the sending of articles upon the railways continues to be exactly the same. Only at the end of December a bicycle was sent to my house with various other packages. Two of them arrived punctually; the rest did not. When I wrote and complained that I was charged the full price, all I got was a perfunctory reply from Mr. Pearson saying that the inconvenience occasioned was regrettable.
The Minister of Transport has, for the tranquillity of his own life, done well to have the Act nationalising transport drafted as it was; he has shuffled on to other people the responsibility that otherwise would have rested upon his shoulders. But when he asks us to authorise the expenditure of vast sums of money upon these railways, he is under an obligation to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, West, who has clearly indicated tonight that the prospects of the further expenditure being covered by any earnings made by the railways are extremely remote.
I regret that the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) so far digressed from the habitual courtesies of this House as not to enable me to say during the course of his speech what I propose to say now, and that is that the trains of this country are, as the Report of the British Transport Commission shows, not less punctual but more punctual than they were under private enterprise. I regret, too, and even more deeply, the attitude shown by the Tory Party towards nationalised industries. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen who come here to represent the people of this country might well be better occupied than in trying to crab the property of the people of this country and an asset which is essential to our national prosperity.
The subject-matter of this Bill consists of certain extensions and improvements proposed by the British Transport Commission, and I have taken the trouble to inform myself upon one of these improvements. If hon. Members opposite will do anything so revolutionary as to look at the terms of the Bill which they are opposing, they will find that the last of the improvements proposed in Clause 5 is the substitution of a new bridge for an old bridge in what are, in fact, the approaches to Hayling Island.
The old bridge, as I understand and as I am informed, is a wooden structure which was authorised in 1823 and no doubt built shortly afterwards. In many respects, it may be said to resemble the Tory Party. It has only a limited carrying capacity; that it is, in fact somewhere between six and seven tons. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are successful in their distinterested and public-spirited efforts to impede the national progress, the result will be that traffic will continue over this ancient, limited, wooden toll bridge, and if they think for one moment that any enterprise, public or private, can continue successfully on the condition of keeping what was made in quite different circumstances more than 100 years ago, and what is now obviously unfit for the work it has to do, then all I can say is that their much-vaunted business capacity is even more doubtful than I have long supposed it to be. Moreover, this is a toll bridge. I have not the least doubt that the Tory Party—
Before my hon. and learned Friend answers that question, may I inform him that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) did not know that this bridge was included in the Bill until I told him so?
I do not think I need wait, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, until you point out to the hon. and gallant Gentleman that that is just as obviously not a point of order as many observations that are put forward under that heading, but I should like to say that I do not understand what "knowing a bridge" is. What I do know are the facts about this bridge, and I am now trying to give them to the House. [Interruption.] I do not know how one can experience a bridge. I have no doubt that the hon. and gallant Gentleman may have some way of doing it, but perhaps he had better allow me to get on with the facts, which are really more important than the question of how the hon. and gallant Gentleman "experiences" bridges in the Portsmouth West division.
The effect of refusing this Bill would be in respect of this item, as of others, to compel the railways of this country to continue with what are obviously effete plant, effete track, effete bridges, or whatever it may be, and to do to them what no reasonable Member of this House, wherever he sits in it, would for one moment think of doing if he were concerned with his own affairs.
Let us suppose that a house belonging to some hon. Member opposite were equipped with walls or with windows so obviously and hopelessly as out of date as a wooden bridge of limited capacity, built over 100 years ago. Are we really to suppose that that hon. Member would, for some reason or another, continue to think that his house was fit to live in? If he had to run a private enterprise, would he continue to do so with wholly effete plant and machinery for the purpose? Yet such is the blind political prejudice of the Tory Party in these matters that that which in no circumstances they would do for themselves, or allow their friends to do, they are content to come here and recommend to the country should be done, simply because the asset of the business with which they are at the moment concerned is a public one.
Is it the attitude of the Tory Party that what is folly and ineptitude in private business must therefore be inflicted by their decision and their policy on public business? Is that their measure of responsibility for the affairs of this country and the property of its citizens? It seems to me wholly lamentable that a responsible political party should seriously take that view.
What I rose to say tonight was simply this. If the Tory Party desire to keep or to get the confidence of this country, then may I give them this piece of advice? Let them accept the fact that the world does not stay where it is or where it was 50 years ago. Let them accept the fact that this country, like other countries in the world, is marching forward. Let them accept the fact that, just as the roads of this country are now obviously and admittedly public property, so, too, are the railways. And let them, having accepted it, further accept—horrible though it may appear to them to be—the public responsibility of doing the best they can for a public asset. Let us hear a little bit less about the chickens which the hon. Member for The High Peak thinks were lost somewhere between Nottingham and London, and let us hear a little bit less about all the minor troubles which railways always have had, under private enterprise just as much as under public enterprise. Let them open their eyes a little and have a larger vision, both of what is being done and of what are their own responsibilities. in so far as they come here to represent the people of the country.
This Bill, which seeks to extend the powers of investment of the British Transport Commission, provides a limited but timely opportunity to consider the sad plight of the railways, within the Ruling which Mr. Speaker has given. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport, who has sat so quietly and patiently throughout the whole of the debate is. I believe, glad of this opportunity, however much his hon. Friends behind him may have tried to bullyrag. We are glad to see the right hon. Gentleman come out of his hibernation so far as the railways are concerned, because, apart from answers to such Questions as can be put down to him, we have not heard a wise word from him—or any word, for that matter—since October last, when the 1949 accounts of the Commission were discussed.
It is most unfortunate that some hon. Members on both sides of the House, who wished to speak on this occasion, have not had the opportunity to do so; and perhaps that points to the fact that we should have more discussions of this kind with, if I may say so with all respect to the Chair, an even greater latitude in the scope of the discussion. Indeed, I think some of my hon. Friends feel that the sooner we have a full dress debate about the state of the railways the better it will be. There may be some chance then of relieving the anxiety which is felt in the country about the railway losses, about the waste of manpower and about the apparent incapability of the railways to handle even the traffic which they get.
Those of my hon. Friends, who have been called, have not repeated the old arguments against nationalisation. We accept it as a fact and we want to see the nationalisation of the railways working very much better than it is at the moment.
I cannot give way at the moment. I am sure the Minister will wish to reply to some of the points which have already been raised and particularly to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), who spoke with the authority of a great union behind him. The hon. Member for Swansea, West, made it abundantly plain that he did not think the Commission were able to perform their obligations under the Transport Act. We want to know what the Minister thinks about that. It is most important. Does he intend to stand by the Commission's obligation to make their undertaking pay, taking one year with another, or does he intend to ask Parliament to amend the Transport Act—because those are the only alternatives? He has to make up his mind about it some time and, for the sake of the railways, the sooner the better.
Perhaps the Minister would wish to answer a point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), who said that some uneconomic lines must be kept open and, if necessary, must be subsidised. That is a very arguable point of view. Indeed, there is a very great deal to be said upon the question of uneconomic lines. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) came out very plainly and clearly with the suggestion that the time had come—he had been pressing for it long enough—for the Transport Commission to make up their minds about this matter.
But, of course, it has to be done with reasonable skill. It is no good having the sort of state of affairs which prevailed on the line from Helston to Gwinear in Cornwall. On that line, not a very long branch line, there was a train which ran to and fro with two passenger coaches and one goods van. There were very few passengers, so it was decided to cancel the train and provide a bus for the passengers. It was then discovered, however, that there was also some important goods traffic—a daily load of £20 worth of rabbits and other articles. It was decided, after the bus had been put into service, to keep the train in operation for the carriage of goods. The bus passengers had the satisfaction of seeing the train tootle along beside them. but they were not allowed to travel in it. It is quite futile to provide a railway service and forbid people to use it. That is asking for financial disaster.
My hon. Friends have produced a mass of convincing evidence to show that the public are not getting either the service which was promised as a result of nationalisation or—which is perhaps more important—the service which the country must have for the purpose of its economy and of the re-armament programme. My hon. Friends have referred mainly to passenger traffic; but my information is that the state of affairs with regard to goods traffic in certain parts of the country is truly alarming. In South Wales and on lines serving the Port of London and the Channel ports there has been such congestion in recent weeks in goods depots and marshalling yards that the Railway Executive have had to place an embargo upon the further acceptance of goods and an embargo upon some forward movement of goods.
Obviously, the placing of embargoes seriously hampers not only trade and industry but also the various activities for which the Government are responsible, for example, coal production and housing. Some timber merchants in East Anglia sent pit props by sea to South Wales. They were landed at Milford Haven and were at once put into railway wagons. After they had been placed in the wagons and it was necessary to forward these pit props to the collieries, a railway embargo was placed upon them. Eventually, after some delay, the matter was taken up at a high level. I wonder whether hon. Members would care to exercise their imagination and consider how much coal production was lost in the meantime.
Then there is the really startling case of a firm of builders at Orpington, who were working on a municipal housing scheme. They urgently needed 25 tons of steel to be delivered from South Wales. That steel was also put on the rail and forwarding instructions were awaited; but then the rail embargo was applied and the firm were told they could not get the steel within the time in which they needed it to prevent the housing project being held up. The Ministry of Health were approached.
I have just come into the Chair and I have not heard what the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) was saying. I do not quite know what the position is and I should like to hear the argument.
It may be of some service to you, Mr. Speaker, if I say that I was explaining that there is the most appalling congestion on the railways. I was giving examples of that congestion and its results, and I submit that that is material to the purpose of the Bill, bearing in mind that if the Bill is to relieve the situation on the railways at all we have to consider the nature of the problem.
If I may turn now to the example I was giving, the Ministry of Health said, "Yes, of course, you must have permission to carry these goods somehow." The firm concerned said, "We have our own C licence lorries, but to use them will cost more, because these lorries will have to go there empty. This kind of load normally would never be carried on the road. It is much cheaper to carry it by rail." The Ministry of Health said, "You must get these goods, because you must get the scheme completed." I think it cost £400 more to carry the goods in C licence vehicles, but, nevertheless, that was allowed. When there is an example of that kind, it is no wonder that hon. Members opposite worry themselves silly about the increase of C licence vehicles.
Then there is the question of congestion at the London goods centres. Hon. Members may have seen in the "Evening Standard" of, I think, last night—if not, the night before—that imports are piling up at the docks, and that a British Railways representative said:
Goods traffic from the Continent is being regulated. We know there is a hold up. There are many reasons for it. There is congestion at Bricklayers Arms, Old Kent Road, and Battersea and Blackfriars goods centres.
Candidly, I do not see much in the Bill about relieving that congestion at those centres. In any event, what is very doubtful is whether the congestion is due to anything but "disintegration"—the failure of the Transport Commission's policy for integrating the railways and other transport.
This matter is of such public importance that I feel that the Minister should this very night—I will give him time to do so—explain the extent of these embargoes on railway goods traffic—explain to us why the embargoes have been imposed and how soon the public may expect that they will be removed. I am surprised that he has not already made a statement in the House on those lines, and he certainly does owe it to us to make a statement about it tonight. There is no valid excuse for this state of affairs; and the strange thing is that the chaos is worse in South Wales and in the South-East of England, where there has been comparatively little snow this winter, than it is in the North, where there has been a great deal of snow.
On the question of economy of manpower—for there is no excuse that can be made on the ground that the railways are short of manpower—we have a statement by the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. R. Mackay)—a statement that he made to a very large gathering of newspapermen in Paris in February. I have had this report checked, and I understand that the hon. Member does not dispute what he is reported to have said. I am sorry that I was not able to find him in the House tonight to tell him that I was going to make use of this. This is what he said:
There are 90,000 people at present employed on British Railways who are redundant. This is the policy"—
of full employment.
That was the statement the hon. Member made, and his hon. Friends can take the matter up with him.
In spite of the fact that it was intended to place as much traffic as possible on the railways, and in spite of the fact that as much traffic as possible was placed on the railways in the war to save road transport, in spite of the shortage of staff in the war, and in spite of the frequent bombing—the sometimes ceaseless bombing—in the war the goods were kept moving on the lines; and I certainly think they should be kept moving now.
I had a great deal to say about passenger traffic to add to what my hon. Friends have said; but I have been curtailed and I want to ask the Minister a question about the failure of the National Coal Board to produce enough coal, because this is a very important matter. Will he tell us this: How many men have been rendered unemployed as a result of the cuts in passenger train services? How many of them remain unemployed and on full pay? Obviously, they have not all got influenza. We do require some explanation about it. Would he also say whose decision it was that compelled the railways to reduce the amount of coal consumed? Was it imposed arbitrarily on the Railway Executive without any regard at all for railway economics, or—
On a point of order. The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, instead of sitting on the Government Front Bench, is choosing to sit below the Gangway and to interrupt the hon. Gentleman while he is making his speech. May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is improper for a member of the Government Front Bench to sit in some other part of the House, in order to curry favour with other hon. Members, and to interrupt the speech of another hon. Member?
That is not a point of order. From the bench where the Parliamentary Secretary is now sitting there are often interruptions directed across the Floor of the House, which I do not always hear. The other day I missed one which was very disorderly, and I wish I had heard it.
I was referring to the decision to reduce the amount of coal supplied to the railways. I suggest that it seems to have been imposed arbitrarily and without any regard at all to railways economics. Would the Minister enlighten us as to what was behind that decision, who made it and on precisely what grounds; and was the fact that the cutting of railway services would be certain to divert still more traffic to the roads overlooked or was it regretfully accepted?
There was much more that I hoped to say but I will conclude by saying this. Whatever frivolous attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite may take, the country generally is alarmed about the railways—[Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite have been in Parliament long enough to know that no national problem is improved by discussion being suppressed in this House. The country is alarmed about the financial position of the railways, which is steadily getting worse—
—and about the declining efficiency of the railways, which we trust is only temporary. I am quite sure that even the most indoctrinated and hardbitten Socialist feels in his own heart that the hopes he had in nationalisation have not been fulfilled. As for integration, well, the distant smell of it was enough for the men who went on strike at St. Pancras Station; they were quite clearly allergic to integration. This evening we have given the Minister a chance to emerge from his hibernation to tell us what he, as a responsible member of the Government, proposes to do, and we expect a reply from him.
The first thing I should like to do is to remind the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) and his hon. Friends that every work proposal in this Bill is designed to have some substantial and beneficial result. It seeks either to serve the travelling community, or to serve industry, or to meet the wishes of local authorities in regard to transport for important towns with which they and their populations are directly connected. I hope hon. Gentlemen will keep that in mind, and will not, however much they may desire to criticise British railways, in any way interfere with a programme of this kind—a constructive programme which will bring economic advantage.
Let me refer to two of the many points raised, and say that in my view they are not based on substantial knowledge and information. Take the point about embargoes. Nobody disputes that they have had to be placed on the handling of certain traffic recently and nobody should fail to appreciate what the reasons have been. In industrial negotiations, when tempers were raised, it is common knowledge that in certain centres the railway staff went slow or went on strike. That produced a blockage of goods and a dislocation of wagon movement. It led to the imposition of traffic embargoes.
Before hon. Gentlemen pursue that argument too far, may I remind them of the early experience I had at the Ministry of Transport after the war? There were long periods in the early winter of embargoes, particularly on the freight lines and on the London and North-Eastern line, because the rolling stock and wagon facilities were not sufficient to enable the traffic to be handled, sometimes for weeks on end. I did not hear hon. Members opposite raise that matter on the Floor of the House of Commons as they have raised it tonight.
One of the most remarkable and immediate advantages of nationalisation in the pooling of the wagons and rolling stock of the four main-line railways was, that almost immediately the Railway Executive got into the saddle, it enabled them to remove those embargoes. In the first three years of British Transport there has been very little in the way of embargoes on freight traffic until we got into the present situation. At the moment the situation is being rapidly remedied and I do not think it will remain for very much longer, according to my information.
The only other point to which I want to refer is with regard to some statement said to have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. R. Mackay). I am not in a position to know whether that statement was correctly reported or whether my hon. Friend has withdrawn it, but now that the statement has been referred to, it is incumbent upon me to say that it is not correct to say that 90,000 people are being retained in the employment of British Railways merely for the purpose of saying that they are fully employed.
As I say, I have no knowledge of that, but it has been quoted on the Floor of the House and it is only right that I should immediately repudiate that statement from whatever sources it comes. because it is not true. A lot of statements have been made to the effect that there is redundancy of staff on British Railways. No one would take up the position that there is not redundancy of staff, but it depends on how we look at the matter. I would remind all hon. Members that from 1st January, 1948, to the end of 1950, the staff of British Railways has been reduced by some 50,000 persons. That represents a steady decline.
It is linked with the point which the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised in his opening remarks, whether British Railways are following a policy of consistent economy. No one has endeavoured to evade that issue. Certainly I would not in my own public statements. A good deal of close examination must take place in regard to the railways to ensure that only those services that are necessary to serve the travelling community or the freight needs of the country are maintained.
The Railway Executive have steadily followed that policy. They have closed line after line which had not a sufficiently steady and continuous traffic to justify fresh capital expenditure upon it. My experience has been that directly the Railway Executive propose to close any redundant line, more often than not the first pressure that I receive is from Members of Parliament representing the locality who object to the line being closed. I am not permitted to refer to the matter tonight, but the extent to which the Railway Executive have pursued this policy is linked with how far the House and the public are prepared to proceed along the lines of integrating rail and road transport in freight and passenger traffic.
On an occasion like this, hon. Members often make the wildest accusations against the railway administration, and yet in other directions they oppose every process which would enable this policy to be carried out effectively. On Bills of this kind it would be far better if the House utilised its time in discussing and bringing out as far as it can some of the basic conditions involved.
I want in the limited time at my disposal to give one illustration. One of the proposals in the Bill is to carry out the preparatory work for the electrification of the Southend line. At the moment I am not in a position to give a timetable for that to be carried through. The railways have been governed by the most severe restrictions on capital expenditure, and that throws upon the Railway Executive the necessity carefully to determine orders of priority. In dealing with a matter of this kind it does not matter whether the Railway Executive happen to be a public body or a board of directors; if their capital expenditure is limited, they must carefully determine their orders of priority. When the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames suggested that the whole of these works should be scrapped—
If that is the case, I withdraw the comment. I am glad that my statement has immediately produced that denial. Apparently erroneously, I drew the conclusion that the hon. Member was suggesting that the programme should be scrapped because of the financial plight of British Railways—
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but what I clearly recollect saying was that, before these proposals could be justified, the House must be satisfied that they are brought forward on a sound financial basis. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pass to that part of the matter.
I should have thought that my statement that severe capital expenditure restrictions are imposed on British Railways justifies that.
I want now to give an illustration with regard to one of the major proposals, namely, the electrification of the Southend line. I want to illustrate this, not by theory or by partisanship, but by means of the facts of a previous experience. The only other electrification of a suburban line undertaken since the war was that of the Liverpool Street—Shenfield line. That represented one of the most out-of-date stretches of suburban line that we had in the country. All the criticisms about out-of-date railway stock and filthy coaches applied on that stretch of line. What is more important, that line paralleled the main road all the way from Shenfield and Romford up to Aldgate. The traffic left that suburban line for the road, and all the way through to London the road carried some of the heaviest traffic and was almost impassable.
What happened when that line was electrified? The loaded coach train mileage went up by 33 per cent., passenger journeys increased by 49 per cent. and passenger receipts increased by 42 per cent. All these services are run by British transport. The road services are theirs, the Green Line coaches are theirs. So here is an instance where the railways won back from the roads 42 per cent. increased traffic.
The value of that to a Minister in my position, facing problems of road reconstruction, road congestion and road accidents, is that, by the expenditure of £8 million to modernise that stretch of surburban line, we have not only won back the position of the railways but have entered upon the solution of other consequential problems. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would have happened anyway."] If we had attempted to serve that 42 per cent. of passengers with buses on the roads by an expenditure of public funds to reconstruct that main road, it would have cost tens of millions as against the £8 million spent on the electrification of the railway line. Right through from London down to Southend there has been an immense industrial development and a large movement of the population.
I have no time tonight to cover many of the details mentioned by hon. Members, and certainly I cannot deal with the large matters of policy involved, but I want to say here that I do not take a pessimistic view of the railways of this country. The railways of this country, when they were under private enterprise, compared favourably with railways generally throughout the world. I say also that the railways of this country under public enterprise compare favourably with railways generally throughout the world and, if they are given a chance, they will do a good job.
May I say, in the few minutes that are left, that I feel the right hon. Gentleman might have said one thing which he omitted, though much has been said about the L.M.S. In the old days practically the whole of the scheme in Schedule 16 was refused by this House 10 years ago. Had this House been more forthcoming then in helping the railways to meet the public need, we should have been in a very different position now.