Orders of the Day — Transport Depot, Littleborough (Closing)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd July 1952.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

12.57 a.m.

Photo of Sir Harold Sutcliffe Sir Harold Sutcliffe , Heywood and Royton

It was only yesterday that we had a debate on the work of the Transport Commission, a debate which covered a very wide field of both road and rail transport. By a coincidence, I have the Adjournment tonight, and I want to draw attention to the way in which the Road Haulage Executive are closing depots of long standing in some parts of the country, without any consideration for the effect which such closure is having on the men concerned.

The men will have to leave their homes and find lodgings or accommodation far removed from their present work, with results that can only be harmful to the road haulage industry of the future, as the men will be lost to the industry and, unless something is done, will never return. Men are now leaving this employment altogether, in these circumstances.

The transport depot to which I refer—at Littleborough—was, under private enterprise, a flourishing concern. It is on the borders of Lancashire and Yorkshire, a few miles inside the County of Lancashire. It is on a direct route from Lancashire to Yorkshire and is in an ideal position for a depot of that sort for haulage between the two counties. About 20 vehicles were employed at the depot, and some 34 men. The relationship with the employers was good, and the conditions were good. Anybody who doubts this has only to hear that there were men who had been with the firm for 30 years, that a number of others had been with them for more than 20 years, and that most of the rest had several years of service.

The vehicles were operated on the Bradford—Liverpool service. A driver had one vehicle, kept to that vehicle, and was responsible for it. He drove to Bradford one day and returned to the depot the same night with a load of textiles for export from Liverpool. He took that vehicle on to Liverpool the next day and, having delivered that load, exchanged it for a load of raw wool which he brought to Littleborough the same night and carried on with it to Bradford the following day, Bradford being some 21 miles from Littleborough and Liverpool just under 50.

These men were doing a good job in the normal way, economically, reliably and very well. Along comes the Road Haulage Executive and says in effect, "We must concentrate on larger units Oh the ground of efficiency and economy." How often have we heard those words, but how seldom they come true. So, in November last they decided to install on that route a night trunk service consisting of four eight-wheeled vehicles, which, incidentally, meant that five men would do the work of two. This would also mean an increase in man hours of a considerable amount and I am told an increase in expenses of no less than £24 a week in wages alone. These were to do the same number of trips a fortnight as previously were done by private enterprise.

The men opposed this plan, involving the closing of the depot, and it was then arranged by the Executive that a test should take place and that a comparison should be made between the day and night results. This test was to take place for a period of three months from 25th November, a competition between the day drivers and the night drivers and their vehicles to see which worked out the better. That sounded all right, but it did not work out in practice. Three of the four vehicles broke down within the first week, because the vehicles brought in from other districts were overworked.

It is one of the bad features of this trunk service that there is not sufficient time for repairs. The result was that the day vehicles were taken from the men who were trying to justify their retention and used instead of the other vehicles and the day men were relegated for the time being to loading. That could not be said to be a fair test but this difficulty was overcome and the test proceeded. Even so, I am told that a fair test never did take place to show which was the better, the day or night work.

It was said that the day service had carried 20 per cent. less than the night service, but, on the other hand, the day men were sent into Cheshire to pick up loads, going empty from Liverpool, and these lorries were classed as having run empty, the best loads being kept for the trunk service. It must have been decided from the moment the order was issued, that this depot should be closed, and that nothing should stand in the way of its closure.

Finally, two men volunteered to try this trunk service for three months after much argument. One left within a week. The decision to close was carried out; the lease was given up and the men received a letter from the divisional headquarters, in Bradford, that they must take a job in Bradford or finish. The depot was closed after due notice on 12th July, and the men were offered a travelling allowance for three months from Little-borough to Bradford, or alternatively, £2 a week lodging allowance in Bradford and free removal of their furniture.

That was a quite intolerable position. How can anybody find a house at short notice in a large city today in the present housing shortage? A man going to Bradford for the first time would have to have his name on a waiting list for some time before he would be even considered for a house. Almost the same difficulty arises with lodgings, but most of these men have long service and have lived with their families in their present houses all their working life. To try to find them a house at this stage would be almost impossible. That is why all this is so unfair, and would mean that the men would only seldom get home.

There are only nine men left now, out of the 20 employed soon after the Executive took over. The remainder have left the employment of the Executive and the transport industry. One or two are working for local authorities at the waterworks, others have taken jobs in the mills in the district. They are a loss to the transport industry and in a very short time, if the Executive carries out their apparent intention to stop the day service altogether, the remaining men will also be lost to the industry. That is a serious enough position to warrant my raising the subject on the Adjournment tonight.

A week before the closing took place, however, the remaining men suddenly heard that, after all, arrangements had been made to park these vehicles at Rochdale, three miles away, and for the time being at any rate, they need not leave the service or go to Bradford. The Executive has arranged, temporarily a place for the parking of their lorries at night in a yard where they are in charge of a watchman. What an amazing thing that is. A perfectly good garage has just been given up and, instead, the lorries are to be left in the open, subject to north country weather, with extremely valuable loads, in most instances, of export textiles on their way to the port.

It really is extraordinary. In winter one feels that there is likely to be deterioration of these goods left in the open with merely tarpaulins over them. It is a situation that causes concern. It could only happen under nationalisation. No private employer would have thought of doing such a thing. I realise that it is done to enable the men to continue to live at home, but why give up the depot?

The men belong to the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has fought hard to keep open this depot. One feels that the same thing is happening in many other parts of the country. I have been taking part in the Adjournment Ballot since 11th June, and I did, therefore, make efforts to raise this matter a good while ago. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary for being in his place again this evening, after the long day he had yesterday. This is especially so because the case I have outlined has nothing to do with the Government. It is a question for the Road Haulage Executive, as the whole subject was taken away from Parliament by the Transport Act, but he is going to reply, I understand, therefore, I do not feel he has come here to support the Transport Commission, but he has probably come to tell us something about the case, and I welcome his presence.

I feel that this case alone, if there was no other justification for the Transport Bill which is shortly to come before the House for Second Reading, would amply justify it. The fact is that if we do not once again put our road haulage under private enterprise it seems that we are going to lose hundreds of men permanently and finally from the industry which would, indeed, be a tragedy for the future of British transport.

1.15 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite):

It is characteristic of the zeal with which my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe) represents his constituents that he should be prepared to sit through a very long Parliamentary day to put before us this case, and may I at once say that it is a very good thing that Ministers should be brought here, whatever the hour of the night, in order that this excellent safety valve might continue to function by which Private Members can bring such matters forward.

As my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his remarks, this Adjournment debate flows naturally from our proceedings yesterday, because he has voiced the type of difficulty which was discussed yesterday by many of my hon. Friends when we were debating the Report of the British Transport Commission. My hon. Friend will appreciate—indeed, his closing remarks made it clear that he did—that my reply tonight must be factual, resting upon information supplied to me by the Commission. My right hon. Friend the Minister has, of course, no power to intervene in the day-to-day administration of that body and under our procedure the Ministry of Transport provide the voice in the House when these matters are raised. The information which I have to give my hon. Friend is, of course, drawn from that source.

I am informed that this depot has been a change-over point since before the days of nationalisation for lorries travelling between Bradford and Liverpool. No significant quantity of traffic was handled there and its main role was to provide facilities for overnight parking and some maintenance. In practice, the district manager was unable to provide adequate supervision there and the standard of maintenance work was not satisfactory.

As the Road Haulage Executive's organisation developed, following its establishment, it became clear in their opinion that, with the introduction of nightly trunk services, the need for the Littleborough depot would disappear and, with this in mind, whenever a Littleborough-based driver left the employment of the British Road Services, he was replaced by a driver living in Brad- ford. Furthermore—and my hon. Friend referred to this, but my information is slightly different from his—a number of Littleborough-based drivers—he said two, but I am told four; but I do not think we need quarrel about that—volunteered to work from Bradford for a trial period of three months. This was done with the agreement of all the staff at the Littleborough depot.

This trial was duly carried out and, in comparison with the economics of the normal daily run, taking all factors into consideration, the result was overwhelmingly in favour of the nightly trunk service. The district manager then met the men and their representatives and put the facts before them, but he was unable to convince them that his figures were correct. There was a definite difference of view and opinion. They were nevertheless told, as my hon. Friend has informed the House, that after careful consideration the Road Haulage Executive had decided that the depot was no longer necessary and that it would be closed entirely in three months' time, and it was in fact closed on the 12th of this month.

It is believed by the Executive that the local drivers will come to accept this decision. That, I think, is a matter of opinion. The men and their representatives were assured that there would be no redundancy as a result of this closure and that all would be offered jobs at other depots. This assurance has been implemented and, further, as a special concession to men living in Littleborough, it has been arranged, in conjunction with the North-Western Division, that men returning from Liverpool to Bradford in the evening can park their lorries, as the hon. Member has told us, at the Rochdale depot for the night, thereby enabling the Littleborough men to get home by 'bus. The distance from Rochdale to Little-borough, I am informed, is some 3½ miles.

I am in a little difficulty in my closing remarks, because I feel that there is a ray of hope in this matter. It is not entirely a dark scene; there is a rift in the clouds, but I have to walk carefully because of the time-honoured rule about discussing legislation on these occasions. Perhaps I might be permitted to say that I am hopeful that these men will not be lost to the industry and that my hon. Friends prognostications will not be fulfilled.

I think it is known in some quarters that there is in contemplation a reorganisation of the road transport system of the country, and that the type of organisation which my hon. Friend now deplores will largely disappear. I hope that his constituents who feel a sense of grievance will rapidly obtain employment in private enterprise, regain their happi- ness, lose their sense of grievance, and once again function in this great industry which is of such major importance to this country.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-One Minutes past One o'Clock a.m.