It is rather a pity that we must discuss Scottish transport under the shadow of a Government threat to interfere with the developments which are taking place. It would be much better had we been able to discuss this from the point of view of economic progress, finding out what faults exist in the present system and trying to put them right. However, we must do our best to put aside from our thoughts at the moment the rather threatening future and try to see whether we can tackle the problem of Scottish transport from the point of view of practical efficiency and not from the point of view of a theoretical battle across the Floor of the House.
It might be of service if I recapitulated some of the facts which lie behind Scottish transport, because I am quite sure that some of my colleagues in other parts of the country do not appreciate the tremendous problems we have in Scotland which are not common to the rest of the United Kingdom. They are problems of geography, they are economic problems and, greatest of all perhaps, they are social problems.
The area of Scotland is 30,302 square miles, 80 per cent. of that territory being hill or upland. There are 631 square miles of water and we have 787 islands, not all inhabitable. Some have been deserted because of the problem of transport. The Highlands of Scotland form 47 per cent. of the land surface, a total of 14,000 square miles, approximately half of Scotland. Only 300,000 people occupy that huge territory—an average of about 21 per square mile. The problem of providing transport in an area where there are only 21 people per square mile must be evident to all who have approached this problem. If we take the extreme of Sutherlandshire, there are seven people per square mile.
The economic problems of Scotland likewise fall into two distinct areas. We have the industrial belt which stretches across the middle of Scotland and we have what might be called the landward area which is the area outside. The proportions here give an indication of our curious problem. The industrial belt is 1,000 square miles, but the landward area, including all this upland is 29,000 square miles.
Both these parts are of great importance to the United Kingdom. The industrial belt, in the last year for which I have figures, produced 12 per cent. of Britain's coal, 13 per cent. of Britain's steel ingots, 45 per cent. of Britain's locomotives, 25 per cent. of its coal-mining machinery, 50 per cent. of its steam-raising plant and 38 per cent. of its new ships. This industrial area which produces that great wealth is well equipped in regard to road and rail and even shipping, so far as that comes into it.
One great gap remains. I want to emphasise this to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport. It is the gap in the A.1 road from the north to the south at Queensferry. One of these days I hope that the right hon. Gentleman or his successor will take steps to establish a Forth road bridge. I am glad to say that preparations have been going on that were laid down by my right hon. Friend two or three years ago and preliminary drawings and work have been completed. When the armament programme comes to an end or starts to taper off, steel may be available, and it may be that the steel works will be looking for outlets for their steel. I hope the Minister of Transport will bear in mind this gap in the Scottish road system and the Forth road bridge.
The main problem of Scotland is a human problem; that is, to keep people on the land. The secret is transport. The landward area, which might seem with its scattered population not to be of great importance, also makes a great contribution to United Kingdom welfare. It produces 33 per cent. of the United Kingdom fish landings. It produces 60 per cent. of its herrings. It produces 30 per cent of its sheep. It produces the highest quality of cattle in the world and has probably the highest proportion of T.T. herds in any country of Europe.
Some 50 per cent. of the United Kingdom timber resources lie in this area and we are now producing a considerable quantity of hydraulic power. If the gas turbine proves itself capable of working on peat or products of peat, the solid areas of peat in Sutherlandshire and elsewhere will also prove a valuable source of power. This great area cannot be returned to the wild. If de-population were to go steadily on, that would be the result. If the nation is to ensure that this part of the country is maintained, we must provide transport so that the people who live in it can reach their homes and produce their goods and have them delivered to markets.
It would be right to refer to what the Labour Government did during their period of office. During that time, I am sorry to say, the Minister of Transport—probably this applies also to the present Minister—was called upon more than any other Minister in the Government to make sacrifices in order to deal with the problem of cuts in capital investment. At one time all new road development was cut down to nothing in the way of Estimates. Whether the present Minister has been more fortunate in recent adjustments, we shall have to wait and see.
But in spite of that having to be imposed upon the Minister of Transport, I am glad that the Government agreed that, so far as Scotland was concerned, the great main transport developments in the landward area should continue. The main ring road round the north of Scotland was within only a short distance of being completed. The only part remaining, I think, was between Tongue and Cape Wrath. I hope that this road is to be completed and will not be stopped at this late stage.
In addition, there were to be five trunk roads and the crofter roads. The 1935 programme was not ours, but, in spite of difficulties, that programme of 1,200 miles of class I roads was continued. For piers, we had a programme of £529,000 over five years. So far as ferries are concerned, a 100 per cent. grant was given to complete these ferries. I should be very glad if the Minister will give some particulars as to what progress is being made in regard to the ferries, the piers, and the developments that have been going on over these years.
A valuable direct addition to that work was the work being done in connection with hydro-electric power and in connection with afforestation, which, incidentally, has provided valuable and very fine roads into a part of the country which otherwise would have lain isolated for many a long day.
There are various ferries, and the Government offered a 100 per cent. grant, I think, if the local authorities would take them over and run them. I do not know how many have been taken over, and I should like the Minister to say what progress has been made in this regard.
When we look at the problem, it does not seem that there can be any solution at all by private enterprise. That is not a criticism of private enterprise. The fundamental basis of private enterprise is that people take on activities out of which they can make a profit. No one even in his wildest dreams could show how anybody could make a profit out of a transport system that gave adequate services to the whole of the Highland area. I challenge any Member on the other side to give instances of how it could be done.
If hon. Members opposite agree—and I am sure that they do—then quite clearly this problem must be tackled by the nation. It is not an economic matter. It is a social matter, and it cannot be measured by economics. Therefore, there is no point in applying the economic measurement of private enterprise to a problem that must be dealt with socially. Every Government has recognised this. The subsidy to the MacBrayne steamers has been an explicit recognition that it is the duty of the nation to see that transport is provided in that area at costs which the people can afford to pay.
I deeply regret that the question of transport, by some freak of politics in the last Parliament, has been a symbol of Tory faith. That will vitiate the whole approach to this matter by hon. Members opposite who feel that the prestige of their whole party is involved in sustaining something, no matter how stupid it may be. I hope, however, that this will not be the case with Scottish transport, and that this will be dealt with as a practical issue—as it is a practical issue—and not one of political theory.
The right hon. Member has referred to the need for great developments for fulfilling transport obligations in the north in areas such as Sutherland, because it was quite beyond the power of private enterprise to do so. Will he explain why it was, when that situation arose two years ago in the lifetime of the second Socialist Government since the war, that his successor as Secretary of State for Scotland went to the Duke of Westminster and said, "Transport is breaking down. The Transport Commission has turned its back on it. We will accept no responsibility whatsoever"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—and brought in—
In any case, I do not see the point of the hon. Member's intervention. It has nothing whatsoever to do with this problem. Whether the nation asks the Duke of Westminster to do something or does it itself does not get away from the point that the problem of the Highlands can be tackled only by the nation as a whole and not by private enterprise, which must depend on a profit. The point, therefore, was not a sound one, and I hope that, since our time is to be rather shorter than usual, hon. Members will allow me to finish at the earliest possible moment.
The question of nationalisation or the reverse is a totally false issue. It is a "phoney" issue even between the two sides of the House; it is not a matter of principle. The Conservatives have nationalised a great many things. They have not objected to the nationalisation of the mines, the railways, or many other things, and they have no intention of reversing them. Therefore, continually to bring in this question is to fog our minds and not to allow us to apply our thoughts properly to the real issues.
What we are doing is to try to find a practical way of dealing with the transport needs of Scotland. I am not talking, from a party or political viewpoint when I say to the Minister that everybody who has looked at this question has come to the one conclusion that transport in Scotland must be a comprehensive service. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, quite frankly, whether he can see any other way of organising efficient transport in Scotland except as a comprehensive service.
During the years I was in office, one of the main criticisms from hon. Members opposite was of over-centralisation. That may have been a legitimate criticism. Here, again, is a practical question. The point is, who is to decide what is the degree of centralisation? That must be examined in a practical way. It is a matter, not for politicians, but for transport people, and for some inquiry apart from political party controversy.
Everyone agrees that there should be the maximum devolution. I speak for my hon. Friends, and I have statements from the other side of the House. Everyone pays lip-service, at least, to the need for maximum devolution. But who is to decide? This seems to be a matter that would very closely affect the terms of the Royal Commission who have just been appointed. If they have to find out what are the terms of devolution in administrative affairs in Scotland, it is a very thin line between the administration of the Scottish Office in regard to roads and the administration of transport in other parts of the country. I suggest, therefore, that this is a fit subject to hand to the Royal Commission for them to examine. What should be the degree of centralisation.
The terms of reference for the Royal Commission have given some people the impression that a steam hammer is being used to crack a nut. But it may be a tough nut that they are cracking. There are great resistances to these things, but nevertheless, this is another nut that they might crack, and I suggest to the Secretary of State for Scotland that he pass this on to the Royal Commission. I take it that if the Government do so, they will not begin to interfere with Scottish transport until they find out what the result is to be.
I gathered from answers which the Secretary of State has given to Questions that he has had no time to make inquiry into road transport, and I know that the Government have not had the time. Therefore, it seems desirable that someone should inquire into this question before we start messing it up. I think the most suitable instrument at hand is the Royal Commission.
Of course, inquiries have been made, not on a political basis, by the Scottish Council for Industry. That is an authoritative body in Scotland on which the trade unions, the local authorities, the banks and the chambers of commerce are represented. So far as there is a representative body interested in transport, that is the body. It made a recommendation to the Minister of Transport, and I should be glad to hear what was his answer or what were his repercussions to that statement.
I should like the House to notice one or two of the conclusions which the Council have come to. Although some of the members may be Conservatives they are interested first in the industrial side of the problem. Even after the Government stated their intention to denationalise road transport the conclusion says that they want
The maximum possible devolution of authority to Scotland in the policy and operation in consultation with other transport authorities, of the transport systems.
They go on to say:
Speedy application of measures for securing the greatest practicable integration of the transport services—
and I should like the Minister to note this phrase—
by which alone in the view of the Council the maximum efficiency can be obtained at least cost.
That is clearly impracticable without public ownership. They say:
All property is vested in the Commission and should remain so
and, so far as Scotland is concerned, they go on to say:
It would seem desirable that the Scottish Transport Authority should retain ownership of the road haulage which is already publicly owned so that authority can effectively integrate its road and rail services …
I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport how, if integration is an essential for efficiency and a good service in Scotland, it can be achieved if the Scottish transport system is broken up into fragments? They suggest a Scottish transport authority to bring together rail, road, air, canal and ports services to treat Scottish transport as a comprehensive means of satisfying the social and economic needs of Scotland. I think the idea is sound.
I am not prepared to examine what degree of power should go to the Scottish transport authority, but it would seem a sensible thing at the moment to have the member representing Scotland on the British Transport Commission presiding over the executive heads of all these bodies in Scotland to see that there is some co-ordination of the policy, planning and economies which might be effected by integration.
The Transport Commission have recently reported and in their Report they show great progress made in this matter. New depots are being constructed to promote road and rail co-ordination and to secure economies. They are taking steps to co-ordinate transport in the winter. When transport breaks down through snowstorms and other things, the two services could be mutually complementary and save a great deal of trouble. They have set up a joint committee on rail and road haulage and the docks with traders and farmers
To advise traders on their transport problems and enlist their co-operation in the event, and indeed, in advance of any emergency.
They have already found opportunities to bring in road transport to relieve congestion in marshalling yards and—what is very important—recently, when the foot-and-mouth disease caused such havoc throughout Scotland, because we have these great resources of nationalised road transport they were able to get vehicles from all over the place and use them to alleviate that disaster. They have also arranged for the transfer and exchange of staffs in order to economise in staffs.
Another point which struck me was that they have appointed an officer to be jointly responsible to the Road and Rail Executives who is to deal with the collection and delivery services. All the great parcel organisation will no longer be either road or rail, but will utilise both services in the best possible way by a joint collection and delivery service. They have also established what is bound to be an economy—I do not see how the Minister can say otherwise—an organisation for the maintenance of road and rail vehicles.
Road transport vehicles will be maintained as well as rail vehicles without having duplicate organisations and duplicate workshops. That seems a great economy. In Scotland, moreover, a great many of the old depots have been sold as an economy and the vehicles have been brought together in one place. I cannot see how the organisation can be split up as easily as the Government propose.
Traffic is also being transferred to road or rail as it becomes more economical. I believe that schemes are being prepared for the Clyde, Aberdeen and Dundee. The Cameron Committee, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred the other day, has also reported. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what has happened to the Report about the Clyde, Aberdeen and Dundee. That is very important for the whole of transport and for those towns. In Scotland, economies have been made. I would instance what happened when the Campbelltown and Clyde steamer was taken off. Transport was immediately able to come in and put vehicles on to go round to Campbelltown. That would not necessarily have happened under private enterprise because there would not be a profit to be gained, but the nationalised trans- port provided this because it was a service.
Yes, but when the steamers were taken off a road transport service was required. It was of a different character, but it was put on sufficiently to make up for the loss of the steamers.
Yes, but that does not dispose of the point that if there had not been any profit in that area, as no private enterprise person is obliged to be a philanthropist, transport would not be provided in the Highlands unless it produced a profit.
When the hon. and gallant Member speaks, will he be prepared to say that there are no parts of the Highlands which are denied transport because private enterprise cannot provide it as there is no profit for those who provide it? I am surprised at the hon. and gallant Member, who represents a Highland constituency, asserting that we have to depend on profit making in order to provide services to the Highlands.
Exactly; clearly, the Highlands must depend on a public service. I challenge any hon. Member from the Highlands, or elsewhere, to show how the Highlands can be served on an economic, profit-making basis. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) can start with the MacBrayne steamers and show how they can be made to pay without a subsidy. If they will run without a subsidy the right hon. Gentleman will be delighted.
That is quite wrong.
I now return to what was done elsewhere in Scotland. The road haulage organisation has now set about establishing a depot in Inverness. It is not being established as an economic organisation, but because it is necessary to provide transport in the Highlands. It will be provided as part of the Scottish national transport organisation. If it is not provided it will mean that there will not be a depot there capable of dealing with the re-development of road transport which should take place in the Highlands.
As an example of the disadvantage the Highlands are under, the rate charged from Garve to Ullapool, a distance of 32 miles, is about 50s. a ton. The same form of transport from Glasgow to Edinburgh, a distance of 42 miles, costs 21s. 6d. per ton. In other words, the Highlands have to pay more than twice the charge per ton for a lesser distance. Quite clearly, that is a handicap to the Highlands, in spite of anything which the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends from the Highlands may say.
If the British road transport authority is able and willing, as I understand it will be, to provide transport on these roads at the normal rate that is charged—the flat rate which the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) wants for Aberdeen—that will be a great advantage to those parts of the Highlands, and I hope that the authority will do that in spite of the hon. Members behind the right hon. Gentleman who resist it. We would like to see this road transport haulage organisation, which is developing for the first time a comprehensive system radiating out from Inverness—
Would my right hon. Friend allow me to intervene on a point of correction? He said that the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) said that she wanted a flat rate for Aberdeen. She said in a recent debate that she did not want it; but I want it.
As I have been directly challenged, may I be allowed to say that I think the hon. and learned Member who represents the other half of Aberdeen could not have been listening to my speech—it was one of many speeches delivered on the same subject—in which I said quite clearly that I cer- tainly want a flate rate for fish throughout the country so that it will benefit the port of Aberdeen.
I apologise if I misunderstood either Member for Aberdeen. I heard the noble Lady say something today about a flat rate, and I thought she was referring to Aberdeen. I apologise if I have misrepresented either Member.
I think I have, quite without any colouring, made out that Scotland is a unit so far as the transport problem is concerned. I think there is something more to be said, which I recommend to the Minister of Transport. There is a possibility of Scotland being a laboratory for experiment to see how well integrated transport will work, because to a large extent Scotland is self-contained in many respects, and it is of sufficient size to make it possible to work a reasonable unit of transport which will be practicable to manage.
I recommend that approach to the Minister. I recognise that he came to the Ministry to carry out a policy which was already fixed. I suggest to him that he should recommend to the Prime Minister that if he cannot drop the Transport Bill, which I regard politically as a menace to the whole country, he should at least leave Scotland out of it altogether and let us try our own methods. Scotland is not a practicable job for private enterprise; I do not think that anybody can maintain that it is.
It is a great national responsibility to the nation. I am sure that every hon. Member wishes this great land to develop economically. There is a great opportunity here. Forests, farming, food and tourism—steamers, road transport and air—all offer great opportunities. The right hon. Gentleman recognises that air transport in the Highlands can never be economic; whether it is undertaken by civil aviation or some other organisation, Scotland has to be treated as one unit.
The helicopter may open up in the Highlands opportunities almost undreamt of because it can hop over obstacles which it would cost millions of pounds to clear. If the helicopter can be developed there are hundreds of places in the Highlands where it will open up possibilities of a good life and residence which we cannot envisage at the present stage of development.
Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not sacrifice Scotland's progress merely on the altar of Tory dogma. We all have our dogmas, I agree, but in this case I have presented a case which, apart altogether from our party and political differences, justifies the treatment of Scotland as a unit, that justifies the Government not interfering in the developments that have taken place in Scottish transport. If the right hon. Gentleman allows the growth which is going on to develop to fruition, and if road, rail, steamer and air transport are co-ordinated, I am certain that there is an opportunity to make Scotland an example not only to this country but to the world.
I am glad that we have at last been able to have this debate on Scottish transport. I am sure that we all sympathised with the right hon. Gentleman and regretted that last week the plans which he thought he had finalised had to be put aside for other Government business. I feel, however, that the delay has perhaps not been altogether to our disadvantage.
In the meantime, we have had a debate on the broad question of transport in the United Kingdom which set out fairly clearly, as was necessary, the views of the Government and the Opposition. Out of that the Scottish situation has perhaps emerged with greater clarity, and I think we all know a little more about it than we did last week. Therefore, the delay has perhaps been worth while.
As I expected, the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), has referred to the broad question of transport and has dealt partly with the road question, and in the latter part of his speech with civil aviation. I will venture to try to answer in the same way. I agree with him that Scotland is one unit and that we should aim at a comprehensive attitude towards this matter; we are in agreement on that.
As the right hon. Gentleman has said, we are concerned with the whole field of transport—road, rail, air, sea, etc. It would be fair to say, however, that our immediate concern is with road and rail transport, especially in the Highlands, and with the future development of our air services. I should like to deal with both those matters, first describing the situation as it is and then going on to discuss the steps that can be taken to improve conditions. I shall try, in the course of my remarks, to deal with the points which were very properly raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
When we turn to civil aviation we enter, I admit, a controversial field. I am not averse to controversy, but first let us establish the facts. This year, Scottish Air Services, operated as they are almost exclusively by B.E.A. are substantially better than they were a year ago, and we are all glad about that. There is an increase of more than 40 per cent. in the frequency of services on the trunk routes between Scotland and England. The Edinburgh services have been re-timed and now make possible a day return journey to London.
The increase in local services has not been quite so noticeable. The strengthening of those services has been mostly in the direction of increasing the peak capacity which has been doubled between Stornoway and Inverness. This summer, for the first time, connections have been introduced between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Orkney. The programme has also restored the direct services between Orkney and Aberdeen to Edinburgh and London which were withdrawn last year. On the other hand, there has been a reduction in the service between Renfrew and Belfast, from 41 to 29 flights a week. But the B.E.A. have promised to operate extra flights on peak days when the traffic justifies it, and it may well be that, in the end, there will be no reduction at all.
The House will be interested to learn that in the first five months of this year 101 ambulance flights on behalf of the Department of Health have been made to the Islands. Last year, 1951, was a disappointing year for Scottish Aviation—I am talking especially of the Highlands and Islands. The number of passengers carried by the Highlands and Islands Service was 7,000 less than the year before. The reason for that was that there had been a curtailment in the frequency of the service.
As we all recognise, and as the right hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago, the Highland net-work is uneconomic because it is operated by aircraft which are not tailor-made for the job and because of the short distances to be covered. In 1951 the operating deficit of the Scottish Service, including the trunk services, was £300,000. In the year ending March, 1951, it was £291,000. So far, no means have been found to make that service profitable, and for those reasons there have been periodic inquiries into the service so as to ensure that the resources are employed to the best advantage.
The other day there was some discussion about the kind of machines used. I think the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) raised the point. The House will like to know that the services have been improved, and the capacity has also been increased by introducing Pionairs on all the routes previously operated by Dakotas. In the view of many hon. Members the Rapide ought to be replaced, and the House should know that this has already been done on the Orkney-Aberdeen service. I should inform the House, also, that B.E.A. are intending, in October of this year, to replace all Rapides with Pionairs on all the other Island services, except between Glasgow and Barra, and the ambulance service. This is by no means—
What is to happen in Barra on the airfields used by the ambulance service? What is to replace the Rapide where, at the moment, nothing but a Rapide can be used in Barra?
That is a technical point. I will try to find out, and give the hon. Member the answer.
This transfer is not regarded by anyone as ideal, and we have to find a suitable substitute for the Rapide. That is a difficulty which I frankly confess, but we are perfectly well aware of the urgency and importance of the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of helicopters, in which I am greatly interested. We are not neglecting that matter in the slightest degree. I feel that the helicopter has a high potential value in Scotland, and especially in the Highlands. We do not need any convincing of the unique importance of this very handy machine, and the part which helicopters can play in linking up the Highlands and thereby extending the tourist trade.
I think I may be allowed to interpose a personal note here. Scotland, and Perthshire in particular, has a special interest in helicopters. It was a Perthshire man, Mr. Kay, who, in the late 1920s, created with his own hands one of the first helicopters ever seen in Scotland. I was exceedingly interested in that and did everything I could, in the early 1930s, as some hon. Members may remember, to persuade the authorities to give that very ingenious man an opportunity to develop his machine. For one reason or other, for technical reasons about which I do not know, the project did not advance. I sometimes think that if it had we might be in a better position today. But that is a very personal note.
I had intended telling the House about further plans for helicopters, but I feel that perhaps I am taking up too much time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] I admit it is an interesting matter. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the First Report of the inter-Departmental Helicopter Committee, which was published in March, 1951. It suggested that the helicopter might be no more uneconomic than a fixed-wing aircraft in the Western Isles and that the use of the helicopter exclusively there
would make possible the surrender of a number of aerodromes, with consequent saving to public funds even after allowing for the provision of alternative helicopter landing areas.
These various projects await the development of a considerably safer aircraft—
If I may be allowed to finish this sentence I will give way.
It was the unanimous view of every witness before that Committee that the twin-engine helicopter would be essential for inter-city and over-water operations before these could be attempted on a commercial basis. The twin-engine helicopter likely to come into commercial use is the 10/12-seater Bristol 173, which made its first flight in January of this year. It is estimated that at least a 2-year period of development flying will be necessary before this machine can be used on a limited commercial basis.
Would the Minister make one point a little clearer? He has said that the helicopter might not be more uneconomic than a fixed-wing machine of the same capacity. Could be give us any comparative figures of the cost of running a helicopter and a fixed-wing machine of the same capacity?
It so happens that the first helicopter was flown into London today and landed, and, therefore, we shall soon begin to understand what this really costs, and be able to compare the cost with other planes.
I was quoting from the Report of the inter-Departmental Committee. That was a Committee of highly qualified people who, with the best figures available to them, offered to the country an estimate of the cost. I do not think the hon. Member wishes to be rude to that Committee—
Not at all. I do not wish to be rude to the Committee, but the Committee ought not to be rude to us. I have tried, this is my third attempt, to get the comparative figures which the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend said could not be given at present. I was interested in the point made by the hon. Gentleman. Can they now be given?
We are all interested in that, so let us hope that the figures will soon be made available and then we can all agree.
I will now pass to the more general features of the Scottish air services. This was the subject of the keenest interest in our debate on 16th July, and here we pass from concord to a conflict of view. Like most controversies, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree—in fact, he almost said so—this controversy has been be-fogged by misunderstanding and prejudice and be-devilled by extremists. To put it bluntly and baldly, the issue is whether the present B.E.A. Scottish network should be continued, or whether the services should be handed over to a private company, and, if so, on what terms?
Broadly speaking, that is the issue. On the face of it it would seem that the two sides of the House are in conflict, but I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said: he said that it is a false or phoney conflict. No doubt he was recalling the words of his hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), who opened the debate on civil aviation on 16th July for the Opposition. He spoke in unmistakable terms. He said:
We on this side of the Committee …
That is, the Socialist side of the Committee—
… do not hold any bigoted or dogmatic opinion as to the comparative efficiency of private as against publicly-owned air transport. We believe there are appropriate fields for both."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16th July, 1952; Vol. 503, c. 2157.]
Every reasonable man should take that view. The question is, Does Scotland offer an appropriate field—
May I put the question? Does Scotland offer an appropriate field for efficient private air transport? I admit that it is a debatable point. Are we fully satisfied that the publicly-owned air services now in the field are adequate and efficient?
Surely no one would say that they are adequate. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) would not say that. Even with the improvements brought about this year, the fact is that great parts of Scotland, and most of the outlying territory, are completely unserved by air transport. So it cannot be adequate. Is it efficient? Is any hon. Member prepared to say that there is no room in the present services for greater efficiency? There is no such hon. Member in the House. Therefore, in the interest of Scotland—
The hon. Gentleman is making an assumption which he has no right to make. He is saying that there is not an hon. Member in the House who is prepared to dispute what he has said.
I am prepared to dispute it, dealing with the background in which he said it. He is not presenting that properly.
We all know that the hon. Member intends to make a speech. We shall look forward with interest to it so long as he does not make it while I am trying to make mine.
In the interests of Scotland, both Highland and Lowland, is there not, because of those doubts which are in the minds of all of us, a case—indeed, an imperative demand—for a fresh re-examination of the problem? If we could find a company of enterprising and substantial men ready to take over and develop the Scottish services in accordance with an approved plan providing for high efficiency, safety and continuity at lower costs to the taxpayer and user alike, ought we not at least to consider such a proposal?
I am coming to that point.
Is there not at least a case for examination? To spurn such a proposition out of blind prejudice would be to do an ill-service if not a disastrous service to Scotland. This Government are not prepared to allow prejudice or bigotry to deflect them from what they regard as the path of duty and common sense. Therefore, we are considering the possibilities of an alternative service, and we shall consider them fully and properly.
We have reached no decision to transfer the services to a private company nor to any special company. Neither has the principle of subsidising a private company been accepted. We are, therefore, completely uncommitted in this matter. We have no commitments of any kind, nor shall we enter upon any commitments unless and until we are satisfied that the alternative we may favour is demonstably for the decided advantage of Scotland and its people. That is the view of the Government. That is what we propose to do.
I cannot believe that the solid, sensible, increasingly air-minded people of the North will do other than commend our action in this respect. I feel justified in inviting the support, co-operation and the good will of hon. Members in all parts of the House in the inquiries which we are now making. That is what we are doing at this stage.
The hon. Member is asking me to go further. I have told him that we have no commitments. We advance upon this inquiry with open minds. Whatever is the view of the Government it will be placed openly before the House, and it will be for the House to determine the matter. I have explained the attitude of mind with which we approach the problem.
This is an important point. The hon. Gentleman seems to be adopting a spirit of inquiry to find out the facts. I take it that he would think that it was equally reasonable to do the same thing about road transport before he interferes with that.
I shall come to road transport later; I am now dealing with the question of civil aviation.
I know that the House would like me to say a few words about Prestwick before I leave the subject of civil aviation. I wish to make some comment because, by a series of strange events of which some hon. Members are aware, Prestwick has become one of the touchstones by which Scotsmen are inclined to judge the patriotism and sincerity of any Government. If we fail to do what is right by Prestwick no doubt we shall suffer. If, on the other hand, the Government are given time to do what they want to do for this famous airport—whose contribution to victory in the last war is not yet fully recognised—we shall all gain by that action.
The needs of Prestwick are well known and accepted. They were set out in the Report of the Clydesmuir Committee. The only question is the rate at which these recommendations can be implemented. The Government begin by re- asserting that, next to London, Prestwick is, and will continue to be, the leading airport in the United Kingdom. Let us be plain about that. That is the status we give it. Subject to the limitation—
Subject to the limitation of materials, manpower and the capital investment programme, it is the intention of the Government to bring Prestwick up to the highest state of efficiency in the shortest possible time. Already, considerable progress is being made in many directions. If the House wish I can give details about the work now being done on the accommodation for transit passengers, the overrun, the road, future development, and so on.
Progress is being made in preparation for the additional runway in which all of us have so much interest. Plans are under consideration for the construction of a new subsidiary runway of 6,000 feet with 500 feet grass overrun, which would remedy the defect which we all know about—the orientation of the main runway—and make Prestwick usable by aircraft on 99.9 per cent. of occasions. A new set of terminal buildings is also being planned; but I must be frank and warn hon. Members that only the planning stage has been reached so far in either of these considerable projects. Together, they may possibly cost between £4 million and £5 million.
In the present time of restrictions on capital investment and the heavy similar commitments we have elsewhere, it is clear that the major operations involved cannot start for a considerable time. It is impossible, therefore, as I think all reasonable people will appreciate—and I am being perfectly frank with the House—to reach a decision upon this matter now, but I want to repeat the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) when, in January last, speaking for the Government, he said that, until a new runway had been built, Prestwick could not operate on 100 per cent. efficiency, and the right hon. Gentleman expressed his urgent wish that this should be achieved as soon as possible. I am sure that that is still the urgent wish of the Government.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Prestwick, could he give us an assurance that the headquarters of the Scottish Civil Aviation Department are not to be transferred from Prestwick to Edinburgh?
I am not aware of that, but I will try to answer the hon. Gentleman's question before the debate finishes.
I pass now from the rarefied heights of air travel to more solid progress on the earth. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked me one or two questions, and I can give the answers to some of them at once. As regards the Forth road bridge, I am as keen on it as he is, and, when it is possible, I hope it will be done, but everybody knows that we cannot start doing that sort of thing now.
The point is whether the Government will be ready to start whenever there is a slump in the steel industry. It takes a long time to get ready, and we would not like any hiatus to occur.
I am aware of the point, and I do not think there is any doubt that the various agencies will be ready to co-operate—and operate—when it appears possible to make a real advance.
On the subject of ferries and piers, I could give the right hon. Gentleman a lot of information, because I have pages of it here, and it is detailed. I do not think, however, that the House would want me, at this point, to go into too much detail.
On the question of the Royal Commission and devolution, the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the Commission has been given wide terms of reference, but those terms do not include inquiries into the nationalised industries. I think everybody will see the sense of that, because some of these industries are in a state of uncertainty—shall we put it?—just now, and all of them—coalmining, for example—are highly specialised, and I do not think that the Commission would be qualified to examine matters of that kind. They have very wide terms of reference, and I rather think that they will be able to cover a good deal of the ground referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.
With regard to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman on the future organisation of road transport services, I hope he will not mind if I do not deal with them, because I have other things I want to say, and because my right hon. Friend would like to answer the right hon. Gentleman later.
On this question of transport on land, we are up against the two problems of road and rail—the integrated services, of which we have heard so much but seen so little in recent years. Let me take the case of the Highlands, since it is there that transport and transport costs loom so large. There is no dispute about the facts. Here, again, we can turn to the Report of a substantial committee. The Cameron Committee made it abundantly plain that there were three major considerations:
(a) The Highland suffer a general disadvantage from high transport costs in all branches of activity, apart from those which are directly or indirectly subsidised.
(b) Isolated areas are specially handicapped.
(c) Certain manufacturing industries are able to operate profitably in the Highlands, but the range of industries which can hope to do so is extremely narrow.
The chief recommendations of the Committee were, first, that the transport system should be made more efficient, and, second, that there should be a deliberate policy of lowering transport charges over long distances. The question is what has been done to implement these proposals. I shall not weary the House with a long list of the works now being carried out on many roads, harbours, piers and ferries throughout the Highlands, but perhaps a single reference to roads would indicate the effort that is now being made.
Even in the present difficult times, works of new construction on the roads are proceeding under the Crofter Counties Scheme, and the total estimated cost is £200,000, which will be met entirely by the Ministry of Transport. Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Office, I should like to say that we receive, and are most happy to receive, the most generous assistance from the Ministry of Transport and from my right hon. Friend in all matters relating to Scotland, and I wish to thank him very much for it.
Secondly, expenditure on the maintenance of classified roads in the Highlands, which amounted to £370,000 in 1950–51, to £433,000 in 1951–52, is estimated to cost £503,000 in the present year. New works are also proceeding on minor roads in the Highlands with grants from the Department of Agriculture for Scotland estimated at £390,000.
These improvements, considerable as they are, are not, of course, enough to satisfy all the requests made by my hon. Friends from the Highlands or of the local authorities which have approached us. I know that they do not satisfy all of them, but I doubt whether this Government, or any other, will ever satisfy all the Highland hon. Members. That is almost an impossibility. Nevertheless, the list of works proceeding is a formidable one, and when to that list is added the very substantial grants now made to Highland local authorities from the Equalisation Fund, some of them rising to as much as 89 per cent. of the total local authority expenditure, I do not think that any fair-minded person could say that this is treating the Highlands unreasonably.
I was not speaking about its introduction, and I give the right hon. Gentleman and his party full credit for it, but this Parliament is carrying it out. We are a large happy family in this matter.
The works of which I have been speaking go some way towards meeting the first recommendation of the Cameron Committee, namely, that the transport system should be made more efficient, and, to that extent, they ought to result in cheaper transport. But the problem of the high cost of transport remains, and, in some respects, even becomes more severe. I have every sympathy with hon. Members who come from the Highlands when they make their strong demands upon us, as they have been doing for some time, and I wish it were possible more quickly to satisfy their needs.
May I here interpolate into my speech a report to the House on the matter of a flat rate transport scheme for fish. In the annual Report of the White Fish Authority published on 8th July, the Authority discussed the introduction of a transport charges equalisation scheme, and re-affirmed their decision, which they had announced in December last, to submit a statutory scheme under Section (6) of the Sea Fish Industries Act, 1951, for the confirmation of Ministers and the approval of Parliament.
This scheme has not yet been submitted, and the Government have not therefore been able to consider it. From recent discussions which I have had with the Authority, I know that, as a result of factual information which has become available since the Report was submitted, serious practical difficulties have been encountered. I am assured, however, that the Authority have the matter under the most active consideration, and I hope that an early conclusion may be reached.
May I now revert to the general question? Road and rail costs in the Highlands are high, but in the case of the railways I must remind the House of the legal and administrative difficulties which stand in the way of speedy action at the present time. It is not that we are unwilling to act in this matter; it is that under the Transport Act, 1947—and I come now to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman—an Act for which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were responsible, it is impossible to review, much less to alter, the transport charges under which the Highlands suffer, without going through—as I think—the most cumbersome, time—wasting and exasperating procedure.
Under that Act which is now the laws of the land, Scotland's only hope of relief in relation to charges is for the interests affected—in this case the various industries and the local authorities in the Highlands—to make representations to the British Transport Commission when they are preparing a new draft charges scheme and to the Transport Tribunal when they are settling the scheme. I am advised that under this procedure, which is inescapable, even if representations were made today, two years at least would elapse before the Tribunals' decision could be announced, and even then there would be no assurance that the decision would be favourable.
Clearly we must try to find a quicker solution.
I know the hon. Gentleman's point. Clearly, we must try to find a quicker way even if the charges scheme of which the hon. Gentleman is thinking remains—and I think it will—and it was with this problem in mind that the Scottish proposals in the new Transport Bill were framed.
Under the Government's new proposals, a regional railway authority for Scotland will be created, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, with far-ranging powers. The first duty of this new Scottish authority will be to make a complete and searching investigation into all railway services, passenger and freight, in Scotland and to report the result of their findings—with any recommendations they may care to make—to the Transport Commission.
I place great faith in this new authority, composed, as I trust it will be, of young, vigorous men determined to find a way out of the present morass of difficulties, and I think we can reasonably hope that with the greater decentralisation and flexibility which the Government will seek to ensure in the railway re-organisation, the Scottish authority may well be able to develop a new approach—I would like hon. Members to consider this most carefully—to the problem of Scottish rail transport which will have the effect of encouraging additional traffic at charges, both economic and attractive.
Are we to understand that this new Scottish authority are to have delegated to them such functions as the Minister is now indicating? From reading the Transport Bill it would appear that the functions described there are very proscribed indeed. Is this a new decision on the part of the Government?
The Under-Secretary prefaced his last long sentence by indicating and discussing the question of transport charges and freight rates. I thought we were going to get something from this area committee on those matters. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that this area authority will have some power over freight charges?
I am fully aware of the importance which hon. Members attach to this matter. I, too, attach importance to it and I have used very carefully chosen words. If hon. Members will look at HANSARD tomorrow they will see that all I have said is that we are entitled to hope that with the greater decentralisation and flexibility which the Government intend to ensure in the railway reorganisation, the Scottish authority may well be able to develop a new approach to the problems of rail transport—
—which will have the effect, I hope, of encouraging additional traffic at charges both economic and attractive. The hon. Gentleman opposite says that is my hope. I have already described to the House that under the system which the party opposite gave us we cannot get anything done for the Highlands under two years. That is the position.
The hon. Gentleman has made a most important statement. All expert railway authorities in the past and even the present inquiry, I believe, of the Scottish Council have disclosed the fact that Scotland has so many uneconomic areas that the Scottish railway system could not maintain its existing rates if it were on its own. Am I to take it from what the hon. Gentleman says that the midlands of Scotland are now to subsidise the uneconomic areas of the Highlands, and that Scotland is now economically to be cut off from the rest of the railway system?
No. The right hon. Gentleman must not assume anything of the kind; I have said nothing of the kind. The simple situation is this. Under the present system and procedure which we inherited from the Socialist Government nothing can be done for the Highlands for at least two years. I say that we must somehow alter that and quickly.
I am saying to the House that with this in mind we are constituting this Scottish authority, and I ask hon. Members to consider more carefully than they have done hitherto the position of that authority. Given that new authority I have great hopes—and I speak with just a little knowledge of this—that we may get over some of our difficulties.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well that he is asking a question which neither I nor anybody else can answer at the moment. If he will refresh his memory about the contents of the Bill he will find that a new scheme has to be prepared for the constitution of the authority which has to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport in consultation with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is a lot of work to be done, and at the moment we do not know the details of the scheme. However, if the House is sensible enough to give us this Bill within a matter of two or three months, I can assure it that something will happen.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I do so because I want to find out some information about the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman said that he did not know what the answer was. I find in the White Paper on Transport issued by Her Majesty's Government the following sentence:
Any areas will together continue to constitute a single entity for financial purposes and for the control of charges.
If the hon. Gentleman does not know that, he would have found it in the White Paper prepared by his own Government.
Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not suggesting that I do not know what I am talking about. I am quite aware of the sentence he has just read out. I have not said, and I am not to be understood as saying, any more than what will appear in HANSARD tomorrow. But I invite the House to consider the words I have used, because I believe they contain good hopes for Scotland.
May I also remind hon. Members in this connection of the striking changes which we propose in the functions of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Scotland? The right hon. Gentleman referred to that. Here, too, our aim is to cut out unnecessary procedural delays. The new committee will have direct access not only to the Commission, but also for the first time to my right hon. Friend the Minister himself, and the committee's authority will extend not only over railway services as at present, but over nationalised road services as well.
For the first time, therefore, Scotsmen in Scotland—in formal meeting—will be able to make an effective survey of the whole road and rail transport scene and in this way I believe will make a real beginning to the integration of services which so far has so noticeably eluded us.
Finally, I repeat with regard to the proposals as a whole the words used by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on 22nd July when he said:
All those who recognise the present situation recognise the need for radical changes, but they may differ as to the form any change should take. I shall have the time, patience and readiness to listen to what they have to say. The broad structure of the bill represents the Government's intention. I would never be too proud to listen to any advice which may come from those who want to see this Bill work, and who recognise that the existing situation cannot indefinitely be tolerated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c 312.]
You will be pleased to know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I have finished with that part of my speech.
It is along those lines and in the spirit of eager, honest search for a better, cheaper, more efficient transport system—by road, rail, land and sea—for the benefit of the whole Scottish people, that we approach our task and do our duty.
I am indeed grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for having called me to make my maiden speech in this Chamber. I crave the indulgence of right hon. and hon. Members in prefacing my remarks by paying tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Gilzean, who for some 27 years played a most important part in local and in national politics. He was a quiet, unassuming man who carried out his duties in a similar fashion to his predecessor, the late Mr. William Graham. I sincerely hope and trust that I shall be able to follow in that great tradition. I am sure that the House will join with me in wishing Mr. Gilzean continuation of the good health which he is now enjoying following a major operation.
I am in a rather delicate situation in consequence of all my colleagues and friends advising and cautioning me that a maiden speech at all times should be non-controversial. As a result, my contribution will be somewhat restrained. Already much of what I had intended to say has been said from both of the Front Benches. I want to declare my interest in transport. I understand that it is the right and proper thing to do if one has an interest in the subject under debate. But my interests are primarily to see a comprehensive and integrated transport system instituted for the benefit of the Scottish people, and secondly, and of no less importance, to see that the operatives in the industry are given the very best conditions that the industry can afford.
It was something of a shock to me when I examined Cmd. 8538, entitled "Transport policy." My immediate reaction was to think what a misnomer is the title, because the only reference to Scotland that I found in that White Paper came in the section dealing with railways, where Scotland was disposed of in six words:
Scotland will be a separate area.
I wonder if the Secretary of State for Scotland has made himself conversant with the manifold problems of Scottish transportation and whether, when he consults with the Minister of Transport, whom I am glad to see present, some regard will be paid to those problems, because special consideration is an essential in dealing with Scottish transportation.
Scottish transport also has scant mention in the Transport Bill. I wonder whether reasons for that can be given in the course of this debate; or was this omission deliberate in order to hide the fact that Scottish road passenger under-takings are running services which are quite unremunerative and therefore would not lend themselves very readily for sale to would-be purchasers, if it is the intention of the Government to sell them also to the highest bidder?
I am certain that the House will agree with me that in the event of a breaking up of the ever-expanding services developed over the past four years, it is important to know whether the Government intend to condition the sale of road passenger transport with the proviso that existing services must be maintained. If that is not the intention it means, in effect, that the very lifeline of the farming and crofting communities beyond the Highland line in Scotland will be com- pletely disintegrated. Those farming and crofting communities are just as entitled to reasonable forms of transportation as their cousins in the built-up areas. I am extremely anxious to know whether those transport facilities, which it is the duty of present undertakings to provide, are to continue.
I ask the Minister of Transport or the Secretary of State for Scotland, or the Joint Under-Secretary, to tell the House who will be prepared to run services in the Scottish region which do not pay their way even at this moment. Are the Ministers aware that the unremunerative services are those where the average receipts per vehicle mile are less than the actual operating cost per vehicle mile of the individual company concerned?
Are the Ministers aware that approximately 50 per cent. of the routes, as distinct from the services, are unremunerative? Are they aware that some 61 per cent. of the total number of services in Scotland do not pay their way? Perhaps this information could be passed on to the Departments so that they may check the statements which I am making. They are of paramount importance to the future of remote communities in Scotland.
The amalgamation of the large omnibus companies in Scotland has made it possible to provide services to the general public. That same public is entitled to know now whether in the near future any disintegration of that Scottish group of omnibuses will mean that some services will stop because they do not make a profit and are therefore not a good selling speculation. I cannot foresee people with an eye to good business—and I have met them over many years as a full-time trade union official—buying up an unprofitable concern just to run it to please the general public. I should like an answer to that point if it is at all possible.
The passing of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, was of paramount importance, especially to the operatives in the industry. Sections 19 and 93 of that Act gave to the men some form of guarantee of rates of wages and hours of work. That Act laid the foundation of safety for all road users. At the present moment the operatives have grave misgivings about their future, and they will assuredly contest any worsening of their conditions in the Scottish region.
I have received dozens of resolutions from depots and garages in Scotland protesting strongly against the intentions of Her Majesty's Government because the men visualise a return to cut-throat competition and unroadworthy vehicles through lack of maintenance. I have passed to the Minister of Transport many of those resolutions, and I have no doubt that in due course the Department will send me acknowledgements. I speak with some authority on transport, because I am an ex-operative myself. I find, after checking, that the rolling stock of British Transport is in an excellent condition today compared with the conditions that existed before the passing of the 1947 Act. The days of keeping vehicles together with pieces of rope and wire have passed.
There is another factor giving rise to resentment among the operatives in the road haulage and road passenger industry in Scotland, and it is again one of extreme importance. Consultations have reached a stage of finality in setting up consultative committees in nine areas in the Scottish region. A great deal of thought and effort were given by both sides of the industry—the trade unions and the management—with a view to enabling all grades to be represented on those consultative committees, the purpose of which was to discuss a variety of subjects connected with the smooth running of the undertaking. I regret to say that at this moment further progress is impracticable because the industry does not yet know what the Government's intentions are. Neither side is prepared to continue with those discussions until the Government fog has been dispersed.
Is there no one on the Government's bus prepared to tell the Minister or whoever is at the wheel that more care should be taken along the road to economic recovery, or is there some truth in the story that is going around that the Prime Minister said to the Minister of Transport, "Steer with some caution, my friend," and the Minister replied to the Prime Minister, "I thought you were steering"? Perhaps the Government Front Bench are so intoxicated with their own verbosity that no attention is being paid to who is driving, and they will only know when the crash comes.
The success of those joint consultations depends, first of all, on the attitude of mind of the participating parties. The whole basis of transport is service to the community, and the success of those consultations will only be attained by the most delicate application of human principles to all the grades. The prospect of success is being destroyed by the Government's present proposals which are assuredly hindering further progress. Transport is a national asset, upon the efficiency of which all branches of the industrial and social activities of the nation depend.
Just when Scottish passenger transport is in a boom year there comes the shock that the Government intend to interfere. Plans for the future are naturally held up. Just when the industry is fulfilling the requirements of the 1947 Act in creating an integrated system, it is called upon to halt. It was no easy task to build up this system out of chaos—because chaos it was prior to the 1947 Act; it was no easy task to persuade some of the local authorities to enable bus companies to fulfil their obligations where road vehicles were required to replace railway passenger services that had been withdrawn.
So much to the detriment of the clerical and administrative staffs has been said in the past and is still being said that I regard it as my bounden duty this evening to defend them. Those staffs carried out a most commendable job under great difficulties, and they are entitled to be given some guarantee for the future, because many of them gave up their former employment to come in to the road haulage and road passenger industries to give to the nation the benefit of their very valuable experience. Do the Government intend to throw those people onto the industrial scrap heap? What is to happen to them? The House is entitled to know, and so are the people who are employed in the respective grades.
There has already been a tremendous disturbance among all ranks in the service. Disturbed conditions cannot possibly make for efficiency in any kind of industrial undertaking. Why cannot we now set those people's minds at rest by honestly telling them what the future will bring to them? On the road haulage side in Scotland we also have very virile resentment from the operatives. They are fully aware of past conditions under private enterprise. They know that an Act of Parliament was necessary to force employers to pay decent wages and provide good conditions in the road haulage industry. It was the only industry that required such an enactment to bring about decent wages and protection for the men.
Those men also remember very clearly the conditions of their vehicles in those days compared to their excellent condition today. No wonder they are demonstrating. No wonder they are demanding that something should be done to put a stop to the sell-out of the road haulage industry once again to big business. The operatives do a great job of work. The roads in Scotland are no sinecure for men driving heavy loads at all hours of the day and night, even with perfectly running vehicles. They will also be throwing their weight into the combat against the disintegration of their industry—and they claim it is their industry just as much as it was the industry of the previous employers.
The Government should reconsider the position with regard to Scotland as a whole. They should have plenty of time to consider public opinion during the next few weeks. I have had the opportunity to meet and have discussions with many people who are closely allied to the Scottish transport industry. No one has a favourable word for the Government's transport plan, because the general opinion is that no plan exists. It has been said that the proposed Bill is on a par with the Home Guard Bill, which required so much amending from this side of the House before it was presentable. This Bill appears to have been compiled hastily, without due care and attention, and Scottish transport affairs, like many other Scottish questions, appear completely to have been overlooked.
I notice that we have more Ministers looking after Scottish affairs today than we have ever had before, yet the lifeline of that great little nation is being destroyed for the sake of vested interests. The people of Scotland have indeed been long suffering. They have known adversity and they expect a higher standard of government with each succeeding Parliament. To my mind that expectation is being covered by a mist to conceal the real intentions of the Government, which is to pander to big business.
The intended action of the Government is having serious consideration throughout the country. I do not desire to burden the House further because there are many speakers on both sides who desire to enter this interesting debate and who, I am certain, can make a much greater contribution than I have attempted this afternoon. I only hope and trust that my efforts will at least be carried forward as an appeal to the Government, and I would ask the Ministers to give thought to whether this is the right thing to do. The Government have no mandate from the nation to do this. It is not too late to withdraw this apparently partisan Measure, because transport is a social and not a political necessity in Scotland. It is surely better that the Government should think again before committing a major mistake, for which they will be sorry.
It falls to my lot to have the privilege and pleasure of offering to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) the congratulations of the whole House on his very valiant effort in making his maiden speech. I sympathise with him very much, because I remember that when I made my maiden speech it was also in a transport debate. I also remember that my nervousness in making that speech was very much more apparent than any nervousness on the part of the hon. Member. He was quite obviously very much an expert on this question of transport in Scotland, and I am sure that we shall look forward to many further contributions from him. If I may say so with respect, however, if his speech this afternoon was non-controversial we shall have some fireworks flying when he makes a controversial speech.
I should like to deal with the point which the right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) asked me to elaborate if I were fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair. Last year the right hon. Gentleman made a quite unwarranted charge against the Highland Members, saying that they were not acting in the interests of their constituents. It is a strange thing that after the Election each of the then Highland Members was returned again with an increased majority. I leave it to our constituents to judge the matter.
I want to take up the right hon. Memon the question of British Road Services and private enterprise road services in the Highlands, particularly with regard to my own county of Argyllshire. The Campbeltown-Glasgow Coast Service was running a West coast motor service long before the steamers were taken off. Presumably it was running with efficient vehicles and at a profit at a time when the steamers were also running. Who took the steamers off? It was the Railway Executive.
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member is being quite fair to the House when he makes that statement. The steamers were taken off in September, 1949, by the Clyde and Campbeltown Steamer Service and by no other service.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member again, but will he tell the House why the steamer service to Campbeltown was taken off, and also confirm that when the Railway Executive asked the town council of Campbeltown to give their opinion whether the service should be taken off or not no reply was received to their request.
As regards the second part of the hon. Member's interjection, I do not know whether the town council replied to the Railway Executive, but they certainly wrote to their Member of Parliament and asked him to take the matter up. It is for that very reason that I know the subject.
It is quite true that the steamer service was not paying. The farmers and the merchants preferred to send their goods by road. On the other hand, it is quite wrong to say that the private enterprise road services were not running efficiently or at a profit because they were, as also were Mitchells between Dunoon Strone and Glasgow; another firm from Lochgilphead to Glasgow; and from Oban to Glasgow.
Nobody is challenging the fact that where a service will pay private enterprise will run it. The point is that there are places in the Highlands where we could not make services pay and therefore, by private enterprise, one could not get a service because it would be at somebody else's expense.
I am very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, because he will see, if he reads HANSARD tomorrow, that originally he said it was impossible to make road services pay by private enterprise in the Highlands. I disagreed with him, and the right hon. Gentleman charged me with not having in mind the interests of my constituents.
The right hon. Gentleman said there were none at all. I wanted to put him right.
A good deal has been said about the efficiency of British Road Services, and I had a case where a lorry of the British Road Services broke down about three-quarters of a mile from a private garage in Ardrishaig. The right hon. Gentleman knows where I mean. Most private enterprise firms would have gone to the garage and asked, "Can you help us to repair this?" British Road Services telephoned to Campbeltown for a lorry or tractor to tow the breakdown in. It was towed from Ardrishaig to Glasgow for repairs. That is not efficiency and economy, and in such circumstances how are the nationalised British Road Services ever going to pay?
I am sorry to have been led astray, because transport is an important issue in the Highlands and we ought not to have charges and counter-charges of this sort about it. I have been very glad to hear all hon. Members complain of the very high freight charges which make it extremely difficult for people in the Highlands and Islands, and particularly the Islands, to survive. I plead with the Scottish Office and the Government to see whether there is some way by which the Islands, as distinct from the Highlands, can be regarded as a special area and given some special assistance in order to help the inhabitants.
I am told that certain agricultural subsidies are provided which make it easier for the farmers and crofters of the Highlands and Islands to pay the increased costs of transport, but that deals only with farmers and crofters. What about the shopkeepers and the old people and other workers who have to pay the higher prices in the shops which result from the high freight charges? I ask for some consideration of this matter, and for special consideration for the Islands. I am sure that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) will support me in this view, for his Islands are even more adversely affected than the Inner Hebrides.
May I turn to the problem of the railways? We have had the ill-considered decision of the Scottish Regional Executive, which caused a great upheaval at the time of the proposed stopping of the Clyde steamers. There has also been some unfortunate decisions about certain sleeper services, more particularly between Oban and London. I am quite certain that some of those decisions would not have been made by the officials of the Executive, if they had had some local knowledge. Obviously they have not, and I was glad to hear the Joint Under-Secretary of State refer to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for Scotland state that a new Committee was to be set up.
Could my right hon. Friend tell us who appoints this Transport Users' Consultative Committee? Is it the British Transport Commission, the Railway Executive, or the Minister? On what ground are the members appointed—because of experience or because they are prominent men in public life? As far as I can see, no one in the present set up has the slightest idea of the transport problems in the Western Islands or the Highlands.
I put to my right hon. Friend a very serious question about roads. This is not about trunk roads, on which a 100 per cent. grant is paid and which are the responsibility of the Minister of Transport, but about Class II and Class III roads and, in particular, unclassified roads. Throughout the Highland area these roads are getting into a shocking condition and, in particular with the local authorities in the crofting counties, insufficient money is obtained from the rates for the local authorities to afford the upkeep which is necessary. I know that there is an equalisation grant scheme; that grants can be made from the Road Fund; and that grants are made by the Ministry of Transport for second-class and third-class roads. But these are not sufficient to cover what the local authorities themselves are unable to provide, and I wonder whether the time has not come when we must think again about roads in the Highland areas.
The right hon. Member for East Stirling made a very serious point about timber. In connection with my own local authority, I have been assured once or twice that a great deal can be done when timber traffic is finished. Of course, under the policy of the last Government and of this Government it will never finish; we are planting more and more areas in Scotland with the result that, as time goes on, there will be more and more timber to be carried. It cannot all be carried by water; some must be taken by road. These unclassified roads were never made to take traffic of that sort and they suffer severe damage from lorry traffic, either for the Forestry Commission or for private owners. The roads are bound to be knocked to pieces and from a long term point of view, they will have to be reconstructed.
None of these local authorities is in a position to reconstruct them. I suggest that we must consider this problem very seriously and think out whether the Ministry of Transport ought not to take over all these roads from the local authorities, or whether some other means can be found of dealing with the problem. One of the greatest forms of development to which we look forward in the Highlands, after agriculture, is afforestation, and if we are to persuade people to plant trees and grow vast plantations, surely they must be able to look forward to means of road transport by which the timber can be carried away.
Recently, considerable operations have been taking place on one of the main trunk roads out of Oban. A railway bridge which takes the road over the railway has a rather severe S bend, and for some unknown reason it was decided by the Ministry of Transport officials, under the late Government, to straighten out the road. Work has been carried on for several months, costing several thousand pounds, on a road which was perfectly good and where there has never been an accident, although admittedly driving over it required a little extra care. That money might well have been spent on roads of a lower classification.
I know it will be said that such roads are nothing to do with the Ministry of Transport, but whether it be a trunk road. a Class II road or an unclassified road. the maintenance for which comes out of the rates or the Road Fund or taxation, in the end the public pay. It is just a matter of bookkeeping. We should see whether we cannot find some solution by which we can give greater assistance to those local authorities who cannot afford these vast reconstruction schemes which must be carried out.
Finally, I want to say how very glad I am to hear in this debate at least more than one speaker bring up the subject of helicopters. I have for years pressed for the development of helicopters. I am perfectly convinced that the helicopter is the future form of transport for the Highlands, particularly the Islands. We know that there is a helicopter that has arrived at the South Bank today, and the Joint Under-Secretary of State has told us in his speech that the Departmental Committee had stated that it was unsafe for helicopters at present to fly over water. That seems a strange thing to say when there are two helicopters flying the Atlantic at this moment. Surely. if they can fly over the Atlantic they can fly across the Sound of Mull.
I would plead for experiments to be carried out flying helicopters over the Highlands and Islands with a view to establishing helicopter services there. It is not a question of saving on airfields that already exist, because many Islands that have no airfield will not require one at all. Daily service for freight and passengers could be maintained and should be maintained to those Islands and in those remote areas which cannot be reached by any other means. We are experimenting today with flying helicopters into London, while every Londoner has a taxi or a bus or a train at his disposal. One can fly from Birmingham or some such place to London with the greatest of ease, and with alternative means of transport, but the people on Mull or Skye have not got a taxi or a train to take them to the mainland.
I would plead with the Minister of Transport to do all he can to see that experiments are carried out on the West coast of Scotland between the mainland and the Islands with a view to linking them by means of helicopters. One of the leading instructor pilots of these machines, who has long been flying them and who is a Fort William man, has assured me time and again that he and his colleagues would be quite prepared to fly those machines over the water between the mainland and the Islands. I do beg both the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport to see if they can convince the Minister of Civil Aviation or B.E.A., with its helicopter unit, to carry out trials on the West coast of Scotland as well as in London.
There are many points which can be raised on this question of transport for Scotland. It is a tremendously wide subject. One obviously cannot detain the House as long as would be required to raise all the points that I should like to raise, but I do say that, while this question of transport may be a serious one for the greater part of Scotland, it is an absolutely vital one for the Highlands, and as I sit down I beg my right hon. and hon. Friends to do their utmost to see if they can do more to develop the transport systems for the Highlands.
Like the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), I want to devote the main part of my speech to this crucial question of the high freight charges in the Highlands and Islands. I entirely agree with him that today that is the most urgent problem which Highland Members have to face. There are many other subjects that one could discuss in a debate such as this. For instance, one would like to touch upon the need for some inquiry as to why the trains between England and Scotland are nearly always late. One hopes that it is the fault of the English.
I should have liked, too, to have said a word or two about civil aviation—a matter of importance to my constituency. In my view, its future depends very largely, so far as my Islands are concerned, on the production of the right type of aircraft and on the giving of as much power as possible to the local people on the spot. I find the local managers and others connected with aviation only too pleased to adapt and experiment with their services in a way which, I believe, in the long run would give us better schedules and which would, possibly, bring down fares. I should like to have drawn attention to the curious case which affects me and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), and that is the case of the bus service which it was proposed to run from his constituency to Glasgow.
I certainly should like to have supported at some length what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll about roads. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that Highland Members were not very easily satisfied about roads. I can assure him that any Highland Member who was satisfied about roads at present in the Highlands would have the greatest difficulty in holding his seat. If he wants direct evidence of that, let him come up during this summer with his bicycle—[Hors. MEMBERS:" In winter."]—and try to cross Yell and Whalsay. I can assure him and the Minister of Transport that the position today is that those by-roads—unclassified roads—to which the hon. Gentleman referred are getting worse, while tar plant and road workers are standing idle. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the position in the Shetlands, he will see that it is only an infinitesimal amount of new roads that are being made this year.
I heard with some gloom his remarks about the flat freight rate scheme for fish. He said, I think, that it was now under "active consideration." This scheme was promised, I think, some six or seven months ago. It had been, presumably, under active consideration before that. If there are legal difficulties about it, I imagine that those legal difficulties were discussed at that time. Unless there are new difficulties about which we have not been told, I cannot understand why there should be this delay. As I heard the hon. Gentleman use that phrase "under active consideration" I wondered what he himself would have said if he had been sitting on the bench behind me, where he used to sit in the last Parliament, and had heard another Government, on one of his pet subjects, tell us that the matter was "still under active consideration." Those words in this country today have for me a sound of doom.
To turn to what I want to make my main subject, the high cost of freight and transport in the Highlands and Islands. As I understand it, the Government's policy is to leave this matter to the new transport authority which is to be set up for Scotland. Now, in all seriousness, I think that is a wrong decision. To begin with, I do not believe that, from the transport point of view, it is right to put this new authority into the position of having to attend to a problem which is a social problem and a national problem and not purely a transport problem.
I think that, from that point of view, they must try to start it off on the basis that it can make the Scottish region pay. That, I imagine, is really the Government's intention. If it is, it seems to me they must lift off its shoulders the clearly uneconomic routes. If the Highlands are to have reasonable freight charges and reasonable transport charges, it has to be by some means of subsidy, and, personally, I see no reason why that subsidy should be provided by other transport users. If this matter is left to the transport authority, it seems to me inevitable that, since it will have authority over transport only, if any such subsidy, direct or indirect, is provided, it will be paid at the expense of other transport users. I put that as a perfectly serious point of view, that neither will there be a possibility of this body getting on with the transport problem as such, nor shall we be meeting the national and social problems which we face in the Highlands.
I would emphasise once again the problem that faces the Highlands. Though, goodness knows, Highland Members have raised it often enough, and, goodness knows, enough speeches have been made about it, I think that in this debate it is necessary just to run over it again today. In the remoter parts of the Highlands and in the Islands we are in a spiral of decline. The population is decreasing; as the population decreases, trade decreases; as trade decreases, freights rise; and as freights rise the population decreases still further.
That is a process we have to reverse. I do not say that we shall re-populate the Highlands simply by producing a flat rate for freight or by producing more piers or better roads. I agree that high transport charges are not the only cause of de-population. To my mind we require a comprehensive policy which will cover agriculture, fishing, industry, housing, roads, land holdings, education and so on. But the absolute keystone of that policy must be a reduction in transport charges, and if the Joint Under-Secretary of State is in any doubt about that, I would draw his attention to his own words in the debate on the MacBrayne subsidy, on 12th May, when he said:
I do not need to emphasise how much we recognise that transport is almost the key to the prosperity of the Highlands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1952; Vol. 500; c. 1073.]
I think he is absolutely right. It would be entirely false to suppose that this spiral can be reversed, that de-population can be arrested or the area re-populated so long as that keystone remains out of the arch.
I do not want to weary the House with figures of my own constituency, but they are extremely striking. Eggs per ton between Aberdeen and Kirkwall are 80s.; fish between Aberdeen and Lerwick, 85s.; hard fruit and groceries 60s. 10d. per ton to Kirkwall and 73s. 4d. to Lerwick; lobsters 97s. 6d. to Kirkwall and 110s. to Lerwick; agricultural machinery goes up for binders to 182s. to Lerwick. These are, I think the Minister will agree, staggering figures if a man hopes to have any profit at all out of an undertaking, or if he has to live, as most people in those areas have to live, on a very small income indeed. Taking things on to the North Isles of Orkney, one pays an additional 23s. 4d. for oats and an additional 53s. 4d. for lobsters; and for the North Isles of Shetland, places like the Skerries and Whalsey, 25s. for fish and 23s. 4d. for groceries.
As I have said, so long as those conditions and those figures continue, it is useless to expect that the people will stay. There is simply not the margin left upon which they can live a decent life. The way to reverse that is not, I submit, to throw the onus on the transport authority, but to throw it on the Government as part of the social policy for these islands. For one thing, neither the present Commission, nor its successor will actually function on these matters, as far as my constituency is concerned; and for another thing, there is no reason why other transport users should bear the burden which we must undoubtedly face.
But why should the country face this burden at all? Why should the great areas of the South support the North in any degree? The primary and overriding reason is that they want the food we produce. Another reason is that in peace and war, and particularly war, the men we produce are extremely valuable to this country as a whole.
Then I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that today, throughout Britain, the economic system is full of stresses and strains caused by high taxation, subsidies, grants and restrictions, with the result that it is very difficult to tell what the economic position of the Highlands and Islands truly is. For instance, up there new houses are nearly as expensive in rent as new houses in London, but how much that is due to the Government's subsidy policy is difficult to find out.
That is just what I am hoping to do. I had hoped that I had spent a little time in beginning to do it, and I trust I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. The point I was making was that it is very difficult to tell what the situation is in any part of the country, and the Highlands and Islands, while they are helped in certain directions, have to put up with certain disadvantages from a centralised type of government in other directions. Again I quote the hon. Gentleman's own words, with which I entirely agree, in the debate to which I have already referred, when he said:
There are our social duties—and our national duties—to be performed, and it is in that way that we always look upon the matter.
That was in regard to a subsidy to the Western Isles shipping.
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) said, the sea is the highway of the Western Isles, and the subsidy is justified for this particular service for this particular group of our citizens."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1952; Vol. 500, c. 1067.]
I think, therefore, that the Government really accept this argument, that they should take some responsibility for a reasonably cheap service to the outlying parts of the country. I believe that if that help is given as part of a comprehensive policy, in time the situation may be reversed, with trade and population increasing, and we may in the long run be able to do away with that help.
I do not want to be dogmatic as to how it must be given. To the Western Isles a straight subsidy is given. I myself feel that it might be better related to the costs of certain commodities, as I think it was in the war, whereby the Government pay the extra, or some part of the extra, on certain commodities due to freight. The Government will also have to consider very carefully the position of replacements to the shipping companies. The North of Scotland Company is admittedly making a profit of 15 per cent., but that is on a nominal capital of £100,000. I am told that the working capital of that company is upwards of £1½ million, so that the profit, instead of being 15 per cent., is something in the nature of 1 per cent.
The Orkney Steam Navigation Company have two boats—good boats, but getting on in years—which would cost perhaps £300,000 to replace, but the company has not got a tenth of the reserves to enable it to do that. The other small operators are in much the same position; they would find it extremely difficult to replace their boats at costs today. I say to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) that I face up to the difficulty of help, and I should like to see this paid on the basis on which it was done during the war, with some contribution to the capital charges on transport by sea.
The Government have given an assurance that the problems of the Highlands are not neglected, and they have asked us not to go about saying that they are neglected. I sympathise with that. I have never been one for going about crying "Woe! Woe!" about our difficulties. On the contrary, I think that we should emphasise that, at least in my constituency, as in many parts of the Highlands, there is a great deal of enterprise; there are a great many people willing to put their backs and energies into it to make a go of things, and I believe that by emphasising that we shall attract new people and new ideas.
At the same time, the Government must be under no delusion. It is no good their looking only to towns like Inverness or Kirkwall. The fact of the matter is that the population in the outlying areas and the Outer Isles is steadily decreasing. The North Islands of Orkney are, by Highland standards, supposed to be a comparatively prosperous area, yet they had 5,600 people in 1931. and now have 4,285. There are only 56 per cent. of the schoolchildren in Orkney outside Kirkwall and Stromness that there were in 1922.
I think that this Highland area has great possibilities for the good of the country as a whole, but to make the very most of it requires a comprehensive policy which will encourage local enterprise, which will draw together all the people who are willing to work for that area, and right at the very heart of that policy we must have cheaper transport.
I am sure the House has listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). As a brother Highland Member, I confirm that his outline of the problem of the Highlands is entirely correct, but I am afraid I cannot see eye to eye with him in regard to subsidies. I believe that all subsidies are wrong and evil, except maybe for the railway line from Perth to Thurso, which may for defence purposes require a subsidy. I believe that the Transport Commission or their successors are able, themselves, if they face up to the situation, to cure most of the problems.
I particularly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's reference to the industry of the people he has the honour to represent. I think that is largely typical of the Highland people, but I am afraid that I cannot follow the point which he made about 15 per cent. on a capital of £100,000 when the actual capital was over £1 million. That extra capital of over £1 million must have come from profits; it must have been profits ploughed back. I rather suspect that the company to which he referred is in the nature of a private monopoly.
I am not briefed to defend this company. If I were, I should ask a very large fee. I pointed out that this company is admittedly in the position of a monopoly, but I do not think that is entirely its responsibility. It has had to put back a great deal of money in order to get up to date, and in future it is doubtful whether it can go on doing that.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not briefed to attack the company. I think that his constituents, and my own, too, perhaps, are partly at fault for getting into the bands of this private shipping monopoly; but, on the other hand, we have the Transport Commission monopoly running the railways. Every time that rail rates go up, the shipping rates also go up. They keep at a level of about 10 per cent. below the railway rates. I think that is a point worthy of attention and it may be worthy of the attention of enterprising people still living at Lerwick, Kirkwall or Wick to start a competitive service.
I cannot believe that private enterprise which built up the railways and all the other road transport organisations is dead. The right hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), who opened this debate with his usual restraint, is, I am perfectly certain, anxious, as are all the other Members taking part in this debate, to do something of lasting benefit for Scotland, and I hope that we will rid ourselves of any doctrinaire ideas which we may have on this subject, which were manifest by hon. Members opposite when the Joint Under-Secretary was making his speech.
May I remind the House that all the railways which were created and run by private enterprise up to 1947 were admittedly successful for a very long period of time? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They cannot live on their losses. I look back to my own early days when the railways were something which one could view with pride and admiration—not one railway but many railways in Scotland, which were operated efficiently and which had faster and cleaner trains and cheaper fares than they have today. Everyone in this House will remember the fleet of Clyde steamers operating all over the picturesque, lovely Clyde, carrying happy holiday-makers from all over the country to that very beautiful area, and this hideous monopoly decided to shut down some of them last year, but the common sense of the people and particularly of hon. Members on this side of the House stopped that act of vandalism.
The hon. Gentleman has said that the railway companies were paying their way and doing very well prewar, but he knows perfectly well that the railwaymen were paid ridiculously low wages and the railway companies, in the main, were paying no interest on their ordinary share capital and were being subsidised through Government money.
The railwaymen certainly had low wages but so had every other artisan, and money went a long way. Let me remind the hon. Member for Ayrshire, Central (Mr. Manuel) of that very fine teacher, the late Mr. James Crawford of Glasgow High School, whose father, a surfaceman in Ayrshire, never earned more than 28s. a week, but he brought up a family of 10 children who were well-fed, well-educated and well-clothed, and he did not whine about it. My own grandfather, who was a teacher, never got more than £1 a week, but he lived reasonably well. We are proud of all these people. It will not do to raise that kind of bogey because, even if it were true, conditions have greatly improved. The great trade unions have done their duty.
The point that I wanted to make, when I was interrupted, was that this great community service which grew up and which we inherited when the Act came into being founded a network of railways which were probably the best in the world. There was nothing which I have seen on the Continent or overseas to compare with them. In the four years that have elapsed—and I say this because hon. Members opposite have been talking about losses—this monopoly has resulted in a loss of £39,500,000 and most of that period has been a trade boom period. such as this world had never before known, of high wages, full employment and holidays with pay—a period which is not likely to come back in the lifetime of young men here.
I am studying the Report which is the main subject of today's debate. The figure in the Report is £39½ million during the period when the Transport Commission have been in charge. They achieved that after raising their rates on freights and fares to an average of 112 per cent. over pre-war.
I made particular note that the words of the Commission are these:
Similarly the increases made in freight charges on 31st December, 1951, and in certain passenger fares early in 1952 raised the average increase in charges on British Railways (shown in the diagram as 93 per cent.) to 112 per cent. over pre-war.
That is the figure of which I spoke. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the final paragraph on page 26. The submission which I should like to make is that the Commission are artificially pricing themselves out of the transport market. If evidence of that is required, it is given on page 23 of the Report which states:
The growing significance, in the total, of the non-ordinary or ' concession ' fare categories, is a matter of some importance. Diagram No. 6 shows how the proportion of these forms of service has been steadily rising since 1948 on British Railways, whereas the traffic paying at ordinary fares is falling off.
The result has been an actual decrease in the average fare per mile charged on British Railways …
The previous Reports were in a very different form. The form of this Report, obviously for propaganda purposes, is against de-nationalisation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes—and is entirely different from the others. In a transport debate a year or two ago I gave figures showing that day fares, week-end fares and period excursion fares were up by millions and that ordinary fares and monthly return fares were down by millions. It is not true to express it as a trend which has occurred in the last year; it has been going on all the time because the railways have priced themselves out of business.
The hon. Gentleman has made a very serious accusation in suggesting that the facts and figures in the Report have been so fashioned as to give an entirely misleading effect; in other words, that they are "cooked" figures and that they were so represented, or misrepresented, for propaganda purposes. Will the hon. Gentleman state categorically whether he is accusing the Transport Commission of misrepresenting the figures? If they were misrepresented for propaganda purposes, for whom was the propaganda?
I am not accusing British Railways of having committed any crime. I am simply saying that they have altered the nature of the Report and that the previous Reports were entirely different from this one. I have suggested—I stand by it; it is not an accusation—that the Report has been influenced by the Commission, which wants to retain its job, and that is a perfectly natural thing to do. I do not appreciate the synthetic indignation of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I am making a very important point, because it is fundamental to the wellbeing of our country that we should have an efficient and prosperous railway service. I am convinced that while it is in the hands of the people who are now running it, most appalling harm is being done to British industry and to the British people, particularly to people who cannot afford to travel unless the fare is reasonable. If any hon. Member doubts this, let him turn to page 26 where he will see that when ld. a mile is charged the numbers travelling rise and when the 2.44d. full fare is charged the numbers go down.
Why has the number of C licence holders increased by hundreds of thousands? The only reason is that that is a cheaper and more efficient service. I am in industry in the Highlands and I know something of the problem. We cannot afford to send our goods by rail. It will interest hon. Members from the mining areas to know that the rate for moving coal from Sutherland to Aberdeen is 33s. per ton. Before the war one could obtain best South Yorkshire hards at 16s. per ton delivered. None but a doctrinaire person can suggest that a Tate of 33s. a ton for coal from Sutherland to Aberdeen will ever sustain a trade; it stops trade stone dead. As an hon. Member said in a recent debate, produce does not move because of the penal rates.
I feel certain that the purpose at the back of the Government's intentions to get rid of the monopoly is to give industry and the people the best possible service. The policy of continuing with a sheltered trade in which freights are raised when prices rise is no answer to our problem. The law of diminishing returns is now operating. If there is one industry in Great Britain which depends on turnover it is the railways, but they are running two trains where they should run four trains, and they are running half-empty trains because people cannot afford to travel. The diminishing return except on cheap and attractive fares can be seen in the Commission's own records.
I have another example to give. I must declare an interest here in that I am concerned in a woollen business in Wick. I had a letter this morning from the manager which said that it costs £21 12s. 3d. a ton to send woollens by goods train from Wick to Southampton. A five-ton lorry with one man could do the job, and if the total cost were anything under £100 there would be a profit, and it would cost a great deal less than £100. It is no wonder that people are rushing in for C licences to carry their own goods, even though the vehicles return empty. That is the answer to the problem of high fares and high freights.
The railway ought to be in the hands of people of the type who built them up —people who overcame public prejudice and tremendous opposition in the early days and overcame the canal boats and coastal shipping—when a large number of railway companies competed with one another but survived and rendered great service in the Nineteenth Century. The blame does not rest entirely on the Commission. The successors to the men who built up the railway companies have run away from the internal combustion engine instead of fighting it ever since it appeared. The Government must persuade the Railway Executive to follow a policy of abundance and look for turnover returns by making it attractive to travel. Do hon. Members think that people sit for 12 hours in a coach from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London instead of travelling by a train which takes eight hours because they prefer to do that? The only reason they do it is that it is cheaper.
There is a great opportunity for the railways if virile managers will say, "We will accept the challenge. We will not be a sheltered industry waiting on what Parliament says. We will compete and will give a good service and run more trains and more full trains. It was done in the old days and it can be done again." The railways stand a tremendous chance of succeeding because the roads have become very largely overcrowded. I am shortly going by car to Caithness and Sutherland. In the bad old days of which hon. Members opposite talk, it used to cost £15 return to transport a car on the train from London to Inverness, to travel comfortably with my family, getting there the following morning. Now it costs £80 to £100 and I cannot afford to go by train, so I drive up. I would rather do anything than drive my car between London and Carlisle, because it has become a road railway.
I have lived over 40 years in London, and I have always travelled North by night train. Recently when I could not get a sleeper for my wife I was obliged to go by day train. It was a delight to sit in the "Royal Scot" as it drove through the beautiful country. There was a cup of coffee in the morning, lunch and afternoon tea and by the time we had read a little and played Canasta we were in Glasgow. The people will go for that sort of thing in a big way. People have now reached the stage when they no longer enjoy long-distance motoring. I know that I do not. I appeal to hon. Members opposite, who have doctrinaire views—
I am not getting old. The policy which I am enunciating will, I am convinced, give the public value for their money, which is always an irresistible attraction. I am certain that the principle applies to traffic on road and rail as it does to anything else. I know that hon. Members opposite love our country and are as much devoted to it as I am, but I would remind them that all the great public services that have succeeded in the past have been built up on the same basis, from the penny post onwards.
I have a great deal of sympathy for some of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He has admitted that some help is needed for the railway from Perth to Wick and he also would no doubt require a subsidy for the spur lines such as that to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Would he agree that, not transport users but the public at large should give the help?
The hon. Member has raised a very interesting point, and I think the answer is that it is the duty of a monopoly to give a universal service to as many people as possible. As far as I know, the Transport Commission have created nothing new in the way of railways. They have shut down railway lines, but I do not grumble at that because they were unprofitable. Nevertheless, I feel there is an obligation on the Transport Commission, as rested on the old railway companies, to maintain services and they must take the stones as well as the plums.
We know that the London to Manchester, London to Liverpool, London to Glasgow, London to Edinburgh, London to Hull and the traffic with all the big cities are the plums. They yield very big dividends, and the policy of this Commission seems to be to shut down everything that does not pay. Let us consider the restaurant cars. They should never be judged on their own. Does the porter who carries one's bag earn a profit or dividend for the railway? He is a necessity the same as shelter is at a station.
This policy is entirely wrong and it has got to end. I hope it will come to an end in the near future. I think that deals with the point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). It will not just do to say they are going to keep the plums and not some of the services which are not wholly remunerative. I will concede the point that I regard the main line from Perth to Wick as of great strategic importance, for it has proved that it is in two world wars.
I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the House, but I feel that if hon. Members on all sides were to give thought to a policy of abundance instead of a policy of scarcity, which is now carried out by the Commission, it would be to the general advantage of Scottish transport, and of the people they are privileged to serve.
It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson). He is always very vigorous and he holds tremendous opinions. Frankly, I do not know whether he was advocating a policy of abundance or a policy of abandonment, because the logic of his speech was to throw out entirely the whole of the Transport Act, 1931, and all other Acts, and have a free-for-all.
—of what the hon. Gentleman was advocating. He went on to talk about ordinary fares, weekend fares and other concession fares, and out of that he derived arguments about the increase of C licences. That seemed to me to prove that he did not know what he was talking about, because these concession fares are all for passengers and have nothing to do with freight services at all.
I was referring to C licences for freights. I dealt with the Commission's Report in regard to fares and I dealt with the C licences, following which I gave a concrete example of the case I was making. If the hon. Gentleman does not see through that, he will not see through anything.
It is difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman at any time and he obviously got the argument so mixed with road haulage that I was not able to follow it at all.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the loss sustained by the Transport Commission. The Commission's accounts are compiled differently from those of many other firms. Most firms have got to show their accounts and then the profits are distributed, but the Transport Commission have got to allow for sums paid for redemption of stock and money paid in interest, and it is that which represents the actual loss. On the subject of competition, I joined the old Caledonian Railway in 1919. I can tell the hon. Member that between the old Caledonian, the South Western and the N.B. competition had gone long before I joined the company.
I was interested in the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and I wanted to reply to them, but as he has left the House I will not do so now, except to this extent, that when the Minister of Transport recently made statements in the House about inefficiency of road haulage he was unable to give any evidence. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll seems to have come to his rescue, but the extent of the inefficiency in road haulage seems to boil down to the fact that at one time one vehicle of B.R.S. broke down at a place called Ardrisaigh.
I want to deal with what was said by the Joint Under-Secretary of State, and particularly his reference to the reorganisation of the railways. Under the new Transport Bill, which was published recently, a new and definite obligation has been placed upon the Secretary of State for Scotland, the equal of which has not been placed on any Secretary of State before. Clause 16 (5) lays down that, before the Minister of Transport exercises his powers under the Clause in anything affecting Scotland, he shall consult the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, it is clear that the Secretary of State must be consulted about whatever reorganisation takes place.
I should like the Secretary of State and his officials, especially all those who will
be advising them, to read the speeches of the Scottish Members of Parliament during the debates of 1921 when the railway group Act of that time was put through the House. The then right hon. Member for Peebles, Sir Donald Maclean said:
The attempt that is being made to separate the Scottish railways from the English railways is arbitrary and unnatural."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th May, 1921; Vol. 142, c. 381.]
Another hon. Member said that the Minister of Transport would be trying to force upon Scotland a system which they knew was unwise from a railway point of view and it would be most detrimental to the whole of industrial Scotland. Another hon. Member said in a supplementary reply that if the then proposals were carried through about giving Scotland a transport system of its own, it would be the ruin of Scottish trade. What is being proposed today?
Further to that point of order. The position is that my hon. Friend is not dealing with the contents of a Bill. The Joint Under-Secretary of State made an important statement on the functions of the authority which is to be set up. That important statement having been made, it would be unfortunate if other hon. Members were not entitled to speak on it.
In reply to that point of order, it is quite clear that it would be out of order for the House now to discuss the details of a forthcoming Bill, because that would be anticipating our discussion and would be involving matters of legislation which are out of order on a Supply Day. However, I have been listening with care to the hon. Member who was speaking and I did not think he had got out of order. If hon. Members will confine themselves to the general discussion, without seeking to discuss future legislation, we might have a useful debate.
Further to that point, Mr. Speaker, the area committee is not in a Bill but is something which can be done outside legislation and the Joint Under- Secretary made a special announcement with which I wish to deal. He suggested that the area authority is for the whole of Scotland. We cross-examined him at the time as to what would be its functions and powers. Clearly such a committee or authority can have no power over the wages and conditions of those working in the service. We all know that there are separate authorities for the farm workers, and the result is that the farm workers in Scotland generally get an increase six months later than the English, and on this occasion they have not got an increase at all.
Such an authority can have no power over rates and fares. That was specifically stated in the White Paper which the Government published about it. It can have no power over capital expenditure because at present the Minister of Transport, like every other Minister, will have given to him his quota regarding capital expenditure. So the committee can have no power over that, and the White Paper says that it will not have any authority for financial purposes. If it is to have no power in these important matters, what power will it possess? I cannot see that it will have any more power than the present regional officer for Scotland. It looks to me as if it will be a glorified advisory committee which will be paid a salary to keep quiet.
Had it been an authority for the integration of the various services of Scotland, I should have been prepared to support it. In his peroration the Minister referred to a comprehensive service, to looking at it as a whole, to the integration of the services. He must remember that by the time the committee is set up there will be little left of the road haulage or passenger service to be integrated. As I have said, had it been a committee for integration, I should have agreed to it, but the policy of the Government is one of disintegration.
Following on from what the hon. Gentleman said, there is this interesting paragraph in the White Paper:
The existence of these separate areas should encourage a healthy rivalry between them, and give greater scope for initiative than is possible under a single centralised administration.
I am concerned about that. Has the Secretary of State for Scotland or his advisers given any thought to what will
be the yardstick for that rivalry between different areas? Firstly, the British Transport Commission will have the road haulage service taken from it; secondly, it will lose the road passenger service. Therefore, both those sections of the industry will cease to be public services in the truest sense of the word.
It has become clear as this debate has proceeded that we must have services in the Highlands. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) showed how many of those services were uneconomic. If those services are taken away from the British Transport Commission there will not be enough left of that £4 million even to satisfy Scotland.
What is to be the approach of the various railway officers once there is rivalry between the separate areas? Is it not clear that, in order to keep the working costs as low as possible they will try to make the railway organisation pay its way? We all know, for instance, that the Clyde steamer services do not pay. We know about the agitation last year.
But if the railway officers and this committee in Scotland have to be compared with the other areas of the country, they will set out with the purpose of cutting out the dead wood, that is, the uneconomic services, because if we take away from the British Transport Commission the road passenger services and the road haulage services, they cannot be asked to take on the responsibility of providing uneconomic services. The value of having one integrated service is that the responsibility rests upon the shoulders—[Interruption.] It does not matter about the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, in any case. He has now made his speech, and that is all he is interested in.
I ought to apologise to the hon. Member for speaking, but it so happens that I have to leave in a very few minutes. I was conveying to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary the news that I was going away but would come back at 9 o'clock to hear what he has to say. I wanted to apologise to hon. Members for not being here. That was the sole reason for my speaking, but I appreciate that the rebuke was justified.
I accept the apology, and congratulate the hon. Member on his promotion to the Front Bench.
In having an integrated service, a definite responsibility can be placed upon the group to ensure that a good service is carried out. We shall all look upon the area authority with suspicion, since it will not have the job of integration that we think it ought to have.
We always have special pleadings from the Highlands in these transport matters, which is understandable. I was glad to hear the point of view of the Liberal Party—they think that a subsidy ought to be given. Those who were asked to report on Highland transport costs gave their recommendations on page 13 of the Report of the Cameron Committee. The Joint Under-Secretary has read some of the recommendations, but he did not read them all. Let me read another, which says:
They also recommend that particular attention should be paid to the co-ordination of road, rail and sea services.…
That co-ordination can only be effective with a properly integrated service under the British Transport Commission.
All of us want to see in Scotland a transport service that is safe, efficient and economic. I want a transport system which, as well as delivering the goods, gives good working conditions and a decent standard of life to its employees. This is not a job for politicians, but for the experts and for those who have been brought up in the business. It is our job as a House of Commons to pass legislation in such a way as to enable these people to carry on that good task.
Our railways have an excellent record of safety, and so have our passenger road services. This is due, I think, to the passage of the 1931 Act. Before it, there was cut-throat competition, with buses racing each other for the bus stops to obtain fares; there was danger to everyone on the roads. We all know that the Road Haulage Executive, under the British Transport Commission, have improved the standard of vehicles and keep within the law regarding working hours; and they have given a more efficient service to the public.
That is quite irrespective of what the Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary say. The speech, incidentally, of the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up the recent debate on the Transport Commission, was an affront to the House. For him to make the kind of speech that he did at the Box was a disgrace, and to tell smokeroom stories and, even worse, a story that he had already told at the Box on another occasion, was clearly out of place.
No one will deny that despite the great handicaps of the general economic situation, the Transport Commission have improved efficiency and have achieved economies. Many tributes have been paid to railwaymen for the way they carried out their duties during the war, but very few people understand how serious was the position because of the lack of modernisation and capital expenditure in the inter-war years.
I remember our operating problems in the early part of the war, with freight services from Lanarkshire not arriving at Carlisle within 24 hours simply because of the bad conditions and cumbersome methods of the shunting yards, and similar reasons. There was a waste of man hours and engine hours simply because in the inter-war years the necessary modernisation was not carried out.
There has been greater efficiency in Scotland since the Transport Commission came into operation. We have had the integration of the L. & N.E. and the L.M. & S. This has enabled better routeing of traffic and the common use of staff. There have been great staffing economies not only at headquarters but in the districts and stations.
That has not been an easy task. Anyone with any knowledge of the problem of effecting staff economies, staff negotiations, and the problem of moving men about and the consequent housing and other difficulties, will agree that it speaks a great deal indeed both for the Corn-mission and for the trade union officials in Scotland that we have been able to achieve what has been done. I believe that we have done more in Scotland towards the integration of railway services than in any other part of Britain.
One of the great things to which those for whom I speak looked forward—that is, the clerical and supervisory staff of British Railways—was some help in amenities and working conditions. The general public can see and criticise stations like Queen Street and many other places, but I should like to be able to take them behind the scenes and show them the conditions under which railway clerks, supervisors and others have to work, not only at headquarters but in district offices, goods stations and other depots.
I had to spend eight hours a day in a railway booking office situated under a viaduct. I lived in a continual dust storm from the time I went in in the morning until I came out, because of the passage of trains overhead. One simply could not eat a meal in the place. Every time anyone picked up a book, the dust had to be blown off it. These conditions still remain. The buildings are old. They were built when staff were very cheaply obtained. Staffing today is a grave problem, and I can understand why many young people are not prepared to come into the railways. There is at present a greater turnover in salaried railway staff than ever before.
The main burden is falling on a body of older men who, because of their loyalty and devotion, are performing wonders. These men are conscious that the Railway Executive are doing everything they can to make improvements. They know that their efforts are limited by sources outside their control. But these men are angry with the Government's proposals. They are bitter with the memories of the struggle of the interwar years.
Those are the men who helped the railway companies for their "Square deal" campaign. They suffered salary cuts, they lost promotion prospects because of the ruthless economies of the inter-war years, yet they have remained good and loyal railwaymen and they have worked well in an industry in which they have spent so much of their lives. They have been public servants in the truest sense of the word. They know that only by an integrated service can the best service be given.
Even now their wages and conditions are not comparable with those of other public servants. But the improvements in salaries and wages for which they have been working quite clearly are in jeopardy if the present proposals of the Government are carried through. They know, as I know, what happened in the inter-war years when the railway companies were fighting a competitive battle, and to get traffic under those conditions is absolutely impossible. The Secretary of State for Scotland has great authority in the Cabinet. I am convinced that he more than anyone will be able to bring some pressure to bear in this matter.
I do not want to make any political capital out of this at all. I am much more concerned with the welfare, the comfort and the future of these men and women with whom I worked side by side for 25 years. I do not want to see these men have the fears which we had at that time. I do not want to see them worried about short time and worried by all the things we had to go through. But I am convinced that that will happen if the proposals of the Government go through.
I appeal to the Secretary of State to give this matter all the consideration he can and to convince his colleagues that the railwaymen, in particular, are up in arms against these proposals. They will do all in their power to defeat them when they come forward, because they desire a good service.
The debate is following two courses, the course, quite naturally, of individuals raising matters of great importance to their constituencies or even to the regions they represent, and the wider general question such as has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). I wish to follow the line he has given the House, because we all recognise that he is a man with great knowledge of these matters.
The hon. Member has the great practical advantage of having worked on the railways for many years, and he speaks in this House with authority. The fear he expressed in his closing sentences is a fear which each of us in this House would wish to disperse and to dispel, namely, the fear that those engaged in the great railway industry should feel that in some way or other their position may be threatened by the future course of events. It is the interest of all of us to see that that should not be so.
We agree that the railways are the backbone of the haulage industry of this country. If the railways were in danger, still more if the railways stopped, we all know what immediately would happen to the country. What we on this side of the House feel is that in the name of integration to some extent the doctrine of asphyxiation is being preached—of putting the transport system of the country into an airtight chamber in which it will be unable to survive and develop. In that way we wish to discuss this Vote as well as the immediate problems which are of such great interest to individual hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire. West, by coincidence, also represented a constituency which I previously had the honour to represent and which was subsequently represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), who I notice is also taking a great interest in this debate. It is a constituency in which rail transport is very important indeed. It is an area which he and I know very well.
The area of Lanark is exactly one of those areas where new developing forms of transport alter the flow of one kind of traffic which we know very well—the livestock traffic of Scotland. It was true that the railways were not the most satisfactory method of carrying livestock and the door-to-door haulage by the internal combustion engine provided an entirely different service. We feel that if such a matter were left to an airtight monopoly it would tend to be stifled at birth. It was to the disadvantage of the existing traffic system—
I really do know that. I was only using it as an example of a developing traffic, because it comes closely home to both of us and we have both seen it at Lanark when it was carried by rail. Now it is almost always carried by road. I do not suggest that it is being taken over, but I suggest that the danger of integration is a real danger and there is a danger that monopoly may be too efficient. We fear that an integrated system trying to control all the air services of Scotland, all the road services of Scotland, all the railway services, all the canals and everything may be beyond the power of man to manage. I think that a certain degree of easing up instead of further concentration is very necessary.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West doubted whether the suggested area committee would be of use. I think he pushed his argument too far. I believe that if there had been an efficient area committee, still more an efficient board with powers, the muddle about the Clyde steamers would not have taken place. I believe that it would have done great good in bringing these matters in good time to the notice of the railway officer directing that area.
At present the danger of the growth of the C licences is that all up and down the country there is a wasteful use of transport which is the lifeblood of our country. For instance, there is a great surplus of bricks on the East side of England, to use an example from England. There is also a great surplus of empty transport which could carry those bricks from the East side of the country to the West; but, because it is C transport, those bricks which are piling up cannot be carried to places where they are wanted to build houses. I do not call that integration, but disintegration. If it were possible to loosen up on all this I am sure that we would have a more efficient system of transport.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) pointed out in his most interesting speech, transport is not a fixed quantity, which can only be divided amongst a certain amount of vehicles. Transport grows as the power of carrying it grows. It is not to the advantage of anyone that bricks should stand in heaps on one side of England while transport is running backwards and forwards across England half the time empty because of red tape—
I have every sympathy with the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), but we cannot continue this discussion if he makes half of everyone's speech. The hon. Member will excuse me for not giving way because I wish to be as brief as possible as many other hon. Members wish to speak; but the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West should not be allowed to go without comment from this side of the House. I am with that hon. Member on the point that we cannot entirely divorce Scottish railways from English railways.
He quoted one or two speeches made in 1921. If he had carried his researches further, he would have found speeches of my own on the subject and in the same vein. I do not think we should divorce Scottish railways entirely from the great systems in the south. That cannot be done in finance, and I am sure that it cannot be done in wages and conditions. We are seeing one of the difficulties in the matter of agricultural wages, where an agricultural wage struck south of the Border is different from that struck north of the Border where we look with apprehension on the repercussion of these two things on each other. The two will need to work with each other.
A great deal more devolution, however, could be given to Scotland. I believe that a great deal more local attention can be given to the needs of the local people. I am sure that unless we allow a certain amount of latitude in the various systems—air, road, and rail—we shall not get that efficient system of transport for the good of the people of Scotland that we desire. The purpose, after all, is to provide transport. The customer is the man it is all about.
We have some examples of private rates, even today, as against those of British Road Services. Take certain examples; smalls, for example, for a journey of 20 miles. The 1952 rate of the private haulier is 9d. and that of B.R.S. is ls. 10d. For cased goods the 1952 rate of private hauliers is ls. and that of the B.R.S. 2s. 1d. For bagged goods the respective rates are 9s. as against 17s. 6d. Those are for journeys of 20 miles. The rates for journeys of 27 miles show the same disproportion—smalls 6d. as against Is. 10d.; cased goods ls. as against 3s. 2d.; and bagged goods 9s. as against 19s. 4d.
I am sorry not to give way, but I am under the strongest compulsion to be as brief as I can. I am giving examples which may not be of universal application, but they are examples which any of us can repeat a dozen times from our experience.
I am not going into the many complaints of delays and of things being lost, bad packaging and—
One of my besetting sins is that of entering into conversations with my hon. Friends or even with my hon. adversaries across the Floor of the House. I am doing my best to break myself of that bad habit, and I beg the hon. Member not to lead me astray.
I have specially avoided quoting complaints because they lead to angry talk and the giving of actual occasions and examples of goods lost, and gone astray, and of cases of petty discourtesy of one kind or another, which we all have brought to our notice by consignors. I am giving actual quotations from actual haulage rates because they cannot be quarrelled with.
The danger before us today is that of trying to over-organise. That is a greater danger than the danger of allowing a little play. Kipling wrote a story called "The Ship that found Herself." It concerned a ship on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic, when each of the parts was working with difficulty against each of the other parts. As the ship was suffering from stress of weather each of them achieved a little give, which was theoretically quite wrong, but which made the ship a supple and live thing instead of a piece of dead steel pushing its way through the ocean. Thus the ship found herself and became a ship. That is what we want to see in the transport system of this country, and what we are all struggling towards in this debate.
We always listen with great interest to the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I hope he will forgive me, however, if I do not follow him too closely in the remarks he has addressed to us. From what he has said, it is clear that he has been trying to justify the transport policy of his Government, especially in relation to Scotland.
He seemed to be rather contradicting the remarks of the Joint Under-Secretary, who created the impression that Scotland was to have a new deal so far as transport authority was concerned, and that all matters relating to transport would be settled in Scotland by Scots. I think that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has exploded that myth which was created by the Under-Secretary. He has shown quite clearly, as, in fact, the Transport Bill does, that there will be no separation of finance, and I am certain that fare and charge fixing by the central authority will still proceed.
It is appropriate that we should have this debate on Scottish transport. We have problems which are essentially Scottish ones, related to our isolated Highland and Island communities. A problem which applies more to Scotland than to any other parts of the country is that of long stretches of uneconomic railway lines. I imagine that the whole of the lines to the Highlands are quite uneconomic, and I am always amazed when I hear Tory Highland Members arguing for lower freight charges at the same time as they are advocating other principles in relation to road transport that would cause even greater losses and higher freight charges on the uneconomic lines. I cannot understand their logic in that respect.
While it is the fact that Scotland has these problems, I do not agree that Scottish transport should be examined in isolation. My examination of it has been tied to the British Transport Commission's Report, which is the only true guide to what we should be trying to deal with tonight. After reading the Report, and hearing the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, I think it is clear that our transport system from Land's End to John o'Groats should be operated to meet the needs of the people.
Where the whole Tory case breaks down is, I feel, that transport does not run so far as they are concerned unless a profit is made from its running. They are continually in the difficulty of trying to justify a transport system run on that principle, and, of course, when they come up against the problems found in Scotland, where there are such large uneconomic transport areas, they have no case and no argument to offer.
Because they believe in a private enterprise profit-making transport system they have now written off the railways. They do not claim that the railways should now go back under private ownership. That is why hon. Members opposite oppose integration. They do oppose it and are arguing against dovetailing of all forms of transport. We on this side of the House argue for the dovetailing of all forms of transport in order to get the best and most economic whole. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite recognise that proper integration would cut out or lop off unnecessary useless forms of transport and empty running of vehicles, and accordingly destroy the private sector. They wish to keep alive the private sector and, if possible, destroy the publicly-owned sector of transport.
I believe that each form of transport should be used and built to conform to the general overall pattern of a transport system to serve the nation. The case which hon. Gentlemen opposite make against the physical integration of transport is, in my opinion, quite unrealistic. Far instance, they would allow far more lorries on the road than would be necessary, and it appears to me that so long as they can advocate that sort of thing, principles that can weaken or destroy a publicly-owned service, they feel they are doing the political job which they ought to do. Of course, they would not allow that kind of duplication in their own private enterprise concerns.
I know they say that we should allow the public to choose the form of transport they want to use in the belief that the unwanted, uneconomic portions of transport would be lopped off and collapse. But there is nothing new or original in that approach. We have always understood that the free play of unrivalled competition decided these questions by the creation of bankrupts. It is interesting to recall that the greatest number of bankruptcies we have had occurred when the party opposite were at their strongest in pre-war years. In the period from 1935 onwards, when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power—
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr is an authority on what happens when a bankruptcy occurs. But I do know that very often when a business went bankrupt it caused a great deal of suffering to those employed in them and to others in the households of the people owning or partly owning the business. In 1935 there were over 7,000 bankruptcies. In 1938 there were over 4,000, and from 1946 to 1950 there was an average of a little over 1,000 a year. While we are talking of transport, it is also interesting to note that from 1936 to 1938, 219 garage proprietors went bankrupt, and in the period between 1946 and 1950 there were only 70; so that it would appear there has been an improvement at any rate in that sector of transport.
The Transport Commission have done a good job. They had to deal with a railway system which was worn out. I do not think any hon. Member opposite would be prepared to say that at the end of the war, when we had the Transport Act of 1947, the railways which were taken over were equipped in any way at all to meet the transport needs of the country. As a railway man on the locomotive side, I know that we were working engines which were very often quite unsuitable for the jobs for which they were being used. The railways are still suffering to a great extent from the lack of capital development. There was fierce road competition, which ought to have been met and dealt with long ago, and would have been, had we had a Government interested in our railway system and in keeping it in trim to meet the needs of the nation.
To integrate road and rail the Commission, through the Road Haulage Executive, have taken over 3,760 undertakings. I am certain that no business man on the benches opposite would fail to agree that in taking over those 3,760 road haulage concerns the Commission had a very big task to perform. It is only now that they are entering into real integration, and I feel they ought to be complimented on the work they have done.
In paragraph 2 of his letter prefacing the Report, the Chairman, Lord Hurcomb, states:
The 1951 programme of acquisition of long distance haulage undertakings, in accordance with the terms of the Transport Act, 1947, was virtually completed, and the way was prepared for many important steps in the process of integrating the different forms of transport, from which large economies would eventually result.
The Government have shown clearly that they are not going to allow these economies to result. All this work is to be undone, despite the huge sums which have been spent for the goodwill of these Road Haulage concerns taken over. These vehicles are to be got rid of at any price, at throw away value, and the great sell-out is about to happen.
I understand—and I would like it contradicted if I am incorrect; there have been various estimates given—that it is anticipated by the Tory Party and by the Government that a huge sum will be lost in the sell-off of these vehicles. In fact, amounts of anything from £20 million to £30 million have been mentioned. I would like to hear what sum the Government think the nation will have to provide in the sell-off of these road haulage vehicles.
In my opinion, the Road Haulage Executive have done a good job in Scotland and now they also are to be scrapped. What is to happen in that area? This has particular reference to Scottish Members on the Government Front Bench. What is to happen in the areas which previously private operators did not serve? Many of them are remote rural Highland areas who are now having a more regular passenger and freight service than ever before, and where it is quite uneconomic to run a regular service. We must have an answer about what is to happen in those areas.
The Minister said last week that he is also scrapping the road passenger side and the Road Passenger Executive. If that is so we want to know much more about it than we have been told so far. If there are any Tory Members from the Highlands still present I should like to ask them whether they intend to allow this or, alternatively, whether they will allow their constituents to pay much more so that the service can be run economically by private enterprise? The service must be run in one of those ways. If the publicly-owned service is withdrawn will there be no service, or will it be operated by private enterprise obviously at an increased cost to the consumer? The Government advocate the scrapping of the Road Haulage Executive and the sale of all the splendid vehicles which they have been operating. They intend to allow private enterprise to carry the goods at an increased cost to the public.
Not many months ago we voted a sum of £360,000 annually to Messrs. MacBrayne's to subsidise steamer-road freight and passenger services in the Western Highlands of Scotland. Will the Government allow them to continue? Of course they will. Private enterprise will be allowed to operate all the lucrative road haulage and passenger bus services. In the remote and unremunerative areas private enterprise will operate and they will be heavily subsidised by the Government. Private enter-pries will have the best of both worlds.
I do not believe that the people will tolerate that system. We shall certainly take every step we can to explode the myth behind which the Government are trying to hide this dangerous policy. The Road Passenger Executive in Scotland have been doing a good job. Their Report for 1951 shows gross receipts of £14,105,347, with working expenses of £12,579,222, leaving an annual profit of £1,526,125. That is a good record for the year. There is nothing wrong with the Road Passenger Executive in Scotland; but it is to be scrapped. We had it from the Minister last week that the Executive is to be disbanded. It will not be allowed to continue although there has been a profit of over £1,500,000 from Scotland.
But we shall have subsidised private enterprise, in the way that MacBrayne's are subsidised now to the tune of £360,000 a year. The Government's spokesmen are doing a bad job for Scotland. Our railways ought to have the assistance of all forms of lucrative transport. On page 27 of the Report there is a chart which shows that while charges and fares have increased, they have not increased in the same ration as labour and material costs. The average overall increase in fares and charges is 93 per cent., but the increase in costs as compared with 1939 for labour and materials is 150 per cent. There is a gap of 57 per cent. Obviously, the Railway Executive have not taken the easy way of increasing fares and charges as costs rose.
It is the intention of the Tory Government to leave the railways in a completely uneconomic position. I warn them that railwaymen of all grades are rapidly reaching the frame of mind in which they will no longer tolerate being the Cinderellas of the British working classes. They are always at the tail-end in the fight for wage increases and better conditions. This has continued ever since I joined the railway in 1920. During the First World War they had to wait until 1918 before they could get national conditions. In the inter-war years when the railways were not paying the railwaymen continually lagged behind other industrial workers.
I warn the Government that what they propose to do now will have a serious effect on railway finances. If the argument is used that, because the railways are not paying their way, the staff must not have further wage increases to bring them into line with other workers, that attitude will not be tolerated for much longer. When my own Government were in power I argued that they ought to recognise the problem and subsidise the railways to enable them to meet their commitments. Their first charge ought to be to the men and women they employ.
Many railwaymen do not earn very much over £5 a week. To them life is a painful struggle, especially for their wives who have to try to operate the household budget and to feed and clothe their children. I see many examples of this in my constituency. This state of affairs is intolerable. It ought not to be allowed to continue.
Also, there ought to be a proper pension scheme for railwaymen and all transport workers. I am often asked to go to a locomotive depot near my home to make presentations to locomotive drivers and others who are retiring. On the last occasion the man concerned had had 50 years' service and he retired without a penny pension. That is deplorable. I know that some salaried staffs on the railways have pensions. I approve of that, but we are now at the stage where payment of superannuation should apply to all grades instead of merely to the few. The sooner the Government grasp that nettle and deal with it the sooner they will have the support of the railwaymen in this connection. During the war great tributes were paid to the work of the railwaymen. In peace-time let us try to do something for them.
The first job, as far as transport is concerned, is to secure decent wages and conditions, and a sound superannuation scheme, for all employed in the industry, but, instead of that, the Government seem to be set on wrecking publicly-owned transport. In doing so, they are only hastening their own end. Britain must have a healthy transport system, and the sooner a Labour Government is returned to continue the job which it had commenced, the better it will be for all concerned.
Time alone prevents me from dealing with some of the statements made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), but I shall expect the House to agree with me that the hon. Gentleman had either misread or was deliberately misrepresenting the intentions of the Government in regard to transport in Scotland.
I think Scotland welcomes this debate, because it gives Scottish hon. Members an opportunity to criticise and comment on Scottish administration, and also to get across that difficulty which is always presenting itself to us of obtaining information about the nationalised industries. Everyone knows that we cannot ask questions of Ministers about the nationalised industries, but this debate gives us that opportunity, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) on the moderate and persuasive way in which he opened the debate, although I came to the conclusion that it was probably due to a guilty conscience, in view of the confusion in which he and his right hon. Friends left transport in Scotland.
I do not think that the Joint Under-Secretary, in his reply, went far enough. certainly not far enough to satisfy me, and possibly a number of other hon. Members from Scotland, but no doubt when the Minister of Transport ends the debate, we shall receive further information and more clarifying facts regarding the future.
As the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said, the geographical condition of Scotland and the unbalanced distribution of our population make the transport problem one of special significance and one not easy to solve. I agree with some hon. Members who have spoken that our uneconomic lines ought to be a full charge on the taxpayer, and that might also apply to the air as well as the land. I would certainly make it apply to the strategic railway lines. I do not think there should be any question of competition between private enterprise and the State, but that these uneconomic and strategically necessary lines should be made a direct charge on the Exchequer, for it is the people as a whole who benefit from their operation.
There is really not very much left to say in regard to the railways or the roads, because practically all the speeches that have been made have been devoted to these two subjects. In regard to the railways, all I would say is that the charges for freight are too high and the compartments for passengers too dirty. I know that the freight charges are not the fault of the Railway Executive, but are largely due to the policy of the Socialist Government over the last six years—nationalisation, centralisation, the removal of local control, too many men for one job, and, of course, the high price of coal, which is the vicious spiral again.
I should also like to join with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) in paying tribute to the staff employed by the railways, who, despite the fact that they are badly paid, are always helpful, kind and courteous in practically all circumstances. I hope that the lower-paid men of this vast industry will soon get a good opportunity either of queueing up or jumping the queue in order to get improved wages.
I have, however, noticed one thing in particular, and no doubt the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, who knows the railways so well, will agree. It is that, among the staff, many of the older ones now seem to have lost the interest in their work which they had formerly. I think that is probably due to the fact that they miss the intimate and friendly contact with the management which they used to have before.
As to the passenger compartments, and especially the third-class ones, I cannot understand why there should be so much dirt, dust and squalor in these old-fashioned and out-of-date carriages. In regard to the modern, first-class sleepers, which I have calculated I have used 3,000 times in my Parliamentary life alone, I wonder why a change has come about. Formerly, they were good and comfortable, but suddenly British Railways came along and we got a new type of sleeping compartment. I suppose it was the new broom, and it had to do something, so it evolved a new type of compartment. Every Scottish hon. Member knows that, to start with, the doors would not shut because the carpet was too thick. It is very odd, but it is true. Then, the racks are inconvenient, and badly placed, and the beds are too high. Everyone knows that, because he has tried to sit on the bed while lacing his shoes, and has found he could not do it.
These are matters of day-to-day administration of the railways about which we have never been allowed to ask questions in the House, and it is only in a debate of this kind that we can bring forward these points. The only part of the service that does not change is the attendant, who is the same kindly helpful fellow who wakes us up, brings the morning cup of tea and ministers so well to our welfare.
It might, of course, be a good thing if the Railway Executive could see that railway trains ran on time. I know that there must be a spirit of adventure in not knowing whether one will be 10 minutes too early or two hours too late, but it would help in making one's engagements if one knew whether one's train would arrive moderately on time, and that there was some possible connection between railway time-tables and what actually happens when the trains come along.
In regard to the roads, I can speak only from local experience but not for the north. The bus service is good, the drivers are competent and careful and the vehicles clean and tidy. There is, however, much discontent, unrest and hardship among these men of big business, as I think they were called by an hon. Member earlier, who lost their lorries which they had acquired so thriftily and carefully over the last 30 years. They have seen them taken out of their hands, but the same staff and drivers are as efficient and as kind as ever they were.
That only leaves me the air services. The Scottish air service is the poorest in the United Kingdom. Why is that? B.E.A. started off with great hopes and vast subsidies, and yet, after five or six years, something has gone wrong. I am driven to the conclusion that the Government, when nationalising the air services in Scotland, did not take advantage of what already existed. Of course, no one will blame me for introducing the subject of Prestwick, which was at that time the centre of the whole designing, operational and technical life of civil aviation in Scotland. I think they refrained from building on that solid foundation because of their prejudice against and antipathy towards the use of private enterprise.
Why, for instance, could not the Minister of Supply have asked the Scottish company at Prestwick to have gone on with production of the Pioneer? It was particularly suitable for internal services in Scotland. It is a twin-engined aircraft with a cruising speed of 160 miles an hour. It is capable of carrying 16 passengers and can take off and land in only 50 yards, which made it particularly suitable for use on small and isolated airfields.
Yes, why not?
In considering air transport in Scotland, one is almost forced also to consider the continued existence of the Ministry itself. We have now an Advisory Council which will be responsible for routes and licences. Why, therefore, is it necessary to have the Ministry? They do not have one in America, and it seems to me that the Ministry is a waste of time and money. After all, flying is the modern form of transport. That being so, why should not the Air Ministry be merged with the Ministry of Transport and thus save all this trouble? We would also happily retain the services of our trusted and popular Minister.
One part of the picture painted in the previous debate on Prestwick remained unfilled. We were told all about the operational value of various machines, about the scheme for creating fresh routes, for developing the Highlands, and about the possibility of bringing helicopters to the Islands. The one part of the picture which remained unfilled was the effort or determination to create a design and manufacturing unit in Scotland. It was not because of the skill of the ships' captains or of their engineers or men that Scotland was able to capture the shipping trade of the world in the 19th century. It was because she built the best ships, and just as the Clyde sent out ships to conquer the Seven Seas in the 19th century so Prestwick can and should send out the aircraft to conquer the air above them. There is no reason why they should not do this. They have the skill, the experience. the technicians and the management, and the Ministry of Supply have promised to foster such an enterprise.
We have now at last a Government which has Scotland's interests at heart. Surely this is the opportunity to start this great manufacturing enterprise that would retain the skill of our engineers and craftsmen in Scotland instead of letting them seep down below the Border. The building of our ships on the Clyde proves my case, and there is no reason why we should not build the aircraft as well. England has owed much to Scotland in the past, and I ask the Government to give England the opportunity of owing still more to Scotland in the future.
I can hardly follow the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) because not many parts of his speech followed each other. When he went so far as to commend the men who run these services, he might at least have been consistent instead of proceeding to attack them for being dirty in the management of the railways and by saying at the same time that there were too many of them doing these same jobs. We all know that the policy of the hon. and gallant Member's party is that there should be too many men for a limited number of jobs, and, therefore, I could not see why he should condemn it.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) made some extraordinary charges, and I want to give him plenty of time in which to cool down before I deal further with them. He talked about railway and travel conditions in the 19th century and about the wonderful trains then run by a multiplicity of competing railway companies from John o' Groat's to Land's End. Incidentally, he showed just how lost he was, even chronologically, when he talked about a game of canasta he had played on one of those trains.
The hon. Member suggested that people in the Highlands were able in those days to travel in large numbers comfortably and cheaply. It is nonsense to say that. It was almost the event of a lifetime for the people in the crofts and fishing villages to travel beyond their own islands, apart, of course, from the merchant seamen who travelled all round the world and still do, and the fishermen who sailed round the coast following their calling. To talk about the ordinary crofters or their wives having a choice of first-class railways and beautifully clean carriages is a grotesquely incorrect picture.
In relation to the standard of living at that time, such travel was a rarity restricted to a small number of people and undertaken only once in many years. What is more, they had not the option then as they have today of travelling by air. On the other hand, the reason why the air services in the Highlands and Islands are relatively so successful is because the other services are so expensive and still take such a long time to deliver passengers or goods to their destination.
There is one question which I should like the Minister to answer. It concerns something to which I hope the Labour Party will adhere when they once more return to office. It is accepted in principle by hon. Members on all sides of the House that we must carry some uneconomic services which can never be expected to be run at a profit. That is accepted in private business as well. Some businesses continue to operate unprofitable sections and average costs with paying ones in the hope that in time they will become profitable, or for prestige or for other reasons. But there comes a stage in rising costs and especially in the development of transport when it is impossible for private companies to operate at all in some areas.
Is it accepted by both sides of the House that, where such circumstances arise, the State is prepared completely to undertake such services itself? It is 'important to know that, because the day may come when it will be impossible for even MacBrayne's to continue their services in the Highlands and Islands owing to rising costs except by charging further increased rates to people with about the lowest standard of living in Great Britain and who already pay very high prices for these services. It may be, on the other hand, that the subsidy would have to be increased until it reached 100 per cent.
We are at the stage now where MacBrayne's get over £1 million over each three years, and we are at the stage now where we have to consider whether we are going to run such services as social services and for industry and the community or not—to run them as services for the nation as a whole, regardless of making a profit. That is old Socialist doctrine, so nobody on this side of the House should be in the least bit stunned by the suggestion.
We are at the stage now where MacBrayne's would not exist if there were no subsidy and there were competitive private enterprise; though I see no signs of any resurgent private enterprise coming in to compete. There are various parts of the Highlands where circumstances make it necessary to consider a policy of providing the services wholly as social public services. It is of no use arguing party politics over it. Private enterprise itself cannot meet the need. What we have to clear our minds about is how far are the Government and the nation prepared to provide the services in those areas—to provide a complete integrated transport service for the community freed from the primary consideration of balancing budgets and making profit in itself. The principle is accepted; the argument is in degree.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State raised a point when he mentioned the Crofter Counties Scheme expenditure and the expenditure upon various other classes of roads. He spoke as though all this sort of spending were rather exceptional, and not going on in other parts of the country. When we debated recently the MacBrayne subsidy I rather took exception to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport coming in and describing himself as a sort of Santa Claus delivering up bags of treasure to the Highlands and Islands from the charity of the Treasury. That would take a lot of swallowing at any time. In this particular case, there was just no argument for it at all.
The Joint Under-Secretary of State tonight also mentioned the figure of £200,000 in relation to the Crofter Counties Scheme as though it were an immense sum, but if it costs £10,000 per mile of road that sum will provide 20 miles of road; or on the basis that it costs £8,000 a mile, it would provide 25 miles. Just imagine 25 miles of that standard of road in the whole of the Islands and Highlands of Scotland, in all the crofter counties. It is not such an awful lot of money; it is a small mileage, indeed, when worked out that way. It would take many years and many millions of pounds to develop the roads there on the basis of the crofter counties standard; and to tell us that £200,000 is going a long way is not keeping in mind the facts or the needs.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) suggested that the Joint Under-Secretary of State might try bicycling—and in summertime, which I thought pretty kind—around Shetland. I suggest that he might, indeed, try it, but, for a National Liberal Unionist Under-Secretary, it may be necessary to use a tandem. I think it would be very good for the Joint Under-Secretary of State and that it would be a good thing for those delegations of hon. Members of this House who go off expensively to the ends of the earth—on which other unwise ones as well as politicians have their eyes, according to Scriptures.
I think it would do a good many hon. Members a good deal of good to learn something first of their own country. It seems to me there is no subject on which hon. Members are weaker than geography, and especially that of their own country. Most hon. Members know what is happening in Korea and where it is: but I am hanged if they know what is happening in the Western Isles. These discussions have often seemed to me unreal with right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench—the Front Bench on both sides—not seeming to be very keenly aware of what is going on in Scotland—especially in the remoter parts. It is pretty hard not to feel sometimes that one is speaking to strangers here, so far as the difficulties of those areas are concerned.
Indeed, if one asks hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to consult a map, they find that the Orkneys and Shetlands are put in a little coloured box in the Firth of Forth, and that the Western Isles are packed in a box set off the Clyde. And one can almost imagine the civil servants putting lead sinkers and weights into these misplaced boxes to get rid of them once for all. The Islands, especially, their problems and people and roads are all a remote mystery to most Ministers present and past.
My right hon. Friend knows the mainland roads—I am sure he does. Indeed, he and I have—sometimes together—had good reason to know what those roads can be like. However, no Government we have had yet can afford to be complacent about their record in relation to those remote areas. I know every Secretary of State makes a trip in a fishery cruiser around the North and North-West coasts and Islands. He goes across, then, to Orkney and Shetland, across the Pentland Firth—during August, guaranteed to be about the best month of the year in which the Secretary of State can go round the Highlands and Islands—and then he is put ashore again near St. Andrew's House, whereupon he is even more at sea than he was when he was afloat, because his impressions are nearly always merely physical impressions, and those of the most miserable. Then he falls back upon his civil servants, who prepare the answers for the Highlands and Islands M.P.s least likely to give him any further trouble or need for action till his next voyage—or, his successor's.
It is axiomatic that transport is the basis upon which Highland development has to be founded. That has been accepted by every committee and Government ever to investigate the Highlands problem. Without adequate and reasonably cheap transport—or, at any rate, transport with rates comparable to those in other parts of the country—and without regular transport and modernised transport and integrated transport—though I do not like the word—but without reasonable and modernised integrated transport we shall get no place in developing the Highlands.
We can make all the plans we like, Governments can make all the plans they like, and make all the promises they care to, and Highlands Panels can give all the advice any advisory body could ever give—incidentally. I should like to see much more of the advice carried out—and we can have all the Highlands and Islands Commissions and all the Royal Commissions for Scottish problems that any Government can appoint; but, without better and cheaper transport we shall get no place in developing the Highlands—and we shall not even enable the Highlands to recover the relative prosperity they knew in respect of certain industries such as the fishing industry, because other adverse factors have come into play in the meantime.
It is a wonder to me how some of those industries have managed to survive—such as the Harris tweed industry in the Outer Hebrides. How that has managed to survive I do not know, with all the factors loaded against it; with 90 per cent. of the raw materials coming in from the mainland at excessive freight charges, and going out again processed through all the difficulties and barriers of heavy freights and the delays in transport, into competition with the products of Gallashiels and Yorkshire and elsewhere nearer the big markets.
It has managed to prosper, thanks to the tenacity and enterprise and skill of the local people. But that it has managed to prosper is no thanks to the transport system, and no thanks to the imposition of taxation—like the Purchase Tax at 66⅔ per cent. It is marvellous to me that that industry has managed to survive at all in face of all those adverse factors. But it is an outstanding exception. Others have perished.
The white fish and herring industries have suffered because they have not found it profitable to market their catch. That is true to a large extent of lobsters, too. Because of transport difficulties and delays and high costs the fishermen lose much of the real value of their consignments and their profits are very greatly reduced. Everywhere in the area we are faced with this transport problem; but, exorbitant though these freight charges are in Argyll or Ross-shire, they are much higher in places like Orkney and Shetland and the Outer Hebrides. Indeed, the cost of living generally in the Outer Hebrides is about 10 per cent. more than it is even in towns like Inverness, which reckons itself to be at the end of the tapering charges scheme of the mainland in a high freight costs area.
It is no use expecting Members for Highland constituencies to say they are satisfied with the measures of the last Government, this Government or the one before it. We are not. As the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, we should not be fit to be Highland Members, especially Island Members, if we said that we were for one minute satisfied with the present conditions. We are conscious of the effort and goodwill on the part of all Governments; but we are conscious also of their remoteness and their lack of understanding of our problems and our people and of the needs of these places.
We would not hear much about what is being done for the Highlands roads, ferries and bridges if they happened to be in Midlothian, Clackmannan or Central Ayrshire, or somewhere around Glasgow or Edinburgh. It would be taken for granted that a very great expenditure was necessary for the construction, maintenance and repair of these southern roads. As I have often said in this House for many years, it is just that accident of erosion and geology, and possibly some other cataclysmic disturbing factors, that cut away from the Hebrides the neighbouring Island of Britain, to its misfortune, which is why we are not asking for a trunk road, instead of a steamer service, to be constructed and maintained at a very high cost.
Why we should be labelled as poor relations, and rather undeserving ones, who always have to come back for more simply because nobody ever makes a job of the thing in the first, second or even third place, is beyond me. I wish hon. Members would think of the Highlands and Islands as part and parcel of Great Britain and of our people as equal citizens with equal rights as well as equal duties in peace and in war.
We spent millions and millions of pounds on a colonial ground-nut scheme, which is supported equally on both sides of the House while it was thought there was a prospect of it prospering. If the ship did appear to be sinking latterly a little, I would hope that hon. Members opposite would not adopt the traditional role of those creatures who leave sinking ships. I will not use the word associated with that, because one of my right hon. Friends got into trouble over it on one occasion. Everybody supported that colonial scheme. Even now Lord Beaver-brook supports it.
We must not say that colonial development is wrong. Not for a minute do I condemn these experiments. But I wish we could try some of them more adventurously and more generously in our own country, within our own borders, in our own Highlands and Islands of Scotland, whether by public agencies or by encouraging private enterprise. After all, it is a much longer way to go from Washington to Alaska to build immense strategic roads than it is to go from St. Andrew's House, or even from the Treasury down here, to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to build for strategic and economic reasons. Even in Norway they are spending a greater proportion on solving similar problems to Scotland's and which are no easier of solution. In many poorer countries than ours they are able to give greater attention and better services in transport—roads, piers and harbours—than we are doing in this country, and that is greatly to our shame.
I wish that we might spend on the Highlands and Islands some of those millions of pounds spent on the unlaid eggs of Gambia and on the adventures the present Government are about to enter in respect of the sale at a known loss of millions of pounds of our road vehicles. If we think in terms of the millions that have been poured away in experiments elsewhere, and that are about to be cast away deliberately, in a purely political experiment, it is to our shame that we are not spending a great deal more in developing the Highlands and Islands of Scotland which have contributed much more greatly to our prosperity in war and peace, than those interests which stand to gain from a policy which aims to destroy many of the best elements of the public transport service.
Speaking at this late stage of the debate, shortly before the winding-up speeches, I find myself at a disadvantage. If I do not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan), it is only because I think we have had a full ventilation by him and other speakers on both sides about the difficulties of the Highlands and Islands.
In the short time available I wish to confine myself to two points. One relates to railway freight and the delivery time of goods, and the other to road haul- age depots. A great deal has been said about costs and costing, the effect of any proposed changes in future on employees of the railways, and so on. I do not wish to deal with that because there is no time, but I would stress that in all these things we have a right and bounden duty to consider the consumer who, after all, is the one for whom the services are created, and for whom they function at all. I will speak briefly about the main consumer from the business point of view in the South-East of Scotland, and in this I think hon. Members on both sides will be in sympathy with me.
I refer first to the time it takes to deliver goods leaving the tweed mills of South-East Scotland to the ports of embarkation for export overseas. I have had brought to my attention pretty forcibly in the last two or three days the fact that it takes railways seven or eight days to haul goods from, say, Galashiels or other burghs in the border country to Liverpool. Whatever we have to say about the future or the past, the present is the thing of which I am speaking, and I say that seven or eight days to take goods from the borders of Scotland by train to Liverpool is an extraordinarily long time, and something ought to be done about it. I ask the Minister to consider jollying this business up a bit.
I happen to have been informed today that the depot in Selkirk is to be closed at the end of this month. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) has had similar notification in relation to that part of the Scottish borders recently, and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Major Anstruther-Gray) within the last two or three months. These depots have been closed.
There has been further consolidation of vehicles, not always to the advantage of the consumer. We have had representations from the N.F.U. and other people whose goods are waiting to be hauled that these things are being done to their disadvantage. There is also the consideration of the employees in industry. Those in my area apparently arrived in my part of the constituency this morning with a deputation because they had been informed that their depot is to be closed down, and they must go to Hawick. It is this sort of thing that causes concern.
I should like the Minister to answer two or three brief questions. In the first place, I would ask him if he is aware of these actions before they are taken by the British Transport Commission; if he approves of such actions when they are taken in view of what may be taking place in the near future; and, in any case, will he ask those who have to do with the British Transport Commission if they will, in the case of Selkirk, ask for reconsideration to be given in order that the consultative committee may be brought into the situation?
These things are going on in other areas of Scotland. I make a point of this, because every day a new development is taking place. I ask the Minister to take action and contact the British Transport Commission on these matters. I put these questions in the interests of the consumer and the road haulage employees themselves, and I believe that if these matters are investigated and thought about, it may turn out to be in the interests of the British Transport Commission as well
I think that the Opposition have shown a great deal of wisdom in choosing, on one of their traditional Supply Days on the Floor of the House, to debate the subject of Scottish transport. I think that the debate today is both well-chosen and well-timed. My only regret is that Government business has been such that both at the beginning and the end of the debate the normal time has been shortened to the extent of our losing one hour of debate, which has cut out quite a number of speeches which, I am sure, would have been helpful to the Minister and to the rest of us.
Curiously enough, this has been a rather topsy-turvy debate. The classical role of the Opposition on these Supply Days is to expose to the limelight of public opinion a critical examination of the administration under review, whereas the classical role of the Government is to defend the administration which is being criticised. Today these roles have been virtually turned round. While the Government give lip-service in their tribute to the administration of the transport industry, in the House—and more particularly in the country—they are de- nigrating the efforts of these people, with very serious repercussions to the transport industry and the transport consumers.
This was first of all foreshadowed in a debate last week. The Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) made an accusation that the British Transport Commission's Report was deliberately misleading, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, when winding up the debate, did not see fit to answer that particular allegation. It was not as if he had not plenty of time to do so, because for an exhibition of kicking the ball out of the park in order to waste time I had never seen its equal in this House.
We have had that charge repeated again today. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) made an equally serious accusation. He said that the Report was misleading, and that it was misleading and purposely misleading for propaganda purposes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If I am challenged, I say that he did say that, and the record will prove it. He said that it was misleading and misleading for propaganda purposes, and when challenged to admit or deny it, he did not deny and would not state for whose propaganda it was misleading. I think this so important that I am going to ask the Minister—I cannot demand—that he expresses his opinion categorically and without equivocation upon this very important subject.
Does he accept as accurate the statements made in the British Transport Commission's Report? If the allegation is going to be made from the Government that the facts are misleading, and misleading with the intent to misrepresent—an innuendo which is inevitable—it is a very serious reflection on a very great public servant, Lord Hurcomb. He is a man whom we have all found to be most helpful, considerate and co-operative whenever we have taken any problems to him. In the interests of administration of transport in this country, these allegations should be categorically denied by the Minister with a full sense of responsibility.
But it gets worse. Even the Joint Under-Secretary of State in his speech this afternoon saw fit to cast reflections on the administration which he purports to be here to defend. In dealing with civil aviation, he said that the services were neither adequate nor efficient, saying it in a manner to indicate that under private enterprise they would be both.
The record will be there. One can ask a rhetorical question, and that was certainly a rhetorical question. But the hon. Gentleman did not relate it to the existing problem of how the services compare with the former services and with alternative services. He talked about the morass and difficulties into which transport in Scotland had got but did not explain what the morass and the difficulties were. He proceeded to deal with the recommendations of the Cameron Committee and tried to establish to our satisfaction exactly how much was being done in implementation of its Report, which I thought was a most contradictory argument.
I was disappointed in the Under-Secretary. We recently heard him defend the administration of the North of Scotland Hydro-Eelctricity Board, and he admitted that when he was in Opposition he was a wholehearted opponent of that form of public administration—
No, the right hon. and learned Gentleman must not say things like that. What I said was that while the Bill was going through the House I criticised it on the grounds that I regarded it as over-bureaucratic but in the working out of the Measure I had discovered that it was not so bureaucratic as I had thought.
The record will be there. In any event, the hon. Gentleman pleaded guilty to a conversion and I was hoping that that conversion would have been translated into this realm as well, since he is now saddled with the responsibility in part for this administration. But instead of that the hon. Gentleman trundled out vague and general criticisms unsupported by any evidence.
I know it would be entirely out of order for me to make any detailed reference to the Measure dealing with transport which is before the House, but the hon. Gentleman developed some aspects of the proposals contained in the Bill with which I wish to deal. He said the Bill represented What was in the Government's mind in relation to transport. If that be so, the Bill should have been presented in dummy.
It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman should have treated the House so cavalierly. When dealing with the proposed functions of the new Scottish railway organisation, he purported to give the House a very important statement. When some of us attempted to elicit more details about these functions, the hon. Gentleman made a surprising remark, "You had better read it more carefully in HANSARD tomorrow." How can we carry on a debate if we have to wait till tomorrow to appreciate what is being said by the Government spokesman? I hope that when he deals with the matter the Minister will be rather more forthcoming and rather more explicit in his explanations of the proposed duties of the new authority.
I think every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate has at least purported to admit that transport, particularly in Scotland, is a public service, but I wonder very much whether hon. Members opposite really believe it. If there is going to be a public service, there must be certain conditions which must be fulfilled. We must be prepared to carry all kinds of traffic at all times and give equal terms to all users. We must also appreciate that the rates may not reflect the difficulties of any particular branch of transport or any particular service. The keynote of it all must be that service must come before profit, and this is a condition which can only be satisfied in a public body and not by a profit-making, private enterprise undertaking.
As my right hon. Friend said in opening this debate, we meet under the shadow of disruption and disintegration, and our examination today should be: How is transport in Scotland developing under the Act of 1947? Is it nearing its objective? How can it be improved; and ultimately can it be effectively replaced as a public service by an alternative form of private enterprise service? The Joint Under-Secretary of State made no attempt to deal with those broad issues, but if we can get any answers to them we shall find whether there is any justification for the existing administration or any justification for the proposed changes.
We start with this. Every commission and committee that has reported on this matter has stressed the need for unification and co-ordination of transport in Scotland. That was recently reinforced by the Commission's own Report, by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) and by the Cameron Report. Does the Minister of Transport accept what the Commission, the Scottish Council and the Cameron Committee say on these matters or does he reject it? If he rejects it, will he explain on what grounds and not wave it all aside in an airy-fairy manner. The onus rests squarely on the Government to justify the change, and we want the case to be supported by evidence and not just by doctrinaire principles.
There has been little evidence to support the proposed change. It is true that hon. Members gave individual examples drawn from unknown sources showing how the system may or may not be operating in certain circumstances, but it was all rather absurd. We do not know the source of these charges, and in any event the Minister will agree that these large issues are not decided on hand-picked examples. We all realise that the present administration can be made more perfect, as all administrations can, but we do not need to go to far-reaching and great decisions because someone like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) produces so-called evidence and quotes allegedly comparable rates without giving the source of this authority, though he admitted that they might not give a fair and true picture.
I am not going to deal with all the trivial examples, because I say it is on a broad basis that these facts have to be determined and a decision taken. The Minister of Transport, who is threatening to disrupt the whole of transport, must come here with more forceful and tangible evidence to justify this policy in the eyes of the people of Scotland. This has to be done in relation to each of, the branches. It has to be done in relation to railway and also road passenger transport, to road haulage, to docks, inland waterways and civil aviation. This same criterion must be applied in relation to each local area in Scotland and they have to try to reconcile it with their previous decisions.
During the debate last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. W. Reid) raised the question of the Inglis Report on Glasgow passenger transport. One would imagine from that debate that the Government were prepared to accept in general principle the broad recommendations of that Report; that they had asked the various bodies to look into it with a view to reporting to the Commission who, in turn, would report to the Minister. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain, if he is prepared to accept the broad general principles of that Report which will have far-reaching effects in the West of Scotland, how he hopes to achieve the desired result if he disintegrates these public services? Finally on this broad aspect, can we have real evidence of whether there has been any substantial failure in this major policy?
Now let me deal first with the railways. Manifestly, because of the economic difficulties attached to the railways and the fact that there are no prospects of the railways becoming a profit-making body in Scotland, Her Majesty's Government have decided in their wisdom to leave the railways in public hands. Had they been likely to yield a profit in the future, I am sure that they would have followed the way of road haulage. But while we on this side of the House recognise that there may be many improvements still to be made on the railways, and that we must always be ready to criticise and put forward constructive suggestions, can the right hon. Gentleman deny that there has been a tremendous improvement in the railway service since nationalisation, and that there will be even greater improvements once the difficulties of capital expenditure have been overcome? One thing which is preventing the right development of the railways system in this country, as evidenced by the Report of the Transport Commission, is the difficulty attached to capital investment.
Here again, the Report of the Transport Commission and their Statement of Accounts claim that they have improved the services in almost every sphere. The Report says that they have consistently improved the utilisation of apparatus and staff, and have attained the highest level of efficiency for freight operations yet reached in this country. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that or repudiate it? He roust remember that these facts are contained in the Report. He must give us a justification for his repudiation, if he is riot going to accept them. We have had some enlightenment—or alleged enlightenment—about what is to happen in Scotland. It is to be an area—
Yes, but for transport purposes it is an area. It is to be treated as a separate area. The White Paper says that this will encourage healthy rivalry between areas. Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how this healthy rivalry is to be developed between the area of Scotland and the area of South-West England? Will he explain that, since the two places are not in competition?
Let him bear in mind, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove bore in mind, that ever since 1921 it has been recognised by everyone who knows anything about railways that they have to be based on longitudinal lines and not on lateral lines as far as Scotland is concerned. I wish the Government would keep that in view when they talk about a self-contained Scottish area. It seems to me that they cannot reconcile many of their views and that these are voiced more with an eye to public slogans than to the public interest.
The Under-Secretary of State said that this new body, which at one time he thought would be able to solve the problem of delay in fixing charges in Scotland, would have duties and powers in rela- tion to charge-fixing and then when faced with the White Paper denied they would have any such powers. If the hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper he will find it is interesting. Of course, I do not know whether he has read the first or the fifth edition. The one presented to the public was the fifth and he may have read the first—
I wish they could all be made public because we should all find them interesting.
Then the hon. Gentleman said that this body was going to carry out a survey of a road and rail scheme in Scotland. Will he explain how they are to do that if the services are to be disintegrated?
That board deals only with the railways. Later, I began to speak about the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, covers both road and rail.
But how is the committee to consider it if there is to be disintegration of the services? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will think that out, and when he is reading HANSARD tomorrow he might get the answer to it.
Now, we come to the question of road passenger transport. I preface my remarks by congratulating my hon. Friend and next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald), on a most delightful and informative maiden speech. He indicated that he had a wide and personal knowledge of the subject; and as one of the purposes of these debates is to educate the Minister himself, the Minister will have found the speech of my hon. Friend most educative and enlightening. We shall look forward to many further contributions when my hon. Friend will further enlighten and educate not only the Minister, but his right hon. and hon. Friends.
My hon. Friend made the very interesting statement—again, I hope the Minister will either admit or deny it—that 61 per cent. of the road passenger transport services in Scotland are not paying propositions. If they are to be broken up, leaving private enterprise to skim off the cream and leaving as a public concern the non-paying services, what is going to happen to the services?
One of two main things will happen, and this is equally applicable to road haulage. Private enterprise will certainly not take over the uneconomic section. Either the public body will have to take them over, or the public will be deprived of the services. If the public body take them over, they will have to run them at a loss and we will get further criticism from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. If they are to be run as a public service, they will need, at any rate, to be run under public ownership, and yet the Government are taking away from public ownership the profitable branches which enable them on a broad national basis to equalise their affairs and to allow these services to be run, although uneconomic in themselves, as part of an integrated paying service.
What is the criticism about the road services? With regard to Scottish omnibuses, the Transport Committee's Report says:
There is an increase in the estimated passenger miles in 1951 over 1950, and an increase in the average journey in miles.
The Report on Industry and Employment in Scotland tells of the many increasing services in Scotland from nationalised transport.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the justification for a departure from that system, or wherein lies the alleged failure of the public service under the British Transport Commission? Does he favour in road transport a return to the old private pirate system, where the pirate buses came in and took their full share of the traffic during the peak hours and then went off the road and provided no service during the other hours of the day? Is that what they are after, because that is consistent with the principles they enunciated?
It is in regard to road haulage that the big sell-out will take place, where the public service will be sacrificed to private greed. In that sphere we have a smooth-working service, despite criticisms made by hon. Members opposite. In the Scottish division, where we have taken over 250 separate undertakings with 4,000 vehicles, we have a network operating all over Scotland. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to state whether, in his opinion, it is operating well or badly. If badly, let us have the concrete, definite and broad evidence of that.
The Road Haulage Executive have established regular services between all the main centres of Scotland, empty running has been reduced to a minimum and the introduction of the night trunk services has considerably improved running times. Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute these facts? There has been co-ordination with the railways, Scottish Omnibuses, Limited, and the dock authorities providing a more economic and better transport in Scotland. Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that? If he does not, why is he disrupting it all?
Perhaps the most important advance in this sphere is the reliable services now available in sparsely-populated areas. What is to happen there? Normal commercial considerations would prevent private enterprise from developing in those areas because by and large they are not economic and could never be run as a public service except in an integrated service. The building of new depots has taken place at Dumfries and Inverness and authority has been given for one at Campbelltown. Private enterprise would not build depots there, but the public service will.
No, road haulage depots. Spread over the country, where the industrial areas can compensate for the sparsely-populated parts, that is possible, but private enterprise cannot do it. What is to happen if these organisations are sold up and sold out? Is there to be any restrictive covenant in the conditions ensuring that the service will be maintained in those areas, or will the purchasers be able to buy up these transport units in the remote parts and bring them into the industrial areas and run them in competition with the services there, leaving the areas in which they previously were completely denuded? Is there to be any regard for the interests of the people in those areas?
I cannot afford time to give way to the hon. Member. Why should they be bought over at tender prices, and not on the same basis as the previous owners were compensated at replacement cost price? Will there be any safeguards to prevent a ganging-up of private interests to reduce the tender prices and let them get these vehicles at cheap rates? That is one of the cardinal principles of private enterprise.
I cannot give way, as there are only three minutes before the Minister is to reply. [Interruption.] If the hon. and gallant Member who has been out of the Chamber long enough will keep quiet, I may get on with my speech. What is the position in regard to the port schemes? My right hon. Friend posed this question and we should like to know the position in regard to the Clyde, Aberdeen and Dundee.
As regards civil aviation, we have been told that the whole position of the internal air services in Scotland is under review. But it is quite clear to anyone who can read that the proposal is to hand over to private enterprise, with a subsidy, the running of these air services. Private enterprise will not take them over unless they are satisfied that, with assistance, they will make a profit. It is no use saying that no names have been mentioned because we all know the firm concerned is Scottish Aviation, Limited. I think that the public of Britain should know this and I have given notice that I am going to ask this. Before this service is handed over to Scottish Aviation, Limited, may we be told how much they have already got by way of compensation Prom public funds? Secondly, what is the value of their outstanding claims? We ought to know these facts.
We have here the lamentable spectacle of a great organisation providing a great public service emerging from the difficulties of the transitional period, prepared and ready to provide an even better public service, being disintegrated and attacked by the Government responsible for its administration. It is one of the greatest breaches of trust of the public interest I have ever come across. The Government are throwing this great industry into chaos. They are undermining staff loyalties, undermining consumer relations and confidence.
They will go down to history as the Government of co-ordinators—the co- ordinators of disintegration and chaos—because, without any reliable evidence to justify it, they are prepared to sacrifice the public interest on the altar of doctrinaire principle and the interests of financial backers. All that can be said about the road hauliers in this connection is that they have to yield pride of place to the brewers in the order of priority in Tory Party policy.
Winding up the debate last week, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport said:
On this side of the House, whether in or out of office, we have never concealed our opinion that private enterprise can give a better service than any national organisation."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 398.]
But like hon. Gentlemen, he was a victim of a doctrinaire philosophy and did not support his statement by a tittle of evidence.
I wish to tender a piece of advice to, hon. and right hon. Members opposite. If that is the best they can do—to sacrifice this great national undertaking on the altar of private interests—then the sooner they anticipate the will of the people of Scotland and of Britain, as recently evidenced by the people of Dundee, East, and get out, the better for the country.
I hope that neither the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Wheatley) nor anyone else thought that the arrival of this glass of water just as he was referring to the influence of brewers in the Conservative Party was an attempt on my part to dissociate myself from an important national industry.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that this has been a topsy-turvy debate, and it is certainly true in that so many of the speeches have reflected the great anxiety of Scotsmen on all sides of the House at the inadequacy of services in Scotland after four years' attempt to integrate Scottish transport services. It has been a period full of difficulties, whether in the case of the steamers on the Clyde or elsewhere. But I think that it will be disputed by no one that neither in Scotland nor elsewhere in the United Kingdom has the honourable but to us unattainable ideal of integration been carried significantly far in the course of the last four years.
It is indeed a topsy-turvy debate in that last week, when we had a debate on transport, I was challenged, not always quite accurately, for not defending the British Transport Commission. Tonight I shall certainly put some of the problems which face the Commission, though I would not suggest for a moment that anyone can be altogether satisfied or, indeed, satisfied at all about some of the problems that still exist, particularly in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me whether I accepted the suggestion, which he said was made by one of my hon. Friends in the course of the debate last week, that B.T.C. figures in their Report were inaccurate. The figures in the B.T.C. Report are not mine any more than the figures that I may give in debate tonight or gave last week are the figures of the B.T.C. I certainly do not accept the view, nor was it seriously put forward, that any figure in the annual Report was inaccurate.
I take my stand on what I said before. The Report is a remarkable document; more biographical, I added, than historical. By the careful selection, very often of absolutely unassailable figures, a case may sometimes be built up quite honourably in favour of a certain policy which another selection might well have varied had that selection been made. Therefore I do not come here tonight to challenge the accuracy of any of the figures given by the British Transport Commission.
As this debate will automatically come to an end at half past nine, perhaps I had better say straight away that I shall not be able to answer many of the interrogatory questions or to give way many times. But I shall deal with as many questions as I can. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that my task was to defend Government policy in every aspect of transport, road, rail, canals and shipping. But the whole purpose of the 1947 Act was that there should be integration of transport, and the very fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that shows how little integration has proceeded—
I will try to make this the one occasion only in which I intervene, but before the right hon. Gentleman passes from that point, may I read to him what was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—
I wish to refer to what I consider to be the most outrageous misrepresentation of the many misrepresentations that the Report contains."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1952; Vol. 504, c. 372.]
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether or not he accepts that statement.
What my hon. Friend had in mind was not that any one figure was inaccurate, but that the presentation of one set of figures rather than another constituted in his mind a charge against the Commission. I accept the fact that every figure of that Report is accurate, but if a great many other figures were also included the conclusions drawn from the Report might be very different.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me a particular question about the conclusions of the Inglis Committee Report on transport in the city of Glasgow. I wish I could have dealt at length with the most interesting speech made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. W. Reid) in the debate last week, but time did not allow. I cannot comment on this report with any value until I have received the report of the British Transport Commission. Only very recently the city transport manager of Glasgow protested at certain aspects of this report and suggested that the first concern of the committee was forcing additional passengers to the railways. This shows the difficulties which exist in coming to a snap decision on complicated matters of this kind.
The right hon. and learned Member asked me and my party and Her Majesty's Government to stop talking about self-contained transport in Scotland. I thought I had heard that phrase before. From where did it come? It was the exact words used by his right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) earlier in the debate. He said, and I noted his words, "Leave us alone. We are a self-contained country. Let us try out our own experiment of integrated transport." Then along conies his right hon. and learned Friend, in this Opposition of planners, who says, "Stop talking about a self-contained unit. Scotland cannot be self-contained."
The observation of the right hon. Gentleman leads me straight on to the subject with which this debate opened. I wish to congratulate the right hon. Member for East Stirling on the speech with which he opened this debate. It certainly set the tone for the debate. I hope we are all agreed that it has been a useful debate, and I hope that for me it has been a profitable one. If one of the purposes of debate is to educate Her Majesty's Ministers, I can assure him that I shall do my best to profit from this one. I only wish that in the last six years debates had had a similar value to Members of the previous Administration. The words of the right hon. Member for East Stirling were indeed sensible words. As Wordsworth says, if I may quote poetry again in this House:
Choice words, and measured phrase, above the reach
Of ordinary men. A stately speech;
Such as grave livers do in Scotland use.
I have the fullest agreement with a good deal of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman. I say to him and to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) that it would be untrue to say that Scottish interests are forgotten in the Ministry of Transport or in Her Majesty's Government. He accused civil servants, in a somewhat cold blooded way, of preparing evasive answers to questions about the Western Isles. A surprising number of them come from the Highlands and the Western Isles themselves.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is much less ignorance both in the civil service and in this House about many parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland than there is about a great deal which happens in the other part of the United Kingdom. As for the Ministerial head, though I have not lived in Scotland for many years, I come from Scotland, as did my predecessor, my right hon.
Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay). If I wanted any reminder of the importance of the Highlands and Islands to the welfare of Great Britain, I certainly found it throughout the war in service in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
The first point with which I want to deal relates to the civil air problems of Scotland. We had a full debate on this question on 16th July, and there was a lot of cross-examination about it a few weeks earlier on 27th May. In last week's debate Scotsmen were not reticent. Perhaps if they had realised that there was to be a full day's debate on Scotland today they might have left a little more time to people from other parts of the United Kingdom. Speeches about the civil aviation problems of Scotland occupied 31 columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT out of the 134 devoted to the debate.
Though I am the Minister of Civil Aviation, I do not think at this stage I need add anything to what was said so ably by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He told us what the existing position was. He told us of the full freedom to any operator who can discharge certain obligations and of the assurance that there will be no change unless it is a change for the better. He spoke also of B.E.A.'s plans for the development this winter and next year of their ordinary Scottish services and he referred again to the possibility of using helicopters in the Western Islands.
He mentioned that today for the first time a helicopter has landed on the site of the Dome of Discovery. We must, of course, wait for real services until we have twin-engined helicopters, but I do not see why we could not use singleengined helicopters for ambulance work and gain some experience in that way. I assure the House that I shall be glad to push forward that investigation.
On the question of the general right to run air services outside the United Kingdom, the House will have heard with interest that on the Air Transport Advisory Council, the new membership of which I announced last week, Sir John Ure Primrose, a most distinguished Scotsman, will have an important post.
One or two questions were asked about the Prestwick aerodrome and certain obligations between Her Majesty's Government and Scottish Aviation. The answer to the first question about how much compensation has been paid to Scottish Aviation since the take over is that no compensation has been paid. About the second question, "What is the value of any outstanding claims of the company against the Government?" I can say that the claims we recognise against the Government broadly equal the claims for rents that we realise the company have against us.
The matter is now subject to arbitration. I am prepared to deal with it in greater detail on another occasion. If anyone would like to make that the subject of an Adjournment Motion, the whole matter could be fairly cleared up in that way. The company has claimed a large sum for compensation rent. That question is still being negotiated. I shall be glad to deal with it if a suitable opportunity arises.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirling who said in opening the debate, "Treat us as a self-contained country and leave us alone; do not sacrifice us to Tory dogmas," gave the impression that none of the happenings in British transport as a whole are happening in the kingdom of Scotland. Of course, it is wholly untrue. I gave the House last week the United Kingdom figures for the huge growth in C licences, but the same applies in Scotland, and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) drew attention to this fact.
What has happened in Scotland? In 1945, there were 23,000; in 1946, 28,000; in 1947, 36,000; in 1948, 44,000; in 1949, 51,000; in 1950, 56,000; in 1951, 60,000; and up to June, 1952, 62,000. Over the whole field of transport, the problems of Scotland in regard to road haulage services are not all that dissimilar to the problems of the United Kingdom as a whole.
I shall later, if time permits, come to one or two features in which they are very different, and in which I have some suggestions to make. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East asked what was going to happen to purchasers—if I may anticipate legislation to this extent—who, under the forthcoming Bill may buy transport units and then leave remote areas for more profitable districts. I would refer him to Clause 8 and Schedule 1 of that Bill, and assure him that this matter was very much in all our minds when we were drawing up the Bill.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Oswald) made a very interesting maiden speech, in which he referred to the Government's White Paper on policy. He said that the word policy was rather a misnomer, and I hope he will not regard it as offensive if I say that his reference to his speech as being non-controversial was rather a misnomer. It was a spirited speech which is very welcome in these pedestrian days. He asked me about the 1930 Act in regard to passenger and rail services in Scotland.
I accept the view that the 1930 Act has worked remarkably well despite the difficulties which had to be met, but I announced today, in answering a Question that was not reached, that the Government have decided to set up a Departmental inquiry into the working of the 1930 Act in the light of modern conditions. This does not argue any suspicion as to the need for the Act or doubts as to its success, but some things have happened recently, and I will enumerate three of them.
There has been a very important High Court decision in regard to contract carriers. There is a wide disparity between the cost to many people of travel by rail or bus. The British Transport Commission, notably in Scotland, has acquired a large number of passenger bus services. In the light of these three new considerations, it seems to me desirable that there should be an inquiry into the working of the Act. I am glad to say that Mr. Thesiger, Q.C., has accepted the office of Chairman, and included in the Committee will be Mr. Reid, formerly Lord Provost of Aberdeen. If hon. Members read HANSARD tomorrow they will find the names of the other members as well.
If I may now refer to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to ports and piers, and might refer, in passing, once again, to the forthcoming Bill, I would say that, in Clause 18 of the Transport Bill, there is a repeal of the Commission's power to make schemes for trade harbours. As hon. Members know, there has been a great deal of opposition locally to the Clyde scheme, and a certain amount to the Aberdeen scheme. Under the provisions of this Bill, that scheme-making power will come to an end.
We have had a number of very interesting speeches, including those from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum), the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), with some of whose remarks 1 hope to deal, and my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Roxburgh and Selkirk (Commander Donaldson) and Ayr (Sir T. Moore). To deal with one point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll, on the appointment of the Transport Users' Committee, I will see that he is supplied with a list of the interests to be consulted before I appoint the Committee. The present members were, I think, mostly appointed by the former Minister of Transport, but there is no party politics in this matter. We want to look again at the composition in Scotland, or indeed elsewhere, and widen the scope of this Committee, and there will be a considerable new opening for this Committee in the Bill that we are not able to discuss today.
I now come very briefly to the most important problem of all, the real problem that exists in Scotland and particularly in the Highlands and Islands for the people who live far away from London or other great industrial centres and on whom I fully recognise the burden of transport falls most heavily. I want to say to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) how very sorry I am that I did not hear his speech—I shall certainly read it tomorrow—and I know from the observations of my hon. and gallant Friend what a valuable contribution he will have made to this debate.
I can tell the House that I have been looking, as no doubt have other hon. Members, with the greatest interest at the experiment now on the verge of starting in Norway whereby the three Northern Provinces of Norway have been made into a development area. I would most seriously commend to the House in what I believe is a debate which may not end in a Division this development plan which was submitted in June last year to the E.C.A. There are certain aspects of this plan of which no one anxious to help Scottish development can afford to be ignorant, and I think it might well be worth while at an early date to look seriously at the suggestions put forward.
I wish it were possible in the time, but I will send it to any hon. Member who wants it as soon as it has been translated, unless the hon. Gentleman himself can translate it.
I wish it had been possible to deal in detail with the problem of the roads in Scotland, but I can say that with the crofter scheme and the Highlands Development Scheme and their full share of any road funds available, Scotland is most certainly not being forgotten. Unhappily, the scarcity of money and material for road development handicaps these highly desirable schemes all over the United Kingdom.
Finally, I come to the problem of charges and to what is generally called the tapering charge in Scotland. I have given a great deal of personal time and attention to this. The hon. Member for the Western Isles knows that I have had a talk with him and Members of all parties on this matter, and I hope at an early date to have a talk about it with Scottish Members in general. This is, of course, a matter for the British Transport Commission, but they watch with interest what is said and done in this House.
The whole problem of the passenger and freight charges in Scotland is one to which the whole House ought without distinction of party to address itself. I know there is not much case for a passenger tapering charge. I have gone very carefully into that. If, in fact, such a charge were made it would mean that there would have to be a steady reduction in fares between the 100 miles—at which the tapering now stops for freight—and it would have to apply all through the line to passenger charges as well.
I am assured after careful examination that if the British Transport Commission thought fit to introduce such a scheme they would only be recouped on the money they had lost on lower fares elsewhere if there were an increase of 33½ per cent. in the number of people who travel over 300 miles. Unfortunately, at the moment 90 per cent. of the people travel much less than that, and only 10 per cent. travel over 300 miles.
As for freight charges, there are, of course, definite concessions. It has been posed by the Cameron Committee whether the limitation on tapering which now stops at 100 miles should continue to 200 and up to 300 miles. and I am sure that the British Transport Commission in drawing up their merchandise charges schemes will weigh these considerations very carefully. It will be for people in Scotland to make their case to the Commission and after publication of the scheme to the Transport Tribunal.
We are hoping to introduce in forthcoming legislation provisions which will enable the British Transport Commission to offer more attractive rates and to lower their rates when they see an opportunity to do so. Though the undue preference Clause must remain and though there is, as hon. Members will know, the protective Clause as well—Clause 20, I think it is—we have given a field for manoeuvre in the Bill which will be of the greatest possible advantage to the British Transport Commission.
If my hon. Friend had been here she would have heard that dealt with by the Joint Under-Secretary for State.
As I said, in the field of road haulage I have hinted at certain changes that will be made in the passenger field in answer to some of the points raised in the maiden speech. I think there are only two other points remaining that I recollect having been raised by hon. Gentlemen. One was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Selkirk. It dealt with the closing down of a depot in his constituency. I have made arrangements with Lord Hurcomb under which no action will be taken in the interim period which will conflict with the already announced intentions of the Government, but within that field, of course, the British Transport Commission must be free to conduct its day to day business in the way that seems best to it. However, I will certainly see that the British Transport Commission is informed in that particular case.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunbartonshire, West, who made, I think, a most moving speech, if I may say so without being patronising, dealt with the fears and doubts among the men on the roads and on the rails. I can assure him that, allowing for our political views, and our definite intention to make a fundamental change in the Act of 1947, anything that I can do to reassure the men concerned who will be affected under the new settlement, to protect their pensions, their compensation, and their conditions of service, I shall do my utmost to secure.
Now this has, as I said, been an interesting debate. It leaves unanswered many problems in Scotland to which the attention and the intelligence of Parliament—of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides—should assuredly be directed, but, I think, it has had very profitable results. I do not know from some of the movement that is going on on the Front Opposition Bench whether somebody is going to move that my salary should be reduced. I very much hope not, but, even if that should be the case, I shall gladly give way, but I do thank hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House for the way they have approached the discussion today.
Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, is he not going to say a single word about the most important aspect of this debate—the justification for the disintegration of the services in Scotland?
As I said earlier on, we have already had last week a very full debate, in which Scotland played a large part, on road transport and on the railways, and on civil aviation, and on all other aspects of the Government's proposals, and I think that, as we have had a debate from the point of view of the United Kingdom, so today we have had a debate in which particular attention has been given to the problems of Scotland.