British Railways

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd February 1955.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West 12:00 am, 3rd February 1955

It is characteristic of the Labour Party that when the country is faced with a challenge for the future, their immediate reaction is to job backwards into the past. Today, we are considering the fact that a great national service, in its present form and in its present organisation, is unable to pay its way; and the contribution of the party opposite to the discussion has been a reference to the 1953 Act and a resuscitation of the shibboleths which they embraced in the good old days of our discussions on that Act in 1953. We even had a passage interpolated about the exact words used by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport at a party conference in Llandudno, seven or eight years ago.

Whatever was effected by the 1953 Act is irrelevant, both practically and in principle, to the problems which we are discussing today. It is irrelevant practically, because, before the 1953 Act—in 1951, for example—British Road Services were making an annual loss of £1 million. That changed to an annual surplus of just over £1 million in 1952. In 1953, the surplus rose to nearly £9 million. Last year, in 1954, the finances of the railways were assisted by assets of the Commission other than railway assets to the tune of £7 million and the same assistance from the non-railway assets is expected in 1955.

Thus, in every year since 1953, something has happened which did not happen before 1953, namely, the losses on the railways have been partially counterbalanced by the working surplus on the other assets of the Commission. Whatever may be the ultimate effects of the 1953 Act, therefore, the railway crisis of 1954–55 has nothing to do with the effects of that Act up to the present.

If hon. Members opposite seek to argue the theory, the combination of road assets and railway assets in a single financial entity, they are making one of two propositions: they are either saying that the losses on the railways ought to be made good by the profits from the road services—and that, I understand, a large number of them deny—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—well, if hon. Members opposite accept it as their policy that losses incurred by British Railways should be made up by the profits made by British Road Services—