I beg to move,
That this House deplores the statement of the Minister of Transport on his appointment of a new Chairman of the British Transport Commission.
Whatever the views of hon. Members in different parts of the House may be about the Minister's announcement last week on the appointment of Dr. Beeching to the chairmanship of the British Transport Commission there will be, I think, general agreement that the House should discuss this without delay, for it has implications which extend far beyond this particular appointment—implications directly affecting a large and vital section of our public life. Judging by the offhand manner in which the Minister made his statement, it seemed doubtful to us whether, at the time, he had any idea of how deep and grave these implications are. Indeed, it seemed that most of his colleagues on the Front Bench were taken by surprise, and that
some of them were as shocked as we were. It will be interesting today to hear the views of Government supporters, as many of them must be disturbed by what has happened.
Our views are stated unequivocally in our Motion. We deplore the Minister's statement. We do so because we believe that it embodies a shockingly bad principle and that, in particular, it is bound to arouse the maximum resentment among the men whose co-operation and good will is essential for any successful reorganisation of the railway system. Further, we believe that it will have serious reactions amongst the chairmen and board members of the other nationalised industries and that it inflicts grave damage to our tradition of public service.
Before discussing these wider issues. I should like to ask the Minister to tell us a little more than he has done about Dr. Beeching's qualifications for this post. I invite him to do so not in any desire to belittle Dr. Beeching—who, plainly, would not be a director of I.C.I. if he were not a man of great ability—but because, from the information that the Minister has so far given us, it is really difficult to understand his selection.
We are as anxious as anybody that the new Chairman of the British Transport Commission, who is, later, to be Chairman of the Railways Board, will succeed in the great task that will confront him, and we will do our very best to support him in his endeavours to make the railways efficient and prosperous. That being so, we genuinely hope that the Minister will be able to give us some greater reassurance today than he was able to do last Wednesday about Dr. Beeching's qualifications.
We have been told that Dr. Beeching knows nothing about transport matters other than what he gathered when, as a member of the Stedeford Committee, in the Minister's words, he
… saturated himself with railway matters." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 1404.]
That sounds exceedingly uncomfortable.
Seriously, to suggest, as the Minister has done, that that experience could have given Dr. Beeching any worth while knowledge of how to run a railway makes every railwayman laugh. It is, therefore, all the more unfortunate that the Government have persistently refused, and still refuse, to publish the recommendations of the Stedeford Committee, as this might have given us some guide to Dr. Beeching's approach to the problems that will face him.
The question is: if Dr. Beeching does not have that intimate knowledge of railway matters which is highly desirable, but is not, I agree, essential, does he possess the compensating qualities of being a great organiser and an outstanding leader of men? The latter is particularly important for this post, as the Chairman of the Railways Board will be in direct relationship with about 500,000 employees, most of whom are today suspicious and disgruntled as a result of a series of Government actions.
We understand that Dr. Beeching has had no experience of dealing with manpower on a large scale, or of conducting negotiations through the great body of oonsultative committees that exists in the railway world. I therefore ask the Minister: does Dr. Beeching possess the qualities necessary for this position? All we know of him so far is that he is a distinguished industrial physicist, that he has served for some time as a director of I.C.I.—one out of 22—which is a very different job from that of the chairmanship of the Transport Commission; and that he worked for some time in the Ministry of Supply's Directorate of Armament Design. That is all very good, but not nearly enough. I therefore sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to give us today more reassuring information about Dr. Beeching's qualities than he has done.
We should like to know—and the Minister did not answer my question when I put it to him the other day—whether the right hon. Gentleman made any serious attempt to find a man with the necessary qualities who was already in the railway service; a man working in a responsible position either on the national or, may be, on the regional level. Plainly, such a man would have had enormous advantages, not the least, perhaps, being the fact that his promotion from within the organisation would have stimulated morale among railwaymen instead of depressing it as the Minister has now done. Many of my hon. Friends are much better qualified than I to express the views of the ordi- nary railway worker about this appointment, and will no doubt try to do so later in the debate.
I should, however, like to quote what was said in the House on 30th January, when we were discussing the Government's White Paper on the reorganisation of the Transport Commission. It was then said:
… the ordinary man working on the railway will be glad that at last he will be run by people who care about the railways and who are much more closely in touch with him and his problems than is, unfortunately, now the case.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1961; Vol. 633, c. 728.]
That was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Does the Minister really think that this desirable end will be reached by substituting Dr. Beeching for Sir Brian Robertson?
I have made such inquiries as I can among the senior executives of the railway staff to find out their reactions. As far as I am able to judge, they are appalled by what the Minister has clone; appalled by a combination of the facts that the head of the new railway set-up will be ignorant of railway affairs, and that his chairmanship will merely be, in the words of the Minister, an interruption of his career with the I.C.I. They feel—and, I think, rightly—that this is not only the wrong way of appointing a man to this important and difficult post, but that it is an insult to the present management and senior staff.
This feeling has been exacerbated by the Minister's further statement that, at the start, it might be necessary to bring in a few—not one, be it noted, but a few—people at the top. If that means anything, it is that the right hon. Gentleman has overthrown his previously declared intention of encouraging promotion of able management from within, and that he has little confidence in the present senior executives of the railway system.
There are two other questions about this appointment that I want to ask the Minister before I come to its financial aspects. The first is: if he tells us that he looked among the existing railway staff for the right man and failed, did he then look among the large and able staffs of the other nationalised industries? It is difficult to believe that, with such a wide field to chose from, he could not have found the right man. As it is, one cannot escape the feeling that the right hon. Gentleman plumped for a private industry man mainly because of his political prejudice that private industry is in every way superior to public industry.
The other question is this: has the Minister given Dr. Beeching any private general direction, or is there any secret understanding between them, about the railway policy which Dr. Beeching is to pursue; that, for example, it should be along the lines of the undisclosed Stedeford Report, or that there should be a cut far heavier than any hitherto contemplated? According to the Conservative Press, the Government are considering a 20 per cent. cut in the railway services.
There is one piece of information about Dr. Beeching that would be very welcome to this side of the House. It is that he is the type of man who will not kow-tow to the Minister of Transport, but is prepared publicly to express his disagreement, in proper constitutional form, whenever the Government make one of their periodic damaging interferences with railway affairs.
Judging from the tone of the Minister's announcement the other day, it seems that he seriously believes that the appointment of a brilliant man to the chairmanship of the Railways Board may resolve the troubles from which the railways are suffering. That, of course, is nonsense. The troubles of the railways do not lie in the absence of good men at the top, but primarily in the fact that they have to meet intense road competition. Secondly, the troubles lie, in our view, in the fact that the railways are under the control of a Government which frequently hinder their progress. However brilliant Dr. Beeching may prove to be, he cannot remedy the trouble of road competition, but we very much hope that he will succeed in remedying the second.
The aspect of this appointment that has so shocked the public is that Dr. Beeching's remuneration will be based on an inflated, fancy, prestige salary scale paid to the directors of just a handful of companies in this country; a scale that is wildly out of alignment with the remuneration paid in most other industries, and, even more, with that paid to all who serve their country in high and responsible public positions.
The only acceptable principle on which a Government can properly conduct the nation's affairs is to fix a fair rate for each type of job within their service. Having fixed that fair rate, the Government must stick to it, and not start making a series of spectacular exceptions. If, at any time, the rates are considered too low in relation to comparable work outside, the Government must raise those rates—as, in fact, they have done recently.
But there must be uniformity of reward. Without it there is bound to be administrative chaos and deep dissatisfaction throughout the ranks of the public service. This is a principle of good government which is so obvious that it scarcely needs to be stated. But it is being flagrantly flouted by the terms of Dr. Beeching's appointment.
There is, however, one direction in which it may have a favourable effect, and I admit it straight away. It may direct attention to the fact that the senior professional staff working in the railways, and, indeed, in most of the nationalised industries, are at present receiving salaries well below those of their counterparts in private industry. This discourages recruitment of the best young talent and disgruntles the existing holders of these posts. Many of them continue in their present employment only from a sense of devotion to the industry in which they serve. The cause of this disparity is probably the Government's general reluctance to agree to any increase in the pay of national servants. Whatever the cause, the present situation is seriously harmful, and we hope that it will soon be remedied.
Dr. Beeching's Himalayan scale of remuneration is quite another matter.
It is bound to have repercussions among the chairmen and other members of the boards of the nationalised industries. Many of them will claim that their experience and ability are as high as those of Dr. Beeching and that, in addition, they have an immense and intimate knowledge of the industries which they run. They will claim that it is invidious for them to accept a salary only 40 per cent. of Dr. Beeching's.
Let me give one example. Sir Christopher Hinton, Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, has an academic and administrative distinction at least as eminent as that of Dr. Beeching. To pay one a salarly two-and-a-half times greater than the other offends every canon of good administration.
The Minister justifies Dr. Beeching's appointment by two arguments. I understand that the first is that the right hon. Gentleman knows no one who will do the job better and, therefore, the question of his remuneration is of secondary importance. To that, one can only answer that it is beyond belief that this nation is so poor in administrative talent that it is impossible to find a suitable man willing to serve his country in this post at a remuneration in line with that received by others in equally responsible positions.
The second argument is that, whether the salary is £10,000 or £24,000 a year, it does not really matter much because the difference is swallowed up by taxation.
That takes no account of the psychological consequences of paying such a very large salary. Even on the Minister's own calculation there is a difference of £1,800 a year left to the recipient, which is considerable. But the Minister's calculation and the figures he and his colleagues put before the House the other day are fallacious. What is left does not depend on a pure subtraction sum of that sort. It depends to a considerable extent on what commitments the recipient may have, such as mortgages, covenants, life assurance, top-hat pension schemes and other similar arrangements. All these other factors have to be taken into account.
If it were wholly true, as the Minister suggests, that the difference between the two salaries is negligible at the end of the day, then surely the recipient would agree that it would be in accordance with our tradition to accept a small sacrifice in remuneration in exchange for the high honour accorded to him of serving his country and the public esteem in which he will he held.
A fair analogy is that of a distinguished barrister who is elevated to the bench. He may have been earning £20,000 or £30,000 a year at the Bar, but when he accepts a judgeship he does not ask for or accept a salary equal to his previous earnings. He is prepared to give his services to the nation at the still substantial but much lower figure of £8,000 a year.
That is no analogy at all, because a top barrister who accepts a judgeship is allowed to retain the whole of his last year's earnings free of tax under the terms of our fiscal statutes. That does not apply to a director of I.C.I.
If there is any point in the hon. Gentleman's intervention, it may be that the tax system which he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer support is faulty in this respect and needs remedying. But the hon. Gentleman's argument is not a good one. He talks about one year's earnings. A barrister may have been earning £20,000 or £30,000 a year over very many years, but when he accepts a judgeship he would not dream of asking for more than the considerable but far lesser sum of £8,000 which is paid to judges. By so doing he is acting in accordance with our long-established principles of public service, principles which exist in every civilised country.
It is for similar reasons that a Member of Parliament, who may be earning much higher rewards in industry or commerce, is prepared to accept the burdens of ministerial responsibility at a smaller salary. He does so because he believes—a belief which sometimes later proves to be erroneous—that he can thereby use his talents to make a material contribution to the national welfare. It was in the same spirit of service that President Kennedy was able to recruit so many outstanding men to work with him in his Government, all at a personal sacrifice but a sacrifice which they were willing to make in the interests of their country.
Did the Government have any of these broad considerations in mind when they made Dr. Beeching's appointment and agreed to his terms, or did they do it blindly without any regard to the repercussions involved? I hope that the Minister will tell us what will happen next. Is there to be a general upward revision of salary scales in the nationalised industries?
I agreed with the comment in The Times on this, when it stated:
This is a desirable process, though salary levels need not be pushed quite so far as in some parts of private industry. But it is a long-term process that needs to start at the ground roots. The Government have blithely decided to start in the stratosphere
The conclusion to all this is inescapable. The Government—perhaps through lack of forethought; we do not know for what reason—have committed a grave blunder which has been exacerbated by the ill-conceived, inept and clumsy statement made by the Minister of Transport to the House. This was all the more disturbing because of the Minister's past behaviour and known attitude towards railway affairs. It is now clear that his irresponsibility knows no bounds. He has succeeded in achieving a double folly—that of dealing a severe blow at the morale of all those who work in the railways, and of undermining the principles and tradition which have hitherto operated over the whole sphere of public service. For this we think that he should be condemned, and we ask the House to support our Motion of censure.
The basis of the Motion of censure is my statement of last Wednesday, when there were exchanges in the House between the Opposition and myself. I have carefully studied those exchanges, and I intend to answer the points which were expanded by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) this afternoon. I do not dissent from his opening remark that it is desirable to debate this subject. I shall come to some of the more controversial points later.
I should like to start by referring to a phrase which the right hon. Gentleman used. He said that we were substituting Dr. Beeching for Sir Brian Robertson. That is not so, and I wish to make my point by a logical argument. On many previous occasions I have made it clear that the Government are deeply grateful to Sir Brian Robertson for his services during the last eight years. He undertook a task which turned out to be extremely difficult, so difficult that the Government were forced to the conclusion that the British Transport Commission would have to be reorganised.
The most important reorganisation proposal is to treat British Railways as a separate entity under a board of its own. On 30th January, the House supported the proposed reorganisation. That being so, it is clear that the sooner we can appoint the Chairman-designate of the new Railways Board, the better. I remind the House that the Board cannot come into being until we legislate in Parliament next season.
To prepare for that legislation, a number of important decisions must be taken at once. That being so, it is only common sense that the first Chairman of the Railways Board shall be brought in at once. Only by doing this can he take part in the work and in the making of those decisions. In due course, Parliamentary approval to the necessary legislation will have to be sought. Nevertheless, it is essential that I should have the assistance of the new Chairman to help me with the decisions that inevitably must precede the legislation.
Until there is a new Act of Parliament, the Transport Commission remains responsible and the Chairman-designate of the Railways Board as such has no real authority. The best way of giving him the authority is to appoint him Chairman of the Transport Commission itself after an introductory period as a part-time member. From that vantage point, he can control the affairs of the Commission as it is now and the Railways Board as it will be, during the reorganisation and reconstruction. In 1962, he will become the first Chairman of an organisation which he will have helped to fashion. I attach great importance to his not being merely an inheritor of a fabric which others have built.
Nor is that all. The next years—indeed, the next months—are crucial for the railways. There are two big jobs to do. It is not merely running the Transport Commission as it is now. The first job is reorganisaton of the whole structure of the Commission, especially British Railways. That needs managerial experience plus calmness and determination.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall asked me whether—I think he used the word—Dr. Beeching would be a Ministerial "stooge".
I would not wish to misquote the right hon. Gentleman. I assure him, however, that Dr. Beeching has a strong mind of his own, and that is what we want in this position. In the reorganisation, he will proceed not on the lines that I have dictated to him, but on the lines of the White Paper which this House has approved. His second job is modernisation, and the immensely difficult and continuing task of deciding the future size and shape of the railway system must be properly tackled if modernisation is to proceed on right lines.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there was any truth in the rumour in the newspapers that. Dr. Beeching had to reduce the railways by 20 per cent. That is untrue. He has not been asked to reduce the railways by 20 per cent., 10 per cent., or any other figure. He will look at the problem on its merits when he gets in the saddle.
Could these matters which I have mentioned have been dealt with merely by appointing Dr. Beeching a member of the Commission? We considered this carefully, but we decided that, given the importance to our whole economy of tackling the railway problem as quickly as possible, we should give the new man full authority as quickly as possible. This decision was made all the more difficult because of the high opinion held by Ministers, by the House and by the industry of the present Chairman.
We are already under a great obligation to Sir Brian Robertson. I am glad to tell the House that both Sir Brian and the Transport Commission have not only offered to co-operate fully in the reorganisation of the Commission, but have pledged their full support for Dr. Beeching. Indeed, when I saw the whole Commission the other day, I was most impressed with their willingness to help. The Government gladly acknowledge their generous attitude and we are grateful for it.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me what were Dr. Beeching's qualifications for the job. He said that he had read only a little in the newspapers about this and that I had not given his experience at great length when I made my statement to the House. The task is a huge one and it is an immense responsibility for any one man to undertake, but the Government are convinced that the qualities which Dr. Beeching is known to possess are those which the situation demands.
This appointment is crucial. Great thought has been given to it. Dr. Beeching's career, both in industry and elsewhere, has shown that he has a brilliant mind. He has considerable experience over a wide field of industry and great skill in negotiation. What is probably more important still, he has great qualities of patience, calmness in emergency, resolution and the ability to see the other man's point of view.
Not only did he have a brilliant academic career as a physicist, when he took first-class honours. He has had very varied experience in Government service and in industry. He has been at the Fuel Research Station at Greenwich and at the Ministry of Supply in the design department of armaments at Fort Halstead. He joined I.C.I. in 1948. Five years later, he went to Canada as a vice-president of I.C.I. (Canada), Limited, to start the Terylene organisation there and to build a plant at Milhaven, on the shore of Lake Ontario. After two years in Canada, he returned home to be the chairman of the Metals Division of I.C.I., which, at the time, was not doing so well. There, incidentally, he managed 18,000 people, which is a fairly high figure for a private industry.
I do not think that anybody in private industry has had to deal with the vast numbers of people that the railways have. Next to the railways in the number of employees is, I believe, the Post Office. At any rate, that was a large number of people for a private industry and Dr. Beeching made a great success of it. Then, he was made an executive director of I.C.I. All those—I repeat, all—who have been associated with him are unanimous in recognising his abilities.
We in this House must all realise that acceptance of the post of Chairman was not an easy decision for Dr. Beeching. He has put himself in a cruelly exposed job, but he has accepted it and he is entering on five years of unremitting work in the national interest. It would be wrong if we in this House were to make his difficult task even more difficult by our statements or our actions.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall stressed the need to appoint a railwayman and said that the men were disgruntled. I am bound to say that I was most impressed by the dignified and restrained statement which the union leaders made in their announcement. I am not at all sure that I would accept the right hon. Gentleman's description that the men are disgruntled. It may be that some right hon. and hon. Members opposite are disgruntled, but I am certain that the railwaymen as such are not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]
On the question whether the Government should have appointed a railwayman, we must first ask ourselves what will be the most urgent need for the railways when they are standing on their own feet. Clearly, it must be the best possible top management. In Dr. Beeching, we have secured a man who has proved himself in top management of one of our most important and most successful industrial concerns. It is for this reason that we believe that he will have a special contribution to make.
The White Paper stated, in paragraph 9, that
there has been a tendency for technical and operating factors to prevail over others. This has been particularly apparent in financial and commercial matters".
If, however, the railways are to be put on a sound footing it is essential that there shall be a successful blending of all those factors—technical, operating, financial and commercial. None should be sacrificed to the others.
In the debate on 30th January, I described some of the problems which had been encountered in determining the size and nature of new investment in railway modernisation. This, I think, answers one of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made about whether Dr. Beeching would take orders from the Minister. Such problems, I believe, ought to be overcome, in the main, from within the industry, though my Department and I will certainly do our utmost to help.
In spite of that, it would, however, I suggest, be a great mistake to think that only a railwayman could restore health to the railways. Cer- tainly, health and vigour cannot be restored without the help of all the railwaymen, and the White Paper makes it plain that under the new organisation there will be greater, not fewer, opportunities for railwaymen to advance to board level. On the other hand, the introduction of new blood from time to time will be of benefit to any large organisation, be it nationalised or not.
I was glad to see that the unions' initial response to the news of Dr. Beeching's appointment was much more temperate than that of some right hon. and hon. Members last Friday. I am confident that that is because the union leaders know well that the size of the problems facing British Railways means that the new Chairman must be the best available man whether he is a railwayman or not. Dr. Beeching's experience in industry——
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, he really ought not to go that far, if I may say so, on behalf of the unions. I am glad that he noted the dignified comment made by the unions, but they did not comment in the manner which he is now suggesting. What they said was that they would have preferred a railwayman to have accepted the post, but that they would wait to examine the calibre of Dr. Beeching. I would tell the Minister that we shall, of course, await results, because we have to live with Dr. Beeching for a number of years. But let there be no misunderstanding at all; there is no enthusiasm at all at any level in any union about the appointment of Dr. Beeching.
I think that it will be within the recollection of the House that I did not say that the response of the unions was with any enthusiasm. I said that it was a very temperate statement that they made, which contrasted with the very violent emotions shown by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Gentleman cannot twist my argument. I never said that the union leaders raised the Union Jack and gave three cheers. I said that it was a temperate approach which was a welcome change from and contrast with the approach made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about what was said by his own union. I
would not have quoted the general secretary—I did not wish to—but since the hon. Member has interrupted me perhaps I may do so. The general secretary said:
Personally, I would have preferred that a railwayman should be in charge of British Railways.
That is understandable.
But it would be wrong to judge in advance the calibre of the man chosen.
Mr. Evans, the general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, saw no reason why the appointment should not
promote the well-being of British Railways and enable my members to enjoy wages and conditions which will fairly compensate the arduous and responsible task they perform.
All I say is that that is a very responsible approach, and one to be approved by both sides of the House. I think that it is largely because the unions know the vastness and magnitude of the problem.
Dr. Beeching's experience in industry has been wide in both the technical and the managerial fields. This is important. His experience is not purely administrative; it is in the technical field as well. As a businessman, he knows full well the urgent need for restoring health to our railway system, and this was made clearer to him, obviously, by his experience as a member of the Special Advisory Group, which did six months of highly concentrated work.
Finally on this argument, there are many precedents for appointing chairmen to nationalised industries from outside the particular industry involved.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. As I hope to catch your eye later, are we not discussing a Motion which deplores a particular appointment, and have not both Front Bench speakers so far referred to similar appointments in other national- ised industries and not been ruled out of order by Mr. Speaker?
—yes. As this appointment is closely related to other similar appointments in other nationalised industries, and as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has even brought in the question of the salaries of Members of Parliament, is it not in order to point out that Mr. Robens——
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps I might point out to the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) that the Motion states:
That this House deplores the statement of the Minister of Transport …".
It does not deplore the appointment of the new Chairman of the new Railways Board.
Further to that point of order. Is it not a fact that the Motion deplores the statement of the Minister of Transport? Having regard to the fact that that statement included the announcement of the appointment of Dr. Beeching, surely it is in order to talk about the appointment. Surely the Motion covers that appointment, and surely, therefore, we may also talk about the chairmen of other nationalised industries.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it not abundantly clear to every hon. Member that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has not been raising any point of order whatsoever and that what he has done is to raise a point which he obviously thinks is a point of substance and one material to the debate, but which has no relevance whatsoever as a point of order?
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I am rather anxious, bearing in mind that you may not be in the Chair for the whole debate, that we shall not get into a constrictive frame of mind at this stage. I think that the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has raised a point of substance, if there is a likelihood that we shall be ruled out of order later. It seems to me that the Minister of Transport is stating that his nominee is a master of all the elementary virtues, and that he has traced Dr. Beeching's career from a very young age. It seems to me that we can hardly deploy our arguments unless we may take like with like and draw various comparisons to show whether we are getting value for our money, and that that should not be construed as a personal attack.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall rather forcibly raised the point: what about railwaymen in the railways? I pointed out that there are many precedents for appointing chairmen to a nationalised industry from outside the industry. Sir Brian Robertson did not come from within this industry. He came from the Army and a diplomatic career. I leave my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who can well take care of himself in these matters, to deploy the case about Mr. Alfred Robens, whose vigour and shrewdness I always liked when he was in the House, but I do not think that Mr. Robens was brought up in the mining industry—at least, not so far as I know. However, perhaps that can be looked at later.
—I must get on—I maintain that it would be wrong in principle to limit the holding of a chairmanship only to persons within the industry itself.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of the salary of £24,000 a year.
It has been questioned whether it is right to pay Dr. Beeching £24,000 a year gross, but let us first ask ourselves what it is that we are asking him to do. We are asking him to leave a job in which he must have high hopes of even further promotion. He is leaving it to come to a job which is even more difficult than his present one in many ways. First, it is an even bigger job because the railways employ over half-a-million men and it is probably the largest business in the country. Secondly, Dr. Beeching is assuming the responsibility of chairmanship. In his present job he does not have that responsibility. Thirdly, he will not only have to run the railways, but will have to help in a huge reorganisation as well. Finally, the industry into which he is coming is still subject to constant political controversy. He will be liable to criticism which is at times merciless and is not always reasonable.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall said that Dr. Beeching is being paid a Himalayan salary, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster replied that he was taking on an Olympian responsibility.
It is perfectly true. It would be a very bold man who would claim that Dr. Beeching should accept these heavier responsibilities for a term of five years—which I must emphasise is the normal term for these appointments—and yet, at the same time, accept a cut in salary. Imperial Chemical Industries has undertaken to safeguard Dr. Beeching's pension rights during the five years. I think that it has been extremely generous in allowing us to have one of its most brilliant men and in preserving his pension rights. On behalf of the Government, I should like again to thank Imperial Chemical Industries.
We really must get this problem in perspective. The railways are now losing money at the rate of over £300,000 a day. If, as I believe, Dr. Beeching's efforts can reduce this loss he will have deserved well of the country. If a man who is paid £24,000 gross can alter that situation I think that it is a very good piece of business for the country.
Discussion has already taken place on the possible repercussions in other nationalised industries of paying £24,000 a year to Dr. Beeching. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall raised that point last Wednesday and again today. The position of the railways is exceptional and the salary proposed for Dr. Beeching is exceptional. I forecast that a few exceptional appointments might have to be made, first in the White Paper itself and then in my speech on 30th January about the White Paper, when I said:
The railways must have the best leadership available. There must be opportunities in all parts of the railways for those with ability to get to the top. At the start it may be necessary to bring in a few new people. The task is challenging, and I believe that the time is crucial. The task is not only running one of the biggest industries in the country, if not the biggest; it is the task of transforming its structure, its outlook and its finances. The Government have had to have regard to these special needs in their search for the best available talent and in considering the terms on which it can be obtained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1961; Vol. 633, c. 618.]
I gave the House both in the White Paper and in that speech some idea of the Government's intention at that time. Whether any such other appointments will be required I cannot yet say. It is clear from the remarks which I have quoted that the possibility exists, but it is too early to say, despite what has appeared in various organs of the Press.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that the position of the railways is exceptional, does he mean that this will be the permanent salary for this position, or that it is simply to last for five years and then come down?
The Chairman is appointed for the five years at this salary. At the end of the five years we shall reassess the position. The railways are now in an exceptional position. They have exceptional losses, they have a large labour force, and they are in the process of being modified. Therefore, this is an exceptional salary for an exceptional appointment. Consequential changes for the general level of salaries in nationalised industries are not involved. As for the wages of the staff of British Railways, these will continue to be negotiated through the appropriate machinery.
I want to stress two general points. First, our one aim, regardless of all other considerations, is to get the right man, and we believe that we have got him in Dr. Beeching. Time will show whether we are right, but we believe that this is a most crucial appointment. Secondly, Dr. Beeching personally will be incurring far greater responsibilities and doing far more difficult, and sometimes unappreciated, work for no extra financial reward. The reason why he has accepted the post is the national interest and because the job is a challenge. He has accepted the challenge. The present Chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, and the Transport Commission have promised him wholehearted support, and the restrained and dignified statements from the unions encourage me to believe that they will judge him on his merits. I am sure that they will. We ask no more than that, and I most earnestly ask the House to give him similar support by rejecting this Motion of censure.
The Minister will appreciate that we on this side of the House are just as concerned as he is to make sure that the railway organisation is built up in such a way that we can be proud of our railway system, that the system will give the service to the country we want it to give, and that it will be highly efficient and profitable.
We are not very happy about the manner in which the Minister has dealt with railway matters, not only on the occasion of this appointment but over the period in which he has occupied his office. Personally, I have no objection at all to the introduction of new management into the railway system. My own view as a former railwayman is that in the past there has been far too much in-breeding of management in the railway system. The introduction of new men, new ideas and new methods will not do any harm at all, provided we choose the right men. I do not know, and I do not think anyone in the House, even after the Minister's explanation, knows whether Dr. Beeching is the right man to take this post. We can only say, as the railway union leaders have said, that we hope he will succeed in the tasks that have been given to him; we can only judge his work on the results that will come from it.
It is clear that Dr. Beeching has been launched on his new career in the most maladroit fashion by the Minister and that he has this introduction to his new career to live down. Unfortunately, we are told that this is only a temporary appointment. Whether in the course of five years Dr. Beeching can knock the railway system into better shape is a matter that is very much open to question. I question whether anyone can come into this great railway system and carry through the reorganisation of management, administration and services that is needed in the space of five years, or even lay down the foundation for the reorganisation in five years in such a way that new ideas and methods will work out satisfactorily.
I do not want to say anything about the salary of £24,000. I am confident that some of my hon. Friends will have a great deal to say about that later. I want to take up the argument which the Minister advanced when announcing this appointment last week. He said that we must accept for all grades—and I understood him to mean not only in the public services but in private industry as well—the principle of the rate for the job. We on this side of the House would not quarrel with that. We need to have some better discussion about what is the rate for the job when it comes to managerial appointments. I do not want to try to lay down any figures. These are matters for comparison.
The Minister went on to say that railwaymen are now, following the application of the Guillebaud Report, given the rate for the job. We should point out that this is a very new principle in the railway service. It was not long ago that the Minister of Aviation, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, produced his only contribution to economic thought, which was that the way to keep the national economy sound was to run the railways with cheap labour. In the light of that earlier approach to railway wages by the Government, we can only say that they are so pragmatical as to be completely unprincipled. I have no doubt that if the circumstances required it from their point of view they would depart in the railways from the principle of the rate for the job.
We have to assume from what the Minister has said that the most important contribution Dr. Beeching is expected to make is to improve the administration of the management and organisation of the railway service. No one would quarrel with the view that the railways need drastic reorganisation of administration and management, but we want to know how Dr. Beeching is to set about it. As I have mentioned, he has very little time in which to carry out the reorganisation he is expected to produce. He must, therefore, have some plan. I do not think that he could enter upon his new occupation as the person supremely in charge of British Railways under the Minister without having some idea of what the reorganisation is to be, because if he is coming in without any ideas he will obviously spend much of his five years trying to find out how the railway system works.
I suspect from the rather confident way in which the Minister has been trying to explain that Dr. Beeching will do a good job of work that the plan has already been cooked up and that it comes out of the secret Stedeford Report. If that is so, not only will Dr. Beeching have a very rough time but so will the Minister, because when Dr. Beeching was replying to questions at a Press conference after his appointment he said that he conceived it to be his duty to treat the Minister as the shareholder of British Railways and that it was his job to report to the Minister. Dr. Beeching ought to be disabused about that. The shareholders are here. We are the shareholders. We are the representatives of the national shareholders, and it is to Parliament that Dr. Beeching, in whatever plans he may have for reorganisation of the railways, must report through the Minister. Parliament must know and ought to know what plans Dr. Beeching is to work on.
It is essential, therefore, either for Dr. Beeching to give some indication through the Minister of the plan of reorganisation which he has in mind, or for the right hon. Gentleman to publish the report of the Stedeford Committee. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will publish the Report; otherwise, with all the good will in the world, Dr. Beeching will take up his office with the suspicion, which the Minister himself has created, that there is a secret document which gives a plan for reorganisation but which somebody is afraid to publish. Unless the Report is published, the Minister will be launching into his new career of looking after British Railways a man who may be the best person for the job, but who will begin in the most unfortunate circumstances. We are entitled to know the plan for the reorganisation on which Dr. Beeching is to work. The sooner it is published the better.
As one of the national shareholders to whom the Minister and Dr. Beeching must ultimately report, I want to indicate the kind of problem of reorganisation which Dr. Beeching and the new Railways Board, if and when it is appointed, will have to deal with. I refer to the Great Central railway line, because it illustrates the managerial difficulties which will face the new administration. It suggests to me that long before now there should have been a close examination of the units of management into which the whole system should be broken up. I do not know whether the Stedeford Committee went into this as carefully as was necessary.
The present units of management are far too large. One of the criticisms of the present set-up is that the railwaymen are out of touch with the management responsible for them. That is not the result of a desire by the management to get out of touch, or by the men to get out of touch with the management. It is the result of the regional organisation for which the Minister and his predecessors are responsible. The system must be broken up into smaller units in order to make efficient management possible. But, owing to the curious way in which the system has been built up, it will be very difficult to decide into what geographical groups the system is to be divided.
I take the Great Central line as an example. It comes into the London Midland Region at the moment. It is managed overall by the Northern Region, and several of its most important parts come under the Eastern Region for the purpose of management. It is a complete administrative misfit. That is why I pick it out briefly to mention the kind of problem Dr. Beeching is up against.
None of the regions into which it is thrown wants anything to do with it. They are trying to get rid of it. I know that the charges I am going to make are rather serious. I do not want to go into detail, because I want in making them to ask that there shall be an inquiry before anything further is done about the breaking up of this Great Central system. This is a problem which I hope—unless the Minister agrees to an official inquiry—can be held for the New Railways Board to deal with.
The people responsible for running this line have, in my view, been deliberately contriving to drive passengers and freight away from it by organising the time-tables so that trains and connections do not fit into each other, by curtailing and dropping services without informing the public, and by doing everything they can to eliminate this administrative problem that has been forced upon them by the bad organisation of the railways under the regional system.
I do not want to go further and to give more details, but I mention this very difficult problem merely to show that one cannot bring a new person into the top post of British Railways and expect that all these difficult problems—I have only quoted one, that of the Great Central line, which, I repeat, is an administrative misfit—will be solved within a few months. There must be a detailed examination of such problems at the lower levels of management, and greater experimentation in new types of railway services, such as short diesel trains on such lines as the old Great Central.
I believe, for instance, that the National Union of Railwaymen has agreed that if the railway authorities consent to run short diesel trains on some stretches of this track which shortly will have no railway services at all, it will agree to the guard taking tickets, and so on, which means that it will not be necessary to have anyone in the booking offices on the very small local stations. The union has shown every desire to make this railway service on the Great Central line run successfully, but because it is difficult to fit it in with the present organisation it is being slowly killed. This is the kind of thing which ought to have expert examination before anything further is done to curtail the rail services which this country so badly needs on lines of this description.
That is the kind of problem with which Dr. Beeching will have to contend when he takes up his appointment, and I hope that the Minister will help to prepare for his appointment by carrying out the investigation we need and by accepting my suggestion that before anything further is done on the Great Central line there shall be an official inquiry into the complaints being made by the public about the services which are not provided but which should be provided for them.
Those of us who consider transport matters as a whole and are not concerned only about making our railway system successful but with making sure that we have better road services as well are concerned still with the integration of our transport system. Much more must be done to make sure that road and rail work together. I hope that as a result of the Minister and Dr. Beeching working together the railway services will not lose out through any arbitrary decisions which they may make in competition with other forms of transport. I hope it is the intention of the Minister to ensure that Dr. Beeching and the heads of British Road Services and of other forms of transport work together. I know that the White Paper makes provision for that, and I do not want to go any further into discussions of the White Paper, but I do not think that the system laid down in the White Paper will work to provide the necessary co-ordination because the Minister is too deeply involved.
I am not saying that as a personal criticism of a Minister, although I could criticise the present Minister very much, but purely because it is wrong to have as Chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee the Minister who ought to be in the background as a final court of appeal when such bodies as this Committee get into trouble and wants to appeal to somebody for a judgment. However, I will not pursue that. All I am trying to say is that I hope the railway system under the new administration will not be so hived off from other forms of transport that integration becomes impossible.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) will forgive me for not going too deeply into the vagaries of the Great Central line. He knows that I feel as strongly about it as he does, because my constituency also is vitally affected. I would remind him about one point en passant, and that is that this administrative misfit has been going on since 1921 and has not done too badly. It is impossible adequately to put the Great Central line into any other system. It has to be taken as an administrative misfit by somebody.
I do not want to pursue this. As the hon. Gentleman said, this is something which affects our constituencies rather more than the wider picture. The Great Central line should be managed on its own without any relation to the other systems, except for the usual working arrangements for trains, and so on.
I will not follow that, except that it went broke trying to keep the line to London going.
I should like to refer briefly to some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). He said that this new idea of the Minister of Transport embodied a shocking principle. As far as I could make out the shocking principle was that the man who was receiving a salary in one job should get the same salary in the next. It may be shocking if he does not get an increase, but at least there is hardly anything which could be deplored about that.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask whether no one could be found from the railway service. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Were hon. Gentlemen opposite notorious for looking for people within an industry when they nationalised it? How many chairmen of the various boards came from within the industries which were nationalised. The attack made by hon. Gentlemen opposite is not reasonable.
I Should like to refer to one point made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough about the Minister becoming Chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee. I welcome that. I cannot deal with the many faults of nationalisation, but one of the major faults has been that Parliamentary control has been destroyed in many of the nationalised industries. Nobody is able to tackle a Minister on the misdoings of any nationalised industry. In fact, it is an astonishing paradox that Parliamentary control, particularly over the railways, was much more effective before nationalisation than it is now.
In the old days we had eleven or twelve railway directors as Members of this House, and one could always get at somebody to get one's grievances redressed whenever one wanted to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] Many hon. Members were not in the House in those days and do not realise that these things were done. The moment they were removed and the new Transport Commission was set up no Member of Parliament had any influence. In other words, Parliamentary control was considerably less after nationalisation than it was before.
I come now to the keynote of the debate, the appointment of Dr. Beeching. It is not particularly the appointment of Dr. Beeching but the appointment of somebody at a salary of £24,000 a year. Although there have been some moderate remarks about it from hon. Members opposite, I fear that the majority have shown envy, hatred, malice and uncharitableness. I have no objection to a large salary being paid, provided the person receiving it is being given a job which is possible. That is the only criticism I have. I hope that my misgivings will not prove to be justified.
Before the war there were four great railways, each with a chairman who had a pretty full-time job and was paid a full-time slary. Either this new Railways Board will be really effective, or it will consist of just a bunch of passengers brooding over it. Is it possible for one man to run five railways? I want a lot of convincing of that.
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that the chairmen of the railways prior to nationalisation served in varying capacities as directors of banks and other companies and were, therefore, devoting only a small proportion of their time to the actual job of running the railways.
I do not think it is possible for one man to run four railways. The running of one railway is a major operation. Even if it is possible for one man to run four railways, I do not think it is possible for him to make them pay, if, as is laid down in the White Paper:
The practical test for the railways … is how far the users are prepared to pay economic prices for the services provided.
If the matter is to be approached on that basis the position is hopeless. This is a form of inverted Marxism, which cannot work. The problem is not whether users will pay the prices at which the railways can be run; it is whether the railways can supply services at prices which the users are prepared to pay. The principle which is being imposed on Dr. Beeching must be reversed before he can have a fair chance to do his job.
Will the hon. Member tell the House who should decide what he has just read out? He did not finish the quotation. It goes on to say:
this will in the end settle the size and pattern of the railway system.
Is the hon. Gentleman asking the House or Dr. Beeching to settle that?
I do not see how that question arises out of my argument. This is certainly not a point to be settled by the House, which is neither technically competent to do so nor in possession of sufficient facts. The problem is how we can run the railways at prices which the users are prepared to pay. The method we use is another matter, which is outside the scope of my speech and of the debate, but unless that principle is accepted and the organisation is run as a normal commercial undertaking the task will become impossible.
I want to consider how we can make the railways pay under the envisaged setup. We are to have four regions, which are to be more or less autonomous. We are told that their object is to run at a profit. I am all in favour of undoing as many as possible of the ghastly effects of nationalisation and of restoring to the regions as much autonomy as possible, but in restoring their autonomy we must also return to them at least the property which they owned before nationalisation. That is vital. The two sectors within the transport system which are making a profit at the moment are the hotels and the docks. Neither is to be returned to the railways, to which they originally belonged. Crippled as they will be in that way, I cannot see how the greatest genius on earth can make the railways pay.
Administrative difficulties also arise when we isolate docks and hotels. I cannot deal with them in detail now, but I would point out that in at least eleven cases which have come to my notice without my bothering to do much research the hotels form an integral part of the adjoining railway stations, and the task of separating them will produce a ghastly conveyancing problem. In one case the same cellars are used for storing the wines of the hotels and the wines of the entire restaurant system of the railway. It will be a very difficult problem to decide where to draw the dividing line on the wall of the cellar and to say who drinks which.
The same consideration applies to the docks. We are told that some docks which are obviously continuations of the railways will remain with the railways. I know of no dock which is not a continuation of a railway. We live on an island, and wherever a railway reaches the sea it must continue somewhere. As the docks are now making a profit it seems unreasonable to ask any man, however able, to run at a profit four railways which are stripped of their most precious possessions—the only ones making a profit. Before the final set-up is decided these questions should be reconsidered to a much greater extent than was possible on our discussion of the White Paper.
I agree. The problem of subsidising the railways for ever bulks very largely in my mind. I do not think that it is sound economics. I know that it is done in practically every other country which owns its own railways, except, perhaps, for Switzerland. These countries invariably do subsidise the railways, but I do not regard it as a desirable permanency in our industrial system. We must aim to make the railways stand on their own feet, and in order to enable them to do so we must give them the proper materials. I do not see how this hiving off can help. The new holding company, which will run so many other smaller companies, will probably make a profit, because it has been given all the most profitable services, but it is laid down that that profit will be stolen by the Exchequer, and will not assist the railways to meet their interest charges. The White Paper also lays it down that those profits will, to a certain extent, offset the losses on the railways, and it would surely be very much better to give the railways a chance of keeping the profits themselves in order to offset their losses.
A little more investigation of the situation is necessary—and, fortunately, a good deal more is possible, owing to the lapse of time before these matters have to be dealt with—before Dr. Beeching takes up his considerable task. I do not wish to delay the House, because I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak. Everybody on this side of the House—and, I believe, a majority of hon. Members opposite, basically—wishes Dr. Beeching well in his task, which is a fairly formidable one, with all the handicaps outlined so far. His duty is to eliminate the losses—which, as somebody said, amount to a large annual sum—as well as the interest charges, and pay interest on the loan capital. It is not a job that I should care for. I am not a modest man, but I am sufficiently modest not to want a task of that kind.
Great help has been given to the railways. Enormous sums have been written off, and an unkind friend of mine in the City of London said to me the other day, "How wonderful it would be if we were allowed to steal all our preliminary capital before starting our firms." That is really what we have done with the railways. We have written off the whole of their original charges, and we have given them that much chance. We can only hope that they will be successful.
I should like to add a tribute to Sir Brian Robertson, not on the running of the railways, because I am not competent to say whether they have been well or badly run in the past. I should like to say that in my own private experience the human relations have been very good. I have had a very quick response to the complaints of various unfortunate constituents of mine who almost paralysed themselves in trying to pull heavy signals and things of that kind. I have found that the Transport Commission has genuinely tried to look at things from a reasonable and helpful point of view, and for that one is grateful. I hope that that particular branch of its public relations will continue as effectively and in as human a way as it has done hitherto.
About its other public relations, the less said the better. I sincerely hope that one important task which will await Dr. Beeching will be that of getting the railways' public relations on to a sound footing, and to announce, quite firmly and without any equivocation, that the next person who uses the words "teething troubles" will be sacked without notice straight away.
Finally, I should like to put this point again. Let us hope that real consideration can be given to the branch lines that are being so ruthlessly shut down. (An HON. MEMBER: "That is what Dr. Beeching will be there for."] I think the hon. Gentleman may be anticipating what Dr. Beeching may do. Although I have great respect for the clarity of the hon. Gentleman's mind, I do not believe that his mind is as clear as that of Dr. Beeching.
I should like to join in the plea that these branch lines are valuable. I am quite certain that there is no need to run them uneconomically. I am sure that, in most cases, they do not need a subsidy. It should be one of the first duties of the new railway organisation to see not how much it can cut out of the railway system but how much it can keep alive.
I have listened with very keen interest to the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise), and I am bound to say to him that I think it is the most serious criticism of the Government's proposal that I have yet heard from that side of the House. I should like to compliment him upon it, because I am perfectly certain that his reasoning is sound.
I do not want to repeat what the hon. Member said, though I am certain that history in the next few years will prove his comments to be well founded. I wish there were many more hon. Members on that side of the House who could express the same view a little more forcibly at this stage of our proceedings in the hope that the Minister might take some notice of it. If not, then I fear, and I say this with some reluctance, that the position which so very many people deplore about our railway system will probably continue.
The Motion on the Order Paper deplores the statement which the Minister of Transport made in this House last Wednesday, and I join wholeheartedly in deploring that statement. In fact, so much so that I think that in all the years I have been in this House it was the most deplorable statement I have ever heard from any Minister on that Front Bench. Why was it deplorable? I think the House was shocked by two things. First, the fact that the Minister got up from that Bench and announced in the fashion he did that the new Chairman-designate of the Transport Council—call it what we like, because the Bill is not yet through the House—the Chairman-designate of the responsible railway authority, was to be paid £24,000 per year.
The shock of that statement was not only in the amount. The shock of it, I suppose, for most people in this House, and, I am perfectly certain, people outside this House, was in the fact that this salary is roughly two and a half times greater than any salary paid in this country to the highest of its public servants, whether we judge it by the £10,000 a year paid to the Lord Chancellor, by the payment we make to the Prime Minister, or by the payment we make to the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, who is the highest civil servant in this land. Here we get out of the blue, as it were, a Minister of the Crown standing up in the House and baldly declaring that £24,000 a year is the salary which is to be paid to this new Chairman-designate.
The Minister went on in the most fulsome terms to describe this new Chairman in the most extraordinary language I have ever listened to. He said:
The Government consider it fortunate that Dr. Beeching is prepared to interrupt his career … to take up this especially challenging task.
I have never heard a statement of that kind coming from any Minister on that Front Bench about any appointment at al, even where it was far more important than this. The Minister told us to take a look at Dr. Beeching's career, which, he said, was absolutely brilliant. I wonder where the Minister stands in this connotation. Does the Minister regard himself as brilliant? Seemingly, he is rather less brillant, if these adjectives mean anything at all.
Dr. Beeching served his apprenticeship, the Minister told us, with the Special Advisory Group—
and has saturated himself with railway matters for the past nine months."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 1401–4.]
What a story. What a way to make an announcement of this kind. I started on the railways in 1913, which is about 48 years ago. I do not know whether I am saturated or not, but I was more often saturated with oil in my early days on the railways. What I am perfectly certain about is that if the Minister had succeeded in getting the Angel Gabriel
for this job he could not have been more fulsome in the praise which he bestowed. I suppose that I am one of the great majority of Members in this House who, I must confess, apart from one exception, had never heard the name of Dr. Beeching until the announcement was made in the House last week. That may be great ignorance on my part, and if it is I readily confess to it. But would I be wrong in suggesting that my ignorance is shared by about 98 per cent. of the hon. Members of this House? We consider ourselves to be a cross-section of the community, but about 98 per cent. of us had never heard of the name of this brilliant man until the Minister told us last Wednesday.
When I was younger than I am now, I used to have a notion that the people who then sat on the Government Front Bench were wonderful men. I had this illusion for many years, almost until I became a junior Minister myself. Then, the more I met these great men as they were supposed to be the more I realised how little their greatness really amounted to. I met many of those so-called great men of my time—perhaps some of them were really great in their technical and scientific knowledge as Dr. Beeching may well be—but I believe that this "great man" idea is very much overdone. I do not believe that there are these people with super giant intellects and all the rest of it, capable of performing a task such as this, which, judging from what the Minister has said, nobody else could do, and for which this man is the best man. Well, if he is, heaven preserve him. Let us hope that nothing will happen to him, because heaven knows where our railway system will be if anything does. No, I do not believe that this sort of thing ought to be taken seriously by the House of Commons.
We must bring this matter down to earth and I propose to try to do so. I had never heard this gentleman's name until he became a member of the very famous Stedeford Advisory Committee. I wish to say a few things about that Committee, because it is the origin of this gentleman so far as railway matters are concerned. The Minister appointed the Stedeford Committee. The Prime Minister told the House that this was a matter of great urgency. That was twelve months ago. The other day the Minister told us, quite indifferently, that it will be—what, next Session before we get the Bill? So the "great urgency" seems to be a bit overdone, like many other things.
Dr. Beeching became a member of the Stedeford Committee, and we are seriously told by the Government in their White Paper that that White Paper is to some extent framed on the advice of this Committee. I have not the foggiest idea—I have heard lots of things as have other hon. Members—of what the Stedeford Committee told the Government. I could not support it by evidence, but I have my own feeling, as has every other well-informed hon. Member, that the Stedeford Committee must have told the Government something about this, and the Government in turn told the Stedeford Committee something about it. I am not at all sure that in this matter the Government did not tell the Stedeford Committee in advance something of what they wanted it to do.
I know all about the Prime Minister's statement to the House. The Prime Minister told the House that this was to be a planning board; those were the words he used. Everybody thought that it was to be a planning board, until some of us had some criticisms to make; and when the terms of reference were published, what happened to the planning board? There was nothing about a planning board in the terms of reference. It had become an advisory committee. Rightly or wrongly, I hold it to be little short of a scandal that anything which the Stedeford Committee has made known to the Government, either of its criticisms of the existing railway set-up or its proposals for the future, has not yet been made available to hon. Members of this House.
I could quite understand that if we had been given the usual argument that security was involved. We frequently hear from the War Office, from the Admiralty or from the Secretary of State for Air that things cannot be told to this House for security reasons. Neither the Minister of Transport nor anybody on the Government Front Bench would dare to tell this House that the report has not been made available because of security reasons. Why has not it been made available? I submit for one reason, because there must be something about it——
All the hon. Gentleman need do is to look at the report of the speech I made on 20th January, where he will find a complete explanation why the recommendations of the Stedeford Advisory Group were not to be published.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I follow his speeches no less keenly than he does himself. I have never yet found in any of the speeches, including the one to which he has referred, a clear intelligible reason why the report should not be made available.
Really! I expect something a little better from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson). I have some regard for him and I do not like to see him let himself down in that way.
Why does he presume to tell me that there has been no report? I am not an infant in these matters. I know very well that Sir Ivan Stedeford and his colleagues did not tell the Government what they wanted to do without there being some sort of report or document or conversation——
All right, answers to questions if the hon. Member wishes. All I am asking for is those answers, and it would seem that I am to be deprived of the answers. I am asked by the Minister to accept his valuation of this gentleman and the work he has done after saturating himself in railway matters for nine months. This is to be the qualification for this unprecedented salary of £24,000 a year—nine months apprenticeship. A little later I will contrast that with some of my railway colleagues—I will contrast their relative positions. I am merely thinking at the moment of where the brilliance of which we have heard so much comes in.
This man was so brilliant that after his nine months' apprenticeship he told the Prime Minister what the Prime Minister apparently wanted to hear, because in his statement to the House the Prime Minister himself said that there would have to be a drastic reorganisation of the British Transport Commission. Apparently this most brilliant man dutifully obliged and told the Government the changes which are needed in the British Transport Commission set-up.
I may be a curious person and a little stubborn. I find this a little difficult. When a gentleman of this standing serves on what is, after all, a body advising the Government in such a tremendously important matter as this and with his colleagues makes some sort of intimation to the Government of what they are recommending, and then within a few months the present Chairman, General Sir Brian Robertson—can I be brutal?—is sacked——
I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will say that he was not sacked. However, the Minister had plenty of opportunity to deal with this. He could have repudiated this in his speech. He could have developed the statement he made last Wednesday that Sir Brian Robertson has not been sacked. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman amplify it in his statement today? He conveniently left it alone. He made no reference to it.
Sir Brian Robertson is sacked. He goes in June, and the new man takes over. I must be a dissentient here. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), I am a nonconformist in this matter. While everyone has been saying, in the Press and elsewhere, that no one can question Dr. Beeching's capacity to do the job, I am a little doubtful, to put it no higher than that.
I will tell the House why I am doubtful. I just do not like the idea that after anybody, whether it is this person or anybody else, who has been appointed by the Government to investigate something has recommended that a particular post should be created on a reorganisation—that is what the recommendations apparently come to, that there is to be a new British Railways Board—the Government should then fall over themselves to appoint the person to that job who has made that very recommendation.
I do not know how that smells in the nostrils of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I personally do not like the smell of it. If anything kindred to that happened at workshop level, the workmen would have a word for it which I cannot use in the House. However, that is what seems to have happened and we are entitled to deplore the step and to deplore the statement made by the Minister.
I concede one point to the Minister. I am in wholehearted agreement with one portion of the White Paper dealing with transport reorganisation. I should like to have the Minister's attention if he is not too preoccupied with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
The one thing in the White Paper with which I find myself in agreement is the proposal for financial reorganisation. Wherever the proposal came from, whether from the brilliant man about whom we have heard so much or from anyone else, the Government are entitled to full credit for this.
However, I want to enter a caveat to that, because if the Minister will look up my speeches in previous transport debates he will find that I was the first Member of the House that urged the necessity for the financial reorganisation of British Railways. That was at the very time when a Tory Minister was telling me that the railways would strike evens by 1962. That is on the record, and I shall not trouble the House with my own speeches. If we are to regard this person as being brilliant on that account, I can only say that some of us recommended financial reorganisation long ago.
The White Paper said one or two other things which we may already have forgotten. One change which is to be made when we have legislation is that the present area boards will become regional railway boards. Is that brilliant? Are we to regard the recommendation that an area board should become a regional railway board as a sign of the great brilliance we have heard about? The more one examines the whole affair the less brilliant it seems.
The Prime Minister's original statement that the Stedeford Committee was to act as the planning board is more likely the fact. It looks from all the signs as if in strict point of fact the Stedeford Advisory Committee is really the planning board and that the Government will more or less slavishly adhere to its proposals.
What disturbs me is something which has been hinted at in the House today but not said. If I read the new White Paper on transport reorganisation accurately, it means that the new body and this particularly brilliant man are to tell us what is to be the size and future of our railway system. If the Minister or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary want to deny that, I am perfectly willing to give way. If they do not deny it, I shall assume that I am correct and that they are to be the people who will decide this matter.
The real question is whether the Government are trying to match in the public service the grossly inflated salaries which the largest private concerns are paying. I imagine that some hon. Members opposite would be quite satisfied with that position and would think that it is a perfectly proper thing. What a shocking commentary on the public life of this country if this acquisitive society has now reached the stage where the public service is to carry these utterly unwarranted inflationary salaries of £24,000 a year.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) quite rightly says that it is gross. I do not want to say that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is gross. That is a matter of opinion. I shall merely say that I believe that the Guardian was right when it said in its leading article on 16th March—and I urge hon. Members opposite to ponder these words—
A salary of £24,000 a year—though by no means the highest paid in industry—is grotesque by any standards in our present society. It ought not to be condoned by the Government, however much it may have felt that Dr. Beeching's services were needed.
I share to the full those sentiments.
I come now to a line of criticism which I have not yet heard but which I consider should be voiced. On Wednesday last, in his statement to the House, the Minister said—it seems to me that few people have really taken note yet of these words, still less of what they mean—
The House will, I know, share to the full the Government's warm gratitude to Sir Brian Robertson for his outstanding services as Chairman of the Commission since 1953 and for the devotion with which he has carried out his heavy responsibilities.
I do not dissent from that. I have noticed criticism of Sir Brian Robertson in the past, and I think that I am the only Member here—I ought to come clean—who once called in the House for his resignation. It seems to me that the Government have been calling for his resignation but they have not been frank enough to admit it.
The Minister went on to say:
Having regard to the terms of the appointment, the Government intend to take powers in the forthcoming legislation to enable the Commission to pay him, in addition to his superannuation award a sum of £12,500."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 1401.]
We have not been told. There is no question of loss of office, because the Minister has told us that the appointment was for five years, and, apparently, it is being ended. It cannot be for loss of office. Apparently, it is for something else, if money awards of this kind are for any purpose. But we have not been told by the Minister why Sir Brian Robertson is to receive this £12,500, as a lump sum, presumably. Sir Brian Robertson having served the Transport Commission for eight years or thereabouts, it works out at roughly £30 a week.
I wish to draw certain contrasts now, and for this purpose I propose to do something rather unusual—that is, quote one of my own speeches.
Some people ask for it, and occasionally they get it.
I wish to refer to a debate on railway reorganisation which took place in the the House on 1st November, 1954, when in my speech I spoke about the position of railwaymen when they retired. I quoted from a document which had been given to me that weekend by a locomotive engine driver, an official document which he had received from the British Transport Commission, which said:
Upon reviewing your staff record I observe you have completed 49 years and three months railway employment. I would like to express my appreciation of your services and trust you will have the best of health and every good fortune in your retirement".
I went on to say that that was very good, and I explained that
At one time such a man would never have received such a letter at all. But what follows? Too many people seem to be under the misapprehension that our main line engine men retire on some adequate pension, but a further letter that this man has just received says:
'A pension of 3s. a week has been granted to you by the British Transport Commission'".
After forty-nine and a half years' service, a great part of it as a main-line engine man, he was to receive 3s. a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Gross."] Hon. Members should not assume that it is gross. They are anticipating. I went on to quote further from that letter, as follows:
The British Transport Commission reserve the right to reduce or withdraw this pension at any time if you or your wife are in receipt of a State old-age pension. It is suggested that, in order to avoid underpayment of Income Tax, you should advise your local Inspector of Taxes that you have been pensioned and give him full details of the amounts received.
So it was inaccurate to say that it is gross.
I went on to add, in fairness to the Commission, that in the days of the old private companies:
In most cases … the men did not even get 3s. a week. Let it be said to the credit of the Commission that it has a scheme now whereby in the future—in the long future—a man like this, who does forty years service, will have a pension of 30s. a week. That is a little improvement for which we are very grateful to the Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1954; Vol. 532, c. 103–4.]
Sir Brian Robertson was kind enough to write to me after that debate. Apparently, he had noticed my reference to the matter and in his letter he confirmed that the facts as I had stated them in the House were correct. He went on to say:
As you know, the Commission have now introduced a pension scheme for wages grades which is essentially a contributory scheme. Maximum benefits will not be payable until forty years' contributions have been paid.
This means that when a main-line engine man retires today he gets a few shillings more, but only a very few shillings more; and a man will not get 30s. a week until he has made forty years' contributions to the fund. I make the acknowledgement that since I raised this matter the Transport Commission has made a decision to give a gold watch to men with this length of service. I respect the Commission for that.
I am the last person who would deny doing justice by Sir Brian Robertson. I think he has had his share of injustice from this Government. What I am concerned about and what I ask the House to be seriously concerned about is this. I have heard a lot said in the debate to the effect that Dr. Beeching is a rather different type. He is not likely to take kindly, we gather, to what comes from the Minister. This is a rather new position in a Parliamentary sense.
If there is anything against Sir Brian Robertson it is that, perhaps in the earlier days in his job, he was a little less strong than he might have been in telling the Government a little more bluntly what this problem was. He has been blamed for things for which strictly he had not responsibility, but which were the responsibility of various Tory Transport Ministers who—I wish they were here so that I could quote chapter and verse to them—did not know their own minds.
The hon. Member for Rugby was critical of the present set-up on the railways, but he ought to be critical of his own Front Bench, because it was those Ministers who were responsible for that set-up. They were responsible for the 1953 Transport Act and the present set-up of the Commission. His criticism should be directed at his own Front Bench.
I accept that there may not be sufficient Parliamentary control, but the hon. Member's Ministers have been in control since 1951. If they wanted more Parliamentary control, they brought in enough transport Bills under which they could have provided just that.
I say this to the House and certainly to my own colleagues, and I shall listen to the explanation given by the Minister tonight. All the while that these old engine men—many of whom I know because they were contemporaries of mine—are to get 3s. a week, which many are getting now, I shall not be a party to the present Minister's proposal to give £12,500 to Sir Brian Robertson, in addition to his superannuation. If £12,500 is to be spared, it ought to go first to those people who need it more rather than to those who need it less. I want to come to a conclusion on this note.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to try to ride off on the idea that this brilliant gentleman has been a director of I.C.I. I have a certain amount of admiration for him. I make that quite clear, but I do not know how this arises and I think an explanation is needed here. He is an old grammar school boy. What has happened to the Eton boys? Has not the Prime Minister any more relatives? Eton College will have to look to its laurels if, for a great job like this, which we are told is one of the biggest jobs in the country, the Government have to go to a grammar school boy. Where is Eton going?
I am glad that Eton boys have come to their Waterloo but, if they have come to their Waterloo, what accounts for so many of them being still on the Government Front Bench? That is not much of a Waterloo. Those who were responsible for Waterloo would not give much credit for that.
I do not want to look at the hon. Member's braces. I suggest that he should take a look at himself. He claims that there are no Eton boys on the Government Front Bench. If they were doing their duty they would be on that Bench. It is a dereliction of duty on the part of the Eton boys that they are not there. I do not think that the last interruption by the hon. Member for Kidderminster was a very good one. He must try to do better than that.
If they want to make a success of running British Railways, which I think is a desire common to both sides of the House, I regret that the Government have not seen fit to do what I have urged again and again is the only way. If we want to make a success of running British Railways we must have a British railwayman in charge of them. I do not accept the idea that anybody other than a railwayman can make a success of running railways. I shall tell the House why I say that. Anyone familiar with British Railways will know this. What do we find if we look back to the old days? Sir Herbert Walker, who was a supporter of hon. Members opposite, was responsible for the electrification of the Southern Railway. The electrification of the Southern Railway, well in advance of its time, proved one of the greatest successes in British Railway history and it was done by a railwayman.
When we look at London Transport in the days when it was the hallmark of a modern transport system, and not what it is now since it has been mucked up by hon. Members on the Government Front Bench, we find that it was the envy of the world. Who was responsible for that? He was the late Frank Pick. He was one of the greatest railwaymen I ever met. I give credit to him and also to one who was a supporter of hon. Members opposite, the late Lord Ashfield. He and Frank Pick made the London Underground system the envy of the world, and they were railwaymen. Hon. Members opposite may say that Lord Ashfield did not serve his time in the bottom grade, but I knew him personally for many years and had many negotiations with him. He had railways in his bones and virtually lived for railways.
I am not attracted to these supposedly supermen. I had experience of one of them in the days when railways were privately owned. I shall never forget that experience. I remember how one of the biggest railways in the country brought on to its board this same idea of a great superman. He had the brilliant idea—so he thought—that one of the things to aim at was to keep a locomotive engine's wheels running for twenty-four hours a day. He thought that this was a terrific economic advantage to the railways. Every motive power superintendent in this country who dared to say what he thought, dissented and told him so. But still it went on. From that day until now users of the railways have found, as a common feature of our British railways, dirt and filth, and they can hear a big end clanging anywhere within three miles of the engine. All this is a legacy of this particular person, again one of those brilliant people, who was put in charge of a railway. He may have been a very brilliant man in his own special field, but he had no brilliance in railways.
I say to the Minister that I am quite convinced that until we get a British railwayman in charge of British Railways—a man who knows his job; a man who has spent his lifetime at it and knows all the answers to the transport problems in this country—the railways will never be the success which they ought to be. I should have thought that this, which is reasonably elementary, would be commonly accepted. I hope that no one from the Government Front Bench will tell me that we have not railwaymen in this country capable of doing this job. I could soon give an answer to that one.
I do not want to name anyone in the House this afternoon, but I would have no difficulty in finding a railwayman capable of doing this job who has managerial experience not of controlling 18,000, like this brilliant man, but of controlling far larger numbers of men with far greater success. In 1960 we set up in this country a railway advisory service, with the blessing of the Minister, and the job of this advisory service was to make railway information, technical, operating and all the rest of it, available to the Afro-Asian countries. The idea was that this would be a boost and a boon to British railway exports. I hope that the Minister will tell the advisory committee and the Afro-Asian countries and everyone from one end of the world to the other that so shockingly bad are the railways in Britain that the British Minister of Transport finds it impossible to get a British railwayman of sufficient ability and knowledge to do this vital and important job.
The 22nd July is noteworthy for two reasons. Sir Brian Robertson was born on that day in 1896, and fifty years later the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was a member of the Administration which introduced on 22nd July, 1946, bread rationing in Britain.
The date is important in the context of what the hon. Gentleman told the House about Sir Brian Robertson and the equally grave charge made by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) on 15th March, 1961, to the effect that Sir Brian Robertson had been dismissed by the Minister, because simple arithmetic will show that the 22nd July, 1896, is almost sixty-five years ago and Sir Brian Robertson in any event would have retired this coming summer.
If I may reply, Sir Brian Robertson would have retired in any event this coming summer, because public servants do not continue after 65 years of age. There is not a single instance since nationalisation commenced in the Parliament of 1945–50 of the chairman of one of the nationalised boards continuing after the age of 65.
Sir Brian is 65 next summer. Sir Brian Robertson himself in "Who's Who" says that he is 65 next summer. It would, therefore, be customary for the Chairman of the British Transport Commission to retire when reaching that age limit. I repudiate at once, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he winds up this debate, will confirm it, that there has been any question at all of Sir Brian Robertson being dismissed.
The cardinal issue in this debate, in my judgment, is whether the British Transport Commission, or the new Railways Board or any other nationalised undertaking is to be run as a social welfare club, as hon. Members opposite would have it run, or as a commercial enterprise. I believe in the second. I believe that the British Transport Commission, the National Coal Board, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the remainder of the State boards should be run as commercial enterprises.
The farming industry, I would remind the hon. Member, is not nationalised. We are concerned in this debate with one of the major nationalised industries which, I believe, must be run on the basis of commercial enterprise, and it is inherent in this arrangement that losses should, so far as possible, be avoided. Recently the nationalised transport industry wrote £400,000,000 of losses off the books. It is continuing to lose money at the rate of £100,000,000 a year.
There is nothing in any way inimical to Conservative Party philosophy and thought in the appointment now made by the Minister of Transport at a salary of £24,000 gross. Spokesmen of the Conservative Party at the last two General Elections have said that our purpose and policy was to endeavour to transform these huge State undertakings into commercial enterprises. In fact, it was written perfectly clearly in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 1959 General Election. I quote from paragraph 4 of that manifesto entitled "Nationalised Industries":
We are utterly opposed to any extension of nationalisation by whatever means. We shall do everything possible to ensure improved commercial standards of operation and less centralisation in those industries already nationalised.
In my judgment, it is part of our election pledges that these industries conform to commercial standards——
Do let me finish my sentence. It is inherent in the expression "commercial standards" that we should buy the best commercial brains available at the market rate to run these industries for us.
I am obliged to the hon. Member. He has quoted the Conservative Party election pledge that there would not be any extension of nationalisation in any form whatever. Is he aware that as soon as this Government were returned to power, the first Bill dealt with by the Scottish Grand Committee was one to provide a nationalised shipping service for the Scottish Highlands and Islands, because the service in operation could no longer operate, and the only way in which the service could be kept alive was by the Government providing the ships and operating the service on a nationalised basis?
When I am again appointed to the membership of the Scottish Grand Committee I will deal with the hon. Gentleman's point. For today, I say that every Ministerial spokesman in the last few years has made it perfectly clear that we intend to apply commercial standards to these State boards. As was reported in the Western Mail on 25th August, 1959, my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Defence said, when Minister of Transport:
Modernise the railways commercially as well as technically.
The Prime Minister, in the course of a statement on the railways in which he referred both to the Guillebaud Committee and to the Stedeford Advisory Group, said:
The Government accept the objective underlying the Report of the Guillebaud Committee—that fair and reasonable wages should be paid to those engaged in the industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 643.]
Surely, fair and reasonable wages to those engaged in the industry must include the same principle applicable to the head of an industry employing no fewer than 500,000 employees.
Dr. Beeching comes from a company—I.C.I.—which employs 112,000 people; the railways employ more than four times as many. I do not regard £24,000 gross—£6,500 net—per annum——
There is no "perhaps" about it; it is quite certain. I do not regard £6,500 net per annum as an unreasonable remuneration for that post. Neither do members of the Socialist Party regard it as unreasonable. That is why their Motion is such a sham.
Let hon. Members consider these words:
If the nationalised undertakings are to be as efficient as the rest of industry they must give their top men the same level of top salaries.
I cannot understand the hullaballoo—especially from supporters of nationalisation—about Dr. Beeching's pay. They ought to be delighted that the Government has filled this key post from among the ranks of successful business executives.
And what is £24,000? For Dr. Beeching, when he has paid tax, it is only £6,540"——
I am now being tempted to get out of order. I cannot name the hon. Member. It is the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bosworth.
It is, therefore, a little unfair for the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) to have referred in his opening speech to "inflated, fancy scales of salaries". Those were the words that he used. This appointment at a salary of £24,000 per annum raises very grave implications in the context of the salaries of the heads of other State boards—I do not dispute that—but if the Conservative Party believes—and I claim that it does believe, and I certainly believe it most fervently—that if these industries that we are incapable of denationalising, including the railways, are to be conducted on an efficient commercial basis it is inescapable that we should pay rates for top managerial appointments that are comparable to the rates paid in private industry. Otherwise, it is not possible to get men of sufficient experience and capacity to run them.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead said that there are very many railwaymen readily available for these top managerial positions. Perhaps I may quote, in contradistinction——
—a jolly good word, yes. It means exactly what I intend it to mean—that is why it is a good word.
Perhaps I may quote what was said by Sir Brian Robertson when giving evidence before the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries—in answer to Question No. 1233 in the Select Committee's Report:
There always seems to be everywhere a dearth of men for top appointments, and I could tell you that we do have quite a bit of difficulty in finding men to fill the top appointments with the qualifications for which we are looking.
I would far prefer to accept the judgment and evidence of Sir Brian Robertson, who has, in my judgment, conducted the affairs of the British transport industry with consummate skill during the last few years—I pay my personal tribute to him—to the bigoted, narrow and vested-interest outlook expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead——
I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving way. I can say that nothing he has said contradicts or disturbs a single thing that I said. I am well familiar with what Sir Brian Robertson's evidence was before the Select Committee. The points that he was then making dealt with something about which I warned the House at least eight years ago; that unless the British Transport Commission improved its wages and salaries it would lose the most skilled of its operating personnel. That, in fact, is what Sir Brian Robertson was there saying.
Another reason why it is essential that my right hon. Friend, in making this appointment, should have fixed the salary scale for the Chairman of the Railways Board at an appropriate and competitive level is that those in the senior appointments on the British Railways system, beneath the Chairman's appointment, have found in the last few years that their rates are not strictly competitive with equivalently experienced executives in other industries.
Let us take the case of a senior railway engineer who, immediately before nationalisation in 1948, was perhaps paid a salary of about £5,000 per annum—at that time, comparable to the salary in senior appointments in the private engineering industries. What has happened in the last thirteen years since nationalisation is that the senior railway engineer's salary has hardly moved up at all—only by a few hundreds a year, which, after tax, means very little. The salary of the engineer holding a comparable appointment in private industry has, in most instances, practically doubled. Because the Chairman of the British Transport Commission was paid at a rate of only £10,000 per annum, all the executive positions beneath him had to be scaled down.
I believe that if the railways are to be made competitive with other forms of transport—efficient and profit-earning, instead of loss-making—not only is it necessary to pay the Chairman at the appropriate market rate but that, to attract competent, appropriately-qualified men for all the senior and executive positions beneath the Chairman, competitive rates must also be paid to them. That is a second reason why, in my judgment, my right hon. Friend's appointment, and the sum he is paying, is not unreasonable.
I promised to be short and to confine myself to fifteen minutes. I have taken thirteen minutes already compared with my predecessor the hon. Member for Birkenhead, who took fifty-two minutes. The implication of what my right hon. Friend has done is, in my judgment, somewhat grave. The railway Chairman's appointment is certainly no more important than the chairmanship of the National Coal Board. It is certainly no more important than the chairmanship of the Central Electricity Generating Board. In my judgment, these are three State board posts of approximately comparable stature. It has been said that the value of the assets vested in the railways is £1,600 million. In comparison, the value of the assets vested in the Central Electricity Generating Board is more than £2,000 million. The value of the assets vested in the coal-mining industry is comparable to that in the railways—approximately £1,600 million. The Government will not be able to leave a situation in which the Chairman of the Railways Board receives £24,000 per annum, the Chairman of the National Coal Board £10,000, the Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board £10,000, the Prime Minister £10,000, the Minister of Transport £5,000, his Parliamentary Secretary £2,750 and Members of Parliament £1,750 a year. I am not supporting Socialist Members' wage claims which were recently reported in the Press—[Interruption.]—I would be out of order in responding to that interruption. I am endeavouring to put the matter into perspective.
Clearly, we have to face the fact that during the next few years the scale of Ministerial salaries as well as that of senior appointments to State boards should be drastically revised. It is quite ludicrous that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport should be paid a salary of £5,000 per annum and be responsible for appointing the head of a State board who is to earn £24,000 per annum.
Order. No doubt it is all right to view what we are discussing—the Minister's statement—by putting it in proportion, but I do not think that that justifies a discussion of the salaries which should be paid to persons operating in other spheres.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman and the House understands the line which has been maintained. I do not think that we should discuss what should be the salary paid to somebody else. Of course, a comparison between that salary and the salary in question is clearly in order.
I said that I was endeavouring to put the matter in perspective. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) will, I hope, bide in patience until next Tuesday when my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) is to seek leave to bring in a Bill, entitled the Ministers of the Crown Bill, to deal with the very matters to which I have alluded. I am a signatory to, and sponsor of that Bill.
I do not think that my right hon. Friend has behaved unreasonably in seeking from private industry the best brains he could find and then, having found the man to fill the post, to pay him the market rate for the appointment, though a very difficult decision to take. For my part, I am anxious to pay a sincere and personal tribute to the retiring Chairman of the British Transport Commission, Sir Brian Robertson, for all the work that he has done and for the delicate and difficult tasks which he has had to handle. Equally, I wish his successor, Dr. Richard Beeching, every success in his new appointment.
If by paying him £24,000 a year gross, or £6,500 a year net, we obtain two corollaries, we should all feel gratified. The first is that the new Chairman will cut the loss of £100 million a year on the railways—what a fine investment it will be if he can cut that loss—and the second, which is equally important, is that my words today will not fail to fall on the ears of the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that he deals on 17th April next with the shocking and penal levels of Surtax. We would not have to pay this salary of £24,000 per annum in order to give a man £6,500 per annum net were it not for the disgraceful level of direct taxation which the Tory Government have maintained in the last few years.
I wish to occupy the time of the House for only a very few minutes. Indeed, I shall not take as long as the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro). I want to direct the attention of hon. Members to the main argument adduced by those who support the Minister's proposals. It is that a vast reorganisation will ensue in the next few years as a result of the appointment of Dr. Beeching. That was the argument adduced by the Minister of Transport last Wednesday when he made his startling announcement about the appointment of Dr. Beeching. One would not object to the payment of a salary of £24,000 a year to Dr. Beeching or to anybody else in occupying an important managerial and administrative position of this kind if it were not for the fact that it will lead, and necessarily lead, to a period of gross inflation. That is the substance of the argument that we have heard from the hon. Member for Kidderminster.
What has the hon. Gentleman said to us? He said, "Look at the Minister and consider his meagre salary. Consider the Prime Minister's salary. If we are to effect any administrative and technical improvement on the railways, we must step up the salaries of all the people concerned". The hon. Gentleman says that instead of paying £5,000 a year to someone with considerable technical knowledge we should pay him £7,500 a year and that we should seek to arrest the drift from the nationalised transport system to private industry. In the light of this philosophy which we have just had described, the only way in which this can be done, apparently, is to raise the salaries. There is no question of public service or of someone accepting a position as a Minister of the Crown and sacrificing a considerable salary which he may have received as an industrial tycoon or barrister. The incentive is to be purely financial in character.
What is the effect of that? If the salary of someone receiving £5,000 were increased to £7,500 and the salary of someone receiving £4,000 increased to £6,000, what would be the effect on the lower grades? Does anyone really believe that if we indulged in the process of inflation described by the hon. Gentleman we would prevent all grades in the railway system pressing their claims on the Transport Commission?
Is it not true that the wages of railway workers have been considerably advanced in the last ten years and that some of them have been doubled? The only man who has not had an increase in salary is the Chairman of the Commission.
I am not surprised at that line of argument, any more than I am surprised at the decision taken by the Government and announced by the Minister. This is Conservative philosophy. I reject it, but I understand it. That is what hon. Members opposite believe in, honestly and sincerely, but I object to it.
It is said that railwaymen have had rises in pay. What is now the minimum pay on the railway system for the lower grades? I suppose it is about £9 a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is £8 10s."] What a substantial wage for anybody to receive!
Men on the footplate, who undertake their formidable tasks, engaged in transporting large numbers of passengers from the South to the North, and vice versa, and responsible for the lives of passengers, receive at the very most, I suppose, a matter of £15 a week.
Surely, we are not bragging about that.
Obviously, what the Minister has announced will begin the process of inflation, and with what result? The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) spoke about the difficulties that are likely to confront even a reorganised railway system under Dr. Beeching. He spoke about the substantial loss that is incurred day by day—it was either the hon. Member or one of his hon. Friends, or it may well have been the Minister himself who mentioned this. It is a loss of £300,000 a day. To that loss we are to add the inflationary charges that are to be imposed as a result of a vast reorganisation of salaries of the various grades.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster says "No". What he means is that we should give Dr. Beeching his £24,000 and raise the salaries of some of the higher grades, but that the lower grades will take what they get and if they do not like it they can lump it. That is the position. The hon. Member cannot deny it.
Does the hon. Member mean that he would agree to a substantial rise in the wages and salaries of the lower grades? If he is prepared to say that, which I am anxious he should, he must agree that we are beginning a process of inflation on the railway system.
I come now to my second point.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster has been saying that there must be reorganisation. That means closing down this station and that, this branch line and that, and, possibly, dismissing a large number of railwaymen. That is one method. I guarantee that without any knowledge of the railway system, I could solve this problem without £24,000 a year, on my present salary, and I will tell hon. Members how it should be done. [Interruption.] I am not being frivolous. Perhaps hon. Members will listen while I explain how it could be done, along the lines of the philosophy of the hon. Member for Kidderminster, and, indeed, of the Minister and of many hon. Members opposite. I will tell them how to solve it.
The first thing I would do is to dismiss 100,000 railwaymen. I would save a lot of money that way.
The next thing I would do is to telescope the system, make it a smaller system, hive off the hotels and the docks—an hon. Member opposite spoke about the effect of a policy of that kind—and make it still more difficult for the railway system to pay its way. That is what I should do. I should close down many branch lines. Passengers would complain, but they would be told, "We must reorganise the system."
In other words, mark what is being said by hon. Members opposite about our nationalised railway system and about the coal industry, which also is nationalised. What hon. Members opposite are saying is that they must pay their way, and the only way in which they can pay their way is to do as I have suggested. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Instead of having half a million men on the railway system, let us have 400,000, and then cut down the number to 250,000.
Does not my right hon. Friend realise the danger of what he is suggesting? If the railways were made to pay hon. Members opposite would want to denationalise them and hand them over to private industry.
It surprises me that hon. Members opposite do not want a return to private enterprise. I should not have been surprised had the hon. Member for Kidderminster said that nationalisation of the railways is no good and should be abandoned, that we should turn back the clock and hand over the railways to Dr. Beeching and a few of his friends and to some industrial tycoons, a few financiers and speculators, some of the hon. Member's friends.
I am surprised that the hon. Member did not say, "Hand the railways over to them. Then, we will make them pay." The fact is that under private enterprise, our railways system never did pay. [Interruption.] Of course it did not. I was in the House when a lot of hon. Members opposite were trying to get in. I remember the discussions on the transport system and the complaints that were made about the miserable 2½ per cent. or 3 per cent. that the railway shareholders received. Complaints were made because many shareholders received nothing at all.
Huge losses were sustained by railway shareholders in the days before the war.
There are few countries in the world where the railway system pays. Most railway systems have to be subsidised. We are told that the London Transport system is sometimes in the "red". With- out the London Transport system, the commercial life of London would come to an end. Whether hon. Members like it or not, we must regard the transport system as a social service which sometimes has to be subsidised by the State. If it is not subsidised in one way by the State, it has to be subsidised by those who use the railways, by paying higher freight charges and higher passenger fares. That is another way to solve the problem—raise the fares, reduce the wages and reduce the number of men. It is as easy as that, and we do not require Dr. Beeching to do it. Any hon. Member on this side, and, probably, any hon. Member on the Government side, could solve the problem.
In offering himself for the post of chairman of a nationalised board, the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that it is not entirely within the realms of fancy. If Mr. Alfred Robens could be promoted from the Front Bench to the Coal Board, the right hon. Gentleman might be considered for the Railways Board in the future.
All right, I will withdraw, since I am asked to do so. I will not go into details about it.
I should like to put a final point to the Minister. What about Sir Brian Robertson? Notice what hon. Members opposite have done. They say that they have not dismissed Sir Brian. They also say that he is a very good man. Indeed, they have almost said that he is a brilliant man. It reminds me of the old adage "It is all very well to dissemble your love, but why did you kick me downstairs." That is what the Government have done to Sir Brian Robertson.
I am really disgusted with the present Government. I wish we could get rid of them. [Interruption.] I am a little embarrassed about that, because I do not know how to get rid of them. I wish they had not come forward with this shocking proposal. It is not that I am against Dr. Beeching, but I am satisfied that he is not going to solve the railway problem. In the course of the next few years we shall find that out. Then the Government—if they are, unfortunately, still there—will come forward with some new proposal and appoint somebody else, or there will be some new process of organisation, reorganisation or co-ordination, or they will hive something off.
The Government are, in fact, muddling from day to day with the industries and services of the country. I am very glad that on this side of the House we are determined to oppose this proposal—not that I expect that we shall defeat the Government, but we shall at any rate inform the country that this shocking proposal is objected to by the Labour Party.
I am very surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) take the line of criticising us for wanting to make the railways pay. I was under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman, when he was in office and charged with great responsibilities in this field, himself laid down the maxim that nationalised industries should pay their way taking one year with another.
Consequently, that does not seem to me to be a fair point of criticism of us. It must surely be a laudable objective to try to make the nationalised industries pay, if we can.
A great deal of excitement has been generated in the last hour or so of the debate. I hope that it will not be regarded as uncharitable of me to suggest that some of the criticism of Dr. Beeching and some of the spleen which I have heard evinced from the Opposition benches seem to have its roots in what I can only describe as an out-of-date dislike of success and of the financial rewards of success. Surely it is the policy of worthwhile personal incentives—probably more than anything else—which has built up great and profitable businesses in the private sector of British industry in the past, and that is true of European and American industry as well. It may be that in a dictatorship State—I do not know—a man of ability has to work for less than he is really worth, although I believe that in Russia, as one of my hon. Friends has helpfully reminded me, the financial rewards of success are very considerable indeed. However that may be, if one wants the best in a free-enterprise society one has to be prepared to pay for the best.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said, the only exception to this rule appears to be when we get into the sphere of Government. We have good Ministers and good civil servants, but we pay them very little. The salaries of both senior and junior Ministers are ludicrously low in relation to the responsibilities which they have to bear. We shall probably be considering that very seriously on another occasion. Nevertheless, two wrongs do not make a right, and the fact that we pay my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport much too little does not mean that he is wrong in paying Dr. Beeching a good deal more. After all, why should the nationalised industries not be just as well served and just as well managed as private industry?
I have always understood that hon. Members opposite support the nationalised industries. After all, they created them. So why do they not want them to have the chance of being just as well managed as private industry I should have thought that it would be generally agreed in this House that we cannot get the best management unless we pay the best salaries, and that we cannot get the best results unless we have the best management.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) seemed to think that the appointment and salary of Dr. Beeching were likely to have a bad effect upon the morale of the people in the railway industry. I do not see why that should be. I should have thought that it would give the railway industry confidence that a man with personal experience of organising a vast and flourishing industry like I.C.I. should be undertaking the reorganisation of British Railways. This job consists not just of running the railways but of organising them in the new form laid down in the White Paper, and it seems to me that for that sort of job we require not necessarily great technical knowledge but certainly great organising and executive ability.
As for the salary, I really think that the indignation displayed by hon. Members opposite is a little synthetic. The plain fact is that if the Treasury can get the job well and efficiently done for a net expenditure of £6,500 a year, it will be making a jolly good bargain—and we all know it. Indeed, if the job turns out well, it may save millions of £s for the taxpayers which would otherwise go in subsidies to the railways.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Conservative Party had left the transport industry as it was intended, with complete unification or co-ordination, the problem of having to save millions of pounds would have been obviated? It was only when the road section of the transport industry was denationalised that we ran into difficulties and the industry became insolvent. Prior to that date it was solvent. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the present crisis could have been obviated if the Conservative Party had left the industry alone?
That is totally irrelevant. It is completely out of order to discuss the whole principle of the organisation of the nationalised industries on this very narrow Motion. I should be out of order in following the hon. Member. Indeed, it is irrelevant for another reason—that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since those days and recrimination is no good. What we have to consider is how best we can deal with British Railways in the present situation, irrespective of the so-called integration of transport in the past.
I see no reason why the appointment of Dr. Beeching should not turn out very well. I do not know Dr. Beeching but I do know my right hon. Friend who is himself a successful businessman, trained to assess and choose businessmen in his own career before he became a Minister. My right hon. Friend is also a very astute politician. I am sure that he would not have made an appointment which he knew would create a great political outcry in the House unless he was convinced that the business advantage to British Railways was overriding and that in the result the appointment would justify itself, as I am sure it will.
Ministers of the Crown ought to be perfectly free to appoint anyone they consider best suited and best able to do a job. Just as the Secretary of State for the Colonies should have power to appoint the best man as governor of a certain territory irrespective of precise seniority or a Service Minister—a field in which the right hon. Member for Easington has so much experience—should be free to appoint the best man for a certain job, so I should have thought the Minister of Transport should have power to appoint the best man in this case.
I believe that we have always paid the leaders of the nationalised industries too little. We have been trying to get top management on the cheap, and it does not really work. I do not quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster. I do not say that every chairman of every nationalised industry should have the same sort of salary as Dr. Beeching.
The reason is that the nationalised industry concerned may be running perfectly well and smoothly. It may require no special reorganisation. It may be a going concern, making profits. There is no special need in that sort of case to take special measures, but unfortunately this is not so with British Railways. They need a drastic new approach and a rather dramatic new deal. Nevertheless, I think that it would be foolish to imagine, though I may be corrected by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he replies to the debate, that this decision can have been taken in isolation.
I think that it must be assumed that the Government are now prepared to pay the rate for the job in any public industry. I do not say that they will, and I do not say that they need to do so, but I imagine that they are now prepared to pay as high a rate as a man they want for any particular job can earn and is earning in private industry, if they are looking to the private sector for recruits.
If that is to be so—and I think that that will happen and that it is all planned out—what about the lower grades? Are they to remain on the present low level or are their salaries and wages to be raised, and does not that mean a process of inflation?
Does the hon. Member realise that since the Guillebaud findings were put into effect, with the inflationary tendencies of the Government and the increased wages in other industries, the railwaymen are now 8 per cent. below what they were at that time and are well down the social scale in wages?
It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Member to start talking about inflation. The inflation under the present Government is as nothing compared with the inflation when his party was in office.
Will the hon. Member answer why it is that since the Guillebaud award was put into operation increases in wages in other industries and increased costs have resulted in railwaymen now being 8 per cent. below what they were at that time?
I do not know what the hon. Member means by "8 per cent. below". There have not been any large rises in prices. The argument that there have been rises in wages in other industries is a ridiculous argument. This is the never-ending spiral, and the argument that because Jack has had a rise Tom must have one, too. It is not an economic argument that the hon. Member can sustain with any justification. In the context of the danger of inflation, it is not the sort of argument that we ought to encourage.
I was saying when I was interrupted that I saw nothing wrong with the policy of paying this sort of salary, if necessary, if we wanted people from outside industry to enter certain nationalised industries. This policy is a wise one and is probably overdue, but we must also acknowledge that it is a new policy, devised no doubt for this particular job but carrying with it, I should have thought, the implication that, where necessary, it will also be applied in other nationalised industries. We should voice that thought when we are debating this issue.
If I thought that was true I should welcome it. But we are not discussing today general issues of railway policy.
It will not be easy either to make the railways pay or to provide an efficient service for the public. It has not been easy to do these things for the past two or three decades, but we want the best organising brain that we can get and we must pay the price. Some senior hon. Members present will remember my father-in-law, Sir Walter Smiles, when he was a Member of the House. I remember that he always used to ask people who were seeking success in any sphere of life, "Are you willing to pay the price?" On this occasion, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been willing to pay the price, and the price is £6,500 a year. I believe that they are right and that by paying that small net price they will be going a very long way towards solving many of the problems of British Railways in this half of the twentieth century.
It used to be the practice of the House that any hon. Member who had a vested interest in the subject under discussion should declare his interest. I think that it is incumbent upon me to declare my interest in this topic. As far as I know, I am still a railwayman. At least the British Transport Commission is still charging me not only for my own share of the railway pension scheme but its share as well. After having paid both shares, when I reach 65 and if my constituents lose confidence in me, I shall have the magnificent sum of 12s. a week. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) spoke about a driver getting 3s. a week. Therefore I would remind hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham-Cooke) and those who talk about railwaymen having had a big increase recently, that they have not had an increase in their pension rates.
I should like to tell hon. Members what wages are received today by the railwaymen who will serve this deputy-chief—I say "deputy-chief" because the chief was sitting on the Front Bench opposite a moment ago but has now left the Chamber. In saying this I am quoting from a diagram which appears at the end of the White Paper on the "Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings", which shows that the head of British Railways will be the Minister and his subordinate will be the Chairman. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport appears to be laughing, but it is so. The head of the organisation will be the Minister of Transport, and the man whom we are arguing about today is the Chairman of the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council.
The hon. Member will see from paragraph 28 of the White Paper that it is stated quite clearly that
… the Government do not propose that the Minister's existing statutory powers and responsibilities in relation to the national transport undertakings should be extended.
The position will remain exactly as it is at present.
The Minister and the Government say many things and mean many other things which are quite different. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. The diagram of the set-up in the White Paper shows the Minister of Transport to be at the head of the organisation. It may be said that in practice at the moment he is not the head, but suppose the Minister wants to change the situation. He will say, "Yes, but do not forget that I gave you a diagram which showed that the man in control is the Minister of Transport." In fact, the Minister has already said that.
I am sorry the Minister is not here, but I presume that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will convey my words to him. The Minister keeps saying that the railwaymen have not said certain things to him. I started work on the railways in 1920. I have had 35 years' experience, the major part of that as an elected representative of railwaymen. I think that justifies my saying that I know how railwaymen think and feel and that my words may have some bearing on this problem and that the right hon. Gentleman might give them some cognizance.
Let us consider the question of the set-up. The Prime Minister gave us the idea that we were to have a Select Committee on this. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary intervened a few minutes ago and said that he had given an explanation as to why the Stedeford Committee's Report could not be published. He said that it was secret and that people were given an assurance when they gave evidence that it would not be published. We are not asking for the evidence to be published but for the advice which these people gave to be published. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has asked me to read the White Paper. I have done so, and paragraph 1 reads:
… the Government have been assisted by the advice they have received from the Special
Advisory Group on the British Transport Commission.
Why cannot we be told what that advice was, whether it was acceptable to the Government and whether some of it was critical? The White Paper does not tell us anywhere what the Government intend to do for British Railways. Earlier, I asked whether Dr. Beeching or the Minister was to decide on the future structure of the railways, and I have not been given an answer. We assume, however, that we are paying £24,000 to a man who is to do the deciding for us. I would like to see what advice was contained in the Stedeford Committee, because, in the absence of that information, I and the 500,000 railwaymen will have to draw our own conclusions. I will tell the House my conclusions.
From 1950 to 1953 I and my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Gunter) were negotiating with Sir Brian Robertson about wages and salaries of railwaymen. We had a great respect for his ability and negotiating powers, to which some lip-service is being given by Members opposite. We also recognised that Sir Brian Robertson was a gentleman of the highest standard of honesty and integrity. He told us repeatedly that no matter what was pressed upon him he would not do that which he thought was wrong for the industry and for the railwaymen.
I put the question as simply as this: is that why he is going? Nobody has seen this secret report outside the Cabinet, which will not allow it to be published. Is Sir Brian Robertson going because he disagrees with the advice the Government received and has refused point blank to carry out the recommendations? Is that why he is getting £12,500 as "hush" money? Has he given an undertaking not to publish his memoirs?
The hon. Member can have his funny way of doing things. The Minister has adopted a funny way of dealing with this appointment. I have given the Joint Parliamentary Secretary due warning that, in the face of the refusal of the Government to tell us their plans, we must assume—and I assume it sincerely, whether he likes it or not, for I have negotiated with Sir Brian Robertson—that Sir Brian would not do what the Government wanted done following this advice by the Stedeford Committee. For that reason alone, he is being retired eighteen months before he was due to go. He would not operate, in his conscientiousness, honesty and integrity, what the Government want Dr. Beeching to do.
The position is that this secret report was made by the Stedeford Committee. I believe that Sir Brian Robertson refused to operate it. I honestly believe that the Minister of Transport has gone not to outside industry but to a man who served on the Stedeford Committee which made these recommendations. He has said to Dr. Beeching, "You made these recommendations. Will you come over and operate them?"
We should be clear about this. The hon. Member is making quite serious allegations against Sir Brian Robertson. What he is saying, in effect, is that Sir Brian has been prepared to accept £12,000 in order to keep his mouth shut. I would like the hon. Member to have an opportunity to withdraw that.
This House has not been given any information, but Sir Brian has been given it. After all, it is not only politicians and ex-politicians who have been making a tremendous amount of money by publishing things in Sunday newspapers. There is no doubt that what Sir Brian could publish, if he were so minded, could be dynamite.
I am convinced that Dr. Beeching, who served on the committee which gave this idea to the Minister, is coming over to operate something which Sir Brian Robertson was not prepared to lower himself to do. I am convinced of that, and time may prove me right. As a man who might possibly have to go back to the railways to earn a living——
I do not want the hon. Member to leave his previous charge quite where it was. He should either substantiate or withdraw this very serious allegation, not only against the Minister but also against Sir Brian Robertson, whom at one moment he praises as a man of great integrity and in the next breath says is the type of fellow who would take a cash bribe to keep his mouth shut.
I am not withdrawing any charge, for the simple reason, if the hon. Member will do me the honour to listen, that I did not make a charge. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, you did."] Hon. Members will not put me off that way. I asked a question. In this House we are allowed to ask questions for an hour each day. I asked: has Sir Brian Robertson been asked to give an undertaking not to divulge or to write his memoirs? That is my point, and I am making it because I have no less respect for Sir Brian Robertson than has any man in Britain.
I will withdraw anything which sounded like an intended smear on Sir Brian Robertson, a man whom I respect. I respect him all the more because I criticised his appointment in the Railway Review and subsequently withdrew my criticism. I am big enough to admit a mistake when I have made one. I am saying that I have the conviction that Sir Brian Robertson is going out rather than implement the things he would have to implement if he remained in.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) is one of the few hon. Members who are concerned about the closure of branch lines. He said that the railways must pay and that they must stand on their own feet. It is remarkable how often that is said, but it is followed by hon. Gentlemen saying that they hope branch lines will not be closed. It is remarkable that on more than one occasion Mr. Speaker has had to sit through an Adjournment debate when hon. Gentlemen opposite have discussed the closure of branch lines.
Although I think that my right hon. Friend, as he often does, was making facetious proposals for making the railways pay, I too could make them pay by using his method. All that we have to do is to run main lines only. The railways could then be made to pay.
The problem is not as simple as that. I represent a constituency in Birmingham, which is served by two main lines. It is all right if one wants to go to London, but if the people in my constituency want to visit their families who live in areas served by branch lines, they have a terrible problem. I can see the position arising where it will be said that if branch lines do not pay they must be closed down.
As an elected representative of a railway union I have attended inquiries on the closure of branch lines. One of the things which always crops up is that a young lady comes along and asks: "How do I take my pram on a bus?" The Consultative Committee always says that there is an adequate bus service. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) and I appeared on a television programme. It closed with my asking a certain Gerald how he would get one of his "prams" on a bus. Shortly after I received a cartoon depicting the hon. Member for Kidderminster and myself trying to push a pram on to a bus. It just cannot be done.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say that this should be a paying service. My right hon. Friend said that it should be a social service. I should like to go beyond that. Hon. Gentlemen have forgotten what I can never forget. At one time the railways were of strategic importance to the country. I am talking now from personal experience, and do not let us make any mistake about this. We are spending millions of pounds on nuclear weapons, but they will be no good without a railway to move them from one part of the country to another. We still need the railways. The first thing which any country at war tries to do is to demolish the communication and supply lines of the enemy, and British Railways were always told that they were the first line of defence.
The railways started to deteriorate long before the right hon. Gentleman's time. I do not blame him for that original deterioration. I was on the railways along with more than half a million others, and, by an order of the House known as the Essential Works Order, we could not leave the railways where we were grossly underpaid to go into industries paying higher rates of pay.
I will try to show how it can be related, because who ever takes charge of the railways will have this problem to face. The railways cannot be run by a £24,000 a year officer. Operating staff, of whom I will be one if I leave this House, are necessary. After the repeal of the Essential Works Order thousands of railwaymen left within a week, and they have been leaving ever since. Can this man get them back? Will this man have different conditions under which he can work from those under which Sir Brian Robertson worked?
If the Minister has not seen it, I can show him a note given to me by Sir Brian Robertson during the wage negotiations in December, 1953, when Sir Brian averted a railway strike on Christmas Eve. Many hon. Members will probably have forgotten this. The note starts: "After consultation with Her Majesty's Government", yet when I come to the House I am told by the Minister that he does not interfere in railway business. We know that he interfered with the Railway Rates Tribunal when he allowed it only half what was wanted. Will this £24,000 a year man have a will of his own? Will he be free? Or will he be subject to consulting the Minister who will say: "This is my idea" and Dr. Beeching will obviously have to take notice of the Minister's views, having been appointed by him. Will the new Chairman have freedom? I do not think that he will.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kidderminster is not present, because he quoted some dates. Some dates in the British Transport Commission's Report for 1952 are much more important. They will answer the point made by the hon. Member for Rugby and the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) about making the railways pay. The hon. Member for Surbiton refused to answer this question when it was put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow). The Report says:
… on the 8th May, 1952, a White Paper was issued, forecasting legislation which would impose on the Commission a duty to dispose of their road haulage undertakings and would require decentralisation of the railway organisation.
I commend the next passage to the Minister of Transport. Fod goodness sake do not do to the new man what the then Minister did to the British Transport Commission. The Report says:
A Transport Bill was published on 9th July, 1952, and the Minister then invited the observations of the Commission on its various clauses but made it clear that no fundamental changes of policy could be contemplated.
After introducing the Bill the Minister went to the Commission asking for its observations but making it clear that whatever they were there could be no change. What a way to run a railway!
The hon. Member for Kidderminster quoted an investment figure of £1,600 million. Let me quote what the railways were doing then. In 1951 the railways had a bad year. A profit of only £3 million was made. In 1952, the profit was £8½ million. That was only five years after
the nationalisation Act. The Commission then said:
The Commission are glad to record that, as is fully explained in the financial chapter (Chapter Two), a substantial surplus of nearly £8½ million was achieved, as compared with £3 million in the preceding year. After deducting the charge for redeeming capital and certain special items, a surplus of about £4½ million was left to be applied in reduction of past deficiencies.
We were not only paying our way; we were paying for the arrears—until the 1953 Act, introduced by the Conservative Government. Now we are told that the deficiency is £500 million. I tell the Minister that that £500 million is the price which the country has to pay for a Tory Government, and it is the price it will have to continue to pay, irrespective of this £24,000.
I want to turn now to that £24,000, which the hon. Member for Kidderminster, in his sonorous way, kept referring to as gross, saying that it was only £6,000 net. I ask the Minister how much the Commission has to pay Dr. Beeching. Will it pay him £24,000 or £6,000? The accounts of the Commission or the new Council will show £24,000 as having been paid, and that £24,000 must come either out of the State or out of the pockets of the railwaymen.
When I was concerned in wage negotiations when Mr. John Eliot, now Sir John Eliot, Chairman of London Transport, was in charge—in the days before Sir Brian Robertson was Chairman—he told us once, at Euston, at 4 o'clock in the morning, "I know that railwaymen are entitled to more, but we simply have not got it." Will the railwaymen be told the same thing in six months' time, when railway wages and salaries will once more be negotiated? Will they be told, "We cannot afford to give you 2s., 3s. or 5s. a week increase, because we now have to pay an extra £24,000 for the Chairman"?
The hon. Member for Kidderminster does not agree with the Report's estimate of the railways' assets. He says that the railways have far more. I do not care what the figure is, expressed in sterling, but one thing that has always remained in my mind is what Lord Stamp, then Sir Josiah Stamp, said about the Midland Railway, namely, that its greatest asset was the good will of the railwaymen. If the Minister had not appointed this man but had gone to the B.B.C. and appointed the winner of the competition for the Brain of Britain, he still would not have been able to obtain a more efficient and better trained railway service. The only way to obtain that would be to go to someone lower down the scale in the railway service.
If the Minister knows anything about his job he knows that the turnover of railwaymen is terrific. That is because we cannot expect a man to stay in a seven-days-a-week job, earning less than he could earn in five days in a factory. The appointment of a £24,000 a year official will not cure that situation. I have attended railway staff national conferences with top ranking railway officials, some of whom have been seconded to the Commission. I have disagreed with them fundamentally on many occasions, but they were railwaymen, and they knew what they were talking about. No matter what this man's salary may be, the railwaymen must tell him how to do his job.
The railways can never be made to pay—if we are to provide a social service where it is needed—so long as Tory philosophy controls them. The Tory Party spent over £1 million before the last election trying to prove that nationalisation is wrong, and is a dirty word. Does any hon. Member opposite want to try to convince me that the Tories have now changed their minds and admit that that £1 million was misspent? Do they want to tell me that there is something good in nationalisation? Of course not. They do not want nationalisation to be a success anywhere. It is contrary to their philosophy. If this new Chairman works a miracle—and unless he chops off all the branch lines it will be a miracle—the hon. Member for Kidderminster will sponsor another Bill to sell the railways off, as the steel industry and road transport were sold off. The hon. Member is on record in this House as having told his friends at Kidderminster in the last election that it would be a good speculation to buy steel shares.
He said, "It is a jolly good buy." According to hon. Members opposite, when the steel industry is making a profit it must not be kept for the nation. The nation must not share in profits; private enterprise alone must have them.
I did not address merely my friends in Kidderminster. I was elected by 27,000 or 28,000 of my constituents, and I advised all my constituents that denationalisation stock and equities would be the bluest of blue chips, and that they should buy as I had bought and make a magnificent capital profit.
I have spoken rather longer than I intended because I feel rather passionately about this subject. I have been in the House since 1955 and have never been lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in a transport debate. I do not intend to speak for much longer, but I want to go on to the question of the new appointment. I believe it was in an intervention, after someone had asked whether the new Chairman would be allowed to kill the British Transport system, that the Minister said, "He has not been told to reduce it by 20 per cent., 10 per cent. or any per cent., but to reorganise it as he sees fit." Will his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who I believe is going to reply, tell me whether the new £24,000-a-year Chairman will decide the future structure, working and financial reorganisation of the railways? Or will the House have to decide that? That is a simple, straightforward question.
I received no answer when I asked about the size and pattern of the organisation. Branch lines have been mentioned, by the hon. Member for Rugby among others, and somebody, somewhere, must decide whether they are to be a social amenity or an economic and strategic necessity.
The hon. Gentleman should know that every one of the branch lines which have been closed and which are proposed to be closed has not been an economic success, and, as I pointed out in an article recently, this is not new to the railways. It is not even only a problem on the railways. The right hon. Gentleman was at one time the Postmaster-General, but he never came along with a proposal to stop taking letters and parcels to isolated farms in the wilds of Derbyshire and Yorkshire, in Scotland and in the Islands, which must surely be uneconomic. It is the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman is scowling. I do not know whether he has got indigestion, but if he has he had better send for his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
If we have an integrated system, we should be able to send parcels or letters to anywhere in Britain and to have them delivered. People should not have to pay more because they have to go to isolated spots. If we accept letters and parcels for posting in the service, we must accept the same thing on the railways, because one thing pays for another. We give subsidies for everybody else, and there is no reason why we should not give a subsidy to the railways. I cannot find anybody in Britain who is not subsidising somebody else. I do not know anybody in Britain who through rates or taxes is not subsidising somebody. I am subsidising farmers through my Income Tax, and how many people the hon. Member for Kidderminster is subsidising through his Surtax I do not know, probably the Cunard. We are all subsidising somebody else.
I do not think that the railways should be denied a subsidy. They should be made to give the best possible service, and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why. In London and Birmingham and the other large cities, we have what is known as commuter services for people coming in and going out every day, and they are paying the price for that particular service, but every time somebody else wants to use the railways, say, once a year for an annual holiday, they expect the railway service to be there for them when they want it and at the time they want it, and provide the service to the place to which they want to go, but perhaps they make no contribution at all to it all the year round.
The same thing applies to municipal transport. The people want the services exactly how, when and where they want them once or twice a year, or whatever it may be. In order to maintain those services, is it wrong that they should be asked to make some contribution through their taxes to maintain the transport system so that they can go anywhere at any time they want? I do not think it is too much to ask.
I want to conclude by a reference to some words used by the hon. Member for Rugby. He said with regard to the new Chairman that he wished him well in his task. I see that the hon. Gentleman indicates his agreement. I say that, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, we would wish him well in his task if we knew what his is task was going to be, but we do not know what his task is to be, and that is why we are horrified. We do not know whether his is the executioner or the mortician. We are told that this man can perform miracles. If this man can perform the miracle of giving Britain the transport service to which it is entitled and which it needs, I will say as the end of his term of office, if I am here to say it, "Well done." As we heard on one occasion from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, we always used to have sneers about the railway man shaking hands with everybody on his last day and being told, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." If he can perform this miracle, I shall have no hesitation in saying that publicly to Dr. Beeching.
I promise that I will not speak for long, because we have had a lot of long speeches, and there are a number of hon. Members who may have difficulty in taking part in this debate.
Tonight, we are debating a Motion in the name of six Members of the official Opposition and the leader of what I presume is the unofficial Opposition. I may say that they make rather strange bedfellows, but it may be even stranger because I go most of the way with them in the Motion they have put down. I was always told that my maiden speech would be the most difficult speech that I ever made in this House, but whoever told me that was wrong. I think that the speech which I have to make tonight is much more difficult, because I am going to speak against the views of many of my hon. Friends.
The Daily Telegraph last Thursday, in its comments on the Minister's announcement said:
Some Conservative Back Benchers looked a trifle shocked.
I admit quite freely that I was one of them, and I will go even further and say that if my face betrayed my true feelings, I did not look a trifle shocked, but very shocked. I suppose that I should have been warned about this, because the Daily Express of Wednesday, 15th March, gave the name of Dr. Beeching and also said that the Minister was prepared to give twice the salary of £10,000 a year which was paid to Sir Brian Robertson. It got the name right, but on the latter point it was £4,000 short.
My reason for speaking tonight can be classified under four heads. First, that the north-east of England is the birthplace of railways in this country, and, because of that, the people in the North-East feel a special sort of pride in the railways. Secondly, because I have a belief in what I consider to be the tradition of public service in this country. Thirdly, because I am disappointed that nobody in the railway industry has been considered to be suitable for the job. Fourthly, because of the repercussions which I feel sure will follow the announcement of the salary to be paid to Dr. Beeching.
To begin with, when I talk about the tradition of public service I believe that this is something which this country has to the full, and that up and down the country people in all walks of life, many of them very poor, are prepared to make financial sacrifices in order to do public work for the benefit of the community in which they live. It may be said that Dr. Beeching has taken on a very onerous task. I agree about that, because in his position, every time a train is late, somebody will blame him, and every time somebody goes into a railway buffet and gets a cracked cup, they will also blame him.
I still believe that it is a very great honour for anyone to be asked to undertake this particular task. I believe that if he had accepted at the same salary that was paid to Sir Brian Robertson, in real terms his salary would have dropped only by some £1,800 per year, but, psychologically, the reward would have been much greater, because my right hon. Friend would have been able to say in his announcement that here was a man who was prepared to accept a cut in salary in order to serve the nation, and I wonder whether that sentiment is so very wrong.
When I look at hon. and right hon. Members of my own party who sit on the Government Front Bench, I think that many of them could earn much greater salaries outside this House in industry or commerce, but they are prepared to come here and serve for a great deal less money, because they feel that to be a public duty. When I look at the new American Administration, as one of the hon. Members who has already spoken in the debate has said, I find that Mr. Ed Murrow, who was making an enormous fortune every year on television, has been prepared to take a tremendous cut in salary in order to do something which he believes to be of service to his nation. May I remind the House that the appointment is only for five years and not for a lifetime and therefore the actual loss in salary to Dr. Beeching would not have been so great as it might have been.
Secondly, I regret that the appointment has not gone to somebody from the railway industry, but I do not think that that was an absolute necessity. I wonder, however, what effect this appointment will have on the morale of railway workers. For the Minister to say that Dr. Beeching has saturated himself in railway matters for the past nine months will not allay the fear of many of these people. I think that what is tremendously important is the repercussions which will follow from the announcement of the salary. I do not always see eye to eye with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). In fact it is rarely that I agree with him. But I do agree with part of what he said tonight. Even if we admit that after the tax collector has gone to work on this salary the amount will have dwindled considerably, that only points to the inquity of our taxation system which is something we are not debating tonight. The announcement has been made of what Dr. Beeching is to get as a gross salary, and I think that will have a bad psychological effect. It may quite easily spark off another bout of inflation.
We have the Deputy-Chairman of the British Transport Commission receiving £8,000 gross a year; it is really justifiable that his Chairman should receive three times as much? If the salary of the Deputy-Chairman is to be increased, what about the salaries of other members of the Transport Commission? Are they also to be increased? If that happens, what about the members of other nationalised boards? An article in the Sunday Telegraph on 19th March stated:
Dr. Beeching said he thought the Chairmen of other State boards would be pleased about his salary. So far there has been no roar of approval. Discreet as these gentlemen are, rumblings of discontent have emerged from their headquarters. Most of them, I gather, believe that public service cannot and should not compete with the giants of industry in salaries, and Dr. Beeching's appointment destroys one of Britain's honourable traditions.
Are we to have members of other nationalised boards seeking higher salaries? The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) mentioned Sir Christopher Hinton, Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Like Dr. Beeching he spent many years at I.C.I. I do not think that anybody would dispute that were he to leave the Central Electricity Generating Board and go into private industry or commerce, he could in all probability earn more than the £10,000 a year he receives as Chairman of the Board. If we have an all-round increase for members of nationalised boards, how far down the line do we go? I have grave doubts about whether it will be as easy now to urge people to show restraint over wages after this salary has been announced for Dr. Beeching.
I hope my forebodings are wrong, because I believe that another bout of inflation would hit hardest those people who always suffer when we have inflation—the pensioners and the people who have to live on small fixed incomes. One of the reasons why I hope that my forebodings are wrong is that as a Conservative I believe that a Conservative Government are better able than any other to cope successfully with the task of controlling the nation's economy. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) that under this Government inflation has been nothing like so great as that from which we suffered as a nation when the party opposite was in power.
I hope, therefore, that the repercussions which I fear will not materialise; but because of what I have said, I cannot support my hon. Friends in the Division Lobby. I am opposed to the proposal to pay this salary to Dr. Beeching. I feel that it will prove a millstone round his neck. People will not talk about the £6,500 which he will actually pick up, but about the £24,000 salary. That is the figure which has been announced and which has been bandied about by the newspapers.
I do not deny that Dr. Beeching has a tremendously difficult job to do and I hope that he will be successful. I do not question my right hon. Friend's sincerity or his belief that what he is doing is in the interests of the railways and the nation. It may be that I am old-fashioned, naive or idealistic—call it what you will—but I believe that if Dr. Beeching had accepted this position and regarded it as a public duty; if he had accepted the same salary as that paid to Sir Brian Robertson, he would have earned country-wide admiration. If, as I hope, at the end of five years we were able to say he had done the job successfully, he would have emerged as a man whose name would be known to every family in the country; a man who had a nationwide reputation which would have stood him in good stead for the time when he returned to private industry. He could then consider himself as a man who had made a sacrifice in the interests of the nation, and service to the nation is something which brings its own reward.
It gives me great pleasure to follow an hon. Member who has the honour to represent part of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and to have listened to such a courageous speech. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery) may be in considerable trouble with his colleagues, but I commend him for the courageous stand he has taken on this occasion. He has pinpointed many of the difficulties surrounding this appointment.
Some time ago the Minister of Transport made an announcement that the object of the proposals in the White Paper was
that the nationalised transport undertakings should be soundly based both in organisation and finance, providing efficient service to industry and the public, and giving a good livelihood and worthwhile jobs to those who work in them.
The Minister said that he had been assisted in preparing a White Paper by the information and recommendations of the Stedeford Advisory Group. He also said that he had been influenced by some observations and recommendations of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. We had to wait until the announcement last week to see just how far he had been influenced.
I think that this House was astonished when the Minister, in the casual flamboyant and even offensive type of speech which he delivered, made the announcement that another director of I.C.I. had been loaned to the railways for five years and would receive a salary of £24,000 a year. One wonders what it is about I.C.I. which attracts the Minister or this Government. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East referred to an I.C.I. appointment as Chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Many hon. Members who are interested in the coal industry have vivid recollections of a Dr. Fleck coming from I.C.I. to the industry and the disastrous recommendations he made about the coal industry. One cannot help wondering what there is about I.C.I. which prompts the Government to seek from it people to come into public industry.
I am sure that hon. Members were astonished when they heard the Minister calmly announce that he was "sacking" Sir Brian Robertson. Let us not pull our punches. The Minister may try to wrap it up and say that it is with the agreement of Sir Brian Robertson and that it is necessary for Dr. Beeching to get some working knowledge before finally taking over to do the Minister's bidding. We all know that it is the deliberate sacking of a man who has won the respect of everyone engaged in the industry.
Sir Brian has performed an extremely difficult task in carrying out the behest of the Government. The Commission was making a very useful profit, to say the least, but because of deliberate Government policy it has been forced into a total deficit of £500 million. This is rather an affront to the industry and to the man whom the Government and their supporters now go out of their way to pat on the back when his task is accomplished. They now say what a useful type of man he has been.
In order to sugar the pill a little, the Government propose that this very gallant gentleman shall receive, in addition to the normal superannuation he will receive from the Commission, an ex gratia grant of £12,500. This will be in addition to the pension he receives by virtue of his military service as a general. One cannot help feeling that in the sacking process the Government have tried to ease the path with a view to arousing the least possible hostility.
I hope that the Government realise that they have set a pattern by paying the Chairman £12,500, or a year and a quarter's salary. When the contraction of the railway industry takes place, as it will, if the services of the men engaged in the industry are dispensed with they will feel that they are entitled to similar compensation.
They will want at least a year and a quarter's salary if their services are dispensed with. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) is probably right in saying they are optimistic. However, if the men take this seriously and say to the Government, "If you can do it for one, you can do it for the others or we will have a showdown with you", the Government will find themselves faced with trouble.
Sir Brian, as Chairman of the Commission, is a servant of the Government. Every railwayman is a servant of the Commission, which is a publicly-owned undertaking. Sir Brian is in the same category as every other railwayman.
It is always a nice shield to have legal niceties, but niceties are not appreciated by men who have lost their jobs and are walking the streets.
We must face the fact that by increasing the salary from £10,000 to £24,000 a year the Government have set another pattern. Railwaymen will not be slow to learn their lesson from it. It has been said several times today that the Guillebaud Committee set the pattern in railway wages. Railwaymen were then placed in a certain category as compared with the general level of wages in industry. Since then there has been a very great increase in the monetary awards to other industries. According to the best estimate I can make, railwaymen's wages are now about 8 per cent. below the level at which Guillebaud established them.
Now that the salary of the Chairman has been raised from £10,000 to £24,000 a year, is it likely that railwaymen will be fobbed off by a measly amount when they make a reasonable request? On the same basis, thye also are entitled to an increase of 150 per cent. Who can deny their just claim to such an increase? If this is the rate for the job for the Chairman, the rate for the job for the ordinary railwayman must be similarly assessed. Ordinary railwaymen look to the industry for their livelihood, in constrast to taking five years' leave from another lucrative employment.
We all know the reason for Dr. Beeching's appointment. That was stated very clearly in the White Paper and has been stated by the Minister several times. The Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the railway industry must face up to a considerable retraction. We have tried to find out what size the Minister has in mind for the industry. We have tried to learn his general pattern and plan. The only thing we have learned is that there will be a considerable retraction of the industry, which necessarily means a considerable reduction in manpower.
We know the reason for this appointment. It is ironical that outside industry has to be approached to lend a man who is described as a wonderful wizard or a wonderful tycoon in big business. His job is really that of a hired butcher further to dismember every facet of the Commission's undertaking. That is what it amounts to.
The proof is the Government's White Paper, which states distinctly that all the profitable side of the Commission is to be hived off. The Docks Board is to be established as a separate entity from the Inland Waterways Authority. Other separate concerns are to be British Road Services, Tilling (Buses) Group, and Hotels. They will all be separate companies under the Holding Company. The White Paper states that various other entirely separate organisations, such as the London Transport Board, are to be established.
Dr. Beeching is to be appointed as a butcher simply to cut off limb by limb every facet of the Commission's undertaking. He will remain Chairman of the British Railways Board. Lip-service is being paid to the idea by saying that this wonderful tycoon will make the railways a paying proposition. Everyone in the House knows that that is absolute nonsense, unless the railways are severely truncated, with wholesale closing down of branch lines and non-profitable sections of the industry. That is the only possible way to make the railways pay. Even if that is done, they will still be faced with a very heavy financial burden by way of interest charges.
There has been much talk about the White Paper proposals wiping out a great deal of the dead wood in railway finances. We all know that the Railways Board will still have a capital burden of £400 million on which it will have to pay interest charges at current market rates working out to about £30 million. Also, there is about £289 million in superannuation and pension funds and deposits for railway employees which must carry current market rates of interest working out to about £25 million.
One shudders to think what will happen to the modernisation programme. It certainly will not continue at its 1959 rate of £166 million, but, if it goes on at £100 million for the next five years as forecast, there will be a further £30 million of interest charges to be added. The lowest possible estimate is that the Railways Board will have to face an annual burden in interest charges alone of about £75 million. That is a conser- vative estimate. My own feeling is that interest charges will amount by the end of five years much more closely to about £100 million a year. How is the Railways Board to meet these financial obligations with the severely truncated service which the Minister desires? An impossible task is being imposed upon it.
The only qualification Dr. Beeching has is that he has served for a few months on the Stedeford Committee. If the Minister wishes to appoint to this very high position a person who has served on the Stedeford Committee, in all honesty and decency he should inform the House of Commons what the recommendations of the Stedeford Committee were. How can we decide whether this person, who has suddenly acquired a remarkable knowledge of the railways after serving for six months on a part-time committee, justifies the lifting of the salary from £10,000 to £24,000 a year? The House, as custodian of the public purse——
The hon. Gentleman may say that, and we know, or we are told, that Dr. Beeching's salary not as chairman but as a director of I.C.I. is £24,000. That only indicates the high price which is paid in outside industry. I do not at the moment question that. What I said was that Dr. Beeching's appointment lifted the salary paid to the Chairman of the British Transport Commission from £10,000 to £24,000 a year. That was the only point I made. I echo the words of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East who said that, if this was really genuine, if Dr. Beeching was the wonderful tycoon he is supposed to be, it would have been a nice gesture on his part, since he knows that his pension and superannuation rights are safeguarded by I.C.I. for the time when he returns to the company after his five years' leave, to undertake the duty in the public spirit we expect from people engaged in running public undertakings.
As time goes on, hon. Members opposite will receive complaints and questions from their constituents about the curtailment or closure of road and rail services, and, no doubt, if they are logical, they will have to voice these complaints in the House. I hope that they will not speak with one voice in the House of Commons and with another voice in the country, with the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde attitude which they are so ready to adopt. I hope that, when they receive complaints from constituents about transport services, they will be honest and say, "Yes, I am responsible. There was no profit in that, and I support the closure." That is the only logical answer that they can give, if they are honest.
Last week, there, were published the findings of the Committee on Rural Transport Services which, no doubt, will become known as the Jack Report. Summarising its conclusions, the Jack Committee finds that rural transport services have been seriously curtailed and there is great hardship to people living in the countryside. It suggests that the way out of the difficulty is for the Government themselves to grant certain subsidies to privately-owned bus companies and for the county councils out of their rates to make certain subsidies to privately-owned bus companies in their areas in order that rural services may be provided. At the same time, of course, the Government are cutting the rail services to these very areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Howell) and others have rightly referred to the difficulty which a housewife finds in getting a perambulator and a baby from one place to another by using the ordinary luggage accommodation on buses.
When members of the Tory Party receive complaints from their constituents they should be honest and tell them that they are responsible as Members of Parliament for supporting a policy which will bring about considerable curtailment in railway services. We know full well that the solution to this problem is not what the Government are doing. The Government have brought transport into the deplorable mess it is now in. They are to pay £125,000 over five years in order still further to reduce this service to the nation. As has been proved in the past, transport can be a self-supporting service which can give an adequate return on the capital outlay and also provide an excellent service for the needs of industry and for those of the travelling public who cannot afford cars. That can be done by thoroughly co-ordinating all forms of transport.
That is the only solution, the co-ordinating and linking of all forms of transport. The Government refuse to do that because they still believe in the old-fashioned Tory free-for-all policy in which the deciding factor is whether there is profit to be made from any particular undertaking. If there is not a profit, they are prepared to be charitable and to grant a subsidy to keep in operation certain lines of essential services which they cannot deliberately ignore. They preserve the old Tory charitable freedom of days gone by—the old days of bumbledom. So long as they are ruling, profit is the deciding factor.
It is no use applying platitudes to this problem. This proposal will be carried by the House and it will make an appointment with the object of still further curtailing the essential services of transport. Transport cannot be looked upon in the same way as other industries. Transport is basically a service. It is a non-productive service for it cannot produce. It depends on outside industry producing, and it has to carry the goods which are produced to delivery points where persons want them.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This, of course, is not a transport debate. It is a debate on a very narrow subject, the question of the appointment of the Chairman of the Transport Commission. I ask for your Ruling whether everything being said by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) is in order.
I have been paying attention to the debate. I think that from the Minister's statement onward it has gone a great deal wider than the actual terms of the Motion, and I think that has been acceptable.
I shall be careful to try to keep in order according to the rules laid down by the Minister of Transport. I detest the idea of speaking out of order. That would be shocking, but we are dealing with the railways as part of transport. I wonder if this gentleman is to be given £24,000 a year for part-time work?
I want to refer to one or two things said by the Minister. He tried to take glory in complimenting the temperate approach of trade union leaders to this appointment. He tried to accuse us on these benches of being far more active in our opposition to such an appointment than the men engaged in the industry. That is a canard he should not employ too much. Leaders of the railway unions are very responsible. They are anxious to safeguard the interests of their members. We all know that the men and the unions detest this type of thing because they see their industry diminishing, but they will have to work for the person who is appointed. They do not want at any time to create a bitterness which possibly may involve them in serious monetary loss by a strike or any other action which might come about as a consequence of Government policy.
The statement which the unions have made does not mean that they are satisfied with this appointment, but that they are indignant about it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the wives of railwaymen are also angry—justifiably angry—about the wages railwaymen get in view of the announcement of this salary?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that; how true it is.
The men within the industry are absolutely seething at this type of appointment. So responsible are these trade union leaders, and such is their sense of duty, that they do not want to say anything at this stage to exacerbate any difficulties that may arise. Whether a porter, earning £8 17s. a week, will have the same point of view when he finds a £10,000 salary going up to £24,000 will be a rather different story. Is the expert signalman engaged in one of the new power-equipped signal boxes going to be satisfied, or the main line driver with a sense of responsibility, when they are told by hon. Members opposite that they ought to be satisfied? This is constituting an entirely new pattern.
The Minister was anxious to deny that there was any truth in the Press statement that there would be a reduction of 20 per cent. in the railways. He was right to deny that. The actual reduction in railways will be much greater than 20 per cent. If we could have had a pledge of 20 per cent. from him, we might have been able to save something out of the morass which is developing.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Wise) made a very courageous speech in pointing out the difficulties of the situation, and I feel sure that there are many other hon. Members oposite who must be very unhappy, to say the least, about what is happening. I hope that they will support us when we go into the Division Lobby, or, if that is expecting too much, that they will abstain from giving the Government their support in this nefarious appointment.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) has left little time for any hon. Members on this side to support him, but I can tell him and the House that I am not one of those hon. Members. Every hon. Member and every man and woman in the country has at least one thing in common: we are all shareholders in British Railways. Some of us were reluctant to become shareholders, but others—and I assume hon. Members opposite were and are, among them—eagerly and enthusiastically accepted the responsibility of running this great concern.
I cannot think, however, that any of those who believed in nationalisation twelve years ago could possibly have thought it even remotely possible that twelve years later the nationalised railways would have been running at a loss of over £100 million a year. We all from time to time talk rather lightly in terms of millions, but I am sure that many of us do not realise how big a sum is £100 million a year until it is translated, as it was by my right hon. Friend, into a figure of £300,000 a day. I hope that a figure like that will make hon. Members and people outside realise the seriousness and the enormity of the sums involved.
Had it been possible to denationalise the railways it would have been done long ago. It has not been possible, and I think that my right hon. Friend deserves the greatest possible praise for his determination to reduce the burden on the community.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) could only suggest as a means of alleviating this troublesome problem that we should cut out competition and give the railways a monopoly——
—but the party opposite is always decrying the use of monopoly in any form at all.
In seeking to restore solvency to the railways, my right hon. Friend has taken the right course, and I have always admired his approach to the problem ever since he accepted his office. A salary of £24,000 a year is not the real problem. My right hon. Friend's anxiety must surely be whether or not this man is big enough to do what it is hoped he will do. I admire the Minister's courage, and I admire, too, the courage of Dr. Beeching in undertaking this task.
Rather than criticise an attempt to get the industry out of the red, and rather than try to revive in our people that old tinge of envy that is the basis of all Socialism, and always has been, hon. Members opposite should rejoice that we on this side are making a real and sincere attempt to make a nationalised industry pay. If I were a shareholder in a public company that was losing £100 million a year I would gladly agree to pay a man 1/5,000th of that sum if I thought that he would be able to make a go of the show.
I do not know Dr. Beeching, but I know the I.C.I., and I know that it does not pay a man more than he is worth. Why hon. Members opposite should always behave so irrationally towards those whom they describe, usually with derision, as industrialists, I do not know. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to barristers earning £20,000 and £30,000 a year as though that were all right, but when it comes to an industrialist earning as much it seems that it is all wrong. Surely the contribution made to the community at large by the industrialist is infinitely greater than the contribution made by a member of the Bar.
My only comment on whether or not Sir Brian was sacked is that had the railways been run privately, and had they gone on as they have been going on during the last twelve years, not only would Sir Brian have been sacked but every man, woman and boy employed by the railways would have been sacked at the same time. They would not have been sacked by shareholders but by the people who look to them for proper transport services.
I believe in incentives—I think that everyone does if he is honest enough to admit it—and I will tell the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West something about incentives when I have the opportunity later. I suggest to my right hon. Friend, whom I am glad to see has returned to his place, that he has not gone far enough. Why not say to Dr. Beeching, "If you get the railways out of the red in five years I will give you double—[Interruption.] If you do it a bit sooner I shall treble your salary"—bearing in mind always, as we must, that the amount is gross.
I cannot help wondering to whom the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) was referring to when he spoke about giving incentives to people in the railway industry. While incentives are given to one or two, many of the 600,000 or 700,000 railwaymen do not get any incentive.
Let us consider what the Minister said when he was speaking about the appointment of Dr. Beeching and the retirement of Sir Brian Robertson. The most amusing passage, if one can put it in that way, begins at the top of column 1401, where the Minister said:
In accordance with the new arrangements, Sir Brian Robertson will, with my agreement, retire from the chairmanship of the Commission with effect from 1st June, 1961. The House will, I know, share to the full the Government's warm gratitude to Sir Brian for his outstanding services as Chairman of the Commission since 1953 and for the devotion with which he has carried out his heavy responsibilities. … Having regard to the terms of the appointment, the Government intend to take powers in the forthcoming legislation to enable the Commission to pay him, in addition to his superannuation award, a sum of £12,500."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1961; Vol. 636, c. 1401.]
Many railwaymen will be taking notice of that statement. No matter how much I respect a man who is prepared to take over the chairmanship of the British Transport Commission, as a railwayman I cannot but believe that these men have been used as scapegoats. When wage claims have been made, Sir Brian Robertson, while admitting that such claims were justifiable, has told the railway trade union leaders that there is no money in the kitty to meet them. Yet we have the appointment of Dr. Beeching at a salary of £24,000 a year.
If Sir Brian Robertson cannot work miracles, neither can Dr. Beeching if he is not strong enough to stand up to the Government in their pernicious attacks on public ownership. One cannot help but appreciate what my hon. Friends have said in their criticisms, and what I propose to say, because it is on record, that not only have the Government attacked public ownership but they have made it impossible for the Commission to make a profit. The Government have hived off any section of the Commission which has shown a tendency to make a profit. I refer to road transport and to the Government's actions when the Commission asked for increases in charges.
Let us look at one or two other points which are on the record.
In February, 1956, as the prices of coal, electricity, steel and other commodities had risen considerably, the Commission felt obliged to apply to the Minister, under Section 82 of the 1947 Transport Act, for an increase in their railway freight, dock and canal charges, which increase was estimated to yield £24·8 million in a full year. This, together with proposed increases related to passenger services, for which authority was already held, was designed to yield a total of some £37 million in a full year.
Let us take into consideration the claim which the Commission put to the Minister in which it asked for his authority to increase the charges. During the period to which I have referred the Commission made a deficit of approximately £18 million whilst waiting for the Minister to make up his mind to allow an increase in charges. Had he allowed those charges to be increased the Commission would have made approximately an additional £24½ million.
In 1956, the Minister of Transport made his announcement in the House of Commons indicating a deficit of £30 million for 1955 and a prospective deficit of £55 million for 1956. At the same time, he intimated that the Government would allow only a 5 per cent. increase on general freight charges instead of the 10 per cent. proposed by the Commission. His assessment of the position was that after taking into account reductions which he was imposing in connection with the other proposals, related mainly to passenger fares, the estimated yield for a full year would be £20 million, instead of the originally estimated £37 million.
I have been doing a little research in the Library and looking up the increased prices which the Commission has had to meet during the same period in the purchase of the raw materials which enable it to operate. Taking the price in August, 1939, as 100, I find that by June, 1959, the cost of steel rails had increased by 450 per cent.; pig iron by 400 per cent.; iron bars, 370 per cent.; steel plates, 400 per cent.; brass bars, 470 per cent.; timber sleepers, 530 per cent. and crossing timbers, 600 per cent. These are just a few of the items which have had to be faced. If any Government wanted to destroy public ownership, they could not have done it more thoroughly than the Tory Government have done over the last few years.
In face of those increased costs to our nationalised railways, the increased charges by the railways during the twenty years from 1938 have been as low as the following. In 1938, average receipts per passenger mile were 0½71d. In 1958, the figure was 1½52d. In the case of goods traffic, the 1938 receipts were 1½26d. per freight mile. In 1958, this figure had increased to 3½37d.
I base my case in answering the Government's attack on public ownership, in the case of the railways in particular, on the fact that the railways have provided a service to British industry—and provided it cheaply at that. But what successive Ministers have done is to refuse to allow the railway management to increase its charges in order to meet the costs.
Hon. Members opposite have said that the railways must be run commercially and make a profit, and must not expect to receive a Government grant to bridge the gap. If there are honest hon. Members opposite who have studied the figures as I have, why have they not done something about this? Here we have a position where a nationalised industry has got to be proved to be wrong and somebody has to destroy it.
There appears to be much doubt in the Chamber tonight about the motive lying behind the appointment of Dr. Beeching and how he came to get the job. Looking at what has been said about Dr. Beeching, I would say with reference to the salary which he will receive on his appointment that it is wrong to manacle an industry which is making a loss every year. The argument of hon. Members opposite that Dr. Beeching should not receive any less than he is receiving now as a director of I.C.I. falls down when we take into account the position of the various industries concerned. I.C.I. is one of the world's six monopolies producing chemicals, and is making huge profits. Dr. Beeching will be going from I.C.I. to a transport industry which is making a loss. Yet hon. Members opposite argue that the railways should be manacled by his salary of £24,000.
I see some hon. Members opposite smiling. They should remember that there will be somebody else smiling tomorrow. The Government cannot expect to get away with this sort of discrimination. If it is the intention of the industry to use Dr. Beeching for something for which Sir Brian Robertson was not prepared to be used—the carving up and closing down of branch lines—and if the Minister thinks that he is putting there a man who will carry out the duties which have been placed upon his shoulders because no one else was prepared to do so, there will be trouble in the country. The Government will do well to remember that the railwaymen are watching the position very carefully indeed.
There is another point which the Minister ought to answer in relation to the Stedeford Group Report. When reference was made earlier in the evening to this Report, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) interjected that a report was never presented by the Stedeford Group and that the information was given to the Government by a system of question and answer. In view of the fact that Parliament was not told the results of this Committee's findings, I should like to know why it is that the hon. Member for Truro knows all this. If he knows this, Parliament is entitled to know it. No back-bencher should have priority of information on such an important business.
The hon. Member now tells us that he understands that it was so. I have my doubts about whether or not some hon. Members only have been given this information when all other hon. and right hon. Members have a right to know.
I will close my short speech by referring to the lump-sum payment made to a man whom most of us in the House have learned to respect. I believe that this sum of £12,500 which is to be given to Sir Brian Robertson has been given to him in lieu of service, because that service has been cut short. I believe that the reason for cutting that service short is that Sir Brian is too much of a man of principle to stay and carry out the will of a Government who are not legislating in the best interests of the British people.
I am contributing 6s. 4d. a week to a British Transport Commission pension scheme for railwaymen and when I retire I shall draw 30s. a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "Fabulous."] When the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster replies, I should like to have information about the value of the superannuation which is to be paid to Sir Brian Robertson. If there is to be a division of wealth in the country, the British railwayman, the signalman, the guard and the shunter and all the men who do the real work, should be paid a pension in proportion to the amount of work they do for the community as a whole. When the trade unions come forward with their new claims I hope that the Minister who has arranged for this lump sum and for the salary of £24,000 to be paid to Dr. Beeching will remember this debate. I warn him that thousands of railwayman are watching what the Government are doing.
I think that the whole House will be indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) who opened the debate. He set what I thought has been a very high standard that has been followed in the debate generally, in that although this is a Motion of censure in which, of course, Dr. Beeching is so much involved as the person appointed by the Minister, it can fairly be said that no one on either side of the House has attempted to attack the man or his capabilities. It must go on record that, from our point of view on this side of the House—and I am sure that I speak for all hon. and right hon. Members—Dr. Beeching is undoubtedly a man of great integrity and enormous ability. No one doubts his capacity to do a first-class job.
The Motion of censure is directed against the Government for the statement made last week because, as many hon. and right hon. Members have said, it is the policy that Dr. Beeching is obviously to carry out if he is to be a good servant of the Government that we so much decry. I shall refer to that policy in the course of my speech.
I understand that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not to reply to the debate. We are sorry about that. I know that he has been ill, and we are glad to see him back. We would have had from him a reply which would have been detailed and informative. I understand that instead we are to get a speech from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That is something to which we look forward.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is—I say this respectfully—the best knock-about turn that we have. As I have said, we look forward to his speech, but I ask him to answer many of the detailed points that have been put, because to us this is a matter of grave importance, for it concerns an industry—the transport industry—which means much, as I am sure he will agree, to many of my hon. Friends who have spoken with great passion about it today.
I should like to clear one point up at once. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), claimed that there was not much point in getting upset about Sir Brian Robertson leaving the Commission in June, as Sir Brian was now at an age when he would have left anyway. That is not the position. Sir Brian had terms of appointment which are clearly laid down in the list issued by the Government. The date of expiry of his appointment was 14th September, 1963.
There can be no doubt that Sir Brian has been disposed of by the Government. They may not like the words "sacked" or "dismissed", but it is obvious that he had no alternative but to go when the Minister indicated to him who his successor was to be. I and many of my hon. Friends regard the Minister's statement about Sir Brian and the Commission generally as sheer humbug. I want to put that on record straight away.
The Minister denied a suggestion, put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that Dr. Beeching's task will be to reduce the railways by about 20 per cent. That was not a wild statement by my right hon. Friend. It was quoted with great authority by a leading Conservative newspaper. I say again that we want to know whether any special terms of reference have been given to Dr. Beeching. We are entitled to know that.
In a rather odd remark, the right hon. Gentleman said that this new appointment was worth every penny because, after all, the railways were losing about £300,000 a day. It seems extraordinary if a man's salary is to be judged on the losses of an industry. Presumably, as the Chairman of a Board not losing money he would get what I might term the "flat rate", but as Chairman of a Board losing at the rate of £300,000 a day he warrants a £24,000 salary. I wonder how much Dr. Beeching would have got if the railways had been losing £500,000 a day. He might have got more.
To take the matter further, why not engage the chairman of Jaguar Cars, Ltd.? We are told that he gets £100,000 a year. He must be a brilliant tycoon. Would the Minister have brought this gentleman in, with his special knowledge, and have paid him that sum because he was getting it in private industry? I do not think that he would.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster dealt very eloquently with how much Dr. Beeching gets at the end of the day. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will remember the speech, which, unfortunately, he did not hear—I am not blaming him for that, for he has been present for most of the debate—of his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Montgomery). That speech was courageous. The hon. Member indicated that he will not vote for the Government tonight but will abstain. He said that this is not a debate on Surtax. It was important to say that.
This is indeed not a debate on Surtax. We are talking about the so-called rate for the job. We are told that this was the best man the Minister could find to do the job. We do not trust the Minister. We do not think that he is the sort of person to pick any man to do any job, and the background story of Dr. Beeching's selection is our reason for tabling this Motion of censure.
The Stedeford Committee was established under the most peculiar circumstances. It conducted its negotiations in a disreputable way. Five business men with no railway experience as such were appointed to the Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Ivan Stedeford. We know the terms of reference of the Committee. Its purpose was to consider how to reorganise the railways and get rid of the British Transport Commission.
We shall never know what the Committee recommended. In an important speech earlier this year the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) said that the members of the Committee were not unanimous in their recommendations and that when they met the Minister of Transport they were divided on their views. We shall never know whether that is true. The Minister of Transport picked the one man—and he admitted it—who impressed him. He picked Dr. Beeching from among the members of the Stedeford Committee, although the House had never heard of him. He picked him on the basis of six months' experience, because he found the one man who agreed with the plans which he, the Minister, had decided on.
It is known that the Minister wants to smash the British Transport Commission, and he has found an excuse and reason for doing it. We believe that Dr. Beeching was appointed because, as the Minister said last week, Dr. Beeching impressed him enormously during the time he was a member of the Stedeford Committee. We know this Minister of Transport and how easily he gets impressed. Why did he pick this man? We must assume, and we have a right to do so, that he was the one member of the Committee who agreed with what the Minister wanted, and this led to the White Paper to which I shall refer in a moment.
If I may use the word with respect, Dr. Beeching has been selected as the stooge of the Minister to bring about the destruction of a great British Transport industry. One can understand why right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House have made bitter speeches about the future of the railways as they see it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) said, this appointment will have enormous repercussions throughout the country not only among the ordinary public but among the railwaymen.
I also put this to the House. Surely it is an affront to the chairmen of other nationalised boards that they are not worth a salary of this kind. Indeed, it was intriguing to listen to the new line adopted by Tory hon. Members. They now say that nationalisation is pretty good. Today is the first time we have heard that line adopted. I have never before heard hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they admire nationalisation and that only the best is good enough for these people.
We cannot, and will not, accept that this man has been appointed purely to try to help the nationalised industry. I put it on record that the terms of the White Paper must eventually mean the complete and utter destruction of all that the British Transport Commission stood for.
The background to this story is quite clear. When the Prime Minister made his statement last year it led to the setting up of the Stedeford Committee, and later to the White Paper. He said that the whole purpose of the inquiry was to cut out uneconomic services and reorganise the British Transport Commission.
I know that hon. Members opposite get bored with this, but they must put up with a restatement of the elementary facts. From 1951 onwards the Government have been determined to destroy what the Labour Party established in 1947—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have the support of hon. Members opposite for that statement—and they have done it to the extent that the Commission is now losing money at the rate of £300,000 a day. But at the time when this Government came into power the Commission was not losing money but making money. To satisfy their political ego the Government destroyed a good thing, and they now say, "This great man whom we have appointed—this great tycoon—will rescue this great industry." Rescue it from what? He will have to rescue it from the state into which they have put it. We can look back not so many years, to the days when the then Opposition vehemently declared that, given a chance, they would destroy the whole idea of an integrated and co-ordinated transport system. The Times in December last year gave the story, quoting from the debates of that period and saying how proud the Conservatives should be with what they had achieved to date, and that there could be no doubt that the Act of 1962 would be the final blow to the whole concept of an integrated and co-ordinated transport system. Is the Minister proud of what he has done to the transport system?
In the past his line has been, "Do not blame me. I have been in office for only eighteen months. Blame my predecessor for this." He has always said that. He loses his sense of decency and respect for his own colleagues when he says that. He has been a member of the Conservative Party, but he proceeds on the basis that he was not responsible. Nevertheless, the damage that he has done to the transport industry in the last eighteen months is something we shall not forget or forgive.
The White Paper was produced as a result of the Stedeford Committee's Report. That White Paper provides Dr. Beeching's terms of reference. Let us consider what he has to do. As the
months go by we shall learn from the hon. Member for Kidderminster and others what their reaction is if Dr. Beeching carries out his job according to the terms of the White Paper. Do the public understand what they are heading for? The White Paper says that:
Sweeping changes will be needed. Effort and sacrifices will be required from all. The public will have to be prepared to face changes in the extent and nature of the services provided and, when necessary, in the prices charged for them.
The taxpayer will have to face a major capital reorganisation. …
Dr. Beeching's terms of reference are clear. He must cut out uneconomic services. It must be remembered that it is largely as a result of this Government's policies that that is necessary. That is our complaint.
Let us turn to the question of the structure of the system. Dr. Beeching will be Chairman of the Commission and then later, Chairman of the British Railways Board. Let us consider what happens then. Under the structure designed by the Minister he becomes a member of a body called the Nationalised Transport Advisory Council. Sitting with him will be the Chairman of the London Transport Board; the Chairman of the Docks Board; the Chairman of the Inland Waterways Authority and the Chairman of the Holding Company. Sitting as Chairman of Chairmen will be the Minister of Transport. Such a busy little man is this Minister! How can he hope to do all this? Under these terms of reference Dr. Beeching is still a servant of the Government, so that many of the transport industry's policies will be decided by the Minister, and we must pay Dr. Beeching £24,000 a year to take orders from him.
His colleagues on the Advisory Council will be receiving far lower salaries than his, and Dr. Beeching will be receiving five times what the Minister himself is getting. That is not a bad idea. If it was a question of the relative value of the Minister of Transport, I would say that none of us would want to pay him anything at all, but it is an extraordinary anomaly to have an Advisory Council, of which the Minister of Transport will be the Chairman, and a member of which will be getting five times his own salary—and for doing what? Carrying out the terms of reference in a White Paper of this kind which, in our humble opinion, will completely and utterly destroy the transport industry.
Why did not the Minister consider some of the others who are employed at the moment on the British Transport Commission? Does he not realise how insulting he has been to them? Are they not capable men, some of them with years of experience in the transport industry? Let me quote one or two. They are not supporters of the Labour Party, but they are almost capable of as much ability as the hon. Member for Kidderminster. I doubt if that is so, but they might be.
There is first Mr. Barker, the managing director of Parkinson Cowan. I should have thought that he had some ability. Then, there is Sir Leonard Sinclair, the chairman and managing director of Standard Oil Company, who has done a fine job of work for the B.T.C. Why should not he have been considered? Is he an inferior type? Then there is Mr. Hanks, chairman and managing director of the Nuffield Organisation. He must be feeling a very sad person tonight to think that he was not considered to be quite good enough, when after the short experience the Minister of Transport had had of Dr. Beeching, he was appointed. Last, we have Mr. Chamberlain. He is not very important, because he is only a director of Tube Investments, and we would not expect him to be appointed.
All these people have been brushed away because this Minister of Transport happened by chance when he appointed the Stedeford Committee to find the one man he admired, and decided to have him, for the reasons I have given, because he was the one man who agreed to the Minister's overall plans. That is my belief, and because of that, he has come to the House today to suggest that this salary of £24,000 is absolutely right.
What does this mean now? It means that no man can be expected to go into a job for the public service unless he is paid exactly the rate outside. That is what we believe. Does not the Minister understand what harm he is doing here? Let me give him this credit. He seems to me to be doing his job as a Minister for very much less than he had when he was outside, but does that make him a fool, an idiot or a buffoon? I think that in that way there is a little bit of honour to be attributed to him, in that he regards this public service as Minister of Transport worth while, but there are so many others of whom the same could be said.
The Prime Minister himself is accepting a salary far below what ought to be paid Ministers of the Crown, but he does it because he is a man with a sense of public service, and I believe that most hon. Members in this House are not concerned only with any personal profit, but the Minister of Transport has laid down that those in the public service must be paid the rate in private enterprise. I will not accept that as necessarily right or that it will in fact attract the best men. On that basis alone, I would say why not appoint a man earning £100,000 a year working for Jaguar motors? I gather that he is five times better than Dr. Beeching, if we are talking about salaries only, which is what the Minister used as a yardstick.
There have been a number of articles written about this, but I would quote only one. I gave notice to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) that I would do so. The hon. Member for Uxbridge is now a regular contributor to the Evening News, which, to most of us who were readers of the Star, is a very obnoxious newspaper today. When we pick up the Evening News and see articles of this kind, naturally we who used to read the Star do not like them very much.
The hon. Member wrote an article asking if anybody was worth £24,000 a year, and I will quote the last paragraph:
Even if Dr. Beeching does no more than give us clean and punctual trains, he will be worth every penny of this fabulous salary.
I must ask: is it really believed, even by the hon. Gentleman, that Dr. Beeching is going to go out and clean every train himself? Is he going to drive every train himself? Let me point out to the House that the only way in which we shall get clean, punctual trains is by the simple process of spending millions on modernisation and by ensuring that those who clean the trains get a darned sight better rate of pay than they receive now. We do not need Dr. Beeching nor £24,000 a year to tell us that elementary fact. The truth is that much of this argument, that somehow this great man has a magical formula which will bring everything up-to-date overnight, is stuff and nonsense.
I believe that the story of the appointment of this man, whose ability we do not doubt, is a complete indictment of the Government. He will carry out faithfully and well all that the Minister of Transport and the Tory Government intend should be done—the complete abolition of the sort of things that we on this side of the House believe to be absolutely essential for the transport industry, co-ordination and integration. These things must be wiped out. He will endeavour to run the railways at a so-called profit. If he attempts to do so he will earn the anger, the ire, of the railwaymen, and perhaps there will be a question of industrial unrest among them. This is what must be weighed against the appointment of Dr. Beeching. That is why we take the matter so seriously and why we believe that what the Minister has said in the White Paper, followed by the appointment of Dr. Beeching, is something which will be a disaster to the nation.
For these reasons we shall go into the Lobby tonight to vote against the Government.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) found it possible in the opening part of his speech to say that in this debate no one had desired to nor had, in fact, criticised Dr. Beeching personally. That only adds to my regret that in his own speech the hon. Member should have made a bitter and personal attack on Dr. Beeching. He described him as the Minister's "stooge". He alleged that Dr. Beeching owed his appointment to having taken a line acceptable to the Minister. The hon. Gentleman used words which I hope I can generously interpret as not criticising Dr. Beeching personally, but I doubt whether in fact those words will bear that generous interpretation.
On one thing we can agree, that nothing which has been said in this vigorous and lively debate will disguise from Dr. Beeching or the country as a whole our common hope that as the result of his work, and the work of others, our railways will be reorganised so as to achieve even higher standards of efficiency; so as to achieve solvency, with all that means to those to whom the railways are their life, to those who use the railways and to the economy of the country as a whole. I believe that on that there is general agreement, but there, perhaps, the agreement ends.
Criticisms have varied enormously in character. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) spoke of the grave and momentous issues involved. On the other hand, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) plainly stated that there had been too much inbreeding in the railways and that new blood would do no harm. The hon. Member made no criticism of the selection of Dr. Beeching and went on, as he was fully entitled to do, to devote the rest of his speech to a constituency problem involving the Great Central Railway. I make no complaint of that, but it seemed an odd justification for a Motion of censure on my right hon. Friend.
I accept that from the hon. Member, and I withdraw the word "constituency" from what I said.
I come now to the very important issues involved, which were raised by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall and the hon. Member for Bermondsey. The first issue can be put in two ways. Should the Government in making this appointment have gone outside the railways? The answer to that question depends on an understanding of the job to be done. The task, as my right hon. Friend explained earlier, is to transform, recast, and reorganise our railway system, to adapt it to the needs of the modern world, to achieve an even higher degree of efficiency and, not least, to bring it nearer solvency.
By any standards this is an exceptional task for an exceptional man. It is no criticism of the Commission or of its higher levels of management that a man should be brought in for this special job from outside any more than it is a criticism if the management of a firm in private industry seeks to strengthen itself with some new blood in order to deal with a crisis in its fortunes. There is a crisis in the fortunes of the railways.
My right hon. Friend gave in clear and unambiguous terms the considerations which led him to select Dr. Beeching for this task. I need not repeat them. Few will deny that a great industry which is costing the taxpayer £100 million a year, to put it at its lowest may well benefit from a brilliant and experienced mind brought in from outside to re-fashion, re-mould and adapt its structure and finances.
That is the essence of our case. The point has been put—perhaps it is the same point—in another way. Can a man who is not a railwayman by training do this job? The right hon. Member for Vauxhall added that a knowledge of railway matters is not essential, in his view, although the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), in his robust and forthright speech, put his position quite plainly.
Bearing in mind the task which needs to be done, the emphasis which needs to be laid on commercial and financial matters, and the problem of deciding the size of new investment, it would be wrong to assume that only a railwayman could do the job. In any case, it has never been the practice, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall knows, to limit the field for chairmanship of nationalised industries to inside experts.
I could give many examples. Sir Miles Thomas went to B.O.A.C. from the motor industry. Sir Brian Robertson, although he had experience of transport, went from the military and diplomatic fields to the British Transport Commission. As has been mentioned today, Mr. Alfred Robens, for all his other considerable experience, could hardly claim an expertise in mining. The Leader of the Opposition, when Minister of Fuel and Power, appointed six chairmen of area gas boards, not one of whom came from within the gas industry. One came from the Indian Civil Service, another from an engineering company, another from the board of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, another was a town clerk, another came from British South African Airways, and another was chairman or managing director or both of Coal Wharves Limited. I make no complaint of that, but let us not sustain the pretence that it is not reasonable and proper to bring to the chairmanship of a nationalised industry a person from outside.
Having decided, for the reasons explained by my right hon. Friend earlier, that Dr. Beeching was the man, should we have asked him to come to the job for less than he was receiving? He is coming for five years to tackle this fundamental task of transforming the structure and finances of the British Transport Commission, to re-organise as well as to run, as my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) put it in his excellent speech. We are borrowing Dr. Beeching from I.C.I. for the purpose. Under arrangements made with his employers, he will serve the State for five years. Five years happens to be the normal period of appointment for such a post as well as the period which is regarded in the White Paper as necessary for the result of the basic re-organisation to Show themselves. Under the present arrangements, the job being done, he will return to I.C.I., which, as my right hon. Friend said, in anticipation of his return will in the meantime have kept his pension arrangements in being.
My right hon. Friend did not think up the remuneration for Dr. Beeching. He decided for good reasons that Dr. Beeching was the man for this enormous task and, having reached that decision, he decided to pay Dr. Beeching for this period of five years for which he is borrowed from I.C.I. for this great task the same remuneration as he was receiving. What conceivably is wrong in that?
I am making my own speech. We have not had the advantage of the presence of the hon. Member throughout the debate, so perhaps he will allow me to proceed.
I wish to treat with the seriousness with which he raised them the points which the right hon. Member for Vauxhall put. Paraphrasing his words, he asked, in effect, whether any fundamental change in the approach to remuneration in the nationalised boards is involved. He argued that it is. The answer is that an outside man is being brought in to do a special job for a specified period for a special salary, and there are precedents for this. Of itself, this does not necessarily raise the whole question of remuneration throughout the higher levels of the nationalised industries.
Obviously, the salaries of the chairmen and members of the nationalised boards are not immutable any more than are salaries paid elsewhere in the public service; nor should they be. They may have to be modified from time time if circumstances require. The point I make is that they do not have to be modified as a consequence of a special appointment for a special purpose at a special salary to meet a special need. Neither downwards through the railway industry nor sideways through the other nationalised boards does it follow that the remuneration of a special man brought in for a special job at a salary determined by what he is now receiving need cause automatic repercussions.
I am coming to all the serious issues which have been raised. I know some hon. Members feel—I think the right hon. Gentleman touched on this, certainly other hon. Members did—that, this appointment apart, the general level of top grade remuneration in private industry is so much higher than that obtaining in nationalised industries that the services of the best men will be denied to such industries. Opinions may differ on this. Clearly it is a situation which will have to be watched, for we must get the men we need. But, whatever may be decided to be the normal level from time to time, we must not deny ourselves the right to bring in special men for special jobs, even if, as in this case, it means special pay.
We wanted this man for a gigantic task and we shall pay him what he is getting at present. What does not follow is that the Government have decided that it is right that the salaries of the members of the boards of nationalised industries should normally match those paid in the higher reaches of private industry. There are, of course, significant differences between the conditions of service in the two spheres of activity. Different people seek different satisfactions in different kinds of career.
The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) raised the more general but not less important question, will any wage claims be aggravated and will inflation result from this decision? Wage claims will no doubt come forward in this as in other industries when it is believed that there is a sustainable case. For my part, I have never yet heard of a wage claim put forward on the basis of the salaries of directors in private industry. The right hon. Member knows a great deal more about great industry than I do, but I should be interested to know if he has ever heard of this argument being used. The same applies to nationalised industries. Wage claims have their own basis, and that will go on.
I believe that those who use this argument under-estimate the good sense of those who work in industry. They want the highest degree of competence in the management of the industries which are their livelihood. They know that if management fails they suffer. I just do not believe that the majority of workers will resent or resist the payment of high salaries to top management however much those salaries appear to be in relation to their wages. I do not believe the miners resented the payment of £10,000 a year to Sir James Bowman or to Mr. Alfred Robens. Nor do I believe that I.C.I. workers resent the even higher level of remuneration to I.C.I. directors. What is of paramount importance to railwaymen is that their industry should thrive. I am sure they put that above everything else.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) asked what there is about the I.C.I.—first Fleck and now Beeching? I shall tell the House what there is. It is successful. It has first-class management and it contributes very greatly by its exports to the standards of life in this country. The hon. Member for Birkenhead in, as I have said, a robust and forthright speech, seemed to regard it as a powerful criticism of Dr. Beeching that he had never heard of him before. I think that a new kind of test for candidates for greatness. What is a pity is that he went on to deride a man he does not even know.
He asked some questions about Sir Brian Robertson and his position, to which of course I shall gladly answer. The hon. Member for Bermondsey has put the record right about the dates of his appointment. He is to receive £12,500 as a lump sum in addition to his superannuation provision.
Yes, gross, and incidentally, subject to tax, in order to bring the point out. Sir Brian Robertson has, of course, to go just over two years before he ordinarily would. This is compensation for that loss of employment and loss of emoluments, and I believe that the House will think that this is a matter which we can accept without casting further critical eyes upon it.
I appreciate the reply which the right hon. Gentleman has given us. I think that I am not doing Sir Brian Robertson or the Government an injustice when I say that what this comes to is that Sir Brian is being paid this sum because the Government have chosen to dismiss him.
I suggest to the hon. Member that we should keep this at its simplest. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I think that this sort of discussion brings Sir Brian into this unnecessarily, as does the further allegation that the hon. Gentleman and others have made that Sir Brian Robertson was sacked.