Orders of the Day — Railways

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th April 1963.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 30th April 1963

So far in this debate there have been 15 speeches. Of these, 11 have been highly critical of the Government's proposals for railway closures and only four have supported those proposals, and I can reach that figure only by including, more on the basis of courtesy than on the basis of fact, the two Government Front Bench speeches which we had yesterday. I suppose that diligent research would enable us to find a more pathetic brace of speeches from the Treasury Bench in one day. All I can say is that it has been my good fortune not to have heard them.

Obviously, the Government must have a case, even if we have not heard it, and I propose to address myself to what I think that case is. Before I do, I should like to reply directly to the Minister's challenge to me yesterday about the possible strike. As will be clear from what I am to say, I regard the battle on the future of the British transport system as political. It should take place in the House and ultimately at the polling booths. Of course, there are questions, such as compensation and the protection of union members, which are matters for collective bargaining and for whatever industrial action is thought appropriate, but the Government's proposals for railway closures are a political matter and I shall have a lot to say about them this afternoon.

We certainly do not want a strike. The N.U.R. does not want a strike. I am not quite so sure about some hon. Members opposite. I acquit the Minister. I am sure that he does not want a strike, although I am bound to tell him on what I have heard that his inept and flatfooted handling of the meeting with the unions made a strike more and not less likely. The whole House yesterday saw just how inept the Minister can be. If there is a strike—and I profoundly hope that there will not be—the responsibility for it will lie clearly on the Government, who, for ten years, have systematically destroyed the integrated transport system which we had and who have undermined the whole financial structure of the railways. It does not lie in the mouths of right hon. Gentlemen opposite to talk about unconstitutional action when it was they who set aside the whole machinery of railway conciliation and arbitration eighteen months ago and imposed a wages diktat on the industry.

Having said that, the first thing that I want to say on the main issues that we are debating is that we are not attacking Dr. Beeching or the Beeching Report. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said yesterday, within the narrow contents of his appointment Dr. Beeching has produced a Report which makes a valuable contribution to the basic information needed for the formulation of a national transport policy. Certainly, within the terms of reference that he was given Dr. Beeching has done a competent and efficient job.

Dr. Beeching was given a job of surgery to do, and he has done it, deep incisive, antiseptic; amputative surgery on the grand scale, although many railwaymen and railway users in Lincolnshire and many other parts of the country might prefer the word "butchery" to "surgery". But this was not Dr. Beeching's fault. He was told to apply surgery in a situation where surgery was not the main or relevant answer, and, as was made clear from the Minister's speech yesterday, the surgery has preceded the diagnosis.

The fault lies not in the answer that Dr. Beeching has given to the question put to him, but in the question that was put. The fault lies not in Dr. Beeching, but in the Minister, in the Cabinet and in the Prime Minister who, in his new vantage point from the 1970s, looks like succeeding in producing a situation in which, as my right hon. Friend pointed out in an example taken from the constituency of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), the speed of travel is reduced to the speed of the stage coach.

I want to put this plain challenge to the Minister, and if, as he intends, this ever-tolerant and long-suffering House gives him leave to reply tonight, I hope that he will reply to it. I want him to answer this question: suppose the Minister had given Dr. Beeching these terms of reference, namely, to survey the whole of inland transport, having regard to alternative services, to economic development, to social needs, to distribution of industry policy and to real cost, as apposed to narrow bookkeeping considerations. Does he think that we would have had the same Report? Of course we should not, or the same proposals for closures. So I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer that question frankly tonight.

This is not to say that some closures will not be necessary. We have never claimed otherwise. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall said this last year during the debates on the Transport Bill. Every union, including the N.U.R., has said it, too. No one wants to perpetuate the railway map of the 1860s, a map which shows the results of Tory private enterprise run mad. Because they were afraid of monopoly they built competing lines, and this fallacy of thinking that one has competition in rail transport is a fallacy in which Ministers themselves believed until Dr. Beeching came along this year.

Some of the railways of the nineteenth century were built by avaricious company promoters for their nuisance value in the hope of being bribed not to build by existing railway Operators, or, if they did have to build, of being able to sell at a profit. Again, the fantastic land costs and the Parliamentary costs of building these railways saddled the railway system with a capital burden which has lasted up to our times. We hold no brief for the mistakes of Victorian entrepreneurs. What we are trying to do is to ensure that Britain's transport problems are approached with more breadth and vision in the 1960s than they were a century ago.

Some cuts are necessary. The question is which, and how to assess them. I think that many businessmen, including, I suspect, some hon. Members, approach this problem on the basis of a false analogy with manufacturing industry. Consider any representative manufacturing industry. Consider the soap industry. If there are 12 soap factories producing below capacity, one might decide to close two and concentrate production on the rest. One will probably choose the two least efficient to close, and closing them has no effect on the efficiency of the other 10, nor is the consumer affected. He still gets all the soap he wants.

But this does not apply with transport. To close one sector of the railway system affects all the others, because traffic arising in one area affects the profitability of the rest of the system. All parts of the transport system are members one of another, so when one closes part of this it is not an ordinary business decision. It is more in the nature of an amputation. Moreover, to close one sector means denying to transport users in that area transport facilities which they otherwise would have had.

Our attack on the Government is based on the fact that this Report is based on narrow book-keeping considerations. It bears no relation to wider economic considerations affecting the national interest as a whole, still less to the social considerations, because we are dealing in this debate, and in this Report, with a service, not purely an industry, which constitutes an essential part of what it is now fashionable to call the economic infrastructure of the country. That is why it is totally wrong to base a decision on a narrow obsession with railway accountancy. One has to take account of the wider effects for the country as a whole.

What would be the position if we were to apply the Beeching technique elsewhere? The Board of Trade runs a useful service for exporters, obviously at a loss. I only wish that more use were made of this excellent service. Because it makes a bookkeeping loss, should it be closed? It would save several thousands of pounds if it were but it would lose millions of pounds of export trade. I tremble to think of the Beeching technique being applied to another service, the Post Office. Should we close those post offices and those delivery systems which work at a loss, and keep only those that work at a profit? We apply the opposite approach in the case of rural electricity. The whole basis of rural electricity policy under successive Governments has been to extend rural services at a loss and to recoup them with the profits made on easier parts of the system.

So with the railways. We may close a railway losing £8,000 a year, but suppose this means spending £250,000 on improving the roads, on providing alternative services, or subsidising bus services in those areas. Suppose we save £8,000, and then add immeasurably more in social costs through increased road congestion? The Minister's advisers have calculated that congestion on the roads is losing £500 million a year through wear and tear and through loss of working time, to say nothing of the cost in human lives.

The Minister yesterday set out to reassure us. He did not altogether succeed. He said that he will be the judge in every case, and he repeated the procedure that he is required by Statute—his Statute—to follow. In every case the decision will be taken, we were told, only after an impartial, cool, judicial appraisal by this the most judicial of Ministers. Nothing will be prejudged. He went on, careful to prejudge nothing, repeatedly to refer to the intention to close one-third of the railways. Indeed, at one point he said that when he had disposed of that he would have a look at the next third, which he regarded as somewhat more marginal.

This is the judicial procedure made familiar in Alice in Wonderland—sentence first, verdict afterwards. If I were casting for Alice in Wonderland, it would not be the Queen of Hearts that I would give the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he would be in the tea-party scene. This, at any rate, is the doctrine that we had yesterday—decide now and hear the evidence afterwards. I think that the right hon. Gentleman revealed the truth when he referred to Northern Ireland. His subconscious was certainly showing at that point. Nobody needs to worry that he will not be consulted before his own line is closed.

I want to ask the Minister, first, what consideration he has given to the economic consequences of his policy. Let us look at capital investment. We are spending £70 million a year on railway modernisation and, on the basis of Government figures, about £500 million on investment in road transport, including lorries. We are to save, we are told—although there is some doubt about it—between £30 million and £40 million a year gross by the closure policy, although part of it—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall made clear yesterday—will be achieved by transferring the burden from the railways to the National Coal Board and to coal, gas and electricity consumers. It is not a net saving from the national point of view.

How much more capital expenditure will this mean on roads, road haulage goods vehicles, and buses, and how much additional current expenditure will be needed to subsidise bus companies and for additional road maintenance? We should be given these figures before we vote tonight. I would regard it as inconceivable that this decision should have been taken without the fullest costings. We must assume that the Minister has not taken this decision on future transport policy without having all these figures available to him. Will he give them to us in his winding-up speech tonight?

Secondly, I want to ask what thought the right hon. Gentleman has given to the problem of road congestion. What estimates has he made? Has he had surveys made, and estimates of the new building that will need to be done? In 1957, his advisers calculated that 62 per cent. of our trunk roads and 23 per cent, of our Class I roads were already, by that time, used beyond the Ministry of Transport design capacity. Thirteen per cent. of the trunk road and Class I road mileage was then being used at more than double the Ministry of Transport design capacity. That was in 1957, and we all know how much road congestion has increased since that date.

What will he do to solve this problem when he has closed one-third of our railways? Will he build more motorways? At what cost does he think this programme will be reasonable? How does he think that he will solve the transport problem? I cannot remember who said, recently, that the motorway is the shortest distance between two traffic jams. Perhaps he will tell us what will be the additional cost in road congestion, or what road expenditure will be required to avoid additional road congestion.

Thirdly, what consideration has been given to development district policy? Here we have the Government plan. Over thirty Ministers go to Chequers to look at Britain in the 1970s, but their plan for 1963, apparently—this is their idea of planning—is to spend millions in order to persuade industry to go to the development districts, while, at the same time, a different Department is closing many of the railways which are serving those areas. Is this planning?

We have read a statement by the railway authorities that the railway serving the Wiggins Teape area was likely to be closed, but is being kept open for the Wiggins Teape development. Last night, if I understood the Secretary of State for Scotland correctly—and that is not an easy operation—I thought that he said, referring to a railway in the constituency of one of his hon. Friends, that there were prospects of industrial development, and that if that industrial development came along it would save the railway.

That is all very fine. But let us suppose that it does not come along this year. Let us suppose that the railways close down and that someone then wants to bring new industrial development into the area, next year or the year after. Let us suppose that the line to Fort William had been closed and there had not been a Wiggins Teape, but that a future Wiggins Teape came along. What would have been the position? The firm would not have been located there, because there would have been no railway. It is impossible to pursue a railway development planning policy with the approach of the Minister of Transport.

My fourth point concerns rural development. We all heard last night, or have read, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones). A Welsh Planning Bureau, or whatever it is called, is being set up, and the event is being celebrated by the closing down of most of the lines serving rural Wales! Has the Welsh Planning Bureau been consulted about these proposals? Yesterday, the Scottish Tourist Board issued a statement saying that it feared: that the proposed railway amputations"— those were its own words— would mean the withering away of whole Highland communities. Fifthly, I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about national economic development. Was the N.E.D.C. consulted before the Minister came to the decision that he put forward yesterday? Has anyone worked out what the transport needs of the country will be, or even what the potential railway revenues will be, in the 1970s and 1980s, based on the N.E.D.C. plan of a 4 per cent. increase in production year in, year out, for the next twenty years? Or is the N.E.D.C. target meant to last just from now until the next General Election?

The Government believe in planning for this year, anyway, but on this major issue the Minister is allowed to close one-third of the nation's railways without even inviting the views of the N.E.D.C. There has been no such instance of administrative frivolity since the same Government decided to enter the Common Market without asking their economic advisers what the economic consequences would be. Can the Minister say whether the N.E.D.C. was consulted before he reached the conclusion that he announced in the House yesterday?

Sixthly, I turn to the question of the docks. We are glad that, having taken this decision, the Minister is setting up a joint committee to evaluate the effect of what he has decided upon the implementation of the Rochdale Report. But why did he not take into account the full implications of the Rochdale Report before he came to his conclusions on railway policy? Is he satisfied that cutting the railways out will solve British Railways' financial problem?

Over the last ten years, 3,600 miles of track have been closed. That is 19 per cent. of the mileage previously in operation. Presumably this 19 per cent.—roughly one-fifth of our track mileage—must have been the least remunerative of the lot. Presumably that is why it was first selected for closure. Yet its closure saved only 7 per cent. of the working deficit of British Railways in 1960, and this takes no account of the additional cost to the nation of the closures, or the loss of main line traffic caused by the closures of feeder services. Will he explain his calculations?

If the closing of one-fifth of the track mileage makes so little difference to the operating deficit of British Railways, what will the next one-third do? Why should the Minister think that there will be any difference? Or does he agree with the Annual Report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee, which said: the negative policy of closing down uneconomic facilities, while contributing a small financial saving, is not the panacea it is sometimes made out to be. Will he comment on that Report, which I believe has been made to him?

I now come to the broader issue. The problem that British Railways face is one that is found in almost every country in the world. There is hardly a country where the railways pay their way. The problem is created, first, by the growth of private motoring—the avalanche that the Minister said would hit us in the near future—and, secondly, by the creaming off of the more profitable parts of freight traffic by road haulage. Those are the reasons for the worldwide railway crisis, and the only way to solve it, as we have said repeatedly, is by an integrated transport policy which does two things: first, ensures that the profits creamed off from rail to road are brought into the transport pool, where they belong, and are not siphoned off by the owners; and, secondly, ensures an economic division of traffic between road and rail. These are the two essential items of an integrated transport policy.

That is what the Labour Government set out to do in the 1947 Act. I do not claim that we made no mistakes; of course we did. I will mention one. By fixing the value of compensation, the total monetary volume of transport stock, at the end of 1947, when low interest rates were ruling, and then appending an interest rate to that stock in 1949, based on higher long-term rates, we saddled the railways with an uneconomic interest burden, and made it a fixed charge on railway earnings.

But basically, whatever mistakes we made, we achieved viability for the transport system, a viability which continued until the wreckers got at it after 1951. Of course, British Railways were still paying their way until 1953. This was remarkable—it really was—because of the growth of road competition on a scale far exceeding pre-war, especially with C licences, because the House will recall that the privately-owned railway system was already facing financial disaster before the war.

We all remember the brave efforts of the Prime Minister, when a railway director, to work up the Great Western Railway into a profitable proposition. The year that he was appointed a director it paid £7 10s. per cent. on ordinary stock. In 1931, it paid £5 10s. per cent. on ordinary stock and in that year the G.W.R. asked the National Wages Board to reduce wages. In 1932, it was £3 per cent. on ordinary stock and again in 1933 it was £3 per cent. on ordinary stock. In November, 1932, the G.W.R. asked for a 10 per cent. cut in the wages of railway staff. Then it started paying dividends out of reserves.

Then, in 1935, the G.W.R. paid £3 per cent. on ordinary stock by dipping into reserves. In 1936, it paid £3 per cent. on ordinary stock for the previous year, on earnings only slightly over 1 per cent. In 1938, it paid £4 per cent. on ordinary stock. This was achieved by slacking off on capital equipment, as the chairman pointed out that the company ought to postpone the provision of much needed capital equipment because of this dividend position.

We are now having to meet that expenditure. The plan for Euston Station was prepared years ago, but the private companies would not touch it. Now it is having to be done at much increased cost. By 1939, when the dividend was only 10s. per cent. on ordinary stock we were told that the company distributed for the purpose of dividends £8,210,000 when it was not being earned. After nine years of the right hon. Gentleman, the Great Western Railway lost its trustee status.

The reason why I am mentioning this illustration—and I could say that compared with this the L.N.E.R. was really a hair-raising story—is that already, in 1938, the railways were bankrupt. In 1938, they were plastering the bill boards with the demand "The Railways Demand a Square Deal Now," and by "Square Deal" they meant some kind of protection against the depredations of road haulage. Yet at the time there were only 513,000 lorries on the road. By 1952, there were 1,046,000, and yet British Railways were still paying their way, a remarkable achievement. In 1938, when the railways were screaming for a Square Deal, there were 365,000 C licence vehicles and in 1952 there were 834,000 C licence vehicles.

The reason why publicly-owned transport was still breaking even, even with all this increase in road haulage, was that of the lorries on the road 96,000 were publicly-owned and their profits contributing to the national pool. It was the 1953 Act which destroyed the ability of British transport to pay its way. It was the action of a Tory Government, not their first or their last, looting national assets to provide nice pickings for their friends.

The railway crisis began from the moment that a doctrinaire Government scrapped the idea of a national integrated transport policy, and the Beeching Report is the consummation of that policy. These closures, with all that they mean, are the direct consequence of poli- tical vandalism, made worse by repeated political interference to stop British Railways charging economic rates, and, of course, by the continued and unregulated growth of private road haulage competition. As a result of ten years of this policy we now get the panic measures of the Beeching Report, at the very moment when the Americans are building new passenger lines for commuter services in their big conurbations.

The Government claim to be modern. They claim to be planners. Although they are a bit sheepish about claiming to be planners, they still claim it. This is not modernisation. It is a flat refusal to face up to modern problems. This is planning in blinkers. Let me mention the position in France, where war damage destroyed 75 per cent. of the rolling stock and most of the marshalling yards. But as a result of a vigorous policy of public enterprise, modernisation, high investment in new rolling stock and electrification, and although France has a bigger mileage of track than we have and with only half our numbers of locomotives, passenger coaches and wagons, their average load per wagon of 17 tons is about double what ours is. Their loss is minimal compared with ours. One reason why France has had this success is partly because its railways have tackled the problem of coordinating road and rail.

France has weighted taxes to induce road hauliers to concentrate on routes insufficiently served by the railways and it has higher taxes on road haulage where it is in competition with the railways and where the roads are congested. France has a system of fixing road and rail charges on the basis of the real cost of operation. We could do the same and win through, but the Government will not try it. In place of integration, which the French are trying, we have disintegration. We are even subsiding road haulage. It has been estimated—I know that there are many different methods of making the computation—that the 20-ton lorry is subsidised to the tune of £100 a week. The Beeching Report, valuable in its restricted field of railway economies considered in isolation, is the product of defeatism and refusal to face the future on the basis of a national transport policy.

Now I turn to what in our view we should do. First, on the Beeching closures. No decision, no major decision, on closures should be made until there has been a comparable and equally ruthless survey of transport as a whole. In every case, in every area, there must be a costing not just of railway profit and loss but of the real economic cost of providing alternative transport.

Secondly, the plan as a whole should be referred for a full-scale study of the national economic consequences, and I challenge the Minister when he replies to say that he will refer the whole plan to the N.E.D.C. before he takes a decision, first, for an expert appraisal by the skilled N.E.D.C. Secretariat and, secondly, for an assessment by the members of the Council of the national economic implications.

The N.E.D.C. should make estimates of the effect on the Beeching calculations of the N.E.D.C. Report. That Report, as I have said, involved an increase in the national production of 4 per cent. per annum. An increase of 4 per cent. per annum for twenty years gives about 100 per cent. Has anyone thought of calculating what this means in terms of railway traffic and revenue, or do the Government believe that we are not going to have a 4 per cent. increase per annum for twenty years?

But even more important than the effect of the N.E.D.C. plan on the Beeching plan is the effect of the Beeching Report on the N.E.D.C. plan. So I ask the right hon. Gentleman either to announce that he will have second thoughts, and make this reference to the N.E.D.C., and take no action in the implementation of the Report until the N.E.D.C. has been consulted, or admit that in this vital area of planning the Government refuse to plan.

Thirdly, the Government should make an estimate of future developments in the transport field. They are not looking ahead. They talk about being modern. The truth is that they are facing the problems of the 1960s with the restrictionist philosophies of the 1930s. This is the philosophy which inspired Shipbuilders Security Ltd., Jarrow, or the 1959 decision of the Government to consign the Lancashire cotton industry to the knacker's yard.

I therefore ask the Government to look to the future. What place has been given to the monorail in future transport planning in connection with urban transport? Can we really decide what we are to do about London transport, and the closure of commuter lines, until a decision has been taken about that? In connection with some of the more remote systems of transport, and in some of the areas which the Secretary of State for Scotland 'talked about last night, have they overlooked the possible future of the hovercraft—itself, if I may say so, a triumphant product of public enterprise?

Fourthly, I ask the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever replaces him, to begin again and to see what would be the future of British Railways as part of an integrated transport system. What thought has been given to the possible role of British Road Services as providing a modern and effective feeder service to British Railways, both of them under the same ownership, and not disintegrated as in the 1962 Transport Act?

Fifthly, having made this survey, let us have a national plan; a plan directed to national economic development; a plan integrated with, and not destructive of, sound regional and development area planning. I say seriously that this plan cannot work, nor can transport become a viable public service, except on the basis of the two principles which I have laid down: first, that the profits of all sections of transport, the more profitable and the less profitable, are more closely integrated; and, secondly, that there are effective means of securing a right division between road and rail traffics.

On the first of these, in "Signposts for the Sixties" we have said that an essential step must be to expand the public sector of road goods haulage, not only as a feeder service, but as a natural road service, by taking the artificial ceiling off the expansion of B.R.S. wherever it is economic and profitable for B.R.S. to expand. Equally, the plan must provide for the right distribution of traffic between road and rail. One essential part will be to make whatever changes are needed in A and B licensing regulations, including distance limits. Here we have the Government, after twelve years in office, and after deciding their rail transport policy, setting up an inquiry to look at a 30-year-old licensing system. Having done nothing about it for twelve years, now they are to look at it, having decided on their rail policy.

Let us be frank. The problem cannot be solved without tackling the problem of the C licences and a national transport plan will have to provide for this. The number of C licences has risen from 365,000 in 1938 to 834,000 in 1952 and to 1,254,000 in 1961. It is impossible—the House must face this—to have an effective or viable transport system, or to avoid a degree of road congestion which will mean a total seize-up on Britain's roads before very long if the number of C licences is to continue to expand indefinitely.

Various suggestions have been made for dealing with this problem. One school of thought suggests much tighter licensing, the refusal of a licence except on the basis of proof of need and the absence of alternative transport facilities. I have my reservations about a licensing system which gives a vested position to everyone who has a licence at the time of the new system, while providing tougher tests for potential newcomers.

Some existing C licence holders may be as uneconomic from the point of view of the nation as new applicants. Transport managers, like the rest of us, have an innate tendency to empire building.

With road economics as they are at present, they are often able to persuade their board's finance directors to agree to a C licence fleet—even to operate at a loss sometimes—because of the value of filling the roads with moving bill boards advertising the firm's products on the roads and in the traffic jams. That is why some students of road-rail coordination consider that the problem can best be solved by stiffer charges for C licences, which would measure their contribution to the road traffic problems and which would make not only new applicants, but some existing licence holders, stop to count the cost. These are the sort of questions that a national transport survey and a national transport plan would have to solve.

Equally, there must be a more direct attack on urban road congestion. From some of the speeches he makes, I think that the Minister of Transport would like to introduce more stringent measures to deal with urban road congestion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman why should not the drivers of heavy lorries be for- bidden to use city arid town centres except on proof of need? I invite any hon. Member to stand for half-an-hour in Parliament Square. Or, if he has not the time to do that, to keep his eyes open during one of the frequent traffic jams in Parliament Square, and to ask himself how many of the lorries which we see there really need to go through such crowded central areas? There are sand and gravel lorries, and all sorts of lorries with heavy loads of steel, using the centre of London as a mere convenience for driving from one part to another. One or two may be being used on important work delivering to building sites, but I very much doubt that. If access to urban centres were made more difficult, how many of them would use the ring roads, which is what we want them to do?

Finally, there is the broader problem of urban renewal, the reconstruction of our cities, the broader aspect of town and country planning. London's transport problem has been made infinitely more intractable by Ministerial cowardice in refusing to tackle the problem of office building in central London which, every year, adds tens of thousands of additional office workers to the numbers of our peak hour traffic. I think that I am right in saying—I do not think that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will deny the figure—that 40,000 new jobs a year have been created since the middle 1950s in the London conurbation, most of them in office employment in central London. Obviously, this adds to the problem of urban congestion.

Yesterday, we had the Minister's hints, thrown out pretty broadly, that his proposals—useless though we regard them even as a short-term measure—are intended simply as a stop-gap until we can replace our cities. For fifteen years, or whatever is the period, the right hon. Gentleman says that he will build roads in all possible directions, making us a nation of concrete. And then, suddenly, with a stroke of his Ministerial Biro, he is to rebuild all the cities. How in heaven's name does the right hon. Gentleman think that this is to be done? The Minister of Housing and Local Government cannot hope to remove all the slums in Liverpool by the year 2000 at the present rate of progress. Of course he cannot—and he knows it—at the present rate of progress.

How are we to get this major reconstruction? The road programme has been made excessively costly by private landlordism. I should like to ask what were the land costs of the Cromwell Road extension, or the Hammersmith flyover, or some of the other urban developments. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no hope of any rebuilding of our cities, on the lines which he held out yesterday, on the basis of private ownership and private speculation in urban development land.

Our policy on urban land would have to be followed before there could be any hope of rebuilding cities on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman put forward yesterday. Because, of course, transport is not a single problem capable of being treated in isolation. It is part of the wider planning problem—economic planning, social planning, town planning—and this problem can be solved only by a Socialist approach. The Government cannot begin to solve problems such as this. That is why they have taken refuge in restrictionism and panic cuts.

I think, too, that there is a political motive in all this. They have deluded themselves, and I think that they hope to delude the country, into thinking that a savage closure policy can be represented somehow as modern, as tough—even as honest. They think that the electorate yearns for a policy of strength through suffering. Having won the last election on materialism, they hope to win the next on masochism. Of course, they will fail.

What is even more relevant to Britain's future is that the measures which they are now setting in hand, and which the Minister announced—or adumbrated, or whatever it was he did with his speech yesterday—will retard our economic development and that only by a broad, comprehensive and forward-looking national transport plan, which is part of a national economic plan, can we in this country face the challenge of the future.