§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]1023
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. LESLIE BOYCE
I fdesire to raise a matter of vital national importance and one of increasing urgency—namely, the future relations between rail and road transport in this country. It would not have been necessary for me to raise this question to-night if the private Member's Motion standing in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) had not been withdrawn, and rightly withdrawn, at the request of the Government to enable the Debate on the American Debt to take place last Wednesday. Nor would it have been necessary for me to raise the subject to-night if the Minister, in answering a question which I put yesterday, had been in a position to announce the Government's decision on this vital problem. It is now four and a half months since the Minister of Transport was presented with a solution of this problem in the form of a unanimous report, agreed upon without reserve, by the conference which he himself set up for that specific purpose. Nearly three months have elapsed since the original date which he prescribed for the obseravtions of highway authorities and other people concerned on that report. It is more than six weeks since a Motion was agreed to in another place urging His Majesty's Government to give a decision on this subject.
What is the problem which confronts the Minister of Transport? The advent of motor transport, the rapid development of the internal combustion engine during the last 20 or 30 years, has completely upset the equilibrium which existed between the older transport agencies, and a new equilibrium will have to be established and should be established with fairness to all parties. No one will deny that the development of motor transport has been of inestimable benefit to the nation and to mankind, but at the same time we must not forget that for the past century the railways have been the life blood of the trade and industry of this country. They are to-day indispensable, and within the limits of human foresight must remain indispensable. It is clearly in the national interest that all forms of transport, whether road or rail, air or coastwise, or canals, should be given the fullest opportunity of developing to a limit consistent with efficiency to the public and fairness to all parties.
1024 Present conditions of competition between rail and road transport are far from fair. They are unfair for two main reasons. In the first place, the railways have to provide, maintain, police and signal their own permanent way without drawing on local funds or on the national Exchequer. The capital cost of the permanent way stands at £800,000,000, and that figure on to-day's valuation is not excessive. On the other hand, road transport has not had to provide its own highway, and it is estimated to have cost the nation between £1,600,000,000 and £2,000,000,000. The heavy class of commercial road vehicle, which competes directly with the railways, does not even contribute a sum equivalent to the current expenditure which it entails on our road system. In other words, the railways of this country are completely self-supporting whereas road transport is aided by subsidies from the public purse.
The second reason why the conditions are unfair is this. The railways, as a public service, are regulated by Acts of Parliament in the public interest, so that the users of the railways shall receive fair treatment. Their rates are controlled; they are bound to publish their rates, and they are under a statutory obligation not to discriminate as between one customer and another. There is no doubt in the minds of the vast majority of people that the regulations imposed on the railways are in the public interest and should continue. But, on the other hand, the road transport of goods is entirely unregulated and uncontrolled, and I submit that the time has now come when both rail and road transport should be equally regarded as a public service and that the Government should make up their mind as to the policy they are going to adopt to bring that about.
What has been the effect of this unfair road competition upon the financial position of the railways? The railway companies estimated the loss in net revenue in 1930 at no less than £16,000,000. It must be greater to-day. In 1931 no dividend was paid on £111,000,000 of capital. In 1932 no interim dividend was apid on £391,000,000 of capital as compared with £271,000,000 last year. Only one of the four great amalgamated main line railways maintains its full trustee status to- 1025 day. That is the Great Western Railway. Two of the companies, the London Midland and Scottish and the Southern Railway, have been relegated to the Chancery List and the London and North Eastern Railway Company has lost its trustee status altogether. As compared with 1931, a bad year for the railways, the traffic receipts this year have already dropped by more than £13,000,000.
The Government realised that the railways were suffering a great injustice when they set up the Salter Conference in March of this year. They set up that Conference to consider and recommend what would be a fair basis of competition between the transport of goods on rail and road. They could not have appointed a more competent body or a body more representative of rail and road interests. The Conference consisted of four representatives of the railways and four representatives of road transport who were nominated by the standing joint committee of the Mechanical Road Transport Associations, with Sir Arthur Salter as an independent chairman. The standing committee which nominated the road representatives was not only the most powerful motor organisation in the country, but it represented the whole of the road transport industry in Great Britain with the single exception of the Road Haulage Association, whose name was then its chief asset, as it had only 400 members, and whose views were available and carefully considered by the Conference. The fact is that the Salter Conference was as representative a body as has been set up by this or any other Government to consider and advise upon a question of major national importance.
May I say a brief word about the Report itself? It is not a railway report nor is it a road report. It is essentially a compromise and a unanimous Report which frankly recognises the inequalities in the existing competition between road and rail transport. Its recommendations are designed to remove those inequalities and to eliminate the wasteful and uneconomic duplication of transport services. We should all welcome that object, seeing that wasteful duplication must ultimately be paid for by industry. The recommendations were further designed to pave the way to a proper co-ordination between railways, road and other transport agencies which alone can ensure 1026 to the nation those conditions of stability which are essential to its economic well-being. Public opinion, as expressed in the general Press, has warmly welcomed the proposals of the Conference. The motor Press has opposed the proposals, and it is only natural that the criticisms in that quarter should exceed in volume the favourable comments made by disinterested sections of the community. There is only one criticism to which I wish to refer and that is the so-called case of trade and industry. A pamphlet has been issued which purports to have been composed and published with the authority of 66 national organisations. I believe it to be a fact that not one of those organisations saw the pamphlet before it was published and immediately after publication a number of them not only repudiated it but asked that their names should be withdrawn and actually communicated with the Minister of Transport to that effect.
As far as the merits of this and other criticisms are concerned, they have been fully met by the statement issued yesterday morning by the members of the Salter Conference. The statement shows that the criticisms made to date have been, in the main, founded on misconceptions which have now been removed, that the Conference confined itself strictly to its terms of reference, and that it made no recommendations whatever with regard to road passenger transport. It showed that, unlike the Royal Commission on Transport, the Conference took fully into account the proceeds of the Petrol Duty in assessing the contributions that should be made towards road costs. The House may assume that this is the final document that the Minister was awaiting before making up his mind as to what the Government's policy should be. That document has been placed in his hands by the Conference which he himself set up. It has been conclusively proved that there is no substance whatever in the criticisms made against the report, which was in the hands of the Minister at the end of July, and the reasonableness and justice of their original proposals has been unanimously reaffirmed.
I wish to put three very brief but simple questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. I regret the Minister is not in his place and that his place has been 1027 taken by the Parliamentary Secretary. I communicated a week ago with the Minister, informing him that I particularly desired him to be in his place when I raised this matter this evening, and he was good enough to thank me for it, so leaving me with the impression that he would be here. I want to put these three questions to the Parliamentary Secretary and I hope that he will be good enough to answer them. First, was it not because the Minister of Transport was impressed with the necessity of doing something to put road and rail transport on an equitable and fair basis that he set up the Salter Conference last March? Secondly, was it not because of the extreme urgency of the matter that he insisted on having the report of that Conference in his hands by the end of July and that he put on a time limit for receiving the observations of the highway authorities, and other people concerned, on the report? Thirdly, what steps, if any, do the Government propose to take to implement the undertaking given by Lord Plymouth on behalf of the Government in another place on 8th November when he said:The Government do realise that this is a great and pressing problem which must be tackled and must be dealt with at the earliest possible moment"?If the Parliamentary Secretary will reply to these three simple questions, I shall be greatly obliged. In urging this matter upon him, I can assure him I speak, not only for myself, but for a great number of Members in all parts of the House, who are most gravely concerned about the position of the railways and as convinced as the Minister himself that the conditions under which they are labouring are unfair to them. We want to see the Government take action, and we shall be greatly obliged if the Government will announce their intention oil this subject.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
With regard to the last question, I fancy the hon. Member is asking the Minister to take action. It is difficult to see how he can take action without legislation.
§ Mr. BOYCE
May I put it in this way? I have been most careful, as you may have observed, in trying to keep within the narrow four walls of procedure. I 1028 should prefer to put my last question in this way: When will the Government announce their decision as to when they intend to take action to implement the undertaking given by Lord Plymouth on behalf of the Government?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That seems to me to be very little different. The Minister can only take action by legislation.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like to ask whether the Government are going to take any action, administrative or legislative, in this matter? In his speech, the hon. Gentleman has raised very considerable questions of policy, which I had no idea were going to be raised. As the hon. Member has raised them, I wish to call the Minister's attention to the fact that while we are discussing this and other matters connected with unemployment, a very prolonged inquiry into the wages and conditions of the railway men has been going on. The policy of the Government in relation to road transport, rail transport, and coastwise transport, will depend very largely upon what the condition of hundreds of thousands of workmen is to be. We are entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether the Government are considering the matter. The Prime Minister told us that there were special men who were giving particular attention to these great problems. In my judgment, there is no problem so rotten-ripe, not for discussion, but for action of some kind. We have had it discussed by Commissions and Committees and by this House. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) told us that the railway companies have not paid. That was a confession of impotence on the part of those who manage the railways.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If it is not that, I will use another word and say it is the incapacity of those who manage the business so to manage it as to make it pay its way. On that, I want only to say, that whenever great companies and monopolies get into difficulties, they come to 1029 Parliament to get them out of these difficulties, and still they shout for private enterprise and private control. Why should Parliament interfere in this business? What has it to do with Parliament that the railway companies do not make money? The reason, of course, is that these monopolies have to do with our lives, and we are bound to interfere when the monopoly fails to provide a proper service under proper conditions.
As to the issue raised by the hon. Member, the competition of road versus I noticed that the hon. Member spoke of the cost of putting down the rails and the fact that the new road users do not pay for their track. He proceeded to argue that something ought to be done to prevent that competition. When a new machine is introduced that crushes out of employment large numbers of workmen, they are told that it is all done in the name of progress, and that they must put up with it because it is impossible to stop the advance of machinery. Let me apply the argument of the hon. Member. My argument is exactly his argument, that when we come to that situation it is the business of Parliament to take the necessary steps to prevent the workmen being ruined and thrown on to the streets. We speak for these men just as the hon. Member spoke on behalf of the shareholders of the railway companies.
§ Mr. BOYCE
I did not speak on behalf of the shareholders of the railways. Neither I nor any member of my family has ever held a share in any railway, but I do happen to represent a constituency 10 per cent. of whose voters are railwaymen, and I am very concerned that they should have the means of earning a decent livelihood.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not know where the hon. Member's interest in business lies. I did not mean to apply my statement to him individually. The whole of his argument was that because road transport has come into being and has reduced the earnings of the railways, something should be done. The hon. Member used the argument that the stock of none of the railway companies, except one, was trustee stock. He wants the Minister to take some action to deal with that fact. When a new invention hurts the railways they come to Parliament. My plea was that workmen who are hurt by a 1030 new invention should be dealt with in the same way, and it is a perfectly sound and reasonable argument.
§ Mr. BOYCE
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my argument. I curtailed my speech, but there was a great deal more I would have liked to have said. The House was so indulgent to me that I did not labour the point. I contended that the railways are prepared to demonstrate, and can demonstrate, that to-day they are in many respects the most efficient and economical form of transport, but that they are bound hand and foot by Parliamentary Statutes, which make it impossible for them to put up an effective defence against the attacks made upon them by road transport that is not so regulated.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
No railway could have existed for 24 hours unless it had been a monopoly. The State granted the monopoly. Then someone invented a small engine which could be driven by petrol, and put on the road huge wagons which in the judgment of a good many people are much more convenient for merchants and others than the railways. I can speak from a little experience on this subject. It is much better for certain businesses that I know in East London to load their goods on to these wagons, knowing that the goods will be delivered at the spot where they are to be used. It means only one handling. It is absurd to come here and tell us that the one thing that this House is to consider is how to preserve the dividends of the railway companies.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am not misrepresenting the hon. Member. He put forward the argument about the loss of earning power of the companies and the loss of dividends, and my point was to stress the fact that at this moment railwaymen are fighting for a bare minimum of subsistence. I wanted to bring out that fact for the Minister to consider. I would stress also the point that this question of transport has been before the country for a very long time, and that no one seems willing to deal with it. I believe the reason is that there are so many vested interests on both sides, competing with one another and pulling at the Minister this way and the other 1031 way, all for the purpose of preserving their right to earn dividends. I ask the Minister to consider the other point of view, and that is the interest of the public. I am one of those who think that the canal system of this country was ruined by the railway monopolies. There is no doubt about that. Speaking for myself, I do not want to see road transport strangled in the same way. Even if I could own a motor car I could not drive one, but I love to ride in a motor coach. In a motor coach one can see the country just as nicely as any person in a Rolls-Royce.
The economic development of the country demands that the transport of goods by road from one place to another shall not be strangled. I must not argue that matter, but I may say that what we want is a national co-ordinated transport system, organised for the service of the community, to give the community the very best service both for goods and passenger traffic. We hope that the Minister and his Department will work out such a scheme. We hope that it will be on more national lines than the electricity scheme. That we believe is the solution of the question. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to remember that the men whose wages are under discussion to-day are already below the minimum at which men who carry out their duties ought to be asked to live, and I press him to hurry his Department to a decision in order to prevent those men being squeezed down any further. I believe that if we co-ordinated the whole business, we should carry it on more cheaply and give the public a better service, while at the same time we should be able to take care of the people who would be squeezed out at the beginning because of any economies in working which would be involved.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Both the hon. Member who raised this question on the Motion for the Adjournment, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, while not directly asking for, have hinted at some action by the Government in this matter. Whoever speaks on behalf of the Government may indicate some administrative action which the Government can take in the direction asked for, but the question of legislative action cannot be gone into on this occasion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry if I have offended. The hon. Member who raised the question covered a pretty wide field, and I only spoke because he covered such a wide field.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did not hear what the hon. Gentleman who raised the question said, but it seemed to me that he had suggested some action on the part of the Government, and I must point out that only action of an administrative character can be dealt with on this occasion.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. REMER
In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) or to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, except to say that the controversy which has been raised this evening was unexpected, though I knew that my hon. Friend had given notice of his intention to raise the matter at an early date. I agree with him on one point, and that is that the delay of the Government in coming to the decision on this matter is causing a great deal of injury to both sides. It is causing a great deal of unemployment in the motor-car and motor wagon industry. A great many people who would otherwise be ordering motor vans and motor omnibuses are not doing so because of that delay. Those of us who are in industry are willing to help the railway companies by every means in our power, but we are not prepared to support them in making an increased charge upon industry. We want to see the cost of transport reduced and not increased, because it is a very serious charge upon industry at the present time.
As I say I did not know until a short time ago that this matter would be raised this evening, and I merely rise to express that view—that while we who are in business are prepared to help the railway companies, the railway companies must have a little common sense and must realise present-day conidtions in industry. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will impress that view on the Government. I do not expect that to-night he is going to announce any far-reaching decision by the Government, nor indeed could he do so under the Ruling which you, Mr. Speaker, have just given. But I hope he will impress on his colleagues 1033 that there is a deep-rooted sense of injustice in connection with the report that has been issued. I hope that there will be no move to increase transport charges in order to bolster up the railway companies of this country.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. LOUIS SMITH
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer), I was unaware until a short time ago that this matter was going to be raised to-night, and I feel it incumbent upon me to say, that, while, as the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) pointed out, this Salter Conference was neither a road conference nor a rail conference but a compromise conference, yet one is justified in saying that it did not deal with a great many considerations with which one would have expected it to deal. I rarely find myself in agreement with hon. Members on the Front Opposition Bench, but I have a certain sympathy with some of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition to-night. Perhaps the big difference between us is that, whereas he looks forward to the time when all transport will be under the guidance and control of the Government, I am anxious to see private enterprise and keen competition between the various methods of transport to give us that efficiency for which we look. I do not think we can say that our railway transport arrangements and costs in this country are more favourable than those in other countries which are our keen competitors. It would be a calamity if any steps were taken by His Majesty's Government which would increase the transport charge on industry.
The hon. Member for Gloucester expressed a wish for equitable arrangements for railways, road transport and canals. I, for many years, have felt that if the competitive influence of our waterways were exercised we should have cheaper transport in this country. Travelling on the Continent especially in Holland and in the areas fed by the waterways there, one realises the great handicap which our industries have to meet owing to the fact that even those waterways which we possess are not efficiently or adequately used. I fear that there is some truth in what the Leader of the Opposition said that on account of those waterways falling into the hands of the railway companies with 1034 whom they were in competition, there has been a lack of enterprise in connection with canals in this country. To-day we are often reminded that in a mechanical age the inventor and the engineer are perhaps responsible for creating some unemployment. I say, without any hesitation, that it is to these inventors, these men who make progress in the world, the engineers and others who are doing research work, that we must look in the future to find employment for more people. Had we more Marconi's in the world, we should certainly see more employment. Countless thousands have been employed by the results of that man's work, and hon. Members should remember that any steps that might be taken in the future to prevent the full effort of private enterprise and progress in new ways of transport might quite well reduce the numbers of those employed and keep us from competing thoroughly with our competitors in other lands.
This country is ahead of the whole world in the development of that engine which is burning crude oil, which has been developed by many of our manufacturers during the last year or two, and any check or handicap that such a report as the Salter Report might impose if it were taken up by the Government would certainly he a backward step. I look forward to the time when that engine is fully developed in all forms of road transport, and when we shall show other countries something in which they will have to follow England instead of England following any other country. When abroad only a few weeks ago I came across a firm in Holland which had had to make arrangements with one of our British makers, because there is no engine in Germany, America, or any other country in the world that can compete with one of the makes of engines in this country. I feel seriously that we should be very careful indeed before we ask our Government to adopt proposals which will handicap that great industry of road transport.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Lieut.-Colonel Headlam)
I am a little bit regretful—it is only human, I suppose— that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) evinced so little pleasure at seeing me here to answer his 1035 questions. Anyhow, I shall make a paint of letting the Minister know how much his absence was deplored.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
We have listened to a very interesting Debate, which has illustrated the extreme difficulty of the situation. We have had four speeches, and each speaker has put forward a different point of view. I would point out, therefore, to the House that the position of the Government is not particularly easy in any case, because it is quite certain that these various opinions exist and that they have to be very carefully considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester gave the House a short history of the events from the first appointment of the Salter Conference to the present day. I have no complaint at all to make of the accuracy of his description; and the reason why the Salter Conference was appointed was, of course, because the matter was, in the opinion of the Government, of extreme urgency. Therefore, the Salter Conference was asked to make its report by the end of July, and it did so. Then came the question of referring the findings of that conference to all the interests concerned. We hoped that all those interests would have sent in their replies to the Ministry by the end of September, but that did not come off, and it was not really until the end of last month that we got in all the replies.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
No, towards the end of November. Consequently the time we have had since then to codify the results of these replies and to study the very difficult subjects which are raised has not been very great. I quite appreciate that my hon. Friend, who has made up his mind and is entirely convinced of the line he will take, has come already to a decision, but unfortunately we cannot act in that way. As I think I pointed out in this House the other day, the first part of the Salter report deals with matters of finance, on which, of course, we cannot anticipate the Budget position. In the second part of the report are contained the various proposals for regulation which are now the subject of consideration.
1036 My hon. Friend asked me three simple questions. I have already, I think, answered two of them, because I have agreed that the Salter Conference was appointed on the ground of urgent necessity. Then the second question was as to a time limit. There again I say what I said in the House the other day in reply to a question, that we should proceed to act as soon as we had made up our minds, and that we were working as hard as we possibly could on the whole question at the present time. I appreciate just as much as other hon. Members the desire of industry, including manufacturers, to know what, if any, changes, either in taxation or in the regulation of the industry, the Government propose, but it is quite impossible for any statement to be made at the moment, for the reasons I have just given. In these circumstances, therefore, no useful purpose would be served by my discussing any proposals that are set out in the Salter Report.
The Government will approach the problem from the point of view that there is a real problem to be solved. It is no good trying to brush aside the formidable problems that exist or to suggest, as some people suggest, that the matter should be put off till the Greek kalends. The fundamental question which the House should recognise is whether or not the existing conditions under which roads and railways compete with one another are fair and equitable. I would point out to hon. Members that the conference itself has pointed out that nothing would be more undesirable that to attempt, by taxation beyond what represents a fair share of road costs, or by regulation beyond what is in the public interest, to divert traffic back from the roads and deprive trade and industry of the conveniences of the new form of transport. But the conference has also indicated that neither in the distribution of the incidence of highway costs, nor in the conditions under which goods are carried, is there at present a fair and equal basis of competition.
This is really a great matter which the Government have to consider, with the aid of the observations which they have now received from all quarters, and I would point out to my hon. Friend that only yesterday we had a further instalment of the Salter Report, which has proved, if it was necessary to prove, that 1037 there were matters even in this report which were not as clear as some would have us believe. Therefore, I only hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied, and that the House will be satisfied, that the Government realise the tremendous importance of this question, and are working now as hard as they can to get to the roots of the various difficulties, that they are bearing in mind the problems of industry, and that they will, as soon as they can, present their views to the House.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
The House is grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the reply which he has given to the questions which have been raised, but it would be unreasonable to expect a definite answer to he given on this question to-night. Equally, the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend who raised the matter because it gives an oportunity at least to ventilate some views on the subject. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said, four different opinions have already been expressed before he replied, and I need not apologise for endeavouring to express a fifth. It should be borne in mind that there are one or two very grave omissions in the procedure which surrounds the publication of the Salter Report and the procedure which has subsequently been pursued. The Salter Conference was originally set up specifically for the purpose of considering the relationship between road and rail in reference to the carriage of goods. In their report they indicate that that was the case, and they also, in making certain recommendations, imply that those recommendations would have to be interpreted in terms which apply to the carriage of passengers by road.
The Ministry, although the committee was originally set up to deal with the carriage of goods by road, have rightly realised that the recommendations very materially affect the carriage of passengers by road, and they have proceeded to invite from organisations representative of the road passenger interests observations on the report by this conference, which was deliberately set up solely for the purpose of considering the goods question. There is a curious anomaly in that procedure because, while the road passenger organisations are asked to give 1038 their observations on the findings of the conference, they were distinctly and deliberately precluded either from giving their views to the conference or from being represented on it. This is an extraordinary anomaly. To ask a number of associations and organisations to give their views on the findings of a conference to which they were not a party, and to which they were deliberately and definitely precluded from giving any evidence, is surely a very curious method of procedure. The first, and, as I think, the outstanding omission both in the findings of the Salter Conference and in all the observations of its various critics which so far I have been able to read, is this: neither the conference nor its critics endeavour to make a proper and clear distinction between the urban transit of passengers and goods and the long distance or inter-urban services.
I will illustrate what I mean by mentioning, as an example on the passenger side, the omnibuses which are run for the purpose of carrying passengers from Putney to London Bridge. They do a minimum of harm to the railways, they are essentially needed by the public as local conveyances, they have not caused any large expenditure in the form of road widenings and arterial road construction, they do not form any undue proportion of the whole traffic of the streets; in short, they are an essential public service, and it would be a great hardship to the public in general if they were in any way curtailed or if the cast of operation were increased. On the other hand, there are the services in the London area run by the Green Line, which are operated by the same organisation which runs the service to which I have referred. The Green Line operating from Charing Cross to Windsor, Hertford, Watford, and many other places upwards of 40 miles from London, do a maximum of harm to the railways, they are one of the principal contributory causes of the need for constructing expensive by-passes and arterial roads, and they are a direct and important contributor to street congestion in the central area.
The same thing applies on the goods side. We must have, and always will require, services for the distribution and collection of goods in every urban area. It is by no means certain that we need have long distance services for the trans- 1039. port of goods over 100 miles and more along the arterial roads. The Salter Conference makes no distinction between those two categories, and it proposes a basis of taxation which will apply to both of them, entirely ignoring the facts which separately relate to each. One other point relating to the Salter recommendations on taxation is worthy of note. They indicate that the private car should be. relieved of a proportion of its taxation. The private car is perhaps the greatest cause of expenditure upon arterial roads. The next greatest cause of that expenditure is the public express carriage and the contract carriage. I would ask the House to observe a further anomaly in relation to taxation which is again ignored by the Salter Conference, and equally ignored by all its critics. A very large number of private cars and contract carriages are not licensed for the whole year.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This discussion is getting out of order. The hon. Member is now criticising the Salter Report, but the Government were not responsible for the Salter Report, and, if any demand is made for action because of the Report it is obvious that legislation will be necessary. In both these respects, therefore, the whole of this discussion is out of order.
§ Sir J. NALL
I will try to keep myself within the bounds of order. I was not endeavouring to discuss prospective legislation so much as calling the attention of the House to one or two aspects of the matter which relate to what I understood to be the original question. A large number of cars and contract carriages are only in use for a short period of the year, although in that short period they are the greatest menace to the railway interests and the greatest contributory cause of road expenditure. Therefore, it seems wholly unreasonable to suggest that they should be relieved of a proportion of their taxation. I suggest that all licences should be for not less than 12 months.
On the general question which I understand was the origin of this Debate, as to when the Government will indicate some line of policy, I hope that before the Government commit themselves to any proposals they will have regard, not only to the findings of the Salter Com- 1040 ference but to those of the Royal Commission, and have further regard to the legitimate and insistent needs of urban populations for local transit, which should not be penalised on an issue which really arises on questions of long-distance traffic. In any proposals brought before the House, that distinction should be had in mind. The distinction which is so clearly obvious to anyone associated with the passenger side of the problem is equally obvious in regard to goods traffic—that local services which are essential to the well being of industry and of urban populations should not be penalised on an issue which mainly arises over the use of the highways for long-distance journeys, which are obviously better performed by the railways. I hope that before the Minister brings in proposals further considerations will be given to the urgent need for drawing a distinction between these two types of public services. I hope the Government will not be long in coming to some conclusion, in order that the great railway industry of this country may not suffer as it has suffered in recent years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester said, I hope the matter will be dealt with very early in the next Session.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Captain FRASER
I rise to add a voice by way of urging on the Parliamentary Secretary that we should have a decision in this matter without undue delay. I did not have the advantage of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce), nor your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on the narrow limits within which this Debate could be conducted, but I shall try to keep within those limits as I understand them. I hope I may be in order if I seek to fortify my plea that a decision should be come to swiftly by pointing out some of the very grave disadvantages under which the railways now operate. No one would wish that a new method of transport should be held back unduly or even at all in its fair competition with the older methods. No progress is to he enjoyed if artificial restrictions are put in the way of mechanical developments or the creation of new types of organisation. May I say, in passing, that an hon. Member who feared that the development of certain kinds of engines might be inhibited or retarded if the terms of the Salter Report were carried out does not realise, probably, 1041 that modern railway practice is beginning to envisage the use of just such types of engines, and there is, therefore, no reason to think that the discouragement of one form of transport or the encouragement of another should stifle invention or delay progress in the matter of deriving power from liquid fuels or manufacturing liquid fuels from coal.
It appears to me that the Parliamentary Secretary very properly laid down a principle which the Government would have in mind when he said that penal taxation which inhibited the development of a new service could not be tolerated, but, nevertheless, it was a question whether the newer method of transport and the older were competing upon fair lines. I cannot help thinking that the examination of a few figures would answer that question. The House will forgive me, I hope, if I do not give the exact figures, because one did not know that this Debate was coming quite so soon. I believe it is a fact that the capital value of railway assets have been depreciated by something like £300,000,000, and that a similar amount has been spent upon the roads, mainly with the object of relieving unemployment. It is a very great handicap that the railway industry should have to compete against another method of transport whose merit is not merely that it is novel or that it fulfils a need which the railways could not satisfy, but that it is being subsidised by the rest of the community. The railwaymen who live in my constituency and whose wages are going to be cut, are helping to pay for the roads upon which the motors run to bring about their own ruin.
That is hardly a fair situation, and it is one in regard to which I feel that we are entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to urge the Government to come to a swift decision. Another hon. Gentleman observed that industry could only give support to, for example, the recommendations of the Salter Report if it was assured that there would be no increases in railway rates. It is not that the railways desire an increase in rates necessarily; what they desire is a fair chance. Some of the proposals which they would like to have put into effect would relieve the difficulties under which they are suffering at the present time. I am not going to make reference to pro- 1042 posals which would involve legislation, but perhaps I am within the limits of order in indicating some of the difficulties under which the railways suffer. They cannot at this moment, for example, make with individuals contracts of a nature similar to those which road contractors may make. They recently had in mind the introduction of methods of charging for transport over a wide area, whereby a flat rate charge would be made, but they found that that was not allowed, whereas it is allowed to those who operate upon the roads. There is a grievous handicap which ought to be attended to.
The Government should be urged to declare their policy in the matter without delay. Although it is uneconomic that you should stifle a new service from being as useful as it reasonably can be, it is also uneconomic that you should subsidise that service and allow it to put out of business a great organisation which not only represents vast capital; that is not the only side of the matter. This is not a plea solely for shareholders. The Government must remember that a great many poor people, people of limited means and a great many trustees, hold railway shares. It is not only that, but it concerns the employment of a very large number of persons—about 250,000 or more—all working men, and the destruction of a great organisation representing generations of thought. It concerns the destruction of that organisation under conditions that are not fair to a service that can be infinitely more efficient than the new modern road transport.
Where it is a question of carrying large amounts of goods over long distances, no road transport can possibly compete, cost for cost and on fair terms, with the machines that run on steel roads. There is no doubt about that. Where a regular service is required and where guarantees are to be given, the railways again are above competition. If you wish to send a parcel to a particular town, you can go to a railway station and require that it shall be sent. If you were to ask a road haulier, he would say: "No fear; not unless I can fill my carriage up! It would not pay me." That is an argument for the railways which justifies us in asking that the Parliamentary Secretary should bring home to the Minister 1043 the necessity of action in this matter. I do not want to delay the House, but merely want to emphasize what I believe to be a real injustice. The Salter Report, as it appears to me, is backed by very wide and general authority, and the Government would do well, in my judgment, not to spend more time in consulting a whole variety of interests which, after all, were the interests which the Salter Committee sought fairly to judge and assess. When you have a unanimous report from widely representative men of great experience, it seems to me that there ought not to be months of delay before the Government are able to declare their policy.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
I think it is most unfortunate that this subject has been brought on at such a late hour to-night. A large number of Members of the House are keenly interested in this question, and would have been anxious to hear and to take part in the Debate. I very much hope that the Government will take the advice that has been given to them to-night, and will deal with this matter at an early date. I confess that I did not quite like the tone of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. If I may be allowed to use a vulgar but expressive word, I hope that the Ministry are not going to funk this question, but I confess that the tone of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech rather left the impression in my mind that that might be so.
§ Mr. LOVAT-FRASER
At any rate, that was the impression that it made on my mind. This is a matter which calls for urgent treatment. In my constituency there are several very ancient towns, which are being knocked to pieces by the huge juggernauts that tear over streets and roads made for the traffic that prevailed before the internal combustion engine was discovered. I would press upon the Government the importance of dealing with this question, for it is felt very strongly, both in this House and outside, that it urgently and clamantly calls for attention.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. HOWARD
I hope the Government will not be in too great a hurry to deal with this matter on the lines suggested by the last speaker. I feel that the interests of the community and the right of using the King's highway are so important that we should hesitate very much before we come to a decision to tax road transport out of existence.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Captain STRICKLAND
I, too, regret that a question of such importance as this should have been brought before the House at a time when so few of us expected it, but, representing, as I do, a constituency which is so greatly interested as mine is, from its industrial position and otherwise, in road transport, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without challenging some of the statements that have been made in the House to-night. I suggest that the Government should make up their minds swiftly as to their intentions in this matter. Naturally, I approach the question from an angle rather different from that of the last speaker or of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), and I want to put the matter to the Government from that angle with all the force at my command. So long as the present uncertainty hangs over the industries which are concerned with the manufacture of those large goods vehicles which have done such excellent work in the past, so long is there bound to be a very deleterious effect on those industries, with their thousands of employés who up to the present have been getting their living, but who are now being thrown out of work because of the uncertainty engendered by the inaction of the Government.
We have heard of the efficiency of the railways. I agree that, within the limits of their capacity our railways are more efficient than any others in the world. My hon. and gallant Friend invited you, Sir, to go to a railway station with a parcel and demand that it should be taken. I agree that you could put it on the railway and it would be taken, but you could never be sure that it would be delivered, because the railway might put it on a siding, and there might be a delay of days or weeks. There is not only the inconvenience of taking it to 1045 the railway, but at the other end there is the inconvenience arising from delay. I do not think there can be any question as to the efficiency of road transport, particularly in the case of fragile articles where careful handling is of the utmost necessity, and where a manufacturer can load up at his own works the goods he wants to send by road and have then delievred with much more care taken of them in transit than he could possibly hope for by the railway service.
I am not here, however, to put up any case for roads versus rail. If we are going to make our industries prosperous and put them in the best possible position, it is not a matter of rail versus road but a matter of deciding which is the best and cheapest way of getting the goods about the country with the least injury to trade that can possibly be effected. An hon. Member opposite said that long-distance goods traffic by road was unnecessary. That shows the kind of approach that many people make to the question. It is just as necessary for long as for short distances to have the possibility of putting your transport on the road. I think the railways themselves are seeking, not so much release from the disadvantages under which they suffer, as to impose such penalties on road transport that people will have to come back to the railways. That is the wrong end to start consideration of the problem. The thing that we have to consider, and the thing that I hope the Government will give its immediate attention to, is what manner of transport is best adapted to the industries of the country and, by enabling them to thrive, will help to re-establish men and find work for them. That seems to me the whole point. I can say, on behalf of the motor industry, that there is no sense of antagonism to the railways, nor any sense of rejoicing in the burdens that the railways have to bear. If the motor industry to-morrow could see those restrictions removed from the railways, there would be none more willing to help them in the legitimate pursuit of their occupation than the motor transport organisations, When one reads the Salter Report from end to end, there is no mention of any inefficiency on the part of the' railways whatever, but I defy anyone to say our railway system could not be improved.
§ Captain STRICKLAND
I am trying to keep it on the proper level of the commercial enterprise best suited to the people of the country. Fair competition is all that we desire to see, and not the penalising of the roads in order to drive traffic back to the railways.
§ Captain FRASER
May I submit to my hon. and gallant Friend that it is not a question of penalising anybody. It is a question of trying to secure fair conditions for those people who, instead of laying down their own steel rails, ride on rails for which my railwaymen and I have to pay, those rails being the high road. The railways had to make their own road, but we have had to make the road for motor transport.
§ Captain STRICKLAND
That entirely endorses the point I have been trying to prove to my hon. and gallant Friend. It is the very point that I have been emphasising all the way through. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that it is not a matter of penalising anybody, but, if you are going to increase the taxation of goods vehicles from £60 to £380 a year—
§ Captain STRICKLAND
I am not seeking legislation, but the avoidance of legislation. The point is that if you suggest an imposition of that magnitude upon road transport you are actually penalising road transport. The very thing that my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned enters into the question, namely, that the way of salvation of the railways is by penalising the road traffic. The road traffic says that the fair way out is to relieve the railways of some of their burdens and to give them a chance of competing fairly—not by penalising one or the other, but by removing the restrictions which I know at the present time press upon the railways. But where in the Salter Report appears any appeal whatever for the removal of the restrictions on the railways? It is all directed against the road goods traffic. The railways never enter into it. The four members of the railways out of the eight members of the conference, besides the chairman, unitedly demand that there shall be something done in order to 1047 penalise the road traffic, and that is the point with which I disagree. There is another point upon which I cannot agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. He emphasised that railways have paid for their steel rails and the steel road on which they run, but I did not hear him at the same time, in a spirit of fairness, point out the vast amounts which have been taken out of the pockets of the motorists for the benefit of the road. For years and years the motorists have been paying for the roads.
§ Captain STRICKLAND
No, but motorists do not use the roads exclusively. They are not the only people who use the roads. When you count the cost of the roads you include all sorts of streets and pavements, and repairs to roads caused by Post Office telephones, and roads being taken up and repaired. All those things have to come into the cost of the roads, and to say that in future the motorists shall bear the entire cost of the roads—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We are really getting into a discussion as to the taxation of motor cars which would be entirely out of order upon this Motion.
§ Captain STRICKLAND
I do not want to get into that side of the argument. The point I want to emphasise, and which I will leave with the House, is that the way is the way of advance and of pro- 1048 gress. When the railways came into existence they had no mercy for the stage coach. They did not say: "Here is an industry employing thousands of men up and down the country, and yet we are going to have the sole right of running on these roads from one centre to another, permitted by the State." They did not represent that out of the profits which they might make they should give anything towards the upkeep of the stage coach at the time. To-day we are living in an age of advancement and progress. It is just as stupid to-day for the railways to seek to cast burdens on road transport and to keep them from enjoying the legitimate use of the roads, to which they are entitled, as it was for the stage coaches to seek to stand in the way of the progress of the iron road. From the point of view of employment in the motor industry, and having regard to the uncertainty that hangs over the trade at the present time, I hope the Government will take an early opportunity of declaring where they stand in regard to this matter. I am new to the House and I do not know how far they can go, but there ought to be something given out to the trade so that it will know from this time forward what it is likely to expect, whether it is to go on and enjoy free and open competition for goods transport in this country, or whether it is to be penalised in order to save the railways from disaster.
§ Sir S. CRIPPS
I only want to say a few words. This wrangle between the vested interests has finally and firmly convinced me that the only solution is nationalisation.
§ Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes before Eleven o'clock.