§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 6th April, 1951, entitled the Railways (Additional Charges) (Amendment) Regulations, 1951, (S.I., 1951, No. 601), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th April, be annulled.Mr. Speaker, may I suggest that this and the two following Prayers be considered together?That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 6th April, 1951, entitled the Harbours, Docks and Piers (Additional Charges) (Amendment) Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 602), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th April, be annulled.That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 6th April, 1951, entitled the Canals (Additional Charges) (Amendment) Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 603), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th April, be annulled.The Regulations, as you know, provide for provisional charges on the railways, on the canals, and in the docks and harbours, and I think it would be for general convenience if they were all discussed together.
§ Mr. Speaker
Yes, I entirely agree. I think it would be much more convenient to take all three together.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am much obliged.
I do invite the House to approach this Motion with the responsibility appropriate to the grim problem of the ever-mounting spiral of the cost of living which 47 faces our people. It is not enough to give way to the very human tendency to cushion all those of the closest political connection of importance to ourselves and to pass to the consumer the burden. That is not a solution but an aggravation, because the consumer includes, first, other industries whose consequently increased prices will be passed on in turn, and, ultimately, those who are least able to bear the higher prices, like pensioners and those with fixed incomes and of the lowest income groups.
No one in the House of any party wishes to be a party to a conspiracy of unbelieving optimism, and, therefore, we feel most strongly that when we get the chance—even if it is only a chance—of halting the spiral of inflation, we must take it, and that is why we are asking that these further increases in transport charges should not be passed by the House without an inquiry into the possibilities of increased efficiency and economy.
I ask the House to consider three points. First, the objections previously made to an inquiry; and second, matters which, I believe, merit an inquiry at this time; and third, the alternatives to having an inquiry. On the first of these points, the excuses which were made, when I suggested an inquiry last year, in my view simply underline the need for it. The mounting deficit on the railways is now too serious for palliatives. Before the increase of 15th May, 1950, the British Transport Commission were losing at the rate of about £500,000 a week. Less than a year later, when we are discussing this matter today, they are running at about the same rate of loss after getting the increase in charges which we gave them last year. The rate of loss today is about £460,000 a week. One asks, Is this to go on simply ad lib? Last year, the Minister of Transport said:Parliament is tonight faced with three alternatives. It can approve these charges, which will hold the position until the charges scheme comes into operation so that, for the first time in the first half of this century, we shall be getting a scheme which will solve the problem of road and rail transport."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 528.]"Hold the position until the charges scheme comes into operation." That rose-coloured vision has now disappeared with the snows of yesteryear. It is impossible to say, "Let us wait and 48 see the results of the new charging system." That is beaten on the time factor alone. A year ago I quoted what Sir Bruce Thomas, Chairman of the Transport Tribunal, had said—that it was optimism to think that the charges scheme would become operative in 1952. Now we learn that, although it will be introduced this year, it will not become operative before 1954. We cannot wait and see for another three years, with these increases under Section 82 hovering like a vulture over the freight market for all that time. That is the position we have got to face.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted a great portion of his speech to the increases in the cost of materials. Of course, they exist, but they are not the whole story. Road transport has been much more successful in meeting rising prices and keeping down these overheads. The other point which we must face—and I shall be most interested to hear the comments of hon. Gentlemen opposite upon it, because I know of their experience of the railways and how deeply they feel on this point—is that the railways should not be exempt from the general increases in productivity that have occurred since the war, simply because they are a service and not a producing industry. I cannot see the answer to it myself.
I should now like to deal with one other aspect, which is quite different. It is not enough to say, as the right hon. Gentleman said last year, that there are experts in the Railway Executive and, therefore, we do not need others to inquire. I am sure no one would think that I am making any personal attack on the members of the Railway Executive, but it is only human nature, when boss of one's own show, to take a rosy view, and the shortcomings are not seen the same, as they are by someone who comes from outside. I do not want any misunderstanding about this. My idea for an inquiry is a body which could hold a quick inquiry and have at least one member who has great experience as a railway man. The House will agree that it is much better not to mention names, but names come to our minds. There could also be somebody who is interested in industry or commerce, and sees it from the consumer's point of view.
The Guillebaud Inquiry, to which I shall return, shows how information not 49 known before can come to light, and we have also seen that the Transport Tribunal is subject to severe limitations. I am not going to go into detail of the assumptions which they made, but, after making those assumptions, they said:Unless, indeed, substantial economies can be effected the financial position of the Commission on figures now available will not be stabilised, even if the increases under discussion are brought into operation.That is in the message that the right hon. Gentleman read to the House. I do not mind from what angle it is approached, the position is such that it is necessary that there should be a further inquiry.
Having dealt with those objections, I should now like to deal with the matters which, I say, merit an inquiry. It is right to take the answers which the Chairman of the Railway Executive made to the complaint of the Federation of British Industries. The House will remember that the F.B.I. complained of excessive staffing, duplication of management, and the retention of superfluous and uneconomic facilities. The explanation which the Chairman of the Railway Executive gave, by itself shows the need today for an inquiry. The explanation of the first matter—and I quote his words—was:We are doing more business now than before the war with less staff after allowing for changed working conditions.For what is he allowing? I ask the House, and especially those hon. Gentlemen opposite who are very familiar with the railway services, to look at the conditions and compare 1937 with 1949. With regard to work, the overall size and length of track and the amount of rolling stock engaged has not altered substantially. Engine miles in 1937 were 597 million and in 1949, 550 million. Passenger journeys have gone down from 1,294 million in 1937 to 992 million in 1949, and freight tonnage from 297 million to 280 million. I do not want to make any false point in taking 1937, but in 1938 the figure was lower. I remind hon. Members of that because I know that in these arguments we try to put our facts fairly and to draw the right conclusions from them.
The men employed have gone up from 550,000 in 1937 to 625,000 in 1949 although there has been a reduction in the succeeding year. I am taking these 50 figures as a comparison, and most significantly I ask hon. Members to note that per hundred engine hours the number of men employed in 1937 on the freight side was 232 and in 1949 it was 265; those in the passenger service being 363 and 474 respectively. It was not as if there had been any fall in technical operating efficiency. If there had been, the right hon. Gentleman has never said there was. He has pointed to the difficulty of equipment and of modernisation, which was perfectly proper, but allowing for that, passenger miles per engine hour increased by 17½ per cent. and in freight by 30 per cent.
The undeniable result of that is that the ability of the railways to handle more traffic with the same physical apparatus increased, but the numbers of men employed to man that apparatus over a 24-hour day had also to be increased so that the output per man-day has not really improved. If the Chairman of the Railway Executive is satisfied with that position, then that is an overwhelming reason for an inquiry, because there ought to be an inquiry into productivity. That is my first point.
Secondly, I want to deal with management. Again I quote the Chairman because I want to deal with his answers. I think that is a fair way of doing it. The Chairman said:Management of the railways is in the hands of the Railway Executive decentralised in six regions.What I have always complained about, as the House is only too well aware, and I apologise for repeating it as part of the argument, is that the Commission is first of all responsible for policy decisions which could be taken by the Railway Executive, which the Executive would make for itself; and, secondly, that the Executive passes orders of detailed management to the regions which ought to be the responsibility of the six regional divisions.
I think that some hon. Gentlemen opposite have thought that this is a sort of King Charles' head of mine and is attributable to my views. May I convince them that it is not, and remind them of what was said by "The Economist" of 10th March, which is much stronger than anything that I 51 have ever said in this House? "The Economist" stated:The Executive has allowed the intended scope of its functional organisation to be exceeded. Its purpose was to promote rapid standardisation, but the Executive headquarters is going further and interfering in day-to-day administration. Instructions from the Executive are accompanied by requests for detailed reports and statistics to a degree that is seriously interfering with practical work and inflating local staffs. The blame is commonly put on the subordinate officials at headquarters, whose mediocre quality is attributed to the Executive's unwillingness to pay salaries sufficient to attract the right men from the provinces. Whatever the reason, all the symptoms of bureaucracy are rapidly developing. Local officials inevitably feel that they are not being trusted.I have never gone as far as that in my complaints about over-centralisation.
§ Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that what he has quoted from "The Economist" is comment, without a shred of evidence to support it.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
If the hon. Gentleman will look at the article, I think that he will see that it is informed comment. I say that it goes beyond anything that I have said, but it is on the lines of an article, which I quoted some time ago, in the "Railway Review," which was hotly disputed, I agree, but it put a point of view which was considered worthy of insertion in a responsible trade union paper. Therefore, I say that it is an additional reason for the urging of decentralisation, which I have so often done in this House, but which I am not going to repeat today. The third point is with regard to the question of unnecessary facilities. Again, I am going to take it very shortly. I say that the total saving which the Railway Executive have achieved—£900,000 a year on travel lines and stations—is not enough, and that question requires consideration both from the point of view of closing them entirely or using some for freight only. I have dealt with three points.
I now come, as hon. Gentlemen opposite would expect me to come, to the question of the findings of the Guillebaud Report. Again, I want hon. Gentlemen opposite to appreciate the angle from which I am considering this matter. The Government have swept aside the results of the Guillebaud Court of Inquiry, and therefore we are entitled to know in this 52 House with which of the findings of that Court of Inquiry the Government disagree. It is not only a question of their disagreeing with them but of disagreeing so absolutely and completely that they do not consider it even worth while having a further investigation into the matters into which the Court of Inquiry reported. That is the only position which the Government can take up, and therefore we must ask for a very careful discussion of this aspect of the case.
I am sure that most hon. Members will remember the position. I want to recall, for a moment, a point in the recent negotiations on which the Guillebaud Court of Inquiry sat. On 7th November last year, the date of the meeting of the Railway Staff National Council, the Railway Executive offered £6½ million on the wage claim, conditional on changes in working duties to produce economies under four heads: the abolition of knockers up; the abolition of vanguards in the London area; the extension of lodging terms; and the working of reasonable overtime to complete a tour of duty. These economies were expected to produce about £2 million. I am not, for the moment, going into the trade union negotiating history on these terms because hon. Gentlemen opposite know them far better than I do, but I want hon. Members to know that I have them in mind and have considered them.
I think that I am entitled to make this point, which is a debating point, that hitherto the right hon. Gentleman has been saying in practically all these debates that the Railway Executive are entirely right; but here, of course, we come to the position that the Railway Executive offered these terms. They were then referred to the Court of Inquiry under Mr. Guillebaud. With local modification, that Court of Inquiry upheld the Railway Executive's offer. This is the first point on which we must have an explanation, as I think everyone must agree. The Court said that they regarded it as:the maximum amount which it is within the capacity of British Railways to pay without imposing intolerable financial burdens upon them.That is what the Court of Inquiry said. Is that wrong? We want to hear from the right hon. Gentleman. If, as we must take it he disagrees entirely with that statement, because the recommendations 53 of the Guillebaud Committee have been swept aside, why is it wrong; where is it wrong?
On the second point, they said that there was "an overwhelming case" for the adoption of the conditions of working; and they went on to say that they did not believe the Railway Executive could have assumed the responsibility for putting forward its own proposals for wage and salary increases unless it had been able to envisage ways and means whereby the additional costs could be met either in whole or in part. That is what they thought. Are they wrong in thinking that? If there is any doubt about it at all, then there ought to be an inquiry so that we may know what is the true position.
The Guillebaud Committee said that a rise in passenger fares was considered and rejected in view of the declining trend of passenger receipts. These Regulations do not deal with passengers, and therefore I do not intend to pursue that matter. But they went on to say—and again I ask hon. Gentlemen to face up to their words:A further rise in freight charges would seem to us very undesirable both because of (a) the adverse effect in regard to costs and prices which it could have on industry in general"—That is a point which I have already mentioned and which all of us have in mind—and (b) because it would tend to drive more traffic away from the railways.Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that, and, if so, why?
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making a fair point, but he ought to relate it to the fact that these conditions applied and the Z grades in the railway service got 92s. a week.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am coming to that point. This was made on the offer which was roughly half way. I gave the figure. It was £6½ million. Of course, the ultimate figure was £12 million. It was made with that offer, which would have meant a certain increase for the lower grades, and it was made after the 3s. increase of a few months before. I am sure hon. Members will appreciate the point, when an independent committee says that a rise in freight charges would not only have a general adverse effect but would drive more traffic from the railways. I want to know whether 54 the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the committee, and, if he disagrees, why?
The Government are in this difficulty. When the findings were announced the railway unions rejected them outright. I do not want to say anything unfair. It is quite true that eventually they agreed to examine economies, but they were completely uncommitted as to what they would accept, which is the position today. The difficulty we are in is that we have on the one side the Railway Executive and the Court of Inquiry and on the other the railway trade unions. The Railway Executive is in the dilemma of being impaled on one or other of those two horns. What the Railway Executive said is at any rate right to some extent, or else joint consultation between the Railway Executive and the unions on these problems must have been bad, which is my fifth point.
Hon. Members will appreciate that when the Railway Executive is supported by an independent inquiry and its suggestions are absolutely repudiated by three responsible unions, this in itself damns the joint consultation which must have preceded that position. That also must be a matter for inquiry. Somehow or other the difficulties of the men and the difficulties of the employers have not succeeded in being brought to each other's attention. I am very anxious to hear what Members opposite have to say on this point. I believe that consultation ought to take place irrespective of wage bargaining, and that should apply to the whole field of industry. It should not be geared to wage bargaining. There is a specially high duty on nationalised industries to see to that.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Is it not a fact that joint consultation is separated from negotiating machinery but that for convenience the personnel is the same?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
The result was so bad in this case that it cannot be functioning properly. Again, in the words of "The Economist," we find this:How unsuccessful the procedure of joint consultation has been is shown by the policy which some C.R.O.s have been forced to use as a makeshift in holding large meetings of employees and talking to them over the heads of their immediate superiors.55 Surely one of the problems of joint consultation is whether it is beyond the Railway Executive, as employers, to show that the men would benefit by the greater efficiency which these changes would bring, and to demonstrate the connection between wages and conditions which gives the most effective working.
Those are my five points—productivity, management, branch lines as an example of unnecessary facilities, the findings of the Court of Inquiry and joint consultation. I ask Members opposite to consider the alternatives. If we are not to have this inquiry, the Government must face the implications of their own actions. They must consider the implication of sweeping aside the recommendations of the Court of Inquiry and substituting their own figure of £12 million, without conditions, for the Court of Inquiry figure.
The implications are that the State has been brought in as a direct party to wage negotiations and will decide their necessity to the political needs of the Government in power. That is a very serious position. Practically all hon. Members present took part in the debates on the transport nationalisation measure, and they will remember the theory of the independence of the public boards. That has been completely exploded. It has gone with the wind, unless the Government are prepared to take some action to put right what they have done on the matter. We must also reconcile ourselves to the position that the chances of the railways "breaking even," has also gone with the wind.
That is the position, and we say that there should be an inquiry. I am not going to prejudge what the result will be. I know the difficulties of Members opposite as to redundancy. That is a frightfully difficult matter. The London van group unofficial strike at King's Cross shows that the feeling is there. I recognise the feeling, but it would strengthen us if we had some external body which could give us the advantage of its views on productivity, management and so on. I cannot help feeling, and I say this with great diffidence to Members opposite, that this is especially important in the case of the railways, where we have dispersed working, unlike a factory where everything is on the spot. The alternative is 56 that the independent public corporation goes.
But we have to consider the present situation, and the right hon. Gentleman will say that I must come back to that. Well, I come back to it, and I say that the present method of employing interim increases in charges to keep the railways going is not even an interim answer. The 10 per cent. increase will give the Commission £14 million more this year. It will reduce the over-all deficit from £65 million to £51 million, and I submit that there is very little comfort in that. I say that if there is nationalisation, with the implication of a State monopoly, there is no alternative for the consumer, and there must be some external efficiency audit.
I urge hon. Members who approach the subject of nationalisation with a disposition in its favour—as I suppose I approach it with a disposition against it—to take the T.U.C. view, which is probably accepted by everyone now, that public ownership should not be accepted for the sake of public ownership, but that it should be accepted only if it is thought to be the best method of doing the job. On that basis, where there is public ownership without the check of competition, there must be something in the nature of an efficiency audit, and we must agree—if I might slightly change some well-known words—that whatever form we have, what this country cannot afford is either public or private unenterprise. That the country cannot afford, and it is because I want to see that it does not exist, that I have moved this Motion.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) has achieved well deserved eminence in the legal profession by his careful selection of evidence and the submission of it as suited to the case he is advocating, and he has excelled himself in that respect this afternoon. I happened to have been a member, as an assessor, of the Guillebaud Court of Inquiry, and with the quotations submitted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman I can scarcely quarrel. But many of the questions he postulated are answered in the Report of Mr. Guillebaud and his colleagues. This afternoon the right hon. and learned Gentleman has merely postulated a review of the questions and omitted the replies.
57 First, let me deal with what I would describe as the domestic side of the matter. I gather that there is some complaint about manpower. There has been a great deal of false information circulated throughout the country on that point, and it will interest the House to know that during the last two and a half years the staff of British Railways has been reduced by no fewer than 34,000.
A further complaint is in respect of over-centralisation, but the fact is that there is more decentralisation today than ever before. The British Transport Commission meet once a week and the members of the Railway Executive meet once a week. The task of the executive is to implement the policy laid down by the Commission, and to achieve that the Executive have regular meetings of the regional officers throughout the country. At those meetings they are not only advised what action they should take, but they are invited to submit their own proposals, and they have a far greater amount of local autonomy today than they did under private ownership. If men who have had experience of the work could give evidence in the House today they would very readily confirm what I say.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that the Guillebaud Court of Inquiry had not been given the necessary attention, but he submitted no evidence in support of that argument. By a coincidence, it so happens that Mr. Guillebaud presided over two inquiries, the first in 1947 and then over the most recent one. He was faced with a very great difficulty. When inquiring into the rates of wages and salaries of railwaymen he could not avoid the conclusion that something of a substantial character should be done, but owing to their limited terms of reference they were only allowed to make a recommendation in harmony with the financial condition of the industry. That is where the railway unions and the Court of Inquiry joined issue.
The Chairman of the Court of Inquiry and the Chairman of the Railway Executive were given an impossible task in being entrusted with the responsibility of assessing the merits or demerits of increases in wages and salaries if they had to confine themselves to the financial 58 position of the railway industry in the present circumstances. The railwaymen recognise that if we are to be dependent upon the measure of profit in the industry now there is no hope for any improvement in our conditions of service, but we submit that that ought not to be a condition under which the Court of Inquiry should labour.
Let us consider the task given to the Court. They were asked to examine an application and indicate what their views were and to what extent the application could be met. When the evidence was submitted by the leaders of the three railway unions it was obvious that the members of the Court of Inquiry were overwhelmed, and in making an award they realised that they had to add to the deficit. Section 76 of the Transport Act lays down that:The Commission shall from time to time prepare, and submit to the Transport Tribunalcharges schemes to cover all services, and no schemes were to be available within two years from the passing of the Act. However, it proved such a formidable task that on 26th July, 1949, the Minister of Transport had to allow a longer period, namely, four years from the passing of the Act, and that period will expire on 5th August, 1951. Until that scheme has been approved by the Minister and put into operation there is very little likelihood of more profit being made.
What is the stumbling block? The railways have to find £36 million in 1950 as their share of the central charges of the Transport Commission, and £30 million out of the £36 million has to be found to pay stockholders and the former owners of railway wagons. The railway unions, and indeed all the railway employees, say that that amount can be met and must be met, but that in present circumstances it is giving the Railway Executive an impossible task in asking them to raise that money without help from elsewhere. What are their difficulties? I am now taking the most recent figures. Fuel oil for buses has gone up 140 per cent.; coal, 200 pet cent.; tyres, 160 per cent.; steel rails, 115 per cent.; timber sleepers, 315 per cent.; copper plates, 215 per cent.; brass bars, 420 per cent., and clothing, 320 per cent.
§ Mr. Arthur Colegate (Burton)
Can the hon. Gentleman say on which date he is basing these comparisons?
§ Mr. Morris
On 1939. The cost of clothing in 1938 was £597,000. In 1949, it was £1,700,000, having gone up 320 per cent. The cost of railway locomotives increased by 120 per cent. I would repeat the question that I have put on several occasions: Who could run a business, pay these higher charges, and make a profit, by only increasing his own costs by about 55 per cent. at the very maximum? In fact, if the Prayers today are rejected, the charges, under the present proposals, will amount to an increase of only about 75 per cent. in the cost of travel above that of pre-war days in the London area, and about 90 per cent. outside London.
That is the task of the Railway Executive. It is manifestly unfair to charge them with failing in their duty. If they are guilty of it, they are only repeating what happened before. I would like to remind the House that, with the exception of the Great Western Railway, every railway company before the war was taken off the trustee list. The G.W.R. directors only paid about one half of 1 per cent. interest. The financial history of the railways reflects no credit at all upon the private running of them, and the steps taken by the Railway Executive during the past three years indicates that they are trying to grapple with the problem of making the Transport Commission's work pay year by year.
Reference was made to joint consultation, which is now being practised for the first time. The unions had tried to get consultation adopted, but it is only since nationalisation that they have been encouraged. Nevertheless, they face on the other side of the table nominees of the previous general managers and railway directors, and they are wondering whether this effort at joint consultation is genuine. The former Chairman of the Railway Executive, Sir Eustace Missenden, and Mr. John Elliot, have made every possible effort to convince the railway unions that they are now earnestly seeking to bring about consultation at all levels with a view to eliminating waste and inefficiency. The Joint Consultative Council, upon which the railway executive committees are represented, meets every quarter, and oftener if that be necessary. Consultation 60 at a higher level is taking place almost from day to day.
These increased charges will only help the Minister and the Transport Commission; I am bound to repeat that they will not solve the financial problem of the industry. There will have to be other measures. If the House ignores the increased costs that the Railway Executive have to meet and sweeps them aside, we shall have to press from this side of the House for an entire recasting of the financial structure of the railway industry. It is only when that recasting comes about that the railways will be given a fair and proper opportunity. It has been suggested that if we want peace in the industry we shall have to recognise the work performed by the administrative and operative grades on a very much fairer basis. I would emphasise the need for proper and wider consultation and, in view of the enhanced costs of the executive, the need for some special encouragement and help to get them on their feet. In the course of the next three years, if the new scheme comes into operation, the industry might—I will not say "will"—be able to present a better picture.
Let the House be quite fair to this Executive. Let us acknowledge that they are facing an unusually heavy burden. Before they can increase even a single cost they have to go through the machinery of presenting their case before a tribunal. That does not happen with any other industry. If the case should be proved for an increase in rates and charges, this will not solve the problem, and the railway unions will not be happy at all until there has been a new approach and an entirely different effort to reorganise the financial structure of British transport.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Sir Walter Monckton (Bristol, West)
This is the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing the House, and I ask for the indulgence which I know that the House so generously gives on these occasions. I will undertake not to abuse it by detaining the House for long, but there are one or two matters which encourage me to try to make a short contribution to this discussion. The first is that for many years I have been engaged on one side or the other in the various reviews and inquiries into the structure of railway rates, and in the 61 attempts to raise these rates from time to time. That, I must say, has left me with considerable sympathy with those who say that there are no very easy answers to the problems which confront the Minister of Transport, and indeed the Transport Commission. Let me say how grateful I am to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and kindness in giving me the right of access to the Ministry, and to the officials there, who have helped me enormously in preparing, and curtailing, what I have to say.
The second matter which encourages me to say a few words here today is that I have had recent personal experience at a by-election of the depth of the anxiety which the public feel at the spiral of costs of one sort or another with which we are confronted. They see the cost of coal going up because of the costs of the railways in carrying it. They see the cost of railway charges go up because of the cost of coal which has to be used in the running of the trains. Then again, in the last week, they have seen a further rise in the cost of coal because of the increase in the railway charges that we are now considering. They find that a very disquieting source of anxiety. One has to say to oneself, "If this spiral is to go on without our attempting to do anything about it, are we satisfied that we are doing our task?"
Where does it hurt most? When the right hon. Gentleman, in December, 1949, was introducing a discussion upon the increases which were made on 15th May, 1950, he said that the main weight of those increases would fall upon the heavy industrial products which form the main traffic of the railways. That was no doubt true, and it is equally true of the increase of 10 per cent. which is now proposed. It will fall most heavily on the basic industries on which we rely for re-armament, industrial prosperity and our export trade. It will not touch passenger traffic for reasons which we understand. I gather that it is hoped that the scheme which will deal with that sort of traffic will be introduced and dealt with during the summer of 1951, though I suspect it is a bold man who would prophesy confidently that that scheme will be in operation as early as that.
In the meantime the main burden will certainly rest on the heavy industries and their trade. Indeed, it will always rest 62 upon them. When their time comes to feel the increase some of the passengers can avoid travelling or can travel more easily by other means. Merchandise in the higher classes above Class 6 can still very often travel by other means of transport, but the minerals and coal traffic in Classes 1 to 6 is traffic which cannot escape travelling on the railways, to which it is tied. I suggest that it is a very grave decision to put burdens in this way upon the heavy traffic at a period in our industrial history like this unless it is proved that it is absolutely inevitable.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), said that the effect of the increase would be to put a 75 per cent. increase on the pre-war figures.
§ Mr. P. Morris
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman. I said that it would bring the increase up to 75 per cent., not put on an increase of 75 per cent.
§ Sir W. Monckton
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. This will bring the figure up to 75 per cent. over the pre-war figure.
I am anxious that the Minister shall correct me if I am wrong, but, as I have apprehended the figure, this will bring it up to 99 per cent. over the pre-war figure. If these percentages become as high as that it is a very different matter and it is a very serious burden that we are putting on these industries. In the old dispensation under the Railways Act, 1921, there was a provision which determined that if an increase was sought in the standard and other charges the railways had to prove as a necessary prerequisite that any deficiency in the revenue was not due to a lack of efficiency or economy in the management, and I suggest that at a moment like this when these increases seem to come with such rapidity and such weight the Minister might well consider that a salutary provision like that might be treated as a condition fulfilment of which is required in these days.
It is interesting to see that the permanent members of the Transport Tribunal in giving their advice on this occasion based themselves on two things. They based themselves on an assurance from the Minister, which was no doubt justified, that the figures which were put forward by the Transport Commission give an accurate picture of the financial 63 position as it now is with the railways. But they also said that they had been supplied with such information in conjunctions with that disclosed during the extensive inquiry held in January, 1950. There was, of course, no inquiry on this occasion which would have enabled any testing of economies or possibilities of improvements or further inquiry.
Therefore, if we are looking to the Transport Tribunal, we must be driven back to what was called the extensive inquiry held in January, 1950, and of that we have a report. It is interesting—especially interesting to those of us who took part in it—to see the conclusions that were reached on this matter. It was argued that, following on the economies and reductions in staff which had been referred to in the evidence submitted by the Transport Commission, greater economies than the £2 million to £3 million allowed for in working expenses of come £300 million could not be expected.
What did the Transport Tribunal add? They said they felt that the material at their disposal for determining the difference between that submission and that which I made was inadequate. The contention which had been made on the other side was that a good deal could have been done to attempt to see whether further economies and opportunities of greater efficiency could be found. The Tribunal said that they found that their material was inadequate to enable them to determine that, and they went on to say that the estimated economies in 1950 appeared to them to be disappointingly small. That is the degree to which the Transport Tribunal had been able to deal with this matter and satisfy themselves, and therefore us, as to whether, to use the language of the old Act, any deficiency in revenue ought not to be attributed to failure to economise or failures in management.
The evidence which was given on behalf of the Commission in 1950 for that inquiry dealt also with major economies and improvements, and it can be summarised in this way: that that could only be secured by radical changes in working conditions or as a result of fundamental alterations in the technical organisation of transport and that that was not to be obtained until the system was integrated within the meaning of the 64 1947 Act. That seems to postpone any chance of inquiring into economies and further efficiency to be obtained therefrom until we have the road and rail charges scheme in force. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) pointed out that, whereas when the inquiry was held in 1950 it was anticipated that that would be in 1952, the right hon. Gentleman is now advised by the Transport Tribunal in 1951 that it is not to be anticipated that those charges will be in operation before 1954 at the earliest.
What one asks oneself is: Are we to be asked to sanction these increases, which do not come singly or seldom, for three, four or more years without any inquiry upon the, as it used to be, fundamental matter of whether something can be done by economies and by greater efficiency in management? That was a matter upon which the 1950 Tribunal found itself in possession of inadequate material to determine and a matter in which the Tribunal sitting this year had no further material offered it. All we are suggesting is that there ought to be an inquiry of that sort.
When we come to consider the type of inquiry, my right hon. and learned Friend said that he wanted an expert ad hoc Committee. I submit to the House that there are great advantages in an expert committee over the Transport Tribunal upon this front. Before the Transport Tribunal, it is really impracticable for the users of the railways, who are the objectors, to examine fully the suggestions that might be made for greater economy. They start with very little detailed material and can hope for very little to enable them to break down the figures which come up during the inquiry. They are not equipped, and they would not be permitted, to pursue a kind of roving investigation, necessarily unprepared, and embark on a voyage of discovery, but the ad hoc expert committee would not be under any such difficulties as that. Their task would be precisely what the Transport Tribunal is not really able to do, as is indicated in the 1950 report. They would have to search out and probe for opportunities of economy and greated efficiency, and, as experts, they would call for such documents and figures as they required for that task.
I will give just one concrete example of what I mean. We have heard in this 65 debate a good deal about the differences between the staff before the war and the staff in 1948 and 1949, as contrasted with the freight tonnage carried in those years. When one is dealing with that sort of matter before the Transport Tribunal, one can only deal with it, as the report itself indicates, in the broadest manner. One can point out that the staff in 1937 was 550,000 and that the freight train traffic then was 298 million tons, whereas in 1948 the staff was up by 100,000 and the freight train traffic was down by 22 million tons. I am anxious to point out that in the ensuing year the figures are better. The staff is up 75,000, not 100,000, and the freight traffic is down not by 22 million tons but by 18 million tons.
Those figures, crudely put, do not suggest more than this: that there is something to inquire into. There are certainly partial explanations, but there remains a wide field in this important subject because the wages and salaries element in the working expenses of a railway company are not less than 60 per cent. Therefore, if there is room for any economy there it ought to be considered, and it cannot practicably be considered before the Transport Tribunal.
The same thing is true—I mention it only by way of illustration—with regard to passenger traffic, which, I realise, is outside the scope of this debate. It is often suggested that there is a degree of unprofitable working of passenger trains. I have had to suggest it and I have had to resist it. I know it is a matter which involves the detailed study of a great deal of material, and if one were to take each branch about which that inquiry arose before the Transport Tribunal, I think they would have very little sympathy with such a method of conducting the matter. Obviously, it is something which could be more easily handled by an expert committee appointed ad hoc.
But even supposing, as a result of appointing this expert committee, one reached the conclusion that there was no direction in which we could look for significant economies, no place where we could hope for really important efficiency improvements, the very holding of the inquiry would do a great deal to restore confidence in the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive. And it may be, may it not, that we ourselves should look, not as people who complacently 66 accept these increases which come so often upon us—or if not complacently, at any rate with helpless resignation and folded arms—but as people who realise that it is our duty, before allowing any such charges to be increased, to inquire resolutely whether we could not check or arrest those increases?
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
It is about 13 years ago since I faced the House of Commons to make my maiden speech. I have had to wait 13 years before having the honour and the pleasure of paying tribute to another hon. Member of this House who has just gone through the same ordeal, although I must say, with very great respect, that in the case of the hon. and learned Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), there was no semblance of ordeal and that neither did we expect there would be one. It is all the more pleasing to me to pay a tribute to him because I suppose I have said more unkind and uncharitable things about the profession of the hon. and learned Member than about any other profession. Therefore, I should like to assure him that we have listened to his maiden speech with very real pleasure.
On this side of the House we are conscious that a new force has entered our transport debates. The hon. and learned Member brings to this subject not only an enormous reputation in legal circles generally, but a specific knowledge of this subject. Knowledge of his long and wide association with railway rates before the Railway Rates Tribunal, preceded him into this House. The one thing I hold against him is that I have had to interpret in practice some of the rates which he was responsible for asking us to accept.
I hope we shall hear the hon. and learned Gentleman often, particularly in our transport debates, which are on a subject very close to the hearts of many of us. I should like to welcome him formally to what I might call the transport group in this House. It is not limited to one side, for there are Members on both sides who approach this problem with a wide diversity of interest. Indeed, I may ultimately convince the hon. and learned Gentleman to agree with a viewpoint which is solely my own and for which up to the present I have had no supporter. At any rate, we represent a bunch of hon. Members who 67 really desire to see the best done for this great industry.
I do not want to detain the House long this afternoon, because I have spoken many times on this subject. Mr. Speaker, who obviously has heard me often and knows the line I am tempted to take, has already told me that C licences would be out of the question. I have heard a number of my colleagues, during recent debates, confessing that they were family men, principally because they thought they could claim to speak with some authority on rising prices. Although I do so somewhat belatedly, it is time that I confessed myself as a family man. As fathers we may not have played a prominent part in bringing up our families, for that was the responsibility mainly of our wives, but we have all faced the experience of a sick child and have been greatly concerned about its chances of recovery.
The transport industry appears to me to be very much in that position. It is a child for whom I have a great affection, having spent many years of my life in its service, and there is no doubt about it, that it is a very sick child today. Looking at this problem in that light, I have turned over in my brain all the things which I hoped might be done to restore this sick child to full health and vigour, able again to play its proper part. It does not always follow that because a child is sick it needs feeding. Sometimes a good purgative gives a better cure, and I am not sure that it would not be better for the transport industry to have a little purging rather than to feed it with another 10 per cent. freight increase.
The recent wages award was fully justified and much overdue. In this situation there is nothing else to be done immediately than to make this increase in freight charges. However, I deeply deplore the necessity for it, a necessity which need never have come upon us if greater wisdom had been shown in the organisation of the industry. It is no new thing for the railway industry to be in trouble. It was in trouble for over 25 years. It has been in trouble since I entered it in 1918. I hasten to assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I do not think my association with the industry brought any of the present trouble upon it.
68 As I say, for over 25 years this industry has been in grievous trouble. In 1922, it asked this House to help it by an extension of its powers. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken for the Conservative Party in the House over a period of years have asked that this industry might be given a chance to put itself in proper shape. There is only one of them left now who speaks with the true railway voice in the House, the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), but we still hear from him echoes of those speeches.
That opportunity, however, has never been forthcoming, and it is really a little gratuitous for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to stand at the Opposition Box and give us this afternoon a set of fine points, every one of which was applicable to the industry when it was in private hands. Every one of the demands he made could, and ought to, have been made and met in the days when the industry was in the hands of the railway companies.
What is the position today, and why is there such difficulty in making the railways a financial success? Any of us who has had any association with an industry knows that the overheads of modern industry are a major factor in determining whether it shall make a profit or a loss. As the production output of an industry increases, however, the increase is not in relation to the increased charge on the overheads which arise. There is no industry in the country in which overhead charges are such a vital factor as in the railway industry.
This is an industry which has to provide its own roads, its own signalling system, its own telephone service, and its own rolling stock; it has a considerable burden of overhead charges continuously upon it. It must be employing its facilities to the maximum of its capacity if it is to show a profit over the year. The trouble has been that for the past 25 years this industry has not been allowed to employ itself to maximum capacity. Its maximum overheads have been continuously present, but the traffic which it ought to have been carrying in its high cost, specially selected vehicles, and the traffic which ought to have been hauled in its heavy trains which have been running only partially loaded, has not been there. Therefore, there has been the 69 burden of very heavy overheads and there has not been the necessary traffic available to enable the industry to pay its way.
In 1938, when the "Square Deal" campaign of the railways was launched throughout the country, and was even bought on to the Floor of the House, the railways were facing the position that they were having to maintain their heavy overhead charges but there was being denied to them the traffic that was being carried by 513,000 road vehicles. Because of that, the impact of those overheads upon its balance sheet, faced with the loss of that traffic to a competitive form of transport, made the industry unable to pay its way.
Today, there is denied to the railways not merely the traffic carried by 513,000 outside vehicles, but the traffic carried by 850,000 competing vehicles. While the overheads of the railway companies still continue, the traffic that could make them remunerative, that could make the industry pay, is being denied to it by the continued development and growth of the road vehicles.
Of the general organisation of the industry, I say this. I believe that freight transit times are much too slow; the service for freight traffic on the railways is much too poor. Why is this so? It is because of the impossibility of running through services from point to point because of the same limiting factor of the amount of traffic which is offering. It is no use the right hon. and learned Gentleman talking about increased production in relation to increased wages to staff if traffic is not available to be carried. The man who is in the signal box, passing 80 or 100 passenger or freight trains through a day, cannot increase his production because he has had a 7s. 6d. a week rise. He cannot influence any more trains to pass along that route, neither can any other man in the service if the traffic is not offering. That being so, we are suffering in our freight service times—the whole vicious circle is operating—because we do not have the traffic to enable us to operate the through services which would give the better freight timings which the industry needs.
I believe, also, that there is a failure to co-ordinate the fast railway services from major points and selected rail-heads, with connecting road service transport. 70 That co-ordination, which ought to have been one of the first things laid down by the nationalised undertaking, has been singularly absent. I visualised a scheme of fast freight services, from our major and more important centres and the smaller points, being linked by a quick road service delivering the freight, but that still is not in existence. So we are having an unusual and increasing number of trans-shipments of freight traffic, with consequent bad timing and the loss of traffic to competing services.
The need of the industry is not, as has been the trend over the years, for longer and heavier trains. I believe that the only hope of the industry's survival is for lighter, faster and more freight services. Not until we can offer these things to the public will the industry see its way through. Linking up with the provision of lighter, faster and more frequent services must go the diesel-electric locomotive. I speak as one who has made some comparison of operating costs of the diesel-electric locomotive and I believe that it can play a vital part in putting the industry on its feet.
The industry has many problems. If I had to sum up what I thought was the besetting trouble and the problem which it has to face at present, and which has to be tackled sooner or later, before the industry really is on its feet, I would say it is this: that the railway industry is at present bedevilled by too many who do not know and by an even greater number who do not even care.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
We always welcome the contributions of the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), and I was disappointed on this occasion that his was so short, because I remember other transport debates when he has contributed a great deal of meat to the discussions which has given us an opportunity for digestion afterwards. Today, his contribution, although short, was more valuable, because he seemed to be moving rather to our point of view on this side of the House. Although deprived of his King. Charles's head, he yet gave an indication that the railways seriously needed investigation.
That, so far, has been the burden of the speeches which have been made from 71 my right hon. and learned Friend onwards, including the notable contribution of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), whom we on these benches are all delighted to see in the House, for the moment alongside us, but very soon, I expect, in front of us.
I come straight away to the main point raised by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, that British Railways today is a sick child. As a sick child, it is very much in need of a rapid, expert diagnosis. I hope to suggest that instead of a physician, what we need is a surgeon and a substantial operation to boot. This question of the composition of an expert committee of investigation has two aspects. One, which so far has not been mentioned, is the public relations aspect in which the railways at present stand. Before the war, we had a great deal of knowledge about what was taking place on the railways. The railways were in competition, although that competition was limited, and in the process of competition there was generated a good deal of public discussion and understanding of the purposes of the railways, what each line was trying to do, and where each service was going. All that has been closed off and sealed away from the public view at present.
Therefore, to some extent, all the-bodies which have so far charged themselves with an interest in railway affairs are only partially effective. I regret to say that the Railway Executive has all the facts in its possession today, but for the most part suppresses those in which the public are most interested. I have been reading again the second Report of the Transport Commission. I find it a mass of interesting statistics, but one cannot piece a real story together, or understand what it is that the railway chiefs themselves think is wrong with the railways. Perhaps it is natural to suppose that in a Report of that kind they would not reveal themselves to the public gaze.
The Central Transport Consultative Committee, appointed under Section 6 of the Act, which is a body supposed to take some interest in railway activities and to reveal to the public gaze what is going on, only had three meetings last year. It submitted a report and the 72 report is with the Minister. I have never seen the report and I do not know whether other hon. Members have seen it, or whether it is even available in the Library. We do not know what the Consultative Committee set up by the Minister is doing about the railways.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The noble Lord may proceed, but I do not know whether this comes under the three Regulations we are considering.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I think so, because we are discussing the railways in a general way and, as we were discussing the Railway Executive, I thought the analogous body of the Central Transport Consultative Committee was relevant. I am passing from that immediately to say this——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am not sure that we are discussing railways in a general way. We are dealing with these three Regulations.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I realise that, and I am going on to try to find reasons for saying that these Regulations ought not to be given effect to pending the establishment of an inquiry. In these circumstances, Parliament itself is no effective inquiry. Suggestions for a joint Select Committee of both Houses to look into the nationalised industries and probe into what is going on in the railways have been rejected and we are down to these periodic debates in the House of Commons and the information made available to us is meagre in the extreme.
We are not even getting complaints from the travelling public in great numbers. That is not because there is not a great deal wrong. We all know there is. We all know there is a slowing down in the delivery of goods and a high handedness in administrative action, that the services are deteriorating in quality, that there is a great deal of dirty rolling stock and unkempt furniture and the like. We have also had complaints, not from constituents but from the railway servants 73 themselves, of poor pay, redundancy in mainline stations and elsewhere, administrative congestion at the top and lack of opportunity which some of the careerists in the railway service experience in their desire to get promoted.
But all this is not coming to the House and the reason is that our constituents and others know that the Minister has persistently refused to answer Questions. There is not a body which effectively can probe into this great octopus of the railway system so that when people make complaints to us they may know that they are effective.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The noble Lord has made a number of charges about inferior service, dirty conditions of the railways and a whole lot of things which he regards as being something like innovations and, I suppose, as associated with nationalisation, but that is contrary to the experience of most of my hon. Friends and myself. Could he substantiate his statement with some evidence?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not making out a considerable argument on this, but am passing on to the main part of what I want to say. I merely point to the lack of knowledge of railway operations and the ineffectiveness of this House in that regard. Having seen the lack of organisations to probe effectively into it, we need something new, which is the inquiry for which my hon. Friends have been asking for over a year. Our plea has been greatly reinforced by the contribution of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West. We need an expert team of surgeons to open up this great encrusted body of the British railway system and let the students of public administration see what is going on inside. If after that this expert team of surgeons would do a little work in straightening up the vitals of this beast it would be a good thing.
Last year when the industry was losing half a million pounds a week, the Minister said that the 16⅔ per cent. increase in freight charges was designed to prevent losses accumulating. He said:it is for the purpose of safeguarding the situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1950; Vol. 475, c. 519.]It may be that at that time in his view the deficit was at an end, or would remain what it was, and would not accumulate. 74 But now, a year afterwards, we find that £400,000 a week is being lost, or nearly as much again. The 16⅔ per cent. is found not sufficient and the Minister comes along and says he will provide for this extra 10 per cent. on freight charges, a new increase which will bring the Commission's running deficit to about £2.4 million a year. Can anyone have any confidence at all that finality has been reached in this after the experience of last year? My right hon. and learned Friend showed what the effect of these rising charges had been on a parallel nationalised industry, coal. It results in the price of coal going up by 1s. 9d. a ton, which will react on the railways. Possibly as a result of the increase the price of steel will go up, which in turn will react on the railways and put up their costs.
What we are beginning to see is these great nationalised industries and services acting and re-acting against each other as agents of inflation, building up one after the other a great edifice of rising prices and rising costs. Someone has got to step in and stop the rot. We have to take one nationalised industry—I do not care whether it is railways or coal—condition it and streamline it, anchor it to the ground and prevent it from carrying on this enormous inflationary process.
I am glad to say that we have a general principle in the operation of the Transport Commission and of the Railway Executive. It is laid down in the Act that, taking one year with another, there should be neither profit nor loss. We are all agreed about that, except those who favour an outside subsidy on a large scale, which I do not believe commands general assent even in the party opposite. I believe that there is a case for a small subsidy for lines which can be exactly defined as strategic lines but no case for a general subsidy. I hope the principle of no profit and no loss will work out, as I said about a year ago, not only at Commission level, but right down to the Executives and to the lowest ranges of administration.
Having got that principle we must make up our minds between two alternative administrative methods. The first is the one which the Government, the Ministry and Commission have been pursuing for the last five years and which I think even the hon. Member for Perry Barr now 75 begins to realise is leading us to disaster. That is to fix the manpower, fix the capital programme, fix the quality of the service and met the cost by higher paper rates irrespective of where those rates fall, and whether the customer will take the service at the price offered. That is what is happening now.
There is no guarantee whatever that people will pay these paper rates which are now being laid down, that they will not divert more and more services away from the railways, either to the canals or coastwise ships or road transport services. They will probably do so. We have reached the point where people are beginning to find the railways extremely unattractive at the prices offered, and they are not going to continue to use them.
§ Mr. Harrison
When speaking of alternative forms of transport the noble Lord mentioned coastwise shipping. Is he aware that since 1938 the freight rates for coastwise shipping have risen by 220 per cent., and that, therefore, there is a substantial factor in respect of operation costs to be considered there?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I dare say that they have been raised, and if it is the policy of the Government to raise the rates of all the competing services so that the traffic, if any, has to go by rail we can fully understand the reason for that policy.
The other and completely opposite administrative method is to go out for the maximum revenue available, and which is payable, and cut costs in order to strike the balance of no profit and no loss. That is the alternative tack which I believe the Transport Commission will now be obliged to follow. In that connection it is fantastic to suppose that we can wait for years for the production of the railway charges scheme. The situation is so grave, the need for gaining fresh revenue day by day and week by week is so urgent, that we cannot possibly look to this old-fashioned rigmarole, arising out of decades of past legislation when the railways were a monopoly or a semi-monopoly, to produce the result.
The right hon. Gentleman, or this expert body for which we are asking, must break in and blow the thing sky high, and bring to this House a short Bill releasing the railways from their 76 obligations to go through this extraordinarily lengthy process, and giving them the sort of opportunity which great commercial firms have, in competition with each other, to go out and look for custom at economic prices. I agree with one hon. Member who said that the railways were bound and tied by the past. So they are. They must be released from their obligation and allowed to go out and get attractive business at the rates which they think people can pay. So much for that aspect.
I turn to the other side of the picture—economies. There is no doubt that the railways can and should make immense economies both in manpower and in general expenditure. Some years ago the Minister of Local Government and Planning said that when the railways were nationalised the Labour Party had taken over a poor bag of physical assets. There is no doubt that they were poor and were getting poorer. That was probably as much due to the external competition which they were experiencing from 20th century transport processes, which no one in their senses wants to suppress, as to anything else. But they were poor also because, as the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, or implied, they had too many assets in the bag. What I mean by that is that those assets were costing too much to keep up—that they were not fully exploited.
When one considers the railway system as a whole, and views in the mind's eye any railway scene one can recollect, it is extraordinary to note how elaborate and costly the whole thing is compared with what one sees when one goes overseas. It was all very well and quite right for a great Victorian monopoly, when the roads had not been fully developed and the aeroplane was unthought of, to have this tremendously costly structure. It could be maintained because nobody had any opportunity of using any alternative service. But Queen Victoria is now dead, we have had two immensely costly wars, and this country is not now in the condition in which it was in the heyday of the last century.
The railways themselves are no longer a monopoly. They have to compete with road and air; travelling custom is divided between the various services. There is no question that the railways need a tremendous process of stream lining. I 77 find it extraordinary that even on a branch line running up to the north of Scotland, hundreds of miles from anywhere, not a blade of grass is allowed to grow up between the clinkers on the permanent way. When one goes abroad one sees all the evidence of a strict economy, for example, light tram systems, with a driver, no guard and no fireman; perhaps there is a diesel car or one operated by an electric overhead rail, running out into the country, conveying goods and providing services quite cheaply and adequately.
Yet today in this country every branch line that was ever built is, with one or two small exceptions, maintained on a full-scale system, as in the past. The stations are far too well manned, and many are being painted again, following the war. A lot of people are glad about that, and it all contributes to the gaiety. But there does not seem to be any kind of wish for or evidence of simplicity and frugality, of giving a cheap but appropriate service to the public.
I should like to see a great many of these wayside stations either closed down altogether or turned into simple halts where passengers come along, go at once into the train and take a ticket from the driver; and, if the buildings that are left behind as the train steams out get a bit dilapidated, what does it matter? No one really cares, and such a service is good enough for these days. We ought to have more light railway cars manned by a driver only. We ought to abandon the handling of freight at intermediate stations; and supply heavy minerals by road from strategically placed goods stations.
We ought also, in respect of the question of capitalisation, to go in for what one finds on the Continent, light rails with spikes down to the ground or through steel sleepers, instead of the elaborate and costly system of a heavy permanent way with chairs.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
On much too small a scale, I suggest.
These may be considered wild suggestions from someone who does not know the facts and figures of the railway services, who is not immersed in the subject. But that only shows how ignorant Parliament is, and in the circumstances must be, when all the knowledge is centred in the 78 Railway Executive and none of it is released. Failing the appointment of an expert committee of inquiry, we can, in this House, only look to what to the Labour Party must be the terrible alternative of a General Election, the return of a Conservative Government and the setting up again of autonomous competing regions which will revert to the essentials of the pre-war position, create the public interest which will get the railways on their feet, and reward many railway servants who are today longing to get back into their private uniforms.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
My intervention in this debate is due to a long association with the railways industry. Hon. Members opposite have not been quite so blatant today as at other times and there has been more dispassionate reasoning on the subject-matter. I have not, however, up to the present, discovered any constructive and concrete proposals to meet the present situation. The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), has submitted that the railways are in a bad way, and we can all endorse that. Our problem today and the parlous plight in which we find ourselves, are a result of the evils of the past, when a Conservative Government was not disposed to give a measure of economic assistance to an industry which needed it. It has been suggested many times that the evils from which we are suffering result from nationalisation. I would say that if the railways had reverted to private enterprise at the end of the last war, they would not have been able to pay interest even on their trustee stocks.
The Transport Tribunal have given to us a report which merits our serious consideration. That report indicates what deficits are expected at the end of 1951. It is anticipated that they are: British Railways £24 million; docks and canals. £2½ million; London Transport road and rail services, £4 million. At the present level of charges, with the deficit of the Commission as a whole, and British Railways taken as a separate unit, it is anticipated that at the end of 1951 there will be a deficit of £65 million to £75 million. It is clear also that when we allow for depreciation and renewals we shall be mulcted in approximately a further £25 million.
79 Reference has been made to the increase in charges allowed in May, 1950. I suggest that they have been completely swallowed up by the increased costs of British Railways administration since that time. I have said that the Opposition have made no concrete proposals for solving the problems with which we are confronted. The expenditure of the Commission is largely in salaries and wages within the industry and in the purchase of coal. I ask hon. Members opposite to indicate whether they would agree with the increase in salaries and wage rates within the railway industry? Would they agree to the increased wages to those engaged in the mining industry?
§ Mr. Monslow
No, not on these Regulations, I agree. But we are trying to face up to the losses dealt with by the Regulations, and what I am endeavouring to indicate is that these increased charges are outside the control of the British Transport Commission. The Commission have a duty to meet their obligations. I have a shrewd suspicion that if the Opposition had been in power we would have experienced what many of us experienced in other years—in 1931—when there was a 10 per cent. reduction in salaries and wage rates to meet what was then an adverse financial position.
I have certain criticisms to make of the Government regarding integration. Since the vesting day integration has been too longed delayed and should have been expedited. Unless there is an attempt made towards complete integration of the rail, road and canal services, we shall be confronted with a worsening situation than is revealed by these Regulations within the next year. We in the industry thought that if nationalisation meant anything at all the co-ordination of these three services would have resulted in a very substantial improvement in the financial resources of British Railways.
The Opposition believe that each section should be treated as a separate entity. I am fundamentally opposed to that conception. It is apparent to me that if we take road transport outside the ambit of the industry and leave it to its own resources as the Opposition suggest, it would reveal the salient truth that they have no regard at all for railways, and 80 no regard for railwaymen in particular. That, to my mind, proves the fallacy and hypocrisy of the attitude of the Opposition when they deal with wage rates in regard to many of our basic industries.
Reference has been made to economies. There have been economies in staff by reductions of 19,000. The hon. Member for Dorset, South, has indicated that there is redundancy on British Railways today. I wish to make a startling revelation. It is known to me that there are large industrial centres in this country where there is a shortage of railway firemen, where engine men are being paid for unremunerative and uneconomic time because there are not the necessary firemen to do what is, after all, essential work so far as the railway industry is concerned.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Is it not a fact that the shortage of firemen is due to the call up of young men who have thought it worth while to go into the railway service?
§ Mr. Monslow
It has no relation at all to that. If there has been a very small percentage of call-ups under Class Z, and if the situation is as I have described, obviously we must consider seriously whether we can get exemption for firemen in the present circumstances.
In large industrial centres in Britain there is a shortage of permanent way men. On large stretches of British Railways present conditions exist because there is not the necessary staff to maintain them, even at public safety level. It may sound rather startling, but I could take hon. Members to a spot not 20 miles from London where there was in the past a ganger with a staff of approximately six and where there are now only two. I leave hon. Members to work out for themselves the implications of that situation if it continues.
The Opposition are always asking for economies in railway administration. I agree that the fullest possible economy should be exercised; but the maximum amount of economy in British Railways will not materially affect the situation. As I have already indicated, we have to find approximately £75 million by the end of 1951. Even though economies may save £10 million, that would have no material effect on the position.
I wish to claim the indulgence of the House and to make one or two constructive proposals. I hope that every hon. 81 Member wishes to make constructive proposals. I make these suggestions for consideration by the Government. I would subsidise such an industry as this and I would not accept the present increase in charges. I would go so far as to say that the existing level of charges should be reduced. It must be recognised that transport costs are important, because they affect total costs not only of home products, including agricultural produce, but of all imported raw materials, and that affects the cost of goods manufactured for export. I would reduce those costs in the hope that the result would stimulate our export drive.
It may be that the ability of the country to pay this subsidy would be questioned. It may be said that there are certain inherent dangers in a subsidy. There may well be, but I remember that in 1919–20 and 1920–21 the Government of the day subsidised the private enterprise railways to the extent of about £100 million. There is no valid reason why, in our present economic circumstances, we should not provide a subsidy if a subsidy could be given to private enterprise by the then Tory Government.
§ Mr. Monslow
There is another aspect, if hon. Members do not care for a general subsidy. The permanent way costs about £100 million a year to maintain. I would put that within the ambit of our expenditure on re-armament. I would free the industry of that burden and, as a result, I think that a valuable contribution to our economy would be made. Whether or not we can agree that that would be the right course, I maintain that it is vital that something should be done. Whatever we do, we must accept a measure of responsibility. We must be realists. I suggest that the Government should consider either a general subsidy or a subsidy in respect of the permanent way.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) misunderstood my reference to 82 firemen and the call-up. I was not referring to the call-up of the Z Reserve, because I do not think that firemen would come into that category. The fact remains——
§ Mr. Wilson
I stand corrected if some do. It surprises me. Undoubtedly many young men who in the past used to go into the service of the railways at a young age now hesitate to do so. They tend to take temporary employment before their call-up to the Army.
To come to the general subject of our debate, it cannot be too often emphasised that we on this side of the House are not blindly opposed to any alteration in the freight rate charges. We have been reminded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), who made his maiden speech today, that in the early part of last year the railways were losing at the rate of £500,000 a week, and that, notwithstanding the increases imposed on 15th May, they are now back to a loss of very nearly the same figure—£460,000 a week. We have also been reminded that we are now employing more men on the railways than were employed in 1937, and that we are moving less freight than was then moved.
In the circumstances it is obvious that some sort of drastic measures must be taken, but we say that we should not be asked to pour water through a sieve. There was one increase last May, and before we are asked to grant further increases we want to be assured that every possible action is being taken to stop up the leaks. We want an assurance that we shall not be asked again, within the next 12 months, to grant another increase—and so on each 12 months until 1954, which is the date at which it is estimated that the charges scheme will come into operation. If that happens we may well find that by the time the charges scheme comes into operation it will be out of date already, and the railways will be in a very bad way indeed.
On the question of redundancy, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members, there has been a good deal of 83 wild correspondence in the Press. I am sure that all hon. Members will appreciate that it is inevitable that the question of redundancy should be seriously considered when we are told that 60 per cent. of the total rail costs today are for wages, and that there has been a falling off in traffic. On the other hand, I do not think that we should take the view which is sometimes put forward that the mere sacking of employees could possibly be a cure-all for railway ills. The vital factor is to provide an efficient and cheap service. If a reduction in staff does something to increase the cheapness and efficiency of the service, there may be something to be said for it; but not otherwise.
For instance, if at a goods station it is found that by re-organisation, or greater mechanisation, two men can do the work of three, that is good for the country and the Government, and ultimately for the railwaymen themselves if the reduction leads to greater cheapness and efficiency and thus more traffic; for it is only when the industry is paying that the employees can look forward to substantial increases in wages and better conditions. If, on the other hand, a reduction in staff does not lead to greater cheapness or efficiency and more traffic, then we shall get nowhere at all for two men instead of three are two too many if there is no traffic. I have never believed that there is no other way of making the railways pay except by raising charges, sacking staff or persecuting the road hauliers. I have always held the view that there are many other actions that could be taken to make the railway services more efficient.
We want to know in this debate what is being done to increase efficiency before we are asked to agree to these charges. For instance, I should like to know what has become of the proposals put forward by the International Union of Railways in February, 1951, in their report on the position of European railways, their difficulties and the possible remedies. In that interesting report, there were a number of suggestions particularly with regard to goods traffic. First of all, it suggested the improving of the transits of complete wagon loads of traffic by reducing the number of marshalling yards. I want to know whether anything has been done about that. It was also suggested 84 that the number of marshalling yards should be reduced in order to accelerate transit and reduce the costs of wagon haulage.
Secondly, it was suggested that there should be an improvement in the transit of part load traffic by the creation of central stations and collection and delivery services by road to and from such stations from various reception points, this applying particularly to parcels traffic. In this country, we know that we have far too many goods stations, most of them devised and planned in the days of horses. They tend to be placed about 20 miles apart, because the radius of horse collection was about 10 miles. Some steps have been taken already to reduce the number, but in these days of motor transport it ought to be possible, without impairing the efficiency of the goods traffic, to cheapen costs by doing away with more of these goods stations.
I should like to know what has been done to improve the handling, and the mechanisation of the handling, of goods, and what has been done to minimize the losses from pilferage and damage in transit. I see that the hon. Member for Perry Barr is not in his place, but it is a point which he might look into. One of the chief reasons why traders tend to go in for C licences is that they cannot be bothered to deal with their customer's claims for losses in transit or pilferage on the railways. Although rail charges may be less than those which accrue to the traders through running under C licences and returning empty, they do that rather than bother with the long series of small claims for breakages or pilferage in transit.
§ Mr. Harrison
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? On the question of pilferage, I am sure that he would not intentionally mislead the House. He is no doubt aware that during the last 12 months there has been a reduction in the amount of claims for pilferage of well over £1 million.
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes. I am not suggesting that these claims have gone up recently, though they went up considerably after the war, for reasons which are pretty obvious. What I am saying is that if we can reduce the handling of goods and delay in the transit of goods, the opportunities for pilferage and breakages are 85 automatically reduced. Particularly will that be the case if we also go in for a greater degree of variety in the containers used on the railways, which is another point mentioned in the report to which I have referred. In that report, reference is made to the multiplication of road and rail containers.
I think that a lot more could be done in regard to railway containers in designing new types to suit particular types of traffic. I was recently asked in my own division to ask the railways to develop a small container to carry broccoli which could be taken right into the farmer's field. It was suggested to me that the containers at present available are too big to take through the farmyard gate, and a suggestion was made that a smaller container might be designed which could be taken by means of a mechanical horse right into the field on the farm and loaded on the spot. I think there are various other opportunities of development of containers.
Next, it was suggested in the report that perishable-goods trains might be speeded up, and that point has already been referred to. It is true that something has been done about it, but I suggest that the perishable traffic is most suitable to be dealt with by train, because in bad weather the trains can keep better time than road lorries. I think the railways ought to make the best of that advantage by doing all they can in increasing both the speed and accuracy of delivery. It is quite possible that such a development might attract to them a good deal of the traffic which they have lost.
There were other points in that report which are of great interest, and there was one which particularly appealed to me. It was in reference to the equalisation of obligations borne by railways and road transport. Ever since the days when I was acting as a railway solicitor, it has always seemed to me that too much of railway legislation has been assumed to be like the laws of the Medes and Persians and as something which cannot possibly be altered. I have on an earlier occasion referred to Section 68 of the Railway Clauses (Consolidation) Act of 1845, which, notwithstanding the fact that it is now more than 100 years old, does impose heavy liabilities on the railways, which are peculiar to them and affect no one else, 86 with regard to the maintenance of accommodation works provided for owners who have long since been dead and buried. This applies particularly with regard to railway fencing. I do not know what the cost of the provision of those accommodation works amounts to each year. One hon. Member was referring earlier to a ganger and two men, but, in the old days when there were more men, they spent a lot of time in tinkering with fences. They still are supposed to keep up a pig-proof fence throughout the country, because of the obligation imposed upon the railways by that section.
Another section of an old act which has always made me wonder—though this may be regarded with horror by any legal authority connected with the railways—is Section 2 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1854. Is that section still necessary? I know that it was modified to a considerable extent by later legislation, but I believe that it still applies to a large extent and operates as a valid provision, imposing upon the railways among a good number of other liabilities, the necessity of keeping a waiting room at every station or halt, and, reasonable facilities for receiving, forwarding and delivering traffic. All these things should be looked into again, and I think that an inquiry would be a most suitable instrument for doing so. If we had an impartial authority, they might go into it with an entirely new approach and with a better result than might otherwise be the case.
Finally, I want to ask whether anybody has tried to apply to the railways the doctrine enunciated by the Minister of Works when he was talking about the Festival of Britain. It will be remembered that, on 3rd April, he made this remark:The House will, I am sure, agree with me that when something appears to be wrong with the control of expenditure of public money it is right that changes in the top direction should be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 9.]I do not know whether it would be justifiable to apply that doctrine to what has been going on on the railways, but somebody ought to look into it and we should have an inquiry. For these reasons, I beg to support this Motion.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
As we listened to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), we knew 87 that he had some professional connection with the railways, and those of us who have had some association with the railways in other capacities, will agree with him when he says that much of the legislation concerning the railways is somewhat out-of-date and outmoded. The obligations imposed on railway companies to do certain things, date back to the time when they were a monopoly, and I think that many of those things might very well be examined at an early date to see how many of these antiquated conditions might be removed.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) referred to the railways as a monopoly, and I was glad to hear the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) express a conflicting view in that regard, with which I would agree. The railways today are no monopoly. One of the arguments which the right hon. and learned Gentleman adduced was that there should be some protective body, since it was a monopoly, to save the public money and serve the public interests. Apart from the creation of so many road licences, a matter which we are not considering today, it surely needs no demonstration that at the present time the railways are certainly not in the position in which they were 100 years ago. Today, they have to compete with many forms of transport, and the obligation upon them, in terms of revenue, to provide a common service, to work to a classification of goods, and to do many other things, handicaps them.
In my view, the classification of goods—and some of us who have spent our lives on the railways know well what that means—is completely outmoded. Modern forms of transport do not go into this meticulous distinction between the different traffics. The old basis of charging what the traffic would bear and of having an eye to its value is, as I say, completely outmoded. A motor lorry owner, or some other form of undertaker, comes along and sizes up the job without having any special concern about the value of the traffic. He considers what it will cost him in terms of manpower, petrol and hours of service to do the job. Therefore, any condition imposed upon the railways other than those imposed upon their competitors is, to that extent, a handicap.
88 The other day, I put down a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, because I felt so convinced about this point, asking him whether the time had not arrived when an examination should be made of much of the legislation imposed upon the railways today, and which has been associated with them from the time when they were monopolies. The hon. Member for Truro indicated that under the provisions of the 1854 Act the railways are still required to comply with certain conditions, and such instances might be multiplied many times. But circumstances have completely changed, and if we are thinking in terms of economy and equity, I think there must be a revision of the law in order to give the railways a chance to earn a living.
The argument put forward today is that we should oppose these Regulations on the ground that there should be some form of inquiry set up preceding the raising of the freight rates with which they deal. But this position was gone into very fully a comparatively short time ago. Some 12 months ago, the Minister, in a difficult position, had to come to this House and follow the procedure laid down. The House then agreed that an inquiry should take place, and in due course the findings of the inquiring committee were published. Have the facts so substantially changed from those days to the present time as to necessitate our going over the same ground again?
Briefly, what are the facts? They are that we are living in a time of rising prices, to which reference has already been made in some detail. The prices are there for all to see, whether we are householders, politicians or commercial men. Prices are going up from week to week. The complaint has been made today that the Railway Executive ought not to adjust its charges by 10 per cent. this week and by another 5 or 10 per cent. in three months' time. But surely in a time of rapidly changing prices, if overheads are to be kept to a minimum, and if the railways are to balance their expenditure in terms of income, they must adjust their costs, and accordingly their charges.
I assume that it is not proposed that the railways should raise their charges to 89 such an extent—say, by 20, 25 or 50 per cent.—as to relieve the Minister, the Executive or the Transport Commission of the obligation of coming to this House for some time. It is said that the effect of an increase in charges will be reflected in every commodity manufactured and produced in the country. Of course, that is so, but the fact is that railway charges today are very much below the general run of charges and the general level of prices. Why should the railways, the Transport Commission and the Railway Executive, be asked to underwrite the rest of the commerce and trade of the country?
It is as simple as that. We object to paying out subsidies because we think that they invite all kinds of malpractices. We think it is good for an industry to earn its keep by efficient methods, and by giving us a first-class service, and so on. For that reason, I, personally, am opposed to any form of subsidy. But, having said that, I think we must see that the railways get a chance to earn their living, bearing in mind the mounting prices which they are called upon to meet from time to time.
Having said something about the legislative position which the railways have inherited, about the handicaps from which they suffer and about rising prices, I now want to say something about the very much heavier bill which the Transport Commission have to meet in terms of labour services. Hon. Members keep on referring to the last increase in rates and saying that we are losing each week something like £500,000, which is almost what the position was before nationalisation. On the other hand, there have been some very substantial wage and salary demands made upon the Transport Commission which they have had to meet. If people talk about efficiency, whether it relates to containers, the cutting out of pilfering, the provision of clean trains or the giving of a cheap service, they should bear in mind that we cannot have any of these things unless the men working on the railways receive reasonable pay and unless they can feel that the railways provide a vocation for them.
In the old days when a boy joined a railway company—I am now referring more to the times when the railways resembled monopolies—he felt that he had a vocation before him and could 90 look ahead. He could go through the various grades. Having become a lamp boy, he could go into the signal box, and, similarly, through to the sheds. In bad times the railway companies casualised their staff because they could not see their way to take on men on a permanent basis at enhanced rates.
But men are not going to join or stay with the railways unless they have this sense of security and vocation. We shall not find the men coming into the railway sheds, into the signal box or into the service as train crews, or even into the offices or on to the administrative side, unless they are offered terms comparable with those which they can get elsewhere in local government or in similar services. We shall see the manpower on the railways being constantly turned over, with no sense of responsibility, and in consequence the service will become worse.
We should not seek to economise on the wages paid to the men and women who have loyally and faithfully done a very good job with very poor tools. The railway companies were in very great difficulty just after the war, because they had been unable to keep up maintenance generally to its proper level. No one was to blame. It was only because the men loyally agreed to work longer hours, and because they were trained to make the best of such resources as they had at their disposal, that, in a time of great national difficulty, they were able to do such a great job of work.
The problem of compensation is a difficult one. The F.B.I. have made certain proposals about certain sections of the railway lines. They say we should shut down some sections of branch lines, but it may be in the national interest to maintain them, for instance in Scotland. It is not a very good thing for the Commission from an economic point of view to have to maintain these sections. The Minister or the Commission must look at this problem. If it is decided that in the national interest certain sections must be kept open and from the point of view of profit it is uneconomic so to do, some arrangement should be made about it. The lines should be regarded as part of our defence service and certain charges ought to be allocated to keep them open.
What are the railways getting for the services they perform for the Post Office and the Defence Services? Are the costs 91 economic? Are they working on some old formula which is not an economic proposition? I suggest that if the matter were looked into, we should find that the British Transport Commission are entitled to a greater revenue for the services they are performing on behalf of the Services and the Post Office. It may amount to £1 million or £2 million and in a time of great stringency we should look into all these things. The railway managements and the British Transport Commission are doing a grand job of work in difficult times and it would be no encouragement to them if we failed to agree to the Regulations before us.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I want to suggest for the consideration of the House one or two matters which occur to me as one who has had a considerable working knowledge over the years of the effect of the House of Commons upon railway management. I am all in favour now of a commission of experts, because I believe that the times in which we are living are such that a real live body of that sort would be useful to the railway management and indeed to industry as a whole. But I think not one single politician ought to be on it.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
Would the hon. Member hold up this system of charges, assuming that we accepted his thesis that the time is apposite for some sort of inquiry and assistance? Does he think that at a time of rising prices we should hold up all these charges until such a commission of inquiry published their findings?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I was coming to that. If one had a commission of experts to go into the whole system, it would take some time and in my view it is quite impossible for the railways to resist the necessity of these increased charges at present. I appreciate the qualities of those who are serving on the Railway Executive. I am prejudiced because they are personal friends of mine; I knew them in the old railway company days. But we should not assume that it would be any slight on their expert knowledge if there were an outside committee of outstanding experts to inquire into the situation.
We are living in times which are not comparable with those that created the 92 conditions in which the railways operated a few years ago. This is a matter of psychology more than anything else. If one goes on giving a dog a bad name, one will never get good service out of him. There are thousands of keen railwaymen of every grade who feel very disheartened about the remarks that are made in spite of all that they try to do. I am very sad when I see locomotives in a dirty condition and I think all who love the railways feel the same; but the fault is not with the Railway Executive. They cannot get the manpower. We are facing a diminution of manpower for industry, and I am very much concerned about how the railways are going to secure the necessary minimum of recruits to maintain a proper service. I do not think it can be done without a considerable reduction of services.
One of the things I always remember is that when I had to come here to try and get Bills through the House, no matter what was in the Bill, any hon. Member could talk about any conceivable thing to do with the railways. It may have been a useful thing to do, but it was very annoying to those of us who tried to get Bills through and tried to obtain greater efficiency on the railways. The House of Commons and Parliament, by those restrictions, have done more to hold up the railway industry than any other single thing.
We have heard some extremely interesting speeches, including a very notable maiden speech from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), in which he stated the facts from his tremendous experience. If it is his view from the legal standpoint, as well as from other considerations, that a commission of this sort would bear fruit, I think we ought to establish one. We ought not to take up a flourishing plant to see whether it is growing every time there is a change of Government—and, after all, it is conceivable that there may be a change of Government. It is not fair to the industry to do that. There are many industries which have been bedevilled far too much by politics. One is the railway industry and the other is coal.
I do not see how it is possible to expect a highly efficient service to be operated if we in this House are always able to 93 inquire into it and dig up its roots. Therefore, I believe in having a first-class outside commission with no politicians on it, which would be able to make a report and which would have not only the confidence of the country but the respect of those in charge of railway administration today. It should be quite possible to set up such a commission. I do not think we ought to assume that only in these islands are there experts in the administration of railways. There are admirably operated railways in Canada and in other Dominions and experts from those railways might bring to us a fresh point of view.
§ Mr. Harrison
In advocating that we should take advantage of the knowledge of those running the railways in Canada, would the hon. Member admit that they have almost the same financial difficulties as we have in this country?
§ Sir R. Glyn
I am not denying that. It might make them view our difficulties with greater sympathy. When I was first engaged on the railways in 1920, the Great Eastern, as it then was, imported a general manager who had been operating a Dominion railway. He came over here with all sorts of new ideas which were not at all popular at first, but at any rate it did lead to an interchange of views and we got out of one or two ruts.
I do not think we realise how great is the burden that has been thrown on the Railway Executive and the British Transport Commission by these continual rises in costs. It is a problem which the railway companies would have had to face had they been in existence. I do not think hon. Members appreciate some of these rises in costs. I wonder how many hon. Members realise, for instance, what a leap there has been in the cost of providing railway uniforms.
There is need for these increases in charges. There is need to reinforce the confidence which I certainly have in those of the Railway Executive who are in charge. There is need of an expert commission which would investigate not only the railways but transport generally in these islands. I think it is very important. I should think their terms of reference should be broad enough to enable them to recommend that such portions of the railway system as are uneconomic but are 94 necessary for defence work should definitely be taken out of the normal operating side, and there should be a self-denying ordinance imposed on every hon. Member whereby, if the suggestion were made that a branch line in his constituency should be shut down, he should support it. Otherwise we should never get anything done. It is that continual clash between political expediency and railway efficiency which has led to a great many of our difficulties.
Therefore, with the knowledge that there is going to be a great shortage of manpower in the near future, I believe that the sooner such a commission can be appointed on those terms the better, and I hope and believe it will restore confidence in a service of which we are all proud and which we want to see making its fair and proper contribution to the productivity of this country.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
We have all listened with respect to the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), because, in spite of the fact that he has been a politician for many years, I have never known that to detract substantially from his ability as a railway operator. Therefore, I cannot understand his suggestion that there should be no politicians on the suggested commission of inquiry. He has been a good politician and a good railwayman. I do not see how he can suggest that a politician could not possibly be an expert in any inquiry into the transport industry. He is an example of what can be achieved by politicians in that direction.
§ Sir R. Glyn
I realise that the conditions in which I served are never going to return, and I am sure that if politicians continue to interfere with the nationalised railways, the railways will never be a success.
§ Mr. Harrison
That is a view which I do not entirely share with the hon. Baronet. I would, however, recommend one of his suggestions, regarding the closing of uneconomic lines, to those Scottish Members who have appealed to the House for the retention of uneconomic lines in Scotland.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
The hon. Gentleman must admit that a lot of the Scottish lines have a strategic value.
§ Mr. Harrison
I agree entirely, but at the moment they place an uneconomic load on the railway finances which, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), ought to be looked at very carefully. The hon. Baronet said that we ought to have an inquiry into the position. He assumes that there are certain basic factors relating to the railways of which we are unaware and that we should have this inquiry to ascertain the facts. I suggest that most of the facts and disturbing features of railway operations today are generally known. It is a pretence and with a view to avoiding these basic difficulties that hon. Members opposite put forward the idea of an inquiry.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Does the hon. Member agree with the decisions of the Guillebaud Court of Inquiry which I quoted?
§ Mr. Harrison
In the main. The inquiry which the right hon. and learned Gentleman quoted suggested, not that there should be an inquiry by a special body of experts outside the industry, but that there was need within the industry for inquiries to be made in the directions mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. Member for Abingdon suggested that there should be an outside body of experts detached from politics and also from transport matters. I cannot imagine how they could be expert or could give any direction to the industry or be of any use at all. I find it difficult to understand exactly what hon. Members opposite are recommending should be inquired into and who should be the people to make the inquiry. I am certain that experts will not be found outside the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) referred to the adoption of diesel power units because he had read of a large saving in upkeep and so on which would be effected by their use. He said that if we adopted the diesel engine as the standard locomotive, there would be a saving. I think that is an important recommendation, not because of the saving that can be effected through the use of diesel power units, but because it illustrates the fact that before railways can be made to pay and take their proper place in British transport they must be permitted to invest very substantial sums in capital equipment, since a lot of their 96 present capital equipment is completely out of date. When we speak of Diesel engines we speak of the investment of huge sums of capital. I hope hon. Members appreciate what they are recommending when they suggest that we should have more up-to-date power units.
Let me refer to one city that has been very much in the news when transport has been discussed—Birmingham. That city has grown to a terrific size, but sidings accommodation in Birmingham is very much the same as it was 20 years ago, and not substantially different from what it was, say, 40 years ago. Yet the city has grown into a huge metropolis demanding masses of coal, coke and other heavy freights and requiring every day 20 or 30 trains to be unloaded in the vicinity of the city. It was my painful experience to see this situation in Birmingham about a month ago. In the Birmingham area proper there were 15 to 20 freight trains standing one behind the other, all fully manned by train men. This was Saturday lunch time, and it would take until Monday morning to clear those 15 to 20 trains in the Birmingham sidings. On my journey to Birmingham in the fast express, I passed about 10 more trains all converging on to Birmingham, making still worse the block which already existed in the area.
A lot of money will have to be spent on sidings and shunting accommodation in the Birmingham area. I know the position is aggravated because of staffing problems in the Birmingham area, but a substantial factor is the necessity to modernise siding and shunting accommodation. How can that be done if we are going to adopt a policy of shrinking and economy by withholding from the British Railway Executive the necessary capital to modernise and re-equip their very much out-of-date equipment? I suggest that we should look at that very seriously when we consider these questions of economy. If by economies the Opposition mean a shrinking of the services and the withholding of money from the Railway Executive, then I cannot imagine a time in the future when the railways will pay their way. On the other hand, given a fair chance, I believe the Railway Executive can make the job pay.
I turn next to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who is not in 97 his place now, although he was here a moment ago. He said that when the 16⅔ per cent. increase was announced last year, the Minister promised that, in the main, it would meet the deficit. Despite the increase, the noble Lord complained, the position today is that the deficit on railway operations is almost the same as is was before the 16⅔ per cent. increase was made.
I should like to draw attention to the speech of one hon. Member opposite who suggested that the machinery for adjusting these rates is out of date under modern conditions. If the present rather cumbersome methods are adopted and 12 to 18 months are spent in dealing with an application to increase railway freights and fares, then by the time the fares have been put on to the new level the railways are in a parlous state facing, as they are, present rising prices. As a contribution towards the future prosperity of the industry, we could look at the machinery for adjusting freight charges and passenger fares.
The noble Lord said that traffic might leave the railways to be carried by coastwise shipping, and I should like to give a comparison between these transport charges. In the main, rail freights have increased by about 90 per cent. over pre-war. Several figures have been mentioned this afternoon, but I can assure hon. Members opposite that 90 per cent. is about the right figure. But the coastwise shipping rates have increased by 220 per cent. over pre-war. We are constantly accused of not putting the transport system into proper order, but the fact remains that whereas railway charges have increased by 90 per cent., coastwise shipping rates have increased by 220 per cent.
There is another feature which suggests to me that railway carriage is too cheap—that we are carrying goods far too cheaply. Take the example of apples and pears. The charge for carrying 6¾ lb. of apples and pears from Evesham to London—106 miles—is 2d. Before the war we carried them for 1d. Similar rates exist for a good many other commodities.
§ Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster)
As the hon. Member knows, my constituency is very close to Evesham. Does he suggest that growers in the Vale of Evesham can do up 6¾ lb. as a separate consignment of apples and pears and can send them to London for 2d., or is that figure calcuculated pro rata on a very much larger 98 minimum consignment of, say, 10 cwt. or 15 cwt.? If so, what is the minimum consignment?
§ Mr. Harrison
That is the overall charge for the carriage of this commodity. For apples and pears the charge is 2d. for 6¾ lb., whereas before the war it was a penny.
§ Mr. Nabarro
Will the hon. Gentleman now answer my question? He gave this case as an example and he must now give the House the facts. What is the minimum quantity which produces a rate such as that which he has quoted to the House? Is he aware that, even accepting the facts he gives, the railway rate from Evesham to London for fruit is substantially in excess of the road haulage rate, and that is why the railways do not get all the traffic?
§ Mr. Harrison
I could not tell the hon. Gentleman what is the minimum quantity, but I am sure we can get to know that figure before the end of the debate. I was about to make the argument which the hon. Member himself has just made—that, irrespective of the fact that we are carrying apples and pears from Evesham to London, 106 miles, for 2d., the road haulage industry can carry the consignment at a still cheaper rate; and that is a very important feature affecting railway operations.
When we are considering the economics of railway operations we cannot take into account only the cost of providing railway services. Some overheads have increased by more than 200 per cent. over the 1938 figure. What we have also to take into consideration are the rates in operation in competitive forms of transport—and there we come to the question of the competition of road transport with the railways. Can hon. Members visualise a time when, on short-distance passenger services, we can compete successfully with road passenger services, bearing in mind the road charges? We cannot possibly do it.
Can we do it for freights? At the moment there is something like 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. difference between the prices charged for freight rates by road and those charged by rail. The 99 latest 10 per cent. increase will further widen that difference. Our basic problem is how to reconcile the cost of rail transport and still keep the business, with the relatively low operating costs of road haulage. If we cannot solve that problem, we shall have a further railway financial problem before us.
I think the problem can be solved and that the solution lies in improving the general efficiency, the locomotive stock and the siding accommodation of the railways—in investing some money in railway operations. That will pay us over the years. On the other hand, if we accept a policy of starving the industry, it will go from bad to worse as time passes. The question of the relative charges between road and rail is the only thing which substantially threatens the future economic life of our railways. That is the only thing into which we should inquire: how can we solve that difference in prices?
When the Minister announced an increase of 10 per cent. in rail rates, he told us that it would realise about £20 million for the railway revenue in a full year, but he said that it would not in any way deal with the deficit on railway operations. That announcement caused great concern amongst all in railway circles. It caused concern in every branch of railway operations, in every department and amongst the men generally. We feel that the continual rise in rail freight rates will very soon bring us to the border line where decreasing returns of traffic set in very seriously. We shall reach a point where we drive from the railways considerable bulks of traffic, and that traffic will have to be taken on the roads. We do not want that to happen. We must do everything we can think of reasonably to prevent that situation from arising. But how is it possible to avoid this accumulating deficit of finance in railway operations unless we either receive more traffic or increase the rates?
We are very seriously concerned at these increases, and it is only because we—that is, the railwaymen—cannot see what else immediately could be done to meet the financial position, and only because we are threatened with an ultimate overall deficit, that we accept this inevitable evil of continuously raising the 100 railway freights. We share with the general public concern at the question of freight rates. We share the concern of the Government and of the Opposition at these increased rates. But we just do not know what can be done quickly to meet the position and avoid the accumulation of that huge deficit of money. If it is allowed to grow, it will become such a burden round our necks in the future that railway operations will be damned for many years to come.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Shepherd (Cheadle)
I was not really sure from the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) whether he was supporting or opposing the suggestion made by my right hon. and learned Friend that we should have some sort of inquiry into railway operations. At any rate, if his intention was not clear, it is, I think, abundantly clear that there is on the other side of the House a good deal of uneasiness about the railway position. I share that uneasiness because I come from a railway town, and naturally I have that affection for the railway services which is commonly borne by those who come from railway towns.
I really must say how much I always regret in these transport debates the absence of the hon. and learned Member for my old town, Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen). He never thinks it worth while to come to this House when matters of railway interest are being discussed, and I must say that I take a very poor view of that. Crewe is, perhaps, the leading railway town in the country—although I know there may be some dispute about that. At any rate, it is a substantial railway depot, and for the hon. and learned Member for Crewe to be absent from debate after debate in this House is a grave reflection on his carrying out of his duties, and an insult to the town from which I come.
I want to discuss the question of the railways in a reasonable manner, because we should not get too excited about the political issues arising from them. I think hon. Gentleman opposite are getting a bit more reasonable. It was not possible six or 12 months ago to talk about the railways—about nationalisation—without a very angry maternal glare coming into their eyes. That sort of thing really will not do. We, the Conservative Party, may very soon be foster mothers of this somewhat unfortunate birth, and we have, 101 therefore, to consider this question divorced from all political implications, and with a desire to see a strong railway industry.
What most concerns all of us at the present time is that the railways have got a bad name and that, by and large, the men on the railways have lost confidence in themselves. The morale on the railways at the present time is very, very low. Anybody who has had anything to do with the railways knows quite well that in order to keep up the railway system the men on the job must be on their toes all the time. Trains run late not necessarily because the locomotives are old or the stock is old, but because throughout the whole system there is no regard for efficiency, or that desire to get the trains through, such as there was before the war.
We must all insist, if we are to do anything for our railways, on trying to get back a real spirit of service and that keenness which was the outstanding feature of the British railways. We have in this country conditions ideally suited for railway operations. No country is so fortunate as ours in terms of suitability for railway operations. We ought to have, as we had some time ago, the finest railway services in the world. We had a short time ago the finest men in the world on the railways. No railway services could come up to the standard of the old railway services of this country, and we must not lose that spirit, or all the economic steps we take will be of little value.
That the situation is not good can be seen from two figures—the figure of pilferage on the railways and the figure for damage. It is true that the figure for pilferage has declined on that of last year's, but it was until recently 10 times the pre-war figure. That is an alarming state of affairs, and it does focus our attention on an unsatisfactory situation. The figure for damage is also disturbing. Therefore, it is obvious that there is something wrong, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite ask what we are going to do about the railways, we reply that we share with them the difficulty of determining what is efficient when it is a monopoly. It is going to be very difficult in any of these nationalised industries to say that a thing is efficient when it has 102 the monopoly of the service. It is true that the railways have not a complete monopoly of transport, but there is a complete monopoly of rail operation, and, therefore, we have difficulty in determining whether it is efficient or not.
Hon. Gentlemen on the other side say that the workers are insufficient, and that the staffs are not big enough; but, of course, we all know of stations where, although there is a shortage of signalmen, there may be 20 porters running about each train; and that obviously reveals a bad state of affairs that ought to be gone into. However, I am not at this stage concerned with particular questions of policy. All I am concerned about is that despite the fact that we have excellent men at the centre—and no one would say that Sir Eustace Missenden or the present chief knew too little about his job or was not an excellent man—it is still quite impossible—and this is the failure of nationalisation—for a strong impulse at the centre to permeate to the perimeter. Instead of having a number of separate regions with their own impulses we are trying to get impulses entirely from the centre—from London—and they are not getting through to the perimeter, or, if they get through, they are so weak as to be barely discernible.
As was suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend, there should be two forms of inquiry into the railway. First of all, I think there must be an inquiry into the general question of policy. We know there must be reductions in staff. We know that the set-up has to be adapted to modern conditions. But there are also many difficulties of an administrative character, and if we look at the railway administration from the inside we find systems existing that were put into operation 40, 50 or 60 years ago, and that have probably acquired great sanctity during that time.
The time has come, surely, not only to consider at a high level, the questions of policy, but also to consider whether administratively the railways are being run as well as they ought to be. This is not a novel idea. As a matter of fact, it is common practice in industry for a firm or a series of firms to improve administrative efficiency in an industry. I would remind the House that it is a relatively common practice in nationalised industries. If I am rightly informed, both 103 B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have installed within their organisations outside firms who are concerned in improving their administration. Without in any way detracting from the work of Mr. Peter Masefield, the chief executive of B.E.A., I think he would himself be prepared to agree that a good deal of the improved results in B.E.A. have been due to the activities of the firm of consultants who set up their internal administration.
Now if a relatively new organisation, which has not had a chance to get into a rut, as the railways have, and which has not got a legacy of old-fashioned administration from 30, 40 or 50 years ago, can say they need the services of such people, surely the railways are in greater need. There could be a tremendous shake-up in the railway administration if an outside firm which specialised in all the latest methods of running things were to get inside the industry and be let loose. I know that there would be tremendous resistance to many of the things they would want to do, but unless something of that nature is put into operation the railways will not pay.
All of those who like the railways and want to see the railways re-established in the position they once held, must realise that the railways were fashioned as an instrument for the last century, and they are now having to face circumstances, conditions and competition wholly dissimilar from those which then existed. We must therefore cast our minds afresh. It is no use pathetically flinging one's arms in the air, as did the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), and saying, "Costs are going up, and so are road charges. What can we do about it?" The answer is that even by a surgical operation the railways cannot be altered so that they take part in the 20th century under 20th century competitive conditions. That will not be done merely by pouring a lot of sugar over all the difficulties. It will hurt a lot of people; it will mean that railway stations which people think ought to stay will have to go; it will mean that railway staffs will have to be cut in many instances.
Do not imagine for one moment that there is a shortage of railway staff. I am told that in the extension from Manchester to Sheffield, where they are putting on an electric train, which is in many 104 ways the solution of our problem, the unions are insisting on having two men inside the cab. With a dead man's lever there is no need for two men.
§ Mr. Harrison
The hon. Gentleman mentioned B.E.A. as using administrative experts to guide them, and he also said that the railways had inherited a legacy of old-fashioned ideas. On these occasions the hon. Gentleman contributes to our debates with a feeling of good will towards railwaymen and railway management, and he will no doubt recognise that the railway experience gained over the years is very valuable. That experience suggests that it is very important to have two men in the cab of a diesel engine, where there is no guard immediately available, in order to provide protection in case of a spill or smash.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am quite satisfied that on the line from Manchester to Sheffield there is no need to have a second man in the cab, and that the railway unions are wrongly insisting upon having the second man. The hon. Gentleman says that railway experience is valuable. Of course it is. We all know that we would not call upon a firm of consultants to run the railways. All I am saying is that they ought to examine the internal administration of the railways, which is very old, and which, so far, has failed to measure up to modern conditions. I am sure that in that direction a great deal of improvement could be made.
I conclude by saying that I hope the House will today impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that what is now happening is not good enough; that while we may readily agree that increasing costs in all directions make some increases in charges inevitable, we are by no means satisfied that the railways are run in an efficient manner; and that something drastic must be done to restore the confidence of the railways in themselves. Until we get back to the spirit which once actuated the railway workers of this country, we shall have no chance of getting real efficiency. We must not only concern ourselves with improving the methods, but we must get back to the old standard of personal efficiency, because in many respects lack of efficiency is due to thousands and thousands of men not having the personal 105 efficiency that they had 10 or 15 years ago.
All these things have to be done, and I hope that when replying on behalf of the Government the right hon. Gentleman will not say that they are content to take this 10 per cent. and that nothing more will be done. I am sure there is a desire on both sides of the House that something ought to be done to try to set the railways on their feet once more, to give them a start on the road. Other industries, like the airways, face a difficult task with deficits, but at any rate they can see their way ahead pretty clearly; they can see that when this, that, or the other is done things will be better. At the moment, the railways are to some extent without hope and without spirit.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The Railway Executive may well believe they have the solution in their minds. What I say is that the ordinary man working on the railways sees himself occupied in a business that is going down the drain.
§ Mr. D. Jones indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shepherd
It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. That is exactly what these men think.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Well, that is not an answer to the point I am making. I mix with railwaymen, perhaps not quite as much as the hon. Gentleman but I mix with them a good deal; I go to my home town occasionally and get their views, and I know that at the present time they do not feel that they are in a business in which there is a future; they feel that they are in a business which is on the decline, and the duty of the right hon. Gentleman and the Railway Executive is to restore their morale, because until we 106 restore morale we shall not restore personal efficiency. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accede to the request of my right hon. and learned Friend to have this inquiry, to let us see whether we cannot plan the future for British Railways so that they regain the efficiency and the prestige they once had.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Collick (Birkenhead)
I have listened with great interest to every speech that has been made in this debate, and, if I may say so with the utmost respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it seems to me that very little has been said which faces up to the real problem at issue. The Opposition are praying against these Regulations which propose to increase rail freight charges by 10 per cent. They oppose the Regulations, and the only positive line they have on the whole subject of rail transport is to put forward the notion that there should be some sort of inquiry. I have not myself been convinced that they have yet made a case for an inquiry.
What is the problem with which the railways are faced? My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) drew attention to the fact that the railways are having to pay for the commodities they need—timber, coal, copper, steel, iron and so on—250 per cent., and in one case 300 per cent., increases in price over what they paid for those commodities pre-war. Hon. Gentlemen of the Conservative Party believe, so I have always understood, in the principle of private profit. They champion that as a principle motivating industry. I think that I am correct in saying that the railway freight charges, if these Prayers are agreed to, will be about 109 per cent. over the pre-war charges. If that is the case, will hon. Gentlemen opposite tell me how they expect British Railways to be able to pay 200 per cent. and 300 per cent. increases over pre-war charges on the things that they have to buy and make a surplus if their rates of increased charges can be only 102 per cent. or 103 per cent., or whatever it may be?
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
If some of the items of equipment have gone up in price by the percentages which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, is that not only a small part of the total expenditure? Is 107 he not going to say that the cost of wages have also gone up to the same extent since 1939?
§ Mr. Collick
I only wish that the hon. Gentleman were correct in his facts. The Railway Executive would be exceedingly pleased if his facts were correct. If he told the Railway Executive that they do not have to pay much for coal, that they do not use much coal, and that they do not use much timber for sleepers, it would be quite contrary to the facts, as is apparent to anyone who knows anything about the situation.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say what part of the railways' total cost goes to the purchase of these materials which have been referred to.
§ Mr. Collick
I think that the hon. Gentleman can find that out for himself. The facts are readily available in the Transport Commission's Report. If he would look at the figures of the amount of timber that goes out of Crewe South every week for railway re-laying, he would not say that it is an inconsiderable item.
It will not be disputed by anyone that the basic situation which faces the railways is that their income is nothing like adequate to meet their expenditure. I concede to the Opposition that even if this 10 per cent., which the Minister is proposing, goes on to charges, the problem will not be solved. I put it no higher than that. Therefore, it seems to me that merely to suggest, as the Opposition are doing, that there should be an inquiry does not meet the situation at all.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are constantly talking about the railways being in a bad way and having a bad name. I have sat in this House for a fair time and I have never heard one hon. Gentleman opposite, including, I am sorry to say, the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), and excepting the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), say one good thing about British Railways since the nationalisation Act was passed. If anyone cares to look through the last debate on railway transport which we had in this House, he will see the speeches which came from the benches opposite, and they were, in my opinion, a disgrace to many of the people who made them.
108 May I remind hon. Members opposite of the sort of speech which was made, I think, by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher), who brought forward every little tinpot complaint that could be found about the railways, as if the railways in this country were something of which we ought to be ashamed. Let me remind the House that there are no other railways in the world that have such a good record as British Railways. If anyone would deny that, he has only to go to Waterloo during the rush hours or to Liverpool Street or Victoria, to see the tens of thousands of people who pour in and out of London every day. Millions of these people were carried by British Railways in 1949 without a single fatal casualty.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order. Do I understand, Mr. Speaker, that it is in order to talk about passenger rates and matters affecting passenger transport on the railways? I thought that the whole of these Regulations dealt with freight rates.
§ Mr. Speaker
We are not discussing passenger fares. That is a matter which is going before a tribunal eventually, and, therefore, we cannot discuss it.
§ Mr. Collick
I well understand the technicalities of debate, and I was giving an example, which I think, I am entitled to do, because we have had certain statements made in a contrary sense. All that I was endeavouring to say was that there are no railways in the world—and I challenge the Opposition to prove the contrary—that have the safety record of British Railways. We ought to be proud of them, and to say so. If I have any regrets, it is that the railway authorities of this country do not make more use of that very important fact. We have no need to apologise for British Railways. Goodness knows, they have plenty of shortcomings, and I could keep the House much longer than I propose to do in talking about some of them, but we do ourselves and the country an injustice by always decrying things, many of which we ought to be proud of.
Hon. Gentleman opposite talk about what they regard as the inefficiency of railway labour. Here I want to have a word with the Minister. We pay far too little attention to the important difference between now and pre-war days. In pre-war days the one main feature which attracted workers to the railway industry was that 109 they were sure of a job for life; it was a permanent job, and it was because of its permanent nature that it attracted a good type of person in railway employment. Under conditions of full employment, which the Labour Government have created, that no longer applies. We cannot get people to come into the railway industry today on the basis that they are assured of a job for life. They would laugh at the suggestion.
In the matter of wages and wage rates, let the fact be faced that the railways have not had a good record in post-war years. I need not recite all the delays which took place in the recent wage negotiations and the slight improvements that were made. I warn the Minister now that unless he pays greater attention to this part of the matter than is being done at present, the time will not be long in coming when he will not only be actually short of staff, but short of the really highly-skilled staff who are responsible for the safety record to which I have referred.
We have to improve conditions, and one of the conditions which it is nearly time was remedied is the appalling situation of railway superannuation. Today we can have a locomotive driver, driving the best trains from Glasgow to London, from London to Plymouth, from London to Liverpool, with 30 or 40 years on the footplate, finishing up without a penny of superannuation. Is that a situation which is creditable to this country; is that a situation which is creditable to the nationalised railways? Of course it is not. If we go to Sweden or to any of the Continental countries, we find that in many respects the wage and labour conditions are substantially better for the highly-skilled railway operatives than in this country. The Minister has got to give much more attention to this part of the problem.
Just as there is this problem of the increased cost of the materials the railways have to buy, so there is the problem of the revenue from current traffic being much less than it should be. Why is this? It is because the Minister has been far too gentle on the question of C licences and all that flows from that.
§ Mr. Collick
I readily accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I merely want to make the point that unless we do something more to see that we get what we have always stood for, a really coordinated transport system, we cannot expect to get into the railway revenue the amounts that should be there.
There is another matter. There is no industry in this country which is so vital to the nation in times of international difficulty as the railways. I wish that the story of what the railways did during the war were better known. I wish that the enormous part the railways played were more generally known. Never once in the worst of the bombing did trains stop running in and out of London. What are the Government doing in recognition of the strategic importance of the railways to the country? The railways upon which the country will have to depend in an emergency do not get a penny for such considerations. It is time that the Minister looked at that.
There is also something else that ought to be looked at. During the war, and arising out of the railway control agreement, tens of millions of pounds went into the pockets of the Treasury as a result of railway operations. I think that the figure is roughly about £125 million. I have always understood that the policy of the Government Front Bench—we have heard it said again and again—was to plough back profits into industry. Have we not all heard appeals made time and again that profits should be ploughed back? But has not the time come when the Government might think it desirable to plough back into the railways some of this £125 million, and by so doing allow labour conditions to be improved and enable the sort of improvements we all want to see to be carried out? The Minister has to do something of this kind.
The Minister seems to me to be rather sitting back thinking that this 10 per cent. increase will solve the problem in some mystical way and that in no circumstances must we subsidise a nationalised industry. I wish that the Minister of Transport would do half as much for nationalised railways as the Minister of Agriculture has done in making private farms profitable. He could well take a leaf out of his right hon. Friend's book by putting in a little bit more drive to make sure that 111 the nationalised railways are the success they ought to be.
I ask the Minister seriously and earnestly to consider this. Some of us have been very patient on the matter, but our patience is not inexhaustible. We feel that it is time for the Government to pay a little more heed to putting the railways on a really sound basis. I cannot see how that can be done in these times of difficulty without some sort of assistance, such as by ploughing this money back into the industry. Hon. Members opposite are in a very weak position on the whole of this matter. I beg them to be honest with themselves. They must know that they have no policy to deal with British Railways.
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) champions the road interests, and I know all his associations in that connection and how readily he can put the case with that vigour we are so accustomed to having from him in the House. I gather from the many speeches he has made on this subject that if the Tories were in power, they would hand back road transport to private enterprise. I understand that to be a clear line of Conservative policy. If I ask him to tell me what the Tory policy is for the railways, then the only thing that can be said in answer is that they have already told the House that their policy is that of an inquiry and decentralisation. I am ready to give way to any hon. Member opposite who wants to dispute that. No one disputes it because Members opposite know as well as I do that that is the situation.
I hope the Minister will give consideration to the suggestions I have put forward. If he does not accept them, then there are many of us who will wait patiently to hear what are his positive proposals.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
Speeches from Members opposite have fallen into two categories. First we have had speeches, such as the speech of the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), which have made no attempt at all to defend the 10 per cent. increase. Then we have had those speeches, such as the speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), which have put forward the conventional and orthodox defence, that because increases have 112 taken place in costs it is logical that an increase should take place in charges. I agree straight away that there is something to be said for that point of view. Some increase is certainly justifiable, but the weakness of that argument is that it is represented as a complete defence when in fact it is only a partial one.
The ground for this Prayer is that while the increase covers a certain increase in current costs, it also covers an inability on the part of the railways to adjust themselves to present-day conditions and a lack of coherent transport policy on the part of the Government. In past debates we have suffered from the disability of having no measure of railway efficiency. The railways are an industry which perform services and do not produce a measurable volume of goods. But now, as a result of the Report of the Court of Inquiry, we have a measurement of efficiency, a measurement which comes from the Railway Executive itself and is very alarming.
Wages and salaries of staff closely associated with the movement of traffic rose between 1938 and 1949 by 119 per cent., whereas the work performed, measured by engine miles, fell by 5 per cent. Of the increase in wages and salaries, between 105 per cent. and 110 per cent. is accounted for by improvements in pay and conditions of service. In other words, the implication is that there was a decline in productivity of some 5 per cent. Again in the Report there is a similar citation. The wages of footplate and engine staffs rose from 1939 to 1949 by 116 per cent. Of that 116 per cent., changes in rates of pay and conditions of service account for 105 per cent., again the implication being a fall in productivity of some 5 per cent.
§ Mr. Collick rose——
§ Mr. Jones
May I conclude this part of my argument? In manufacturing industry we have an increase in productivity of some 30 per cent. compared with 1938, an increase in the productivity of the coal industry of some 2 to 3 per cent., but the case of the railways is the worst of the lot, because there is a decline of about 5 per cent.
§ Mr. Collick
I think the hon. Gentleman stated that the wages of the locomotive staff have increased 116 per cent. I can assure him that that is not so. The 113 116 per cent. applies only to a very few people and it is not representative of the whole of the locomotive operating men.
§ Mr. Jones
I have taken the figure from the Report of the Inquiry, and it is the second of two instances which I have cited. The first is the much more important and alarming, and the implication from it, leaving aside altogether the second instance, if the hon. Gentleman objects to it, is a decline in productivity by 5 per cent.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us how a engine driver, driving between point A and point B can increase his productivity?
§ Mr. Jones
I readily agree that to measure the efficiency of the railways is not easy. It is a disability from which we have always suffered. The Chairman of the British Transport Commission has given certain technical co-efficients but those technical co-efficients were on too narrow a front. But here in this Report for the first time we have a general measure of efficiency, even though not complete, and the broad conclusion is a decline in productivity by 5 per cent.
Why has this decline taken place? The clue to the answer was given in the speech of the hon. Member for Perry Barr when he talked about the burden of overhead charges. In fact, as one well knows, if the production of a factory declines whilst its machinery remains the same, its costs increase, and that, in fact, is what has taken place on the railways. The decline in productivity is the inevitable concomitant of falling traffics, while equipment and methods remain comparatively stationary. The hon. Member for Perry Barr nods his head in assent. That is a fact.
To be inferred from that fact is another, at which the hon. Gentleman, however, stopped short—that if we raise charges we induce a further decline in traffics. By inducing this further decline in traffics, we induce a further decline in productivity and an increase in costs, making necessary a further increase in charges, the increase in charges generates of its own a further increase in charges. Thus, we are faced with the depressing, dreary prospect of an endless succession of increases in charges. That is the reason for these Prayers.
114 How is this chain of recurring increases to be stopped? There is only one way. By a rapid adaptation of the equipment and the methods of the railways to the decline in traffics. The test to be applied to this particlar increase and to the policy of which this increase is part is—is it or is it not calculated to bring about this quick adaptation? I do not want to speak about the labour side, not being particularly knowledgeable about these matters. On the labour side, however, I would say that the answer is clearly "No." The manner in which this increase has come about—"You unions can have this increase in wages, and there will be an increase in prices to offset it"—that particular manner does not induce adaptation. If it is calculated to do anything at all, it is calculated to encourage a certain lethargy towards adaptation.
I well understand that in the days of unemployment railway men were reluctant to face adaptation. That resistance and reluctance is not defensible in days of full employment, and unless labour can enter the era of full employment, facing up to the responsibilities of that era, and not bringing into it the habits of mind of other days, then I would say that it is they who are jeopardising the continuance of full employment.
§ Mr. Poole rose——
§ Mr. Jones
I would rather not give way as this is not a crucial part of my argument, and I do not pretend to be knowledgeable on the labour side.
I have drawn attention to what I believe to be a succession of increases, one increase generated as the result of another, and this policy of an endless succession of such increases makes sense only of one assumption, namely, that it is of short duration and that within two, three or four years, as a result of the charges scheme, there will be established a new relationship between road and rail, as a result of which there will be a fresh diversion of traffic to the railways, and impelled by this new stream, the railways will be carried out of their present state of under-utilisation.
If that is the assumption—and I think it is the only intelligible assumption—I do not believe that it is shared by many people on either side of the House. It certainly is not shared by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. It is relevant to ask 115 why it was in the first instance that traffic left the railways for the roads. Was it because of charges? To some extent it was, but only, I think, partially. Much more important was the fact that road transport brought with it a technical advance over the railways. The lorry enabled industry to adapt its transport to its own requirements, and to fit it into the business. In other words, while hon. Gentlemen opposite were concerned with the problem of integrating transport as a separate and distinct service, there had been in existence for a considerable time a trend of quite a different kind, a trend which had as its aim the integration of transport with industry as part of industry.
The Act of 1947 pitted itself against that trend, and that is the weakness of the Act and of the British Transport Commission. That is the diagnosis of the hon. Member for Perry Barr and I agree with his diagnosis. Where I differ from him is in his conclusion, a conclusion also that we have heard in the speeches of certain hon. Members opposite, which is to deny to industry this technical benefit and advance, and safeguard past investment and employment on the railways by some arbitrary method of driving traffic back again. I do not think that that is the solution.
The solution which emerges from the speeches delivered on this side of the House is as follows. Let industry have the benefit of this technical advance. Let us be prepared to sacrifice some of the past investment in the railways, cut the loss, and bring the railways back on an economic, even if restricted, basis by relating their charges to their costs. The weakness of the railways in the past was that, owing to the traditions which grew up, railway charges reflected the average cost of the whole system and did not correspond to the individual cost for each service. The hon. Member for Birkenhead asked what our policy was. That is my policy, to sacrifice some past investment in the railways and put the railways on an economic, if restricted basis, by adjusting charges to individual costs. It is an attempt——
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
Is the hon. Member's case that railway finance should stand on its own feet, that the 116 more lucrative traffics carried by road hauliers should be distinct and separate, that the uneconomic loads such as coal and ore, which can only be conveyed by the railways, should be left to the railways, and that we should bring railway labour and conditions into line with those circumstances? Does he not agree with integration in any sense at all?
§ Mr. Jones
I do not want to go into the matter in detail because it is very complicated. What I am suggesting is that a rational charges scheme is one in which the charges for both road and rail reflect the costs of each service performed. If we have that—it does not matter whether it is under the same ownership or different ownership—we have a rational apportionment of traffic as between the two; but if our charges for the whole of the nationalised undertaking, both road and rail, are to be based, as railway charges were before the war, on average costs the British Transport Commission will lose remunerative traffic again to the C licensees.
§ Mr. Poole
The hon. Member is labouring under a misapprehension when he suggests that railway charging before the war was based on average costs. That was never the basis of railway rating and charging. If he suggests that charges should be based on the cost of carrying the traffic, does he suggest that because it costs as much to convey a ton of gold as a ton of coal by railway, both should bear the same charge?
§ Mr. Jones
It is known that the railways have a classification according to the value of the goods carried rather than according to the cost of the service performed. The solution for the railways is to get away from that tradition.
The inquiry which has been suggested tonight by my hon. Friends is desirable even from the point of view of the railways themselves. When I first heard the suggestion a year ago, I was not enamoured of it. I did not like the idea of having so many nationalised undertakings and so many investigating bodies parallel with them. That is not a very tidy or efficient system. I am aware of the weaknesses of a watch-dog body, the way in which it can induce a shelving of certain proposals on the part of the nationalised undertaking and undermine authority.
117 In spite of those defects, I believe that this is an instance where an inquiry is required. It is necessary for the following reason. I understand that a body of people newly placed in charge of a nationalised undertaking are hesitant to face the need for any contraction in its equipment or radical alteration in its methods. I understand that they have difficulty in making such a contraction acceptable to the employees. I believe that in both those tasks they would be immensely fortified if they had the backing of an outside authority. Again, a nationalised undertaking cannot without a blush place the facts of its operations before the public, but an outside body can; it can tell us which are the remunerative services on the railways and which are not. We have some idea of that position in the United States, but we have not known what the position is in this country.
I believe that an outside inquiry would be a tremendous help to the railways in winning public opinion for the battle which I believe they have to face—that of breaking with the traditions which inhibit them in the matter of charges. If I were the Minister himself, I would accept the proposal for an inquiry. I suggest to the Minister in all seriousness that the 1947 Act is crumbling in his hands and that the perpetual increases in charges betoken an incipient failure to integrate on the lines laid down in the Act. He is exhorted by some of his hon. Friends to curb the C licensees. Rightly, he has refused. The corollary to that is that he must face some contraction on the part of the railways. If he cannot steel himself to a decision as between these two difficult choices, the best thing he can do is to have an inquiry as a preliminary to the fresh start in policy which I believe the increases make abundantly necessary.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I was particularly interested in the points made by the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) about the failure of the railway industry to keep pace with the increased productivity of other industry. That is a very valuable point to make, but he must realise that we cannot hope to make the same percentage increase in productivity in all the industries which go to make up our 118 national economy. It is obviously impossible to increase the productivity of a signalman and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) suggested in an intervention, it is impossible for a driver to increase his productivity. In any case increased output per man employed is something to which my right hon. Friend and the Railway Executive must continue to apply their minds. They must never be satisfied with what has been achieved.
I would point out to the hon. Member for Hall Green and also to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), who made an excellent maiden speech, that the Railway Executive has been tackling the matter of the number employed on the railway, and from December, 1947, to December, 1950, the number fell from 641,000 to 605,000. It is true that that number amounts to 37,000 more than we had on the railways in 1938. How can we justify that? How do the Railway Executive justify it. I think that the answer is fairly obvious. It is that between 1938 and 1950 there has been a shortening of the working week. We have seen a tardy recognition of the railwayman's claim for increased rates of pay, and the railways have been struggling hard to catch up with the tremendous arrears of maintenance which accumulated during the war period. Obviously we had to turn as many men as possible on to the task of operating the railways, and to cut as much as possible the number of men employed in actual maintenance. That is an extremely important factor in this connection.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones
I was perfectly well aware of the qualification which the hon. Gentleman is making. I stated it explicitly. If he will look at paragraph 184 of the report of the committee of inquiry he will see that the figures I gave, take into account improvements in basic pay and conditions of service.
§ Mr. Champion
Not wholly. They do not take into account the extremely important point which I was making of catching up with arrears of maintenance. It is something of which everyone who is aware of railway operation during the war must have some knowledge. As a working 119 railwayman, I saw what happened, and how we were putting off necessary improvements of maintenance because we wanted every available man to continue the job of carting the country's necessities during that period. It is a matter to which the Railway Executive must give their attention, so as to use manpower to get the maximum, consistent with the conditions laid down in agreements covering the railways.
I noticed that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) made reference to the possibility that the Tory Party might change sides and become the foster-mother of this industry. All I wish to say to him is that if the railways look to the Tory Party for sustenance and help they will have a pretty grim time, judging from what has happened in the period between the wars, when we saw the industry continually appealing for fair play on the railways. We remember the agitation for "a square deal" for the railways, and all the rest of it.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have the finest railways in the world. I am bound to say that I share his concern over pilfering on the railways. Despite the fact that the figures have considerably improved, we still have a long way to go before we reach figures which I should regard as satisfactory. All the pilfering which takes place on the railways is not the responsibility of the railwaymen. Some of it, of course, is. I would not attempt to justify any man who is employed in this industry, or in any other, pilfering from traffic in transit. We, the Railway Executive and the Minister must continue to apply our minds to the task of reducing the amount of pilfering.
The hon. Member also said something in which I think there was some point, that there had been a considerable increase in the damage to stuff in transit. A large amount of that damage increase undoubtedly arises from the increase in hump shunting. One of the features which has increased the efficiency of our shunting-engine-miles is this hump shunting, but it has some disadvantages, and this is one of them. I hope that the research departments responsible in this matter will carry on their investigation, 120 with a view to cutting down the amount of damage which is being done.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) told us that we ought to set up an ad hoc expert committee. I have heard hon. Gentlemen opposite sneer at the appointment of a Royal Commission to consider something on which the Government were unable to make up their minds. It seems that what is happening now is that the Opposition are taking an easy way out of their dilemma. They are not able to find real items of criticism in the working of the railways or to suggest improvements necessary to effect the economies which they say would make the proposed increases unnecessary.
I remember my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary telling us when we were in Opposition and the party were not quite sure which policy they ought to pursue upon a certain matter, "We took the course of deciding to ask a great many questions." That seems to be the policy which has been adopted by the Opposition in regard to nationalised transport, and particularly with the present increases. They wish to ask a large number of questions. It is always an easy way out—to keeping on asking questions.
§ Mr. Nabarro
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) for allowing me the opportunity to ask him a question. Would he entreat his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to answer our Parliamentary questions on this matter? We might get somewhere. At present the right hon. Gentleman will not answer anything.
§ Mr. Champion
I was speaking of the suggestion of setting up some committee to do something which hon. Gentlemen opposite are not able to do. I will give this point to them: When I heard the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) putting up this point, I began to think there must be something in it. His knowledge of railways and his love for the transport system of this country are unique on the benches opposite. He told us that we ought to set up an expert committee. Where are we to get the experts? Are we to get them from America? [Interruption.] Not from Kidderminster, surely. Judging by the fact 121 that America seems to be in a pretty bad way with her railways, I think we should not get any.
In the course of a lecture tour in America I found myself on a railway station in Providence. There I read something which took me right back to the "square deal" days of the pre-war period. Stuck up was a great poster which said:Uncle Sam's Railways. To keep them up to the nation's need, the railways should be permitted to earn not less than 6 per cent. Signed, The Association of American Railroads.They obviously are suffering from the same sort of difficulty as ourselves. They want experts there, if experts are needed at all, and they have none to spare for us. I seriously make the point that it is much too early to talk about setting up an independent inquiry. The Transport Commission have been in charge of our railways for four years and they should be given a reasonable period in which to carry out the changes which they have in mind before we set up an independent inquiry into the state of the railway industry.
What is the cause of these Regulations which are being prayed against by hon. Gentlemen opposite? They are needed because of the recent increases in wage rates of about 7½ per cent. Wages in the railway industry now are 220 as against 100 in 1938. I regard these increases as but a tardy recognition of what was needed by the workers in the industry. But there is still not a satisfactory standard of living for the mass of the railway workers.
Recently, as the result of an advertisement in one of our local papers, I examined some of these figures. The advertisement offered labourers and mates aged 21 to 55, on day work, wages of £5 15s. to £5 18s. I compared the figures with those for guards. Such promotion is given only after long service. I found that the railway guard receives in his first year £5 9s. a week, in his fourth year £5 18s. With the recent increases he will go in his fifth and subsequent years to £6 2s.—for a job requiring considerable skill, experience, and the acceptance of responsibility for the whole train. [An HON. MEMBER: "Disgraceful."] This compares with the wage paid to a labourer who can come into that industry at any time in his life between the ages of 21 and 55.
122 I am not saying that the labourer is getting too much, but I say, with some justification, that the skilled men within the railway industry are getting too little even after the recent increases. In talking about the railway industry, many people are inclined to expect transport workers to be too moderate and too modest in their demands because they provide a service and not an article for sale. We have no right to expect to run our transport industry on cheap labour and we must face the consequences of the increases in prices which have come about.
Another cause of these Regulations has been the considerable increase in the price of railway materials. The equated prices for railway materials stand today at 259 against 100 in 1938. These materials have to be paid for just as the increased wages have to be paid for. Unless we subsidise—and I have not heard hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest a subsidy—it means that we have to consider raising the prices we charge both for freights and passenger fares. Freight charges are between 90 and 95 per cent. above pre-war.
These increases are important, but their effect must not be exaggerated. There is a danger of our doing that. Despite all that has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite, it still is the case that there is not a coin in general use in this country small enough to enable the shopkeeper to cut the price of foodstuffs if all foodstuffs were carried free of charge. That is an amazing fact but an important one, which hon. Gentlemen are inclined to forget. I do not want to go into the points in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), to which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) took exception. However, it is remarkable how far and how cheaply things are carried today.
What must the industry do? It must try to secure economies. In reply to the hon. Member for Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) I said it was necessary that in this House from time to time we should impress upon the Transport Commission the necessity for keeping themselves alert, pressing continually in the right direction. While doing that, we must also recognise what trends are in the right direction, and there are many trends within the industry which show that we 123 are going in the right direction. There has been a considerable increase in working passenger miles, a considerable increase in the freight ton miles. There has been an increase in train loading and in net ton miles per engine hour. Today the latter show an improvement of 25 per cent. over 1938. It is a big and an extremely important figure. When hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the necessity for someone looking into this industry, one would imagine that nothing was being done within the industry whereas, in fact, they are showing in this important regard an improvement of 25 per cent.
I am sure that startling improvements in productivity per man employed can only come from a greater degree of integration of the whole industry. A greater degree of co-ordination over the industry will only come provided that it is permitted to work out the plans contained in the Act of 1947. It would not happen if hon. Gentlemen opposite who introduced a Private Members' Bill had their way over this field——
§ Mr. Champion
Fortunately they did not. They created something of a record in the document which they presented to this House in that Bill. We must have greater capital expenditure on the railways. We must sweep away much that is old-fashioned remaining from the last century, but it can only be done if there is capital to do it.
§ Mr. Champion
It is partly because of the deliberate policy of this Government in stopping great capital expenditure that the figures I have quoted are not as good as they might be. There is a deliberate policy, and we understand the reason for it. Nevertheless, I think that spectacular figures will only come as and when the Government decide upon a considerable increase in the amount of capital expenditure permitted to the railways.
§ Mr. Nabarro
There has been a great deal of specious argument in this debate about increasing capital expenditure. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us by what margin he believes that capital expenditure on the railways should be increased over the figures of £41 million for 1948, £44 million 124 for 1949 or £42 million for 1950, for it has not increased at all in the last three years in spite of the enormous advance in the cost of materials?
§ Mr. Champion
I have not looked into the figure, but obviously it would be in excess of those which the hon. Gentleman has quoted, partly because of increased prices and partly because there are tremendous arrears of work, with a necessity for an overall increase in capital expenditure.
The fact is that we must make this undertaking the most efficient possible. I would quarrel—and it is right that I should—with my noble Friend Lord Lucas when he talks about the transport industry of this country being a "liability." It is nothing of the sort. I only wish, for the sake of so many countries in the world, that their transport systems were as good as ours and that their "liabilities" were no worse. Of course, Lord Lucas must have meant something rather different from that, but certainly I disagree with him if he used the word in that context.
Increases in charges were foreseen by hon. Gentlemen opposite. For example, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) spoke in the proceedings in Committee upstairs, on the Transport Bill, he said:I have indicated why Stock Exchange prices are not apt to get the real value of an undertaking, and in this case one has to bear in mind the three favourable points with regard to the future of the railways. I state them with great frankness, and hon. Members can consider their value, or whether they should be discounted. First, there would have to be in the post-war period some adaptation of railway charges to the variations of price levels from every point of view. If you have a general rise in price levels, you have to have some rise in railway charges."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 5th March, 1947; c. 1722.]How right the right hon. and learned Gentleman was, and how wrong of him to come here and move a Prayer against the charges which obviously he foresaw would be necessary from time to time to meet the new price levels. I cannot help thinking how adequately the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts the case in a few sentences, and I cannot help remembering sitting in that Committee and watching how well he pleaded the cause of the former owners when fighting for them on the question of compensation. 125 Incidentally, I would mention how much greater would have been the freight-passenger charges today if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had had their way on the Compensation Clauses of that Bill.
What is happening in other industries which are held up as models? I took some little pains recently to look up details of some of the activities of right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), is managing director of the British Metal Corporation, and it is fair to assume that, although that company now deals very widely, in the main it deals with metals. Non-ferrous metals have gone up over pre-war days, taking the pre-war year of 1938 as representing 100, to 479.8 up to February, 1951. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), is a director of Courtaulds, who sell textiles, and, according to the "Monthly Digest," their prices have gone up from 100 in 1938 to 398.8 this year.
§ Mr. Nabarro
On a point of order. May I have your guidance Mr. Deputy-Speaker? What have international raw commodity prices and the fluctuations of levels of prices to do with the freight charges which are concerned in this debate?
§ Mr. Champion
I think it is right to introduce this comparison into this debate, as will be seen in a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) is a farmer, and farm prices have gone up from 100 in pre-war days to 318 in post-war days. Transport costs have gone up from 100 to 190 overall, by comparison with those figures. These are the right hon. Gentlemen opposite who are telling us to keep down costs in the transport industry, but who are failing completely to deal with that problem in the industries for which they are responsible. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), told us that we had got to stop the rot of rising prices, but I say that if hon. Gentlemen who are responsible for some of these private enterprise industries, about which 126 I have been speaking, would stop the rot so far as their own increases in prices are concerned, they would be doing something extremely useful and they might consider doing something about reversing the trend. If they could bring down prices to the same level above pre-war days as the charges in the transport industry, it would be a very great step in the right direction.
I have just one final point. The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South, quite rightly called attention to the fact that we have to set about the task of looking into the industry. How right he was when he said that we should consider the position of branch lines, though I would point out to the noble Lord—and I hope he will read these words—that between 1923 and 1947, when the industry was in private hands, only 240 miles of branch lines were closed. In the three years from 1947 to the end of 1950, as against the 20-odd years in private hands, 253 miles were closed to all forms of traffic, showing that, in three years, we have considerably exceeded the mileage that private industry closed in the whole of the period between 1923 and 1947.
Although I say that it is the job of the Minister of Transport and of the Railway Executive of the British Transport Commission always to be alert for these increases, and although I say that it ill becomes right hon. Gentlemen responsible for industries whose increases have been so much higher to throw stones at the transport industry, I do say that the matter is one which we have to watch carefully. I think it is right, in the circumstances, realising the reasons for these increases, that we should tonight reject these Motions to annul the Regulations.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
On the last occasion when the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), and debated in this House, the position which presents itself tonight, whereby I follow him, was reversed. On that occasion, he chose to say some rather rude and uncomplimentary things about the remarks I made to the House. I propose to heap coals of fire on his head by not doing the same tonight. The speech to which we have just listened, justifies to the hilt, I think, the case we on these benches have been making during this 127 debate for an inquiry into the working of the railway industry.
I propose in the course of my remarks to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member, but I think that, in a way, it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister did not himself reply to the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) at the beginning of this debate because, of course, it is largely a case of the Minister coming to this House to justify the increased charges. I know that this is a debate on an Opposition Motion to annul the Regulations, but I think that the Minister, or someone on his behalf—possibly the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, who is experienced in these matters—might have made some sort of case rather earlier in the debate. But, whatever the facts of that may be, and whether or not I am justified in saying that, I do not think there is much doubt that during this debate the reasons for these increases have become pretty clear.
As I see it, the British Transport Commission now asks permission of the nation to increase freight charges because its running expenses have gone up, and there are four main elements for that increase. The first is the increase in the cost of coal; the second is the increase—as has been mentioned by many hon. Members—in the cost of the various raw materials which the industry uses; the third is the increase in the price of petrol; but the fourth and biggest element of all is, of course, the increase in wages.
I want to deal principally in my remarks tonight with that increase in wages, but, first of all I wish to make one or two short observations with regard to the other points. As to coal, we have really got ourselves into a fantastic position. The coal industry, from time to time, puts up the price of the raw materials it supplies to the railways. The railways have to pay more for their coal, and, because of that, they then have to put up their freight charges. One of the biggest freights they carry is coal. That, again, forces the coal industry to put up its prices still further, and so we go on.
We are now in the absurd position where we have two horses on a merry-go-round each trying to catch up with the other and never doing so. I would remind the 128 House that the increase in the price of coal, which is reflected in the charges proposed by the Regulations which we seek to annul tonight, is not the latest increase. A further increase in the price of coal has been announced since then. It is a pretty gloomy prospect for industry, and particularly for the railways.
As to raw materials, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East, and a number of other hon. Members opposite have asked those of us on this side of the House, "What else would you have us do? What else could the Executive do, faced as they were with the constantly rising cost of all the raw materials they need?" I will say at once that there is not much else that the Railway Executive could do, but there is a great deal which the Government could have done a long time ago. For instance, to start with, they could have avoided that absurd policy of devaluation, because a lot of the rise in prices is a result of that mistaken policy put into effect as long ago as September, 1949.
As to petrol—another element in this price rise—it was, of course, the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, who last year put that swingeing Duty on petrol which the railways themselves, as well as the private road hauliers and the nationalised sector of the road haulage industry, now have to pay. If the Government are searching for new revenue, they ought, before deciding to put up the price of important raw materials like petrol and oil by imposing an increased Duty, to remember and reflect upon the consequences of that Duty so far as the transport industry is concerned.
I now pass to the major topic—the wages paid by the transport industry. I think that we on this side ought to make it clear to the House that we do not deny for one moment that these increased wages were vitally necessary. I do not think there is any dispute between either side about that. Railwaymen's wages in this country for a number of years now have been about the lowest and it is high time something was done. But what we on this side object to very strongly is the way the whole business was managed by the Government. It is a procedure out of which neither the unions concerned nor the Government come with any credit. The Government do not come out of it with 129 any credit because of their quite unjustifiable interference in the negotiations, and the unions because of their original rejection of the result of what was to all intents and purposes an arbitration by the Guillebaud court of inquiry and also the equivocal action of Mr. Figgins at a somewhat later stage when he said quite openly he was not prepared to tell his men to accept the award.
It is very difficult for anyone not to feel some considerable sympathy with the Railway Executive. They were caught between the upper millstone of the Government and the nether millstone of the unions and they had no field of manœuvre at all. Faced with an unfavourable situation and rejection of a large part of the wage claim they had put forward, instead of accepting that the railway companies could not pay more than the original £6½ million which I think was the amount that the court of inquiry had suggested it was the maximum within the Executive's competence to pay and still keep their industry going, the unions went a step further and appealed directly over the head of the Executive to the Government.
They had a precedent, of course. The miners had done it a while before and they had got away with it. But as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby said earlier in the debate, this procedure has exploded once and for all that cherished Socialist theory that all the boards of these nationalised industries should be free and independent and completely devoid of any kind of Government interference. That has always been a theory held strongly by the moderates of the party opposite.
I want to recall to the House some remarks of a very well known Socialist on this very topic. He was writing in 1933 about the nationalisation of transport in the days then to come. He said this about the very point I am discussing:…it is necessary that the management should be sufficiently free from those undesirable pressures associated with both public and private Parliamentary strategy, political lobbying, and electoral 'blackmail.' Subject to whatever ministerial or checks or appeals may be provided in the public interest, the management must be a responsible management and must be able to stand its ground in the interests of the undertaking which is committed to its charge. If the iron and steel manufacturers want an uneconomic freight for the transport of iron and steel, it would be disastrous for them to be able to frighten the 130 management with the prospect of Parliamentary pressure promoted by the M.P.s representing the iron and steel constituencies. Similar considerations arise as regards political or electoral pressure from other powerful industries, sections of the travelling public, or from the large body of people employed by the transport undertaking. It is better that avenues should be provided for the settlement of these conflicts outside politics, including proper provision for the negotiation of labour conditions between the Trade Unions and the management, without the Treasury on the one hand forcing the management to be unduly tight because of its fear of the effect of concessions on other departments, …
§ Mr. Hay
With respect, the wage increase forms so large an element of the increases in the freight charges we are discussing, and the way these increases were negotiated was entirely contrary to what the party opposite believe. I hope, therefore, I may continue because it is relevant. The quotation goes on:and the management on the other hand being afraid of the users and industrial labour because of their power at the polls.That was written in "Socialisation and Transport" by no less a person than the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary. I do not know whether he formed one of the Members present at the Cabinet meeting which approved the approach which the Ministry made to the Railway Executive in which they said they should agree to the £12 million increase. If so, he had gone a long way from the position in which he stood in 1933. Of course, the villain of the piece was the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) who was then Minister of Labour. It was he who told the unions to go ahead. It is important to appreciate the position we have got into, where the Government are intervening directly as participants in wage negotiations of this sort between the unions concerned and the management boards of the nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
While agreeing with the general thesis that the ordinary machinery should be used, may I ask the hon. Member whether he would agree that there are some circumstances in our national life in which it is the job of the Government to come in, and where the alternative is a completely chaotic state of affairs, which, although £12 million is involved in this instance, would have 131 cost us very much more if the country had been upset and there had been a transport strike?
§ Mr. Hay
It is a question of degree. I would say that the rôle of the Government is to give general directives on policy, and I believe that is laid down in the Transport Act. What I deplore in this case is that the unions and the management of the railways have had an arbitration on this matter, the unions rejected the advice of the arbitrating tribunal, which was the Guillebaud Committee, and, having done that, they appealed direct to the Minister, and the Minister with Cabinet approval, said, "Yes, all right, the Railway Executive must pay £12 million, although the independent inquiry have said that they should not pay more than £6,500,000."
§ Mr. Hay
And that is the precedent which the railwaymen had in view in this matter. It was very undesirable.
I want to pass to a rather more important topic. There is not the slightest evidence that, as a condition of granting this wage increase, the Government ensured that the Railway Executive had the benefit of any improvement in productivity by the railwaymen concerned. All they got was a written promise that the unions concerned would consider increases in productivity. The very limited proposals which my right hon. and learned Friend has already mentioned—the abolition of the knockers up and all the rest of it—were allowed to go by the board.
If this procedure of Government intervention in wage bargaining between nationalised industries and unions is to be 132 a regular feature—and it appears that it is going to be—then I say that the Government must come out with a definite policy, making it clear that as far as they are concerned they will only intervene providing there is increased productivity as a result of the wage increase.
All hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they sit, must agree that we have to get a far better spirit on the railways than we have at the moment. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we have the finest railway system in the world. Indeed, we have, but the great fear that we have on this side of the House is that that fine railway system will gradually go down the drain if something is not done quickly to put the house of the Railway Executive in order.
Hon. Members ask us: What is your policy? Our policy has always been to decentralise this great monopoly, to give a certain freedom of action to road hauliers and at the same time to decentralise and put into competition the different regions of the executive. That has been our policy, and hon. Members opposite know it as well as I do. For this particular limited objective, we say there should be an independent inquiry. We believe that unless we have such an inquiry we shall find that matters will not get better on the railway but in fact will get worse.
In conclusion, I want to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman, despite what he said about our putting questions. What is the Government's view of the future of transport in this country? For example, do they subscribe as a whole to the defeatist views of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, which have already been mentioned today? Let me remind the House of what he said:For good or ill, the transport system of this country, in the main, is a liability for ever.If they agree with those views and if that is their policy, we know where we are and the sooner they introduce their subsidy proposals the better.
If they do not agree, two consequences follow. The first is that Lord Lucas must go. That will not be a great loss. The second is that we can perhaps agree on some kind of concerted general policy to work out some method whereby the 133 railways can be run not only profitably but also efficiently in the service of the nation, for we on this side of the House have not said that we shall de-nationalise the railways.
The first essential is to obtain the facts, which only an independent inquiry can give. I hope that in his reply tonight the Minister will tell us that the Government are prepared to recommend the setting up of such an inquiry. If he does not do so, I suggest that the House must judge the question, as the country surely will judge it soon.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
We have now reached the concluding stages of this debate. I think the Minister will agree with me at least in this—that it has been a valuable debate and that a very high standard of speeches has been maintained on all sides. I think I shall also carry the House with me when I say that not the least valuable speech was the notable maiden speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton). He made a masterly and powerful contribution to the discussion, and certainly on this side of the House we find him a valuable recruit to the speakers on transport.
My difficulty in replying to the debate is that hardly any of the speakers from the opposite benches have answered my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). May I repeat one of the points which he put? He asked that there should be an independent and expert inquiry into this great railway industry. Let me put this perfectly bluntly to the Minister. If he will give us that inquiry he can have his Regulations tonight and there will be no Division on this Prayer. We do not want to delay the right hon. Gentleman. We realise the difficulties the railway industry is in; Heaven knows, everyone realises them. This is an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn); let them have their 10 per cent. and let it be on condition that the right hon. Gentleman will come to that Box an say that we can have the independent and expert inquiry. I think that is a perfectly fair and reasonable offer to make and I must say that I believe there are many hon. 134 Members opposite who think the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to accept it.
As I am making the final speech from this side in this debate, I want to say a few words about the speeches which have been made in it. After all, that is what a debate is for. We always listen with interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris). Today he said that if we were dependent on the profits which were to be made in the railway industry, there would not be very much chance of anybody getting a decent living out of it. We could not agree with him more about that; there is not the slightest doubt that we shall not get much out of the profits made in the nationalised railway industry.
But he went on to say that increased charges will not solve the problem and he made the rather sinister observation—I hope he will not be angry with me for saying so—that he thought we must recast the financial structure of the railways. I do not know quite what he meant by that. I thought he might be referring to a subsidy, but whether he meant a subsidy or not, the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) was quite open and blunt about it. He said that we had got to have it at once, and that it was the only thing to do.
What is the policy of the party opposite about a subsidy for the railways? I believed at one time that they meant to have one. I thought it was their intention. I remember that at the time when this settlement was discussed, the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) asked the then Minister of Labour a question. He asked:Can the Minister explain to the House why the railwaymen should be expected to bear the economic burden of running the railways any more than the employees of the air corporations are expected to carry the subsidies on those corporations?To which the right hon. Gentleman replied:I think that my hon. Friend, when he hears the ultimate outcome of the discussions, will find that we have not lost sight of that factor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1472.]
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am much obliged. I have a namesake in the party opposite and it leads to very great difficulty. The Minister of Labour made it perfectly plain from that answer that what he had in mind was a subsidy. I do not know whether his departure from the Government means that the subsidy proposal has been dropped, but I think that hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to make up their minds about it. They ought to tell us whether they want a subsidy or whether they do not want a subsidy, and I think it would be much fairer to the industry if they did so.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am coming to the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole). He made a speech which was remarkable for its brevity and for the fact that he did not refer to C licences. He said that the railways were like a sick child—"a very sick child," he said. Well, if you have got a very sick child, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you do not stand back and say, "It will come out all right. Probably by 1954 he will be all right." That is apparently the policy adopted by the Government. You get a doctor; you call in the experts, and try to find out whether there is anything you can get to make the child a little better. That is exactly what our intention is in asking for an inquiry.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that the trouble is not a new one. But in a sense it is a new one. It is perfectly true that there were difficulties in the railway world before the war, but what he forgets is what happened in 1947. In 1947, in the seething cauldron of English industrial life, the right hon. Gentleman suddenly fixed the railways with frozen capital—with alterations going on all round about them, with all the competition to which they were subjected—and said they had to stay like that. There is another difference. There is public money involved now; it was private money which was involved then. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern with the interests of the former railway shareholders. It is nice to hear him say it was a pity they did not get all that they ought to have got. It is nice to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite saying those things.
§ Mr. Poole rose——136
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I was just going on to say how much I agree with the hon. Gentleman about another matter. He did say—not on this occasion, but on the last occasion when these matters were mentioned—that he wanted an inquiry. He said:May I reinforce the request to the Leader of the House that we should not be asked to consider this matter in a debate on a Prayer to annul the order? It would place many of us in an embarrassing position.No one would wish to embarrass the hon. Member. He went on:May I also ask the Minister whether, before these charges come into operation, he is not prepared to have an independent inquiry into the operation of nationalised transport, because many of us feel that steps could be taken inside the present organisation which would render these increases unnecessary?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th Appril, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 655.]I hope that that does mean that we shall find him in the Lobby with us tonight. The hon. Gentleman makes speech after speech criticising every facet of the right hon. Gentleman's transport policy, and yet he goes on voting for it. I expect that tonight he will be walking arm in arm with the right hon. Gentleman through the Government Lobby whispering: "I'll be true to you, darling, always in my fashion." The hon. Gentleman's trouble is that his fashion is that he is faithless everywhere except in the Lobbies of the House of Commons. We think that he ought to kick over the traces altogether and come and vote with us tonight, or else spend his time permanently in the matrimonial bed. So much for the hon. Member for Perry Barr.
I pass to the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness. He said that we never made any concrete proposals. It depends what is meant by "concrete." I think that we have been pretty clear and specific tonight, and we have made a very definite proposal to the right hon. Gentleman. Our proposal is that a committee of experts should be called in to examine what is going on inside this industry, to see whether it cannot help in any way, and to see whether some measures cannot be taken to secure economies in its internal workings. That is a very clear and specific suggestion.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that he paid a tribute to the work of the Transport Tribunal. Well, I pay a tribute to its work. But it had a fairly easy job. 137 It conducted no private inquiry whatsoever on this occasion. It merely got a letter from the Minister saying that he assumed all the figures were correct and if the situation was as bad as that, they had better put up the charges by 10 per cent. Well, I could have done that myself. It is quite an easy task. Moreover, on the last occasion when the Tribunal looked into this matter, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bristol, West, pointed out, they themselves said that there was a limit to the extent to which a tribunal of that kind can really examine the detailed workings of a great industry such as this. They said:We think that the material at our disposal for determining that matter is inadequate.They went on to say:The estimated economies appear disappointingly small, but we can only assume that those responsible for the conduct of the Commission's activities are best able to forecast what economies they are likely to achieve.I am not blaming the Tribunal. But we are not that Tribunal. We are quite a different tribunal, and we are not entitled to assume that those responsible for running the affairs of the Transport Commission have made all the economies which anybody could possibly make. We do not assume it, and we demand that some inquiry should be made to investigate the matter.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), followed and gave a typical example of the sort of matter which ought to be inquired into. Following a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), he wanted an examination of "this great mass of legislation," most of which had been introduced at a time when the railways were a clear monopoly. I may say it is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman that they are not a clear monopoly today; he does his best, and he cannot be blamed for that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, wanted that legislation re-examined to see whether some of the burdens it imposed upon the Railway industry could not be lifted off the shoulders of that industry. I agree with him entirely. But how can we find that out unless we have somebody who can look into matters of that kind? It is just that kind of point, which might lead to very substantial economies, and the rest 138 which could be properly looked at by an inquiry of the kind for which we ask.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison), whose views I may say I always listen to with great respect upon transport matters, said that there were no experts outside the industry. I thought he was too modest. He went on to mention a point which was raised in an interruption in his speech, that of the strategic line. It is a very difficult thing to determine. It must always be difficult to decide how far a line is essential from the point of view of our military defence and how far it is necessary from the point of view of the ordinary transport of the country. It is certainly not a matter on which one can make up one's mind across the Floor of the House; it is a matter which we have to look at.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Member for Perry Barr can make up his mind very quickly on many subjects. I say that we should like to look at this matter very closely. There are all sorts of interests—naval, air and military—to be taken into consideration.
The Central Consultative Committee appointed by the Minister have clearly suggested that. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is attracted by that Committee. At one time it was a big point in his policy. He said that the consumers were going to be specially looked after, and this body was to be set up to look after their interests. Perhaps it is one of those bodies which the Government have set up and forgotten about ever since. They have published a report. I will send the right hon. Gentleman a copy. It would be a sensible thing if the whole of this report by the Consultative Committee, on this point and on other points which I have not time to mention, could be put before a committee of experts to see whether a proper examination of them could be made.
The final point made by the hon. Gentleman, and one with which I agree, was a warning to the House. He said, coming to this matter of diminishing returns, that there is a limit to the extent to which we can raise prices against the consumer, even in a partial monopoly of this character. There comes a time when people just will not travel or have 139 their goods carried in that way. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick)—I missed a part of his speech because I was refuelling myself at that stage of the proceedings—said something which cheered me up very much. He said, "Let us take some part of the vast profit credited to the Treasury during the war for the running of the railways and plough it back into the industry now." We, who have heard so often of the terrible losses made during that period, are heartened to hear that that profit should be called in aid to save the Government from their present trouble. I do not altogether agree with his conclusion, but I like the manner of his speech.
§ Mr. Poole rose——
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I have not time to give way now. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr Champion), spent some part of his time referring to the manpower situation in this industry. I had intended, although I have not the time now, to go into that matter in some detail. May I say that I do not think that these global totals of the number of men in the industry and the number which it is losing or getting each year mean very much. It is the men that matter—the train crews, the signallers, shunters, and the administrative staff. We may have too many men in some things and far too few in others. I would have developed the point further, but I content myself by saying that I have not seen any authoritative statement anywhere which gives me a clear picture whether there are too many or too few men in the railway industry today. I do not think that anyone will know whether there are until we can get a thorough examination of the position and find out where these shortages do really exist in this industry.
§ Mr. Monslow
I intimated in my speech that there was a shortage of locomotive firemen in the large industrial centres of this country. I also indicated that the permanent way staff is depleted even with danger to safety.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly what I was saying. There are too many people in some places and not enough in others. 140 I did not agree with the final remark of the hon. Member, who said that it was too early to set up an inquiry. What have we to have before we set up an inquiry? They have been there for four years and there is an accumulated loss of £50 million. What sort of figure do the losses have to amount to before we get down to having a look at the position? Have we to wait seven years before there is any inquiry? I am sorry that I had to depart from the hon. Member there, because with the first part of his speech I found myself largely in agreement.
I think that the House will agree, whatever the merits or demerits of the 10 per cent. increase, that it is a matter which has very wide repercussions throughout the length and breadth of the country. Every industrialist who is trying to keep his prices down—and I hope hon. Members will agree that some industrialists do try to keep their prices down—is bound to be dramatically affected by an increase in transport costs of this character. It applies to everything. It applies to the raw materials going into the factories and to the finished product coming out. It affects not only the industrialist but also the consumer, and if there is one thing that is causing more heart searching than anything else among all parties and in the country, it is the steadily rising cost of living.
This charge goes on everything that moves from the producer to the wholesaler, from the wholesaler to the retailer and, in some cases, from the retailer to the consumer. It is an accumulated charge. If we wanted to select one particular increase which would have a more dramatic effect than any other in forcing up prices it would be to put up transport charges. All those in industry and transport should try to avoid passing on the increased costs to someone else. We all ought to try it, and even the much maligned Parliamentary Secretary, who said the other day that "In his official capacity"—this was a sort of ex cathedra statement; it was at a lunch of the Institute of Traffic Administration, and so it was a serious occasion—I must confess to being seriously disturbed at the readiness with which those who are responsible for traffic so willingly and readily pass the increased costs on to the consumer.Then why does he do it? It really is extraordinary to come along and complain and then to do the very thing oneself.
141 It is not only the industrialists and the consumers who are concerned, but also the railwaymen themselves. They are serving in an industry in which in many cases their fathers and sometimes their grandfathers before them have served. This is a great traditional industry. They can regard this steady increase in the freight rates, and other matters which are in our minds but must not be in our mouths within the rules of order, with the same disquiet as the hon. Member for Nottingham, East, knowing that there are bound to be diminishing returns and knowing that the Court of Inquiry pointed out that these steady increases in the charges on freight of all kinds are not in themselves the answer to the difficulties in which the transport industry finds itself.
I wanted to say something about the nature of this particular flat-rate increase. One of the principal ideas, if not the principal idea, of the Transport Act, 1947, was the introduction of a comprehensive road-rail charges scheme. The idea behind it at that time was that this delicate mechanism could be so framed as to influence traffic into what might be regarded as the most economic and effective channels. The decision was not to be made in the old way of thousands of people making their own choice, but the principles were to be decided at the centre. Whatever the merits of that idea—and I never thought that there were very many—it must be becoming very nebulous. It is disappearing into the mists of time. It started off with a promise in 1947 that it would be introduced in two years' time. Then we were told we were going to have a scheme in 1951 and now we are told that the earliest time at which it might arrive will be in 1954. What is going to happen between now and 1954? We must not overstress the gravity of our time, but I do not think the greatest optimist would say that it was likely to be a period marked by great economic stability.
What are we going to do in the railway industry between now and that date? We have had one demand already, which resulted in an increase of 16⅔ per cent. last May. We have now got another of 10 per cent., making a total of 28⅓ per cent. within a period of 12 months. Is this the right hon. Gentleman's last territorial demand? I very much doubt whether it is. Everybody knows perfectly well that, in fact, what will be happening is that periodically they will come along 142 and demand another flate-rate increase. Have the Transport Commission no idea beyond a flat-rate increase? They have had it for four years. It is what the psychiatrists call a "phobia." Have the Transport Commission no other idea than a charges scheme? Have they no ideas about giving an advantage to full wagons rather than half-empty wagons, or the other things mentioned in the charges scheme published the other day? Are they going to ask time after time for another 10 per cent.?
This type of increase bears most heavily on the people least able to bear it. It hits the especial areas the very places where industrialists and, indeed, people of all parties have encourage the introduction of branch factories in order to diversify industry in a particular area. Then the Commission come along and slap on an increase of 28⅓ per cent. in the transport charges. No more damaging thing could be done to the principle of diversifying industry. It hits the far north of Scotland, Wales, and the distant areas in a manner wholly different from the way in which it hits the more closely urbanised centres and industrial districts. Yet no other suggestion is being made, and so far the Government have refused any kind of inquiry or an alternative method to get this money.
What will happen when we get to 1954? Between now and then there is going to be a great inquiry. I do not know how many hon. Members have seen a charges scheme, but it is a formidable, massive thing. It shows exactly how to charge between oranges and lemons, coal and light merchandise, cattle and one hundred and one other considerations. In the next five years, if the Commission's funds last that long, lawyers are going to debate this charges scheme, and at the end of it, after all this consideration, a delicately balanced mechanism is going to be produced for our benefit.
Then the tribunal considering it will wake up and notice that there are some differences in the world of 1954 compared with 1951. They will find that in the period railway rates have gone up, and for the purposes of their scheme it will be necessary to bring road rates up by the same amount. Thus, on top of this delicate mechanism which they have worked out, they will have to impose a crazy superstructure of a flat-rate 143 increase. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course they will; otherwise they will go bankrupt within three weeks. On top they will have to impose the flat-rate increases which have taken place in the interval. It is a very ham-handed way of running a transport system.
I have no more time. I should have liked to develop a large number of other points. What I do want to emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman is this. We are not here to make his job more difficult. Indeed, he can have his Regulations right now and at this moment if he wishes. He can have them now and need not even make a speech for them. He can even have them free. He can have his Regulations just as he likes, on the one condition that we can have an inquiry into the range of matters to which I and my hon. Friends have referred and which we, and in many cases hon. Gentlemen opposite, think are proper matters for inquiry and matters in which economies could be made to help the job of the men working on the railways. That is a fair request which would meet with some support, outside the ranks of the Conservative Party, among all those who have the interests of this great industry at heart. It is a request which the right hon. Gentleman would be wise to concede tonight.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I do not consider that the contribution of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) has added much to the debate. This is the most encouraging debate on rail transport that we have had since nationalisation. We had the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), which was followed by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris); and I should particularly like to associate myself with the congratulations which have been offered to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton), whose speech has been generally recognised as a remarkable contribution to our debate. Although not very many hon. Members have spoken, all the speeches that we have had have represented thoughtful contributions to the problem.
144 I want to say without any qualification that my mind is not closed to the views which have been expressed, but I think I am entitled to say that no Minister can stand at this Box and just commit himself to a vague and general inquiry into this complex problem. The theme of the debate has not been upon the merits or demerits of the proposal before the House. Quite rightly, the larger problem of the future of the railway industry of this country has come into our survey, and as that has been the general theme, I propose to reply to it towards the end of my comments. I feel that we have now in the post-war period seriously considered the problem of British railways, and I shall endeavour to give a less gloomy picture than the one generally in the minds of hon. Members when dealing with this subject.
Before I do that, I want to disconnect it from the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), who used it in a limited way when arguing that the wartime profits or surplus contributed to the Budget, should now be ploughed back into industry. That point was taken up by the hon. Member for Monmouth. It is no use discussing the ploughing back of the £124 million made during the war because that money was spent in the prosecution of the war. It raises an entirely different financial issue from that which my hon. Friend was submitting. I want to get it in its proper perspective in considering the financial position of British Railways over the last 11 years.
When looking at the problem of the railways in the post-war period, it is generally considered that the position of that industry in this country is a fairly hopeless one. But I have never admitted that. I agree that the circumstances in the post-war period have been particularly onerous for any form of management to handle, whether it is operating under a system of free enterprise or under the principle of public enterprise. I do not attempt to deny that. But because the post-war period is difficult, my submission, gained from experience at the Ministry of Transport, is that it cannot be disconnected from the circumstances of the past 10 years.
I find that in a period of 11 years from 1939 to the end of 1951, the railways of 145 this country have more than paid their way. I want to give the House the figures. First, during the war, the arrangement made by the Government with the railway companies was a fairly generous one. It represented a payment of £43½ million a year of their annual rent, which met all their obligations. That meant that during the war period a sum of £362 million was taken by the railway companies out of their earnings. Over and above that, a surplus of £124½ million was paid by the railways into the Treasury, and this assisted in the prosecution of the war.
Those sums were earned at a price level that hardly altered during the whole process of the war. In the post-war period—a difficult one of adjustment of railway finance to the prevailing high level of prices—the annual payment of interest at 3 per cent. on the amount of railway stock issued by the British Transport Commission has averaged £29 million over the last three years—a sum of £87 million in all paid in interest. The Transport Tribunal state in their report, in which they justified this 10 per cent. increase, that whereas at the end of 1950, while the accumulated deficiency on British Transport was £40 million, the accumulated deficiency on the railways side was £51 million.
Even if we take the last three years, British Railways have earned £87 million in interest, and have a deficit today of £51 million. In fairness to everyone engaged in the railway industry, Parliament ought to acknowledge that, whereas under the previous accounts the profits were treated as profits, under nationalisation the interest on stock is treated as a cost item. No one can examine the figures which I have given and then say that British Railways are in a bankrupt condition or that the position for the future is hopeless. This industry has a great record. Its engineers, its operators and its personnel compare well with those of other industries in our country. I was glad tonight to note that an increasing number of hon. Members in all parts of the House are beginning to recognise this fact.
Let me take the question of the burden of railway freight charges. I do not dispute—who would—that any increase in the cost of any service, any article or commodity adds to the difficulties of industry; but I assert without fear of 146 contradiction that transport and railway charges have not been the motivating factor which has increased the price level in this country. Every increase in railway charges has followed a heavy and general rise in commodity prices.
In not one instance in the past 11 years have railway rates stimulated increases in prices. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I did not attempt to evade the issue. It does not matter at what stage any increase comes on a service, an article or a commodity, it immediately reacts on the price level. I did not attempt to evade that point. I state that the transport increases have not been the primary motivating power which has raised the price level of industry generally. I shall not go beyond that, and I do not want to exaggerate the position.
Twelve months ago when we discussed a similar problem—namely, the then proposed increase of 16⅔ per cent. in freight rates, suggested after exhaustive examination by the Transport Tribunal in their consultative capacity—I listened to all the same arguments. I did not belittle them or dismiss them. I did not argue that there is no substance in them. What I am entitled to say is that all the facts of the last 12 months have demonstrated that industry generally had no greater difficulty in adjusting itself to the increase of 16⅔ per cent. of 12 months ago, than it had difficulty in adjusting itself to other increases, whether they came from the Budget or from normal increases in cost.
I noted with particular interest that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, during his Budget statement, said:There is no doubt that the level of company profits has recently been increasing rapidly…they are estimated to have increased in 1950 by nearly 14 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 854.]If the profits and surpluses of general industry in that period have increased by 14 per cent., my contention is that the increase of 16⅔ per cent.—though I admit it is a contributory factor—by itself did not inflict any serious injury on British industry. No hon. Member has proved or attempted to prove that a single industry or commodity has been injured or made dearer as a result of transport charges. [HON. MEMBERS: "Coal."] As a matter of fact, the higher price of coal to the railways preceded the increase 147 in the transport charges. [Interruption.] Hon. Members really cannot ride off on this circular problem. I was not unfamiliar with rising prices long before I was in Parliament, and I know that hon. Members who come into these debates at a late hour find a difficulty in connecting the arguments and facts with previous discussions which we have had, because they have not listened to the general trend of argument that took place.
Now let me deal with the efficiency problem, because, after all, the argument for a special inquiry presupposes that the railway industry of this country is inefficient, and yet no one has really pledged his reputation by making any such statement. Let me give the staff position, first of all. When I took over the Ministry of Transport, and the four railway general managers were a joint executive functioning for the Government, the railway staff, like the staffs of many other industries, had grown out of all proportion by the absorption of wartime replacement labour. Just prior to nationalisation, an agreement for a 44-hour week, in place of the higher number of hours, was negotiated, and, therefore, by August, 1948, the railway staffs reached their peak figure of 661,000. Since the Railway Executive has had charge of this situation, the reduction has amounted to 62,000. There are staff vacancies of about 20,000.
I think it is time the House had the correct figures of railway staffs. Of course, the housing difficulty prevents, to a very large extent, a good many changes that would take place if the Railway Executive were able to move their staff about, even in their own railway houses, but although the railway companies in the past had over 50,000 houses for the use of their staff, the conditions today have immobilised a lot of that property, and there is not the fluidity which would assist this staff problem. Therefore, it is uneven, and we have surpluses in some directions and deficiencies in others; but if we delete the 20,000 staff vacancies and assume that they could be filled, nevertheless there would be a net reduction in just over two years of 42,000 in railway staffs.
Let me now take the branch lines. We have heard a lot tonight about the closing 148 of branch lines. As a Minister I have always resisted pressure to make the Minister responsible for the management problems of these nationalised industries, and I have been very gratified tonight to find one hon. Member after another opposite arguing that the politician should not interfere with these economic services which are publicly owned. Yet I have been submitted to continuous pressure from hon. Members opposite to enter into and to deal with the management problems of the railways, a pressure which I have steadily resisted. What do I find? I find that the Railway Executive have closed 113 branch lines, and directly a proposal——
§ Mr. Barnes
Yes, 113 branch lines, although a lot of them are very small. Hon. Members should not assume that this is a very substantial contribution. It is not, but it is one of those instances about which hon. Members talk a great deal and which does not mean much in the end. That is the point I am trying to make.
They have closed 113 branch lines, but that only represents a net saving of just over £400,000 a year. Whenever it is proposed to close a branch line, along comes the Member of Parliament representing that constituency, very often in the preliminary stages of negotiation, to protest against the line being closed. Therefore, hon. Members opposite had better be careful when they make speeches about the importance of doing something in this direction. Further, 142 stations have been closed by the Railway Executive, but, again, whilst that process is going on, it does not really represent any substantial contribution to the overall problem.
I will now deal with the problem and the financial consequences of pilfering. I think it was the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) who raised this question. In 1948, the payments for pilferage claims amounted to £2,778,367. In 1950, two years later, those payments were reduced to £1,406,835, and in that period, of course, the prices of the articles stolen had gone up, so that it really means that the cost of claims for pilferage were cut by more than half.
§ Mr. Shepherd
In order that the House may properly appreciate this problem, would the Minister give the figure for pilferage in 1938?
§ Mr. Barnes
It was much less, and the hon. Member is just anticipating the point I was going to make. That represents a considerable improvement in a very regrettable situation.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Would the right hon. Gentleman answer one question of great interest? Can he explain why it was that people stole so much less in the bad old days of Tory misrule, when they were all starving and had no shoes to wear?
§ Mr. Barnes
What I am concerned with at the moment is not so much to deal with—[Interruption.] The noble Lord has asked a question, and I shall be glad if he will please listen to the reply. What I am concerned with here is not the moral issues but the question of efficiency which has been stressed to me and about which I consider I must reply. If the railway administration have reduced this figure by approximately 50 per cent., that is a clear indication of improved administration in matters of this description. I was going to say that a situation of this kind cannot be defended in any public service. When the public place their goods in the charge of the Post Office, the railway service or any other public service, it is the duty of that service to deliver those goods without any breakages or damage or without their being stolen.
§ Mr. Barnes
I think the figures I have given cover pilferage primarily. I do not think they cover loss, but I am not absolutely sure. I have the figures here as "pilferage claims."
I recognise it is perhaps rather difficult to deal seriatim with all the points that are of the utmost importance if a fair judgment is to be formed of the Railway Executive in the task they have undertaken during the last three years. It is estimated that the measures taken in connection with the laying of rails and other mechanised processes on the permanent 150 way will represent a saving of approximately £.5 million a year. I am dealing with these matters seriatim to prove that the administration of the railways has been carefully directed towards economies.
I come now to the question of an expert inquiry. What did the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby mean when he asked me to agree to an expert inquiry? I assure him my mind is not closed to a matter of this kind. I want to inform the House that on receipt of the communication recently from the Federation of British Industries and the British Chambers of Commerce, I invited the Federation of British Industries to send representatives to meet me to discuss this problem.
When I review the circumstances in which railway charges and administration have to be considered I find that we have had the court of inquiry to which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby referred. That was a Ministry of Labour inquiry. It was a normal piece of industrial machinery more or less similar to that which applies in other industries. It followed the normal staff negotiations. After that court of inquiry which examined all the facts the railway unions refused to accept the findings. It is not unusual in matters of this description. I do not want to justify it.
I do not feel called upon to defend the action of any particular body in these negotiations, but it is not unusual for unions after processes of that description to find conditions among their men such as to make it difficult for them to accept a settlement. On the other hand, individuals might criticise the action of officials of the union at certain stages of those negotiations. But it was an inquiry and eventually we had a settlement.
I want to make it perfectly plain that the Government did not give a direction to anybody to settle in any specific way or on any specific terms. That is a great exaggeration of what actually took place. Of course, no one wanted a general railway stoppage. We all recognise that it has been the go-slow methods and the strikes that have broken out in many of the marshalling yards which have led to a great deal of dislocation and congestion in freight movements. There was no specific direction. In circumstances of 151 that kind no one wanted a general transport strike. When the British Transport Commission submitted their claim to me I followed the normal procedure and we had an inquiry into the situation by the Transport Tribunal. The Transport Tribunal in their report to me recognised one main consideration, and that was that we could not permit this accumulated loss to grow until it imperilled the main charges scheme.
It has been proposed that I should agree to an expert committee. An expert committee to do what? An expert in railway matters means an expert railwayman. A little while ago I had a request from the Australian Government that the recently appointed Chairman of the British Railway Executive should go to Australia to inquire into the Victoria railway system and advise them on that matter. If the Australian Government invite a British railwayman to go there to advise them on a matter of that importance, I think one can claim that that individual is a railway expert.
What is the point of bringing in another expert to judge the work of an already existing expert? Let me put another point. Take Mr. Frank Pope whom I have just appointed to the British Transport Commission. He was one of the vice-presidents of the Midland Railway, I believe, and he went to Northern Ireland to advise upon and co-ordinate the transport system of Northern Ireland. He has now been appointed to the British Transport Commission.
As I have already said, I welcome as I am sure the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive will welcome, all the assistance they can get from this House. I propose to discuss this with the Federation of British Industries, the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive. But although I appreciate the point of view that is submitted from the opposite side of the House, I cannot accept a vague general request to appoint an expert committee when one Member says it is to deal with policy, another Member says it is to deal with efficiency, and another Member says it is to deal with out-of-date legal obligations imposed upon the railways. Does anyone mean to tell me that a Minister standing at this Box dealing with an important industry of this kind would 152 commit himself to some vague general request for an expert committee, unless its terms of reference, the conditions and the subject were clearly understood and defined?
All I can say tonight is that I recognise the importance of a general and growing point of view in this House on this matter. This is a matter which has been encouraging to me, and although I cannot pledge myself here, because obviously it requires further consideration, I hope that the Division on the question of the 10 per cent. will not be pressed. I believe that if hon. Members will agree to that they will perform a very good service to the railways of this country.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
I regret that I rise at this unusual time, but I do so because I wish to speak on a personal matter. Today I listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) and also to the very admirable maiden speech, if I may say so, of the hon. and learned Member for Bristol, West (Sir W. Monckton). Then, like the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), I was obliged to leave the House on certain matters. To my surprise, I learned from one of my hon. Friends that in my absence and without any notice an attack had been made upon me by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) who said, "The hon. and learned Member for Crewe is never in his place when this House is discussing railway matters."
That is an incorrect statement. I have had the miserable experience of taking home speeches on railway matters which I have not been able to deliver because so many of my hon. Friends are so well acquainted with matters of this kind that the words of a mere lawyer have not been welcomed. I say no more. The interests of my constituents in Crewe are frequently represented in the House and to the Minister, and those of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who represent railway interests know that all my constituents get my undivided attention.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 6th April 1951, entitled the Railways (Additional Charges) (Amendment) Regulations, 1951 (S.I., 1951, No. 601), a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th April, be annulled.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 293; Noes, 297.157
|Division No. 78.]||AYES||[10.5 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Fletcher, Walter (Bury)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Fort, R.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Foster, John||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Amory, Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||McAdden, S. J.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||McCallum, Major D.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Gage, C. H.||Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)|
|Astor, Hon. M. L.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)||Macdonald, Sir Peter (I. of Wight)|
|Baker, P. A. D.||Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||McKibbin, A.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Gammans, L. D.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)||Maclean, Fitzroy|
|Banks, Col. C.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||MacLeod, lain (Enfield, W.)|
|Baxter, A. B.||Glyn, Sir Ralph||MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)|
|Beamish, Major Tufton||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Macmillan, Rt. Hon Harold (Bromley)|
|Bell, R. M.||Gridley, Sir Arnold||Macpherson, Major Niall (Dumfries)|
|Bennett, Sir Peter (Edgbaston)||Grimond, J.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Manningham-Buller, R. E.|
|Bennett, William (Woodside)||Grimston, Robert (Westbury)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Liverpool, Toxteth)||Harden, J. R. E.||Marples, A. E.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)|
|Black, C. W.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Marshall, Sidney (Sutton)|
|Boles, Lt. Col. D. C. (Wells)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Maude, Angus (Ealing, S.)|
|Boothby, R.||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maude, John (Exeter)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Harvie-Watt, Sir G. S.||Maudling, R.|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hay, John||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Mellor, Sir John|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Headlam, Lieut.- Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. B.||Heald, Lionel||Monckton, Sir Walter|
|Braine, B. R.||Heath, Edward||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cr. G. (Bristol, N.W.)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Higgs, J. M. C.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Nabarro, G.|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nicholson, G.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hollis, M. C.||Noble, Comdr, A. H. P.|
|Burden, Squadron Leader F. A.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hope, Lord John||Nutting, Anthony|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hopkinson, H. L. D.'A.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.||Odey, G. W.|
|Channon, H.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Howard, Greville (St. Ives)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Clyde, J. L.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. Robert (Southport)||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)|
|Colegate, A.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Osborne, C.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Hulbert, Wing Cmdr. N. J.||Peake, Rt. Hon O.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert (Ilford, S.)||Hurd, A. R.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hutchinson, Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Corbett, Lt.-Col. Uvedale (Ludlow)||Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Pickthorn, K.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hutchison, Colonel James (Glasgow)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Prescott, S.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jeffreys, General Sir George||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Crouch, R. F.||Jennings, R.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Crowder, Capt. John (Finchley)||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Cundiff, F. W.||Joynson Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Redmayne, M.|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Kaberry, D.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Keeling, E. H.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (M'ntg'mery)||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Davies, Nigel (Epping)||Kingsmill, Lt.-Col W. H.||Roberts, Major Peter (Heeley)|
|de Chair, Somerset||Lambert, Hon. G.||Robertson, Sir David (Caithness)|
|De la Bère, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Langford-Holt, J.||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Digby, S. W.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Leather, E. H. C.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Donner, P. W.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Russell, R. S.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Lindsay, Martin||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir Thomas (Richmond)||Linstead, H. N.||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Llewellyn, D.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Dunglass, Lord||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (King's Norton)||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Scott, Donald|
|Eccles, D. M.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Shepherd, William|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Longden, Gilbert (Herts, S. W.)||Smith, E. Martin (Grantham)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Low, A. R. W.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)||Teeling, W.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Snadden, W. McN||Teevan, T. L.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Soames, Capt. C.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Spearman, A. C. M.||Thompson, Kenneth Pugh (Walton)||Watkinson, H.|
|Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)||Webbe, Sir Harold|
|Spens, Sir Patrick (Kensington, S.)||Thorneycroft, Peter (Monmouth)||Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)|
|Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard (N. Fylde)||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Stevens, G. P.||Thorp, Brig. R. A. F.||Williams, Charles (Torquay)|
|Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)||Tilney, John||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)||Touche, G. C.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Turner, H. F. L.||Wills, G.|
|Storey, S.||Turton, R. H.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)||Tweedsmuir, Lady||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earr|
|Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)||Vane, W. M. F.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Studholme, H. G.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||York, C.|
|Summers, G. S.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Sutcliffe, H.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)||Mr. Drewe and|
|Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)||Walker-Smith, D. C.||Brigadier Mackeson.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)|
|Adams, Richard||Deer, G.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Albu, A. H.||Delargy, H. J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Diamond, J.||Hughes, Moelwyn (Islington N.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Dodds, N. N.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Anderson, Alexander (Motherwell)||Donnelly, D.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Driberg, T. E. N.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)|
|Ayles, W. H.||Dye, S.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Janner, B.|
|Baird, J.||Edelman, M.||Jay, D. P. T.|
|Balfour, A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Jeger, Dr. Santo (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Bartley, P.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Jenkins, R. H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)|
|Benson, G.||Ewart, R.||Jones, David (Hartlepool)|
|Beswick, F.||Fernyhough, E.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Field, Capt. W. J.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Finch, H. J.||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Keenan, W.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Follick, M.||Kenyon, C.|
|Boardman, H.||Foot, M. M.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Booth, A.||Forman, J. C.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Bottomley, A. G.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Kinghorn, Sqn. Ldr. E.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Freeman, John (Watford)||Kinley, J.|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Freeman, Peter (Newport)||Lang, Gordon|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Nor[...]mton)||Gibson, C. W.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gilzean, A.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Glanville, James (Consett)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Gooch, E. G.||Lewis, John (Bolton W.)|
|Burke, W. A.||Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur (Wakefield)||Logan, D. G.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Grenfell, D. R.||Longden, Fred (Small Heath)|
|Carmichael, J.||Grey, C. F.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Champion, A. J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||McGovern, J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McInnes, J.|
|Clunie, J.||Gunter, R. J.||Mack, J. D.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hale, Joseph (Rochdale)||McKay, John (Wallsend)|
|Coldrick, W.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||McLeavy, F.|
|Collick, P.||Hall, John (Gateshead, W.)||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)|
|Collindridge, F.||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Cook, T. F.||Hamilton, W. W.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)|
|Cooper, Geoffrey (Middlesbrough, W.)||Hannan, W.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Cooper, John (Deptford)||Hardman, D. R.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda (Peckham)||Hardy, E. A.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Cove, W. G.||Hargreaves, A.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Harrison, J.||Manuel, A. C.|
|Crawley, A.||Hastings, S.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Hayman, F. H.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Messer, F.|
|Dairies, P.||Hobson, C. R.||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Holman, P.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Davies, A. Edward (Stoke, N.)||Houghton, D.||Moeran, E. W.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hoy, J.||Monslow, W.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Hubbard, T.||Moody, A. S.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Ungoed-Thomas, A. L.|
|Morley, R.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||Usborne, H.|
|Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Vernon, W. F.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Viant, S. P.|
|Mort, D. L.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Wallace, H. W.|
|Moyle, A.||Royle, C.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Murray, J. T.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley||Weitzman, D.|
|Nally, W.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Neal, Harold (Borsever)||Shurmer, P. L. E.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Silverman, Julius (Erdington)||West, D. G.|
|O'Brien, T.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Oldfield, W. H.||Simmons, C. J.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Oliver, G. H.||Slater, J.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Orbach, M.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Padley, W. E.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)||Snow, J. W.||Wigg, G.|
|Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Sorensen, R. W.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Panned, T. C.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Wilkes, L.|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Steele, T.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Parker, J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Willey, Frederick (Sunderland)|
|Paton, J.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Willey, Octavius (Cleveland)|
|Peart, T. F.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Poole, C.||Stross, Dr. Barnett||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Popplewell, E.||Summsrskill, Rt. Hon. Edith||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Porter, G.||Sylvester, G. O.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'lly)|
|Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Proctor, W. T.||Taylor, Robert (Morpeth)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Pryde, D. J.||Thomas, David (Aberdare)||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Rankin, J.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Wise, F. J.|
|Rees, Mrs. D.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Reeves. J.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)||Woods, Rev. G. S.|
|Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||Thurtle, Ernest||Wyatt, W. L.|
|Reid, William (Camlachie)||Timmons, J.||Yates, V. F.|
|Rhodes, H.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Younger, Hon. K.|
|Richards, R.||Tomney, F.|
|Roberts, A.||Turner-Samuels, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Pearson and Mr. Sparks.|