HC Deb 03 March 1952 vol 497 cc105-63

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Barnes (East Ham, South)

Before we commence discussion of this Measure, may I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the range of the debate. I think that you are aware that your predecessor in the Chair permitted on the Annual Works Bill of the British Transport Commission a fairly wide debate provided it was within the general purposes of the Bill, and I think that generally met the convenience of Members in all parts of the House. I should like to know whether you are prepared to allow a similar debate on this Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having given me notice that he intended to ask this question. That has enabled me to consider the matter. The provisions of the present Bill relate mainly to matters with which the Railway Executive alone are con cerned. It is true that the London Transport Executive are concerned in the acquisition of one small area of land in Camberwell, and in the extensions of time granted by Clause 34 of the Bill. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive are concerned only in the transfer of some portion of the Nottingham Canal to the Nottingham Corporation. No other Executives are directly concerned with any of the provisions of the Bill. Under the Ruling of my predecessor, it seems to me, therefore, that, so far as the London Transport Executive and the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive are concerned, the debate must be limited to the actual provisions of the Bill, but the administration of the Railway Executive is open to debate.

I would add, however, that in my view any question of freight charges or of fares is not a matter of administration. The procedure to be followed with regard to freight charges and fares is laid down in Part V of the Transport Act, 1947, under which the final responsibility for a charges scheme rests on the Transport Tribunal or, during the transitional period, on the Minister. In neither case is the Transport Commission the responsible body, and, as to make them responsible would involve an Amendment of a public Statute, I do not consider a debate on that matter could be in order on a Private Bill.

Mr. Barnes

May I submit a further point to you on that Ruling, Mr. Speaker, which I appreciate is very wide and carefully phrased? Nevertheless, it does appear to me that by that Ruling we are very largely to be confined this evening to a discussion of the affairs of the Railway Executive. I submit that the British Transport Commission, in its administrative, supervisory and owning sense, cannot and should not be ruled out of consideration in debates of this kind.

On the general administration of the British Transport Commission, I think that the procedure that we have followed hitherto did take that into consideration, and gave the House an opportunity, from time to time, of reviewing not only the work of the Executive which might be concerned in a Bill of this kind, but the general administration of the British Transport Commission.

I am in no way challenging or querying your Ruling with regard to the charges scheme. That, I agree, is definitely laid down by the Tribunal machinery, but I hope that your Ruling will not be so rigid tonight as to prevent a general reference to the administration of the British Transport Commission with regard to efficiency, investment of capital and matters of that kind.

Mr. Speaker

I think that is a very reasonable request and as we go on I should like to hear what is said about that. My concern in giving the Ruling I did was to separate the functions of the various Executives and to indicate that, while I thought a general debate on the Railway Executive was in order, a debate on the London Transport Executive and on the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive should be confined to the matters in the Bill. I do not dissent from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and perhaps as we go along that may be clarified.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

The County of London Electricity Company Bill was defeated, not because of anything in the Bill, but solely because the promoters were not on the King's Roll. Not a single word was said about the provisions of the Bill, and the debate was on the merits of the promoters of the Bill, who were petitioning Parliament to give them further powers, and Parliament denied them those further powers. Then there was the case of the London Passenger Transport Board, whose Bill was defeated entirely because that Board failed to grant facilities to employees to go to Territorial camps. Again, there was no reference to one single provision of the Bill.

Therefore, when people petition Parliament for powers, it seems to me that we are entitled to examine the merits of the petitioners, judged by their past conduct. With regard to other things, for example, the change of fares, which has caused such excitement in the last day or so in London, I am led to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the action of those concerned in interpreting the award of the Tribunal is quite different from what was expected by those who read the Tribunal award, and I wonder if it would be in order to discuss that.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

May I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams). Those who studied the previous Speaker's Rulings on 27th February, 1949, and 30th March, 1950, and attempted to prepare what they hoped to say on this matter accordingly, feel, I think, if I may say so with all respect, that they are a little circumscribed by what seems to be, perhaps, a departure from the general line then taken.

For example, there was raised on those occasions the subject of passenger and freight charges, and Mr. Speaker's only reservation was that they should not be discussed while being subject to inquiry, but that at the conclusion of the inquiry how they were applied and the form in which they were applied was a proper matter for discussion by the House. We also discussed the effect of increased charges on the economy and the integration of road and rail transport. With great respect, it does affect the position of the railways if we cannot discuss how they are going to be fed by road services.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. John Maclay)

Further to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and to the remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), I do not think he has referred to the Ruling given by Mr. Speaker on 8th May, 1951.

Mr. Speaker

There have been various Rulings on this difficult matter, but I am quite clear in my own mind that one cannot properly alter the machinery for determining freight rates and fares without a repeal of a public Act, and it is for that reason that I feel obliged to rule that subject out of order.

With regard to the other cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), the rules of order and relevancy vary with every Bill, and it is very difficult to apply what may have been said and ruled on a past occasion to what should happen here. This Bill does, it seems to me, contain a number of miscellaneous powers relating almost entirely to the Railway Executive, and therefore I should allow latitude on that matter. As regards what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Transport Commission, I think that is sensible, and as the debate progresses we can adhere to order and allow a sufficiently intelligent debate on the matter.

Mr. Barnes

That was the point which I desired to make clear—that the Railway Executive is an Executive of the British Transport Commission, and if the affairs of the British Transport Commission are not ruled out of consideration, it appears to me that many of the points raised by hon. Members in this House can legitimately be brought in as general arguments in relation to matters in this particular Bill.

Mr. Maclay

I take it that would exclude the possibility of discussing the British Transport Commission's actions and dealings with their other Executives.

Mr. Speaker

In so far as reference is necessary to the Commission in order to illustrate an argument about the Railway Executive, I think that would be in order. As the other Executives of the Transport Commission are not themselves affected by the Bill, except on the two small instances which I have picked out, reference to the Commission in these cases should be much more restricted.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Further to the point of order about the scope of the Bill, in the parent Act it is laid down that the Commission shall submit charges schemes to the Minister, and, indeed, they were under the obligation to provide charges schemes within two years of the passing of the Act, but some latitude has been given in that matter and the requirement has been deferred for some time. While we appreciate that it may not be strictly in order to deal with detailed charges schemes which are the proper concern of the Rates Tribunal, I submit that where organisation involves the principle of the charges without reference to specific figures and also touches the question of integration, if we are considering Railway Executive administration it would be in order to that extent to bring these matters into the debate.

Mr. Speaker

I do not like to give a Ruling in advance. I hope that what I have said indicates what is in my mind on the matter. We shall see how we get on.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

Although you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that the question of fares and charges should be kept out of our discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill, it is nonetheless appropriate that the debate is taking place today when many people in London have been brought up with a shock against the reality of the cost of travelling. All consideration of transport can only be in relation to the provision of the most efficient and economic public service to keep the burden imposed on the public at the lowest possible cost.

I welcome this opportunity of having a wide debate on the question of transport, because it is the first occasion we have had since the present Government took office of debating the subject in this House; in spite of the fact that certain hon. Gentlemen opposite who are now holding office in the Government were from time to time taking every opportunity of raising transport matters here and pressing for further public accountability in this House for the British Transport Commission and its Executives. I hope the fact that there has been silence on transport matters here since 25th October, except for a brief debate during the Address on the King's Speech, means that the election pledges and proposals on transport put forward by hon. Members opposite have largely been forgotten, as has so much else that was included in their programme.

The Bill makes a pitiful provision for a number of new works. I am well aware that already the British Transport Commission has a fairly large programme fully authorised, but, unfortunately, it has been unable to carry out a very large part of its programme owing to the difficulties of obtaining authority to engage on a capital investment programme, and it is the capital investment programme of the British Transport Commission which presents the greatest difficulties facing British Railways today. The inability of the Commission to spend adequately on redevelopment, re-equipment and new works is largely responsible for the burden which transport imposes upon the travelling public today.

Not only are there the war-time arrears to be made up and war damage to be overcome, but the Railway Executive has also to make up the deficiencies which it inherited from the private enterprise system. It is regrettable that in the days before the war the main line railway companies did not sufficiently cope with the competition which faced them from road transport and sufficiently modernise and re-equip the transport industry to enable an economic, efficient and modern system to be created. Apart from the main lines themselves, a very large part of the railway system of the country was in a deplorable state at the outbreak of the war.

The current need today, therefore, arises partly from past neglect by private enterprise and partly from the excessive use of the railways during the war and from the accumulation of war-time arrears of renewals, new works and so forth. This is made clear from the comparatively small amount which the railway companies spent on new works, development and renewals in the years between the wars.

In the 11 years from 1928 to 1938 an average of only £4 million a year was spent on additional works and improvements, and on renewals the average was about £13 million a year, which means that the total amount spent by the railway companies per year between the wars was on an average only £17 million, and that on a capital which exceeded £1,000 million. I do not think anyone would deny that a quite inadequate amount was spent on capital investment on the British railway system between the wars and that owing to this it was not possible to modernise the railways and to create the conditions essential to provide an economic and efficient public service.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

Are the figures which the hon. Gentleman has quoted for capital only, or do they include the considerable reserves which were kept from ordinary income and used for maintenance?

Mr. Davies

I am giving the total figures which were spent on capital development and renewals. Today the need is to overtake these arrears, particularly the war-time arrears, and it is regrettable that so far since the end of the war the railways have received an inadequate share of the capital investment programme. Their share has been an unfair share, and not only that, but the allocation of materials for the Railway Executive, particularly of steel and the most important materials for railway construction, for the renewal of rolling stock and the like, has been quite insufficient, which means in effect that the priority which has been awarded to the Railway Executive—that is, through the British Transport Commission—has not been high enough.

In fact, the total amount which has been spent in the three years since nationalisation—1948 to 1950—has been only £143 million, of which £86 million was on rolling stock and £41 million went on renewals. That is an average of only £48 million. When one bears in mind the fact that the capital investment exceeds £1,000 million one can see how inadequate that amount is.

I plead with the Minister that he press very hard the claims of the British Transport Commission for an increased allocation in the capital development programme and for fairer treatment in the allocation of materials. At Question time today he was asked about the allocation of steel to the railways, and it was pointed out that, as a result of inadequate allocation, a certain number of railway workshops were on short time, or had had to close down, which has a very serious effect on the production of rolling stock at this time when it is essential that rolling stock be renewed and replaced.

The British Transport Commission, in its Annual Report for 1950, pointed out in several sections the need for capital investment and the handicap under which the railways were suffering as a result of the inability to carry out an adequate capital investment programme. It said: As things are turning out, the public transport system may count itself fortunate if the ration of capital expenditure allowed to it suffices to patch and maintain the existing apparatus, let alone permit the introduction of large schemes of capital improvement or development. It is difficult enough to make good the serious arrears in investments but it is essential, if we are to have an efficient and economical railway system able to operate profitably and charge reasonable fares to the travelling public and reasonable freight charges to the shipper, that there should be provision of adequate financial and physical resources to replace, re-equip and remodel the transport system. Only then can the railway system become profitable, because until that re-equipment takes place the high expenditure which results from old equipment and the use of old capital assets puts an unnecessary and difficult burden upon the travelling public and the shippers of freight.

I should like the Minister to tell us tonight, if he is able to, how much the railways are to be allocated during the current year, 1952, for capital investment, whether it has been cut down, or whether the Minister has found it possible to obtain an increase over the 1951 figure—which we have not been given yet, so far as I am aware. If we can have the 1951 and the 1952 figures for comparison with the £79 million-odd which was allocated to the Railway Executive in 1950, we shall be able to see whether the necessity for developing the railway system has been fully appreciated and was being proceeded with.

Anyone who looks around the railway system today can see the necessity for this modernisation. I have read recently that there is a craze for the collection of Victoriana. It seems to me that the railways have anticipated this new hobby and has accumulated the finest collection of Victorian relics, which they have continuously on show throughout the length and breadth of Britain. The prize of this Victorian collection is the suburban system out of Liverpool Street and King's Cross, through north London to Enfield, and Hertford via Tottenham and Edmonton. I have had reason to raise in this House on several occasions the subject of the inadequacy of this system, since it concerns my constituency.

In spite of the effort—the noble effort, I would say—on the part of the staff and of the administration to get the best out of this antiquated system, this Victorian survival permits a service which is still Slow, unpunctual and erratic, and sometimes entails travelling in dirty and ill-lit coaches. Museums are all very well to visit from time to time, but Enfield citizens' idea of fun is not to travel daily in one. In fact, compared to this travelling museum, the Emmet Railway in Battersea Pleasure Gardens is the last word in modern travel. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not as bad as that."]

There has been considerable investigation into the possibility of electrifying the suburban services on the London Hertford line and on the suburban system generally. I understand that it had reached the next priority after the electrification of the line to Southend but owing to the curtailment of the capital investment programme, these further electrification schemes have been held up, and that the next priority has been indicated to be the building of a tube connecting the main terminals in London and linking with this suburban system which would be electrified. In view of the high cost of tube construction today I urge upon the Minister to consider first the electrification of this suburban system and to put off the consideration of tube construction until at least this electrification has taken place.

Electrification pays handsomely, as has been shown by the Shenfield electrification, where receipts have gone up some 40 per cent. and passenger journeys by some 48 per cent. Before I leave the local question of this suburban line, I would draw to the attention of the Minister the efforts which have been made for the last 35 years to eliminate the level crossings which this line traverses in passing through Enfield. Unfortunately there is no traffic bridge over the main roads connecting Enfield town with the industrial district of Brimsdown, Ponders End and Enfield Lock. Once the gates are closed, those industrial areas are cut off from all outside contact with the town, and I am sure that the Minister can well understand the delays and loss of production that result therefrom.

In spite of the deficiencies of the railway system before the war which have been inherited by the present nationalised system, and the failure to modernise it and bring it up to date, British Railways during the last three years have achieved remarkable progress in carrying a record volume of traffic and carrying it efficiently and, generally speaking, economically. Despite the great handicaps of shortages of crews and rolling stock, the productivity of British Railways today is at a very high level and, as far as the carriage of freight is concerned, is at the highest level it has ever achieved. The Annual Report contains a very large number of statistics. If they be compared with pre-war operation, there is found in every case to be a very large improvement.

The most convincing yardstick is that of net ton-miles per total engine-hour, which have improved by no less than 29 per cent. Today, that is to say in 1951, the net ton-miles per total engine-hour is 595, which compares with 461 in 1938. There has been an improvement of 29 per cent. in this very fair basis of judging efficiency in the carriage of goods on British Railways. This winter, freight traffic carried by rail created a record in quantity handled and mileage travelled, and so, I understand, did the carriage of passengers.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

My hon. Friend claims to be speaking of British Railways in a general way and praising them as being an efficient service for the carriage of freight. Does he not agree that British Railways are defective in that they do not treat this country as a unit for the carriage of freight, the result being that injustices are inflicted upon remote districts? Do these not have to pay larger sums for freight than are paid by larger districts and large consuming centres? Is that not a blot on the system?

Mr. Davies

No, Sir. I do not consider that that is a blot because the question my hon. and learned Friend has raised and which he raised at Question time today is one of very great complexity and one which it would be very difficult to apply to British Railways. It would mean that charges for the carriage of freight for short distances would be at such a high level that it would seriously inconvenience industrial production in this country.

In my view there is a limit to the savings British Railways can make through increased efficiency. They have improved their efficiency very much during the last three years, and all our prophecies regarding nationalisation in this respect have been fully justified. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, British Railways have reduced their working costs by 2s. in the £, in spite of the great difficulties which confronted them—the rise in costs and in wages and so on.

If all these matters are taken into account, the actual operation costs of British Railways today are 2s. in the £, less than they were before nationalisation; that is to say, that if these economies had not been made and efficiency increased to this extent, the cost of operation of British Railways today would be some £35 million to £40 million more than it is. Those figures are given in the Annual Report and the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), if he reads the Report, will find them there.

Of course, the high cost of travelling, which results from many factors, including the high cost of materials and the provision of better working conditions and fairer wages than were given under private enterprise, is a deterrent.

One might refer to the difficulties people encounter today in taking their holidays by rail. A working man with an average weekly wage finds it very difficult to meet costs of travelling by rail when going away on his annual holiday. If I went into that realm, Mr. Speaker, I am sure you would rule me out of order, so I will not refer to it further. But I think it would be desirable if British Railways were able to introduce some family holiday tickets, some special provision for booking in advance by special trains at a cheaper rate to enable working men's families to travel to holiday resorts by rail. At present a family of four, husband and wife and two children, travelling at half fare from London to Margate would have to pay £3 4s. 6d., or from Bradford to Blackpool, £3 3s. 0d., or from Birmingham to Brighton, £5 2s. Those figures show how difficult it is for a normal family to travel by rail for their holidays.

The financial position of British Railways today can only give us cause for concern, despite the increased efficiency to which I have referred. Factors beyond the control of the Railway Executive are largely responsible for the annual deficits which have faced the British Transport Commission since it started operations. Even the increased income which should now result is likely to be inadequate to meet current expenditure and provide reserves for replacement and renewal of assets at the very high level now current, and at the same time provide a surplus required to build up reserves to meet those replacements. Up to the present the Transport Commission has endeavoured to meet the situation by seeking to meet costs by making higher charges to the public.

This imposes an impossible burden on the user and in my view the solution is not in this direction. If we chase after higher costs with higher fares we are going on an indefinite journey which has no end because one causes the other; the price of transport goes up and the price of fuel goes up and that sends up the price of transport again. This is not the time for discussion of this problem and if I went into it deeply it would, no doubt, be ruled out of order.

I suggest to the Minister, however, that the time has come when this financial problem which faces the British Transport Commission, owing particularly to the present position of British Railways, should be looked at seriously. A solution would largely be made if it were possible to embark on a large programme of capital investment and if it were possible to make a fairer allocation of capital investment to the railways and arrange for a fairer allocation of materials to enable that programme to be carried out. It would be helpful if the Minister would give some indication of what are the plans of the Ministry in that respect.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving way. When I interrupted a moment ago he was good enough to refer to a Question I asked in the House today, but that was not the question about which I am asking now. He is talking of the undue burden the Railway Executive have to bear. Does he not realise that probably the greatest burden they have to bear is the maintenance of the permanent way which, in fact, should be a national charge? [HON. MEMBERS "Speech."] In time of war they are used—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member is taking far too long in his interjection.

Mr. Davies

I think that if my hon. and learned Friend is so fortunate as to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, during this debate, he can put his questions to the Minister, who is in a far better position to answer them than I am.

I was appealing to the Minister to look seriously at the position of British Railways today and to do so objectively and non-politically. I think the difficulties which face British transport can be overcome if politics are kept out. The Labour Government during the last three years endeavoured to keep the boards, the British Transport Commission and the Executives, free from political interference and political control. In the national interest that must continue. Members of the Government often plead for national unity—and the worst offender in that respect is, of course, the Prime Minister, for to him it seems that national unity merely means agreeing with him. He has not been able to keep politics entirely out of public ownership or out of criticism of administration of public ownership.

I appeal to the Minister, in spite of speeches and promises made during the Election, to see that party politics shall now be kept out of transport in the interests of the industry of this country and the interests of the travelling public and that there is no unnecessary hiving off of the profitable sections of British transport. Let the British Transport Commission and its Executives be left to carry on the job of building a public, efficient, economical system which they have done so much towards creating during the last three years.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), in his interesting speech, except perhaps to say that I sympathise very deeply with him about the condition of the railways in Enfield. It is always a consolation to know that there is somebody worse off than oneself. As one who, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden), who I hope will be able to speak later in this debate if he should be so fortunate as to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, has travelled for six years on the line from Southend to Fenchurch Street, I can assure the hon. Member that he is not alone in his suffering.

I wish to devote my remarks to the Bill itself. The Bill proposes that certain additional powers shall be given to the British Transport Commission in respect of works and lands over widely separated parts of the country. In so far as it empowers the Commission to improve the condition of the railways and to increase their efficiency, I have no objection whatever to the Bill, indeed I welcome it. After all, this country gave the railways to the world. We have a proud railway tradition, and there is not one of us in this House who would not welcome any move designed to make British railways more efficient, or to restore our pride in them and make them once again the envy of the world.

In this Bill, however, the British Transport Commission are seeking powers to carry out certain works in the borough of Barking, which lies between my constituency and London and the metropolitan areas of Essex. In particular, they are seeking in Clause 7 (1, h) powers to lay down two additional railway lines, making a total of four, at an existing level crossing at Ripple Road, Barking. It is on this account that I oppose the Bill. Some hon. Members feel that this is a narrow point, but it does raise an important issue of principle, which seems to me to be appropriate to discuss on Second Reading.

Ripple Road is a classified road. It carries a great deal of local traffic, and the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) may be able, if he is fortunate in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, to support me in this instance since he knows the local conditions even better than I do.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

I wonder if the hon. Member would stake a claim for me to catch your eye. Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Braine

I may later in my speech. The hon. Member must take his turn.

This road carries a great deal of local traffic between Barking, now an important industrial centre, Dagenham Dock and Tilbury. The railway is the line from Fenchurch Street through Barking down to Dagenham Dock and Tilbury. It cannot be denied that the existing level crossing is dangerous and causes very serious difficulties indeed for local road traffic.

I have seen this for myself on several occasions. Quite recently a count was taken, and in four periods of one hour each 25 trains passed over the level crossing and the gates were closed against the road 24 times. During that time 276 vehicles were held up and the total time lost to road traffic was 46 minutes, or nearly 20 per cent. If one takes the peak hour, that is from 2 to 3 p.m., 131 vehicles were held up in an hour. The gates were closed nine times, for a total of 22½ minutes in the hour.

That is bad enough, but the situation is likely to worsen for a number of reasons. First, there is a growing industrial area to the east of Barking. Second, in my constituency, still further east, a new town is being built which will ultimately have a population of about 80,000, and a number of other towns are being expanded. This is bound to add to road traffic. In addition, the fact that the British Transport Commission seek powers in this Bill to double the number of tracks at this level crossing is a clear indication that they anticipate that the railway traffic will also increase.

If we relate this provision to one of the Schedules, where I see the purpose of these works is to increase the size of or provide a marshalling yard at Barking, it is clear that it will be goods rather than passenger traffic that will be added to the volume of railway traffic already using that line. Therefore, the interruption to road traffic at the Ripple Road crossing, which is already serious, will be very much greater.

I therefore oppose this Bill because it empowers the British Transport Commission to carry out works which will worsen an already unsatisfactory position without giving any kind of guarantee that remedial action will be taken in the future.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that if the existing two lines are increased to four, two trains will be able to pass in each direction at the same time and the number of hold-ups will not be as long?

Mr. Braine

The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of how railways are run is not very great, and what he has said does not follow at all. On the contrary, it is clear that if goods traffic is to use this level crossing it will not necessarily proceed at the same even rate as passenger traffic. The trains will be run at times convenient to the railway and no doubt inconvenient to the road users.

The course which I originally proposed to follow was to put down on the Order Paper a form of instruction to the Committee to which the Bill will be consigned, I hope, after Second Reading. That would not deny the British Transport Commission the right to lay down these additional tracks now, but it would oblige them to take steps to ensure that a bridge was provided in the future which would obviate the difficulties about which I have been speaking. It is quite wrong for Parliament to give permission to the British Transport Commission to increase the nuisance and dangers of an existing level crossing without exacting some guarantee at the same time that both the nuisance and the danger will eventually be eliminated.

I submit that that is not a narrow point. In 1950, which is the latest year for which I could find any figures, there were 4,080 gated crossings over public roads. There were nearly 23,000 other level crossings. The figure has not materially altered very much in the last 10 or 15 years. I do not think that there is an hon. Member who would not agree that this large number of level crossings constitutes a danger and a nuisance to the general public.

I do not want to exaggerate the danger. It is undeniable that railway travel in this country is still the safest method of travel. It is true that engine drivers—and I have a number in my constituency to whom I have talked on this subject—drive their trains with great skill, and the majority of accidents which occur at level crossings are not caused by engine crews at all, but rather by the crossing gate-keeper or by the road user.

Any engine driver will testify that the existence of level crossings imposes upon him an enormous strain and a great deal of anxiety, which of course is all the greater in times of bad visibility when there is always the chance that the unexpected may occur. It is very revealing to study the annual reports of the train accidents in Great Britain. In 1949, to take one year at random, there were 200 train accidents at level crossings. In 1950 the number increased to 235. In 1949 there were 165 train accidents caused by collision with gates or vehicles at level crossings of which eight had fatal results. In 1950 there were 211 accidents of which 16 had fatal results.

I have quoted these figures because their real significance is that in 1949 14 per cent. of all train accidents occurring in this country took place at level crossings. In 1950 18 per cent. of all train accidents took place at level crossings. That is a very formidable figure indeed. Obviously, if level crossings could eventually be eliminated there would be a sharp reduction in the number of accidents of all kinds and in the number of fatalities caused on the railways.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

What alternative has the hon. Member in mind? Presumably he does not want to abolish passing traffic?

Mr. Braine

If the hon. Gentleman will read the instruction which I put down on the Order Paper, he will see that I am endeavouring to make out a case for it and, if he will bear with me a little longer, he will see what I propose. In railway legislation for well over a 100 years now it has been an established principle that there shall be no level crossings over public carriage ways unless Parliament itself sees good reason for giving the railway company, or as is now the case, the British Transport Commission, a relief from the general law.

Section 46 of the Railway Clauses (Consolidation) Act, 1845, lays down quite clearly: If the Line of the Railway cross any Turnpike Road or public Highway, then … either such Road shall be carried over the Railway, or the Railway shall be carried over such Road by means of a bridge …. It goes on to say: it shall be lawful"— in certain circumstances— for the Company to carry the Railway across any Highway, other than a Public Carriage Road, on the Level. As a result, of course, railway companies in the past and now the British Transport Commission, have to come to this House whenever they wish to make a new level crossing, or, as in this case, to widen an existing level crossing, and they have to satisfy Parliament that the public safety is properly considered.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Would the hon. Member say at whose expense these roads and bridges should be built? Would it be at the expense of the railway system, in his view, or should it be a public charge?

Mr. Braine

The hon. and learned Member interrupted me at the point where I was about to say that in the 1930's determined efforts were made by the Governments, of those days to tackle this particular problem. The general policy was that where it was necessary in the case of a road which carried a considerable volume of road traffic to eliminate a level crossing, representations were made to the Minister and grants from the Road Fund were made at the rate of 75 per cent. towards the cost. Between 1933 and 1938, 29 such level crossings were eliminated.

I am not making a party point, because I believe that when the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), was the Minister of Transport in the second Labour Government the same policy obtained. If the hon. and learned Gentleman cares to study them, the volumes of HANSARD in the 1930's simply abound with references to the constant anxiety of Ministers and hon. Members of this House to eliminate this nuisance as rapidly as possible, and certainly to mitigate it. I submit that today, when the volume of road traffic is far greater than it was then, and is infinitely greater than when the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act became law, there is a still greater duty on Parliament to examine the powers which the British Transport Commission are seeking today.

It is true that since the war progress towards eliminating level crossings has gone on. It has been slow, and governed by the economic situation of the country. I make no criticism of that, but the policy has continued. And I say that for the British Transport Commission to slip into a Bill of this kind a proposal which goes against all the accumulated experience of this House over 100 years is something which hon. Members on both sides should not accept.

I do not wish to be unreasonable about this. I quite realise that a bridge at this particular spot is not an economic proposition at the present moment. As a matter of fact, if I were arguing about priorities of bridge building I would refer to Canvey Island, in my constituency, which has the distinction of being an urban district without a railway and with a large and growing population dependent upon the Southend-Fenchurch Street line. I should say that that island should be connected to the mainland by a high-level bridge. But I am not arguing that tonight.

Even if economic stringency did not obtain, I recognise it would not be possible to ask the Committee, to which this Bill will be consigned if the House gives it a Second Reading, to insert a provision that a bridge will be built sometime in the future; because clearly those people who would object to such a proposition have not had the opportunity of making their objections to it under the appropriate Standing Order.

I do not however think it unreasonable to ask the British Transport Commission to give an undertaking that they will at some future date propose a further Bill under which they will seek powers to build a bridge at this particular point. In former days I believe that the procedure would have been for me to ask the hon. Member who was looking after the Bill on behalf of the promoters for such an assurance. I am not sure what is the procedure now.

Here we have nationalisation, with the Minister who is clearly interested in the fortunes of the British Transport Commission, but who is at the same time the guardian of the wider public interest. Therefore I say to my right hon. Friend that I will not press the instruction I have put down on the Order Paper, if he will give me an assurance that the matter will be attended to in the Select Committee; that the Select Committee will take into account the case I have tried to put to the House, and that the views of this House for well over 100 years on the subject of level crossings will not be flouted, as indeed they are flouted by Clause 7 of the Bill.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I quite agree with a great deal that was said by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine), about the dangers and inconveniences of level crossings, both in general and in particular as regards Ripple Road, Barking. During the last 6¾ years in which I have had the honour to represent Barking in Parliament I have been frequently inconvenienced, perhaps more often than the hon. Member for Billericay, in connection with this level crossing. Particularly is this the case since, just over the level crossing, is the headquarters of the party which I represent in Parliament, and it always seems to happen that, when I want to go to that headquarters, I find myself on the wrong side of the level crossing.

Major D. McCallum (Argyll)

Surely, the hon. Gentleman represents a constituency, not a party?

Mr. Hastings

A constituency, certainly. I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Incidentally, as it is proposed that the increased traffic should be mainly goods traffic, it is likely that a good many of those extra trains will be running at night, and that they will, therefore, not inconvenience the public as much as they would otherwise do.

The Corporation of Barking has been in negotiation with the Ministry of Transport for a long time about the marshalling yard and the improvement to Barking Station and the railway services through it, which are part of the scheme. At first, they were inclined to oppose this proposal, but, when it was pointed out to them how much the scheme for the improvement of Barking Station would benefit the public, they were more ready to agree.

Nevertheless, the Borough Council very strongly insisted that they would do their best to impress upon both the Essex County Council and the Ministry of Transport the need for a bridge over this crossing. While feeling very strongly about the need for a bridge, the Barking Borough Council nevertheless felt that the question of priorities came into the picture very forcibly, and they were so impressed with the benefits that were likely to accrue to the travelling public who use Barking Station, that they were agreed that this should be a matter of first priority and that the bridge, though important, might be considered secondary.

May I now say, because this is very relevant, how important these proposed changes are likely to be to the rail traffic in Barking. Barking is an important junction. It is said that it is used more than any other suburban station, although I do not know if that is strictly true. There are eight platforms, and, on the westward side, there is traffic to and from St. Pancras, Fenchurch Street, and, by means of the District Railway, Richmond, Ealing and Wimbledon. On the other side, we find trains passing to and from, in the eastward direction, Shoeburyness via Tilbury in some cases, and via Upminster in others.

The trouble is that trains on the northernmost of the platforms from St. Pancras—I am sorry to detain the House with these details, but they are really important in explaining the reason which Barking has for urging the acceptance of this Bill—in order to get to the Tilbury line, in which direction there is a good deal of freight traffic, have to cross over five lines of traffic, which very often means delay on both sides of Barking Station and a great waste of passengers' time. Part of this scheme is to provide what is known as a fly-over or viaduct to avoid this.

Another proposal in the scheme is that platforms running in the same direction should be associated so that passengers, instead of having to cross foot bridges in changing platforms, would be able to step from one train to another with much greater ease. Lastly, and of very great importance, is the enlargement of the booking hall, so that the queues that we now find waiting for tickets and the congestion and obstruction to the exits from the station which follow the arrival of a train should be reduced.

The Corporation of Barking is very keen indeed in urging the provision of a bridge over this level crossing, but they feel that the improvements to the railways, in the provision of this fly-over and better arrangement of platforms, together with the improvements of the booking hall, would almost certainly result in better time keeping of the trains, and might allow the Railway Executive to provide more trains, particularly at the rush hours.

After weighing up the matter very carefully indeed, the Corporation of Barking wish that this Bill may be given a Second Reading today, so that the improvement of the station may be proceeded with forthwith, and, at the same time, the matter of the bridge may be given priority as soon as conditions in the country make that possible.

8.8 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

I shall not keep the House very long, because I realise that a large number of hon. Members wish to speak. Nor shall I comment on the lyrical phrases used in relation to the present system by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who opened the debate. I have not had the hon. Gentleman's experience. I do not travel a great deal on main line trains, because I drive a great deal and I walk a great deal, but I would say that there is a very changed attitude on the part of the railwaymen.

I remember going to Euston on the very day on which the railways were nationalised, and the man who punched my ticket was full of joy and told me how marvellous things were going to be and what they were going to do. That spirit has gone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Oh, yes, it has completely gone, except amongst the professionals, if I may so call them. I mean the professional advocates of nationalisation who have retired from railway working.

However, there are one or two minor points to which I should like to refer. The first is a bit of praise. I am glad that they have restored some soap in the lavatories. The trains are so filthy that it was much more necessary than it was during pre-war conditions, and we do not need a great range of capital expenditure in order to have the coaches kept a little cleaner. I do not travel a great deal, but when I do I am not unobservant. Those who deny that railway coaches today are much dirtier than they were in pre-war days are denying the obvious. We can see them any day, dirty inside and dirty outside, and everybody knows it. [Interruption.] I always observe that if I say something that is true and which the other side do not like, they make a variety of noises.

When I do travel, I have a meal on the train, and, like our nationalised restaurants here, the restaurant car service is run at a loss. It is very interesting to read the account of what they lose on meals on the trains. At least in our restaurant here, we are given some information as to what we are likely to get. I think it is monstrous that the railways are the only caterers in this country who do not provide a menu. I am sure that if the Hotels Executive were to be told that they would be fired unless menus were provided, the menus would be restored. It is amazing what one will do if one is told to do it.

We are rather restricted tonight in view of Mr. Speaker's Ruling, but I wonder, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether I may pursue the subject matter of a letter I received tonight. It came, most appropriately, from Waverley Road and was written by a man with rather a City name, Mr. Bradbury. As I say, I only received the letter this afternoon, and it seemed most appropriate. I raised the point involved in it when we had the Ruling by Mr. Speaker at the beginning of the debate. The letter says: I would like to take this opportunity of bringing to your notice the widespread criticism of the increase in fares by the London Transport Executive. Mr. Speaker said that we could not raise that issue on the ground that the increased fares were a result of the decision of the tribunal. I raised that very point, and Mr. Speaker said, more or less, that we must see how we got on. If I read the rest of the letter, I think it will show the point is in order: Although the Tribunal awarded an increase of 20 per cent., the London Transport Executive"— and remember there are many references to them in this Bill under the old title— by shortening hundreds of fare stages, are making the increase one of 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. In other words, they are departing from the Tribunal's decision. That is the implication. Judging from what we read in the Press, they are departing from the principle laid down by the Tribunal, and I shall be glad if, when replying, the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me and the House generally whether this is true. One wonders whether the Tribunal were aware of this intention.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)

I think the first part of the letter is clearly out of order under Mr. Speaker's Ruling about the rates. The second part is out of order under the Ruling that the powers given to the London Transport Executive under this Bill are very limited.

Sir H. Williams

On that point, in the Seventh Schedule, I think it is, there is a reference to the London Passenger Transport Act, 1935, and to the London Passenger Transport Act, 1938. The inheritor of the London Passenger Transport Board is, of course, the present London Transport Executive, so these very powers bind the body we now call the London Transport Executive.

Their alleged behaviour in misinterpreting the decision of the Tribunal is the point I wish to put before the House and the Minister. Therefore, may I finish reading the letter—I will not comment on it—because it puts forward the allegation that there has been an abuse of the decision of the Tribunal. If there has been such an abuse by the body seeking these powers, then clearly it seems to me that I am not entirely out of order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. Member finishes reading the letter somebody else will want to comment on it, and the whole thing will be out of order.

Sir H. Williams

I am sorry you cannot allow me to pursue the matter further, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and of course I bow to your Ruling, but I have at least had the satisfaction of making my point in substance.

8.16 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

In giving general support to this Bill, I ask the Minister to look very carefully at something that is having a very great effect on the railways today. At the present moment, the Railway Executive are seeing some of the results of their very forthright policy in making good the lack of maintenance that took place during the war and which was a continuation of what happened in pre-war years.

Today they are faced with the shocking position that, although they are fiercely attacked from many sides as being an inefficient body—an attack that is entirely unjustified—when they attempt to build up even greater efficiency than they have already achieved, they are unable to do so because the necessary raw materials are not available to them.

I refer to the very great difficulty which the Railway Executive are experiencing at the moment in obtaining sufficient steel to keep the industry going. In addition to the lack of maintenance with which the British Transport Commission were confronted when they took over, they are now faced with this shortage of steel and the possibility of further cuts. In submitting their proposals for a steel allocation, they only asked for what they actually required. They did not ask for more than they really needed, on the assumption that the quantity would be cut, with the result that they would receive more or less what they required. I ask the Minister to put the case of the Executive to his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and to defend and support their plea for more steel.

Let us look at the difficulties which the Railway Executive have had to face. Owing to the lack of rolling stock, they had to withdraw some 9,000 wagons from France after all the wear and tear that had taken place in their operation in that country. They have also had to bring into use some 300 condemned passenger coaches. When hon. Members complain about the filthy coaches on the railways today, they should take note of the date when those coaches were built. Many of them have already been condemned as unfit for further service, but in order to meet traffic needs they are having to be brought back. Consequently, it requires a tremendous lot of upkeep to keep them clean, and short of a big capital development in the installation of modern cleaning equipment, as distinct altogether from the brush and the pail of water, the railways are at a very great disadvantage in facing that obligation.

They are also facing a big difficulty in regard to the permanent way. There are still far too many speed restrictions in operation. The number of speed restrictions which have been lifted during the past few weeks speaks well for the efficiency of the Railway Executive and for the skill of the railway engineers. Another big difficulty confronting them is that of the out-of-date locomotive on which they are having to depend in order to keep the traffic going. Locomotive engineers, drivers and firemen are carrying out a stupendous task in keeping to the margins and schedule.

The 1951 programme for the building of locomotives had to go by the board. What can we visualise for 1952 with the further cuts in steel already promised, plus a tremendous increase in price? All these things are adding to the difficulties which the Railway Executive are having to face. Do no let us bring too much politics into criticism of the railway system, which is really a very efficient undertaking. It can be made much more efficient, of course.

There are one or two other important factors which we must bear in mind. The railway industry has been looked upon as the Cinderella of the industries for far too long and railwaymen, for far too long, have been asked to accept smaller wages than the majority of other workers because, they were told, their employment was guaranteed. That day is past, and incentives to keep men in the railway industry must now be carefully thought out. Today we have the ridiculous spectacle of requests being made to enlarge the railway transport system while at the same time there is a redundancy of labour on the locomotive and engineering side owing to lack of steel. We know of the thousands of vacancies to which the Minister referred at Question time today.

If we want efficiency and if the railways are to be a national asset in the best interests of the nation, it is necessary that the Minister should plan to give to the railway authorities the material they need to organise the industry in the way they desire. I should like to quote an example of the difficulty which the railway authorities meet in ensuring that efficiency. In the area where I have spent the greater part of my railway working life, the railway engineers have instituted a scheme of colour signalling. They have done away with the signalling boxes, involving some 33 men in a very busy railway yard at York station. The amount of traffic which passes through that yard now as a result of colour signalling is amazing, and the switch-over was carried out without any interference with traffic.

If we are to have greater efficiency on the railways, it is necessary that those in charge should have the power to develop that system to the degree they visualise, and also the power to introduce greater electrification of the lines. It is no use our complaining of inefficiency if we do not give the railway engineers the means to achieve efficiency. It is no use our complaining about freight charges and passenger fares if the railway engineers are not given the opportunity to make the industry as efficient as they wish it to be. The Railway Executive are very efficient, but they can be made even more efficient.

There is also need throughout the railway industry, from the British Transport Commission down, to appreciate fully the importance of taking the workers' representatives into consultation at all stages in order to secure the best results. I am afraid that in discussions at many local centres supervisors and others responsible for conducting affairs are not pursuing that policy to the degree they should do.

There is great fear among the workers that insufficient confidence is placed in them. They want greater opportunities for meeting the management side for a reasonable discussion rather than that they should be asked to put forward their point of view and then be informed that the management will give further consideration to the matter. It would be very useful if the management side gave the men chapter and verse for decisions not to go forward with certain constructive schemes. I hope the Minister will show more energy and drive in seeing that the terms of the Act and the wishes of the British Transport Commission in this respect are put into more general operation.

There is an overwhelming case for increased capital expenditure on the railways even in these very difficult days. In pre-war days the system was so deplorable that, although it was known that capital development was needed, the railways could not raise the cash on the market and they had to ask the Government for loans before development could take place. That indicates the neglect of the railway system in pre-war years.

If we are to have the maximum effort from the railways and if the railways are to be a really useful national unit playing a big part in our national life, it is up to the Minister to ensure the right conditions. I hope that whoever replies to this debate will give an assurance that the Minister will see to it that he secures from the Minister of Supply the steel and raw materials required by this essential undertaking.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I was very interested in the arguments of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) and particularly in his plea that we should not regard the railways as the Cinderella of industry. I entirely agree with that, but I did not quite follow him when he laid such stress on the fact that capital development had been restricted.

There is a curious paragraph in the Third Annual Report of the British Transport Commission which states, on page 19: As stated in the Second Annual Report, arrangements have been made to exclude the cost of permanent way repairs from the figures of 'investment'. After these adjustments, the 'Economic Survey' for 1950 set out the expected rate of expenditure in the railway programme (including the Railway Executive railways and the London Transport Executive railways and bus garages) for the year as £81 millions, comprising £79 millions for railways and £2 millions for London Transport garages. The actual expenditure was just under £68 millions. That does not seem to agree with the argument the hon. Member put forward.

Mr. Popplewell

I think the hon. Member rather misses my point. He is only proving by his observations the further point I made, that the railways in times past did not have capital development to the degree they should have had and are lagging behind tremendously in consequence, and that even now, with that lag, their need of capital improvement is still not being met.

Mr. Wilson

If by "times past" the hon. Member means the time of the last Government, I see the point of his argument, because the date of this Report is December, 1950.

Mr. Champion

Would the hon. Gentleman also read the explanation why it was not met, because that will make it quite clear that the reasons were such as would, I should think, be acceptable to this House.

Mr. Wilson

The Report goes on: The under-spending of the allocation is attributable mainly to the following factors: (i) Investment is not susceptible of control within fine degrees, and the effect of imposing such drastic restrictions at short notice was to produce reductions in excess of what was desired. (ii) Deliveries of rolling stock by contractors to both the Railway and London Transport Executives fell seriously behind; (iii) Owing to a formidable increase in estimated costs it was decided to defer the extension of the Bakerloo Tube. Then it passes to some other subject.

I mention that point incidentally, because I really want to refer to a concluding remark which was made by the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). Just before he sat down, he referred to the hiving off of the most profitable part of the industry. He did not explain what he meant by that, but it sounded reminiscent of the argument we have heard so often from hon. Members opposite who seem to take much too despondent a view about the future of British Railways. They always seem to regard British Railways as being inevitably bound up with and dependent upon the road services.

I have never believed that road competition was the sole or, indeed, the main reason why railways have declined in this country. I have never believed, in the peculiar geographical and political conditions of this country, that roads were a practical alternative to railways—or, indeed, that it was not possible to develop them both.

Here we are, with 50 million people in a small island, and already our road density of traffic is the highest in the world. Per thousand miles of road, we have in this country 14,874 vehicles, while even the United States of America have only 12,416 vehicles, and every other country in the world has fewer than 5,000 vehicles, per thousand miles of road. So any large increase in road traffic in this country would mean a perpetual traffic jam on existing roads.

The railway industry and British Railways need not fear that all their traffic is going on to the roads. It certainly will not in existing conditions; nor is it possible, in any time that we can contemplate, so to develop our roads that they could take all the traffic that could be taken, because the cost of compensation would be so large. Here we are, in a heavily built-up country, with a very high cost of agricultural land which would make the necessary motor ways, clover-leaf crossings, roundabouts and so on, quite prohibitive if we did intend to take all the traffic that was necessary.

Mr. Sparks

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be economic folly to divorce the present road haulage system from the British Road Transport Commission and revert to private enterprise?

Mr. Wilson

Not at all. I think that both could exist quite well on their own, for the reason that the danger to the railways from road traffic is not as great as some people believe.

I think that the chief disincentives to traders and the travelling public going by rail are nothing fundamental to rail transport. I think they may be classified under three headings. First, there are the difficulties at terminal points and transfer points en route, such as dirty and dilapidated stations which depress passengers; delays in transit, rough handling and pilferage of goods, which are not fundamental to rail traffic but are matters which irritate both passengers and traders and which tend to make them non-railway-minded.

Secondly, I believe that they are dissuaded from travelling by rail or sending their goods by rail by a whole host of obsolete and antiquated conditions about the carriage of goods—the endless conditions which are, and have been for years, plastered all over the railways in this country, owing to statutory provisions which have applied to the railways for more than 100 years.

Thirdly, a question which we cannot discuss in the debate—the question of charges, which have become excessive in recent years in comparison with the services rendered. All these three groups of disincentives could be overcome by imaginative management, although I agree with hon. Members opposite to some extent when they say it is necessary to have some additional capital development, and that the railways have been starved of capital since the war.

The fundamental problems are not connected with competition from the roads at all. It would be quite impossible for the road sections of the industry to support the railways, because they have not the capital; there is only £70 million worth of capital in the Road Haulage Executive, as against £1,180 million in the British Transport Commission. The Road Haulage Executive have control of only between 5 per cent. and 6 per cent. of the vehicles on the roads and have about 40,000 vehicles out of a total of 850,000, so that the argument sometimes put forward is, in my submission, beside the point.

This is a Bill which provides for some capital development and the improvements in it should be welcomed. They are small and limited in compass, which is perhaps inevitable in the present difficult times; but in so far as they are improvements, I hope the House will welcome the Bill.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) answered his first criticism very well when he read the remainder of the paragraph, which was a clear indication why the capital development for that year had not taken place. He went on to criticise the amount by which railway rates have increased. Had he made a comparison between the increase in general wholesale prices of 200 per cent. and the increase of 100 per cent. in railway charges, he would have been following the excellent precedent which he set when he made his first point.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine), whom I regret is not in his place, suggested that I knew very little about railways. All I can say is this: that the railway company with which the hon. Member for Truro was employed before he came to the House gave me three awards of merit for railway operation over a period of 30 years. If that does not indicate some small knowledge of railways, perhaps the hon. Member will tell me what does.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

Perhaps, with his long experience of railways, the hon. Member will do better next time he interrupts than he did when he interrupted my hon. Friend.

Mr. Jones

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) should realise that, where there are four running lines, one can run two trains at the same time in each direction instead of one. Obviously, the measure of delay which occurs at railway crossings is thereby minimised.

Mr. Renton


Mr. Jones

I must get on. Looking at the Front Bench opposite tonight reminds one of the old tag—poachers turned game-keepers. I hope that the contributions made to the debate from this side of the House will be much more helpful to the British Transport Commission than were the contributions which some of the right hon. Gentleman's friends made when they sat on this side of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), in opening the debate, argued the case that the railways had been denied capital for development. I think it was the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), speaking in the House on 31st July, 1951, who drew attention to the fact that in 1950 the amount of capital expenditure allowed to the railways represented roughly 6 per cent. of the total capital liabilities of the industry, and he compared that figure with 17 per cent. for the electricity industry, 14 per cent. for the gas industry. and 10 per cent. for the coal industry.

At Question time today I put a number of Questions to the Minister of Transport, asking about the allocation of raw materials, and I hope he is going to be much more forthcoming than merely being interested in the fact that there is a shortage of steel for railway development. I hope he is going to be more successful with his right hon. Friends in this Government than was my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) with the late Government, when he was Minister of Transport, in getting all the steel necessary so that this industry can be brought to the highest point of efficiency.

The general effect of this limitation of steel on the railway industry is twofold: first, it does affect the general efficiency of the railways through lack of proper maintenance, leading to the possibility of breakdown in some essential parts of the system, and secondly it does make it impossible for the railway industry fully to use the plant and equipment of the railway workshops, and, as a consequence, creates a redundancy of skilled craftsmen who, over a long period of years, have become highly efficient in the transport industry.

In the 1948 Report of the British Transport Commission there are references to their inability to obtain allocations and deliveries commensurate with their requirements in order to bring this industry up to the highest point of efficiency. It may be argued that rearmament and defence purposes must come first, but I should like to assert that all the defence provisions possible would be of no avail if the transport arteries broke down as a consequence of the shortage of raw materials to make them efficient.

They carried a burden during the last war to an extent which was appreciated by very few people. The White Paper, Cmd. 7268 of 1948, stated that, at that time, there were some 12,000, or 20 per cent., of the coaching stock of the railway system that were over 35 years old. Sir William Wood, of the B.T.C., and formerly Vice-President of the L.M.S., stated that, even at the end of 1952, the railways would still have some 3,250 less coaches than they had in 1938. As to goods wagons, the same White Paper stated that in 1947 some 350,000, or 29 per cent. of the total wagon stock, were more than 35 years old. There were some 200,000 at that time awaiting repair. Between 1948 and the end of 1950 nearly 224,000 of those vehicles were withdrawn from use, but that leaves at the present moment some 127,000 railway wagons which are required to be used every day nearly 40 years of age.

What industry can maintain a high standard of efficiency with handling equipment of that kind? With regard to locomotives, 8,000, or nearly 40 per cent. of the total locomotive stock, were over the normal age in 1948. Withdrawals by the end of 1950 were about 2,100, leaving 5,800 old veterans still trying to do their best to haul trains along the railways of this country. Is it any wonder that trains from Southend to Fenchurch Street sometimes break down, when there are over 5,000 railway engines well past the retiring age that are still having to be used because the necessary raw materials cannot be obtained to build more locomotives?

The same story is told in relation to the renewal of the permanent way. In 1948 the Railway Executive estimated that they would require at least 300,000 tons of steel rails per year in order to maintain the rate of renewal. They have never been able to reach this figure in one single year. In addition to all this, all the bridges, tunnels and viaducts, some of them approaching 100 years of age, have to be renewed.

No wonder the British Transport Commission had this to say in their 1950 Report: Among other remedies for declining profitability, the possibility of effecting major improvements in efficiency comes first. But it depends largely on long-term measures such as re-equipment and re-organisation on modern lines. Electrification in suitable circumstances is one example. Such projects are practicable only if the capital resources are available, and as things are turning out the public transport system may count itself fortunate if the ration of capital expenditure allowed to it suffices to patch up and maintain the existing apparatus. I do not propose to say a word tonight about modernisation and electrification. It will be sufficient for the moment if the railways are given sufficient steel to provide full-time employment for all the skilled workers whom they are now having to turn on one side because of shortage of materials.

At Derby Works, at Eastleigh, Shilton, Faverdale, Darlington and other places there are men who have spent many years, many of them all their lives, in building those gleaming monsters that travel, in spite of the criticism of hon. Members opposite, with a very high degree of safety up and down the country, and at speeds that compare with those in most countries of the world. They are now finding themselves turned on to the roads because the Railway Executive, who want to employ these people, are unable to get the raw materials. It will be no use the Minister saying that he is interested in and sympathetic towards these projects when he finds that, because of this inability to employ these people and find this material, this very vital artery of our country's economic life is breaking down.

I therefore urge the Minister to use all the pressure he can upon his colleagues in the Cabinet to make quite sure that much more steel is allocated to the railways in order that they may become an efficient instrument of our economic life.

8.47 p.m.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

I am grateful for the opportunity of addressing a few words to the House this evening upon the subject of the Railway Executive, because I think that, if one leaves party political points aside, there is a fairly general measure of agreement that there is something wrong with the Railway Executive and its administration, and a fairly general agreement about the steps which should be taken to put it right.

I think I am right in saying—hon. Gentlemen opposite who have intimate connections with the railway trade unions concerned will correct me if I am wrong—that both the unions and the travelling public, and even, I hope, the Executive themselves, realise and understand that it is no solution of the problems with which they are faced continually to advance fares time after time. They know that that is not the real solution to the problem, and as they realise that, it is not necessary for me to pursue that subject, even if I were permitted to do so, except to say that I hope some steps of a realistic nature will be taken by the Railway Executive to try to do something to improve the administration of the railways.

It is true to say—and, indeed, tributes to its truth have been paid from both sides this evening—that the people of this country are to be congratulated, in the main, upon the high quality of the operating staff of the railways. I say that, not merely because I have a number of them in my constituency. However, it would be quite untrue, and people would be straining very hard in trying to make others believe what was not true, to attempt to suggest that every person employed by the Railway Executive is at present engaged in doing a useful and necessary job, because they are not.

It seems to me that a great deal of help would be given in solving some of the problems which confront the Railway Executive if it were possible for a more realistic attitude to be adopted by some of those employed by the Railway Executive, and if a greater influence could be brought to bear by the unions concerned.

Mr. Sparks

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the number of railway staff at present employed is about 35,000 fewer than 18 months ago, despite the fact that traffic has increased substantially? That does not quite prove his point.

Mr. McAdden

I am prepared to accept that the staff may be less, but that does not alter the fact that there is a large number of people who could be more usefully employed on the railways than at the present time. The hon. Gentleman, from his interest in the industry, does not need me to tell him that steps have been taken, even with the support and active encouragement of the unions, to try to have more efficient utilisation of the staff of porters at the London main line termini, which has not met with much response, and there is undoubtedly a waste of labour in that direction, as I think he will agree.

It seems to me that if we are to have that greater efficiency which we all desire there has to be a greater amount of co-operation from all engaged in the railway service. I think that it is a mistake, as seems to be suggested from one or two observations that have been made—I do not think I can go further than that; nothing very bitter has been said—to think that anyone in this House wants to see the British Railways inefficient. That is not the genuine desire of anyone.

No matter what our political opinions are, all of us are anxious that the British transport service should be efficiently and economically run. As it has been decided that it shall be run as a nationalised concern, it is in the interests of all to see that it is an efficient nationalised concern, and I hope that we shall, therefore, see that due regard is paid, as urged by hon. Members opposite as well as by hon. Members on this side, to the definite needs of the industry, so that it can keep itself up-to-date so far as possible within the limits of the capital investment programme, and see that materials are forthcoming to provide an efficient railway service for this country.

One of the major items of improvement of the railway service affects my own constituency, because I believe that I am correct in saying that the previous Minister of Transport promised that the next big job to be undertaken by the Railway Executive was the electrification of the Fenchurch Street—Southend railway line. I hope that the present Minister will be able to tell us this evening that he has not forgotten that that was the intention of his predecessor, and that he will be able to fortify me in the hope that this matter will go forward. I am glad to see that he has sitting next to him on the Treasury Bench one who, from a long and active association with Southend, will be able to keep him alive to the real necessity for an improved service in that direction.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who opened this discussion, claimed that the railway line which served his constituency was one of the worst examples of Victorianism. I do not want to enter into competition with him, but as a regular daily traveller on the Fenchurch Street—Southend Line, I can say that it leaves much to be desired so far as clean carriages and other general cleanliness and locomotive power are concerned.

The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) made some reference to the fact that the engines on this line broke down fairly regularly, and that is, of course, true. I think that I am entitled to criticise the administration of the Railway Executive in not seeing that we have more effective utilisation of the locomotive power that already exists. There is a shortage on that line of Class IV locomotives, although there is no general shortage of Class IV locomotives throughout the country, and they are still being manufactured. Some have been in store for a considerable time. It seems to me that when we have a nationalised organisation responsible for the operation of our railways, it should be a comparatively simple job to take good Class IV engines out of store and place them on the railway lines where they are most needed. If they did that they would have a more efficient railway service and a more satisfied travelling public and the locomotive staff of the railways in that section of line would be able to take more pride in their engines than they can in the decrepit-looking wrecks which some of them have to operate at present.

Mr. Sparks

Does not the hon. Member agree that electrification would be far superior to the alternative about which he is now speaking?

Mr. McAdden

Certainly it would, but we have heard the tale about electrification before, for it has been going on for a long while. While we are anxious that there should be electrification, until it arrives we are surely entitled to argue that, if the facilities exist for improving the rolling stock and the locomotives without detriment to any other part of the country, those preliminary and intermediate steps should be taken. There is nothing unreasonable in that. I should be the last to suggest that any delay should occur in the plan for electrification, which is a very necessary and desirable step, and it is also a profitable step, as has been shown by the experience of the Liverpool Street—Shenfield line.

Mr. Champion

Does not the hon. Member agree that the section of line in which he is particularly interested ought to have its share of the 29 per cent. of locomotives which are badly out of date and ought not to have all new ones while some of the other lines have all the old ones?

Mr. McAdden

The hon. Member will realise that there is an operating point in this. Not every type of engine is suitable for operation on that section of line. It happens that Class III and Class IV engines are about the only suitable ones for the line, and the Class III engine is not as suitable as the Class IV engine. Class IV engines of good quality are in existence and are in store, and it is wrong "that we should have to put up with inferior types of engines.

Hon. Members must be well aware of the difficulties which my constituents suffer, and, while they are prepared to give me their sympathy, I am sure they will not be prepared to give me much more of the time of the House, for that might mean that they would be debarred from bringing other important points to the attention of the Minister.

Before resuming my seat, I should like to say that the hon. Member for The Hartlepools was a little unfair to the former Minister of Transport, whom he served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, when he said that he hoped that the present Minister would do much better with steel than the former Minister did. I am glad he has such confidence in the present Minister, but the steel position today is admittedly—it is not a question of political discussion or argument—very much more acute than it has been in the last six years.

If the Minister does nearly as well as his predecessor did, he will have achieved a remarkable success. In these difficult times it is asking too much to expect that he will be able to achieve the same figure. Whatever figure he achieves, I am sure it is necessary for him to urge with the greatest possible vigour the claims of this industry to have the fairest possible treatment, because, unless we have an efficient transport system, the evils of an inefficient one will be reflected in rising costs, rising fares and a deterioration in the standard of living of our people.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

There was a rather familiar pattern in the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden), in what he said about the lack of cleanliness on the railways and the lack of modem locomotives. If he would only follow that with a criticism of the old railway companies, who allowed the railways to become so decrepit, and urge upon the Government the need, even in the present circumstances, for a greater amount of capital investment for replacement, there would be more logic in his utterances. Also, the hon. Member ought not to try to hog all the available up-to-date locomotives for his own section of line.

If good will alone were needed to give us an efficient transport system in this country, this House could certainly provide the good will. But more than good will is needed. We need urgently to get on with the task which was left, belatedly, after nationalisation, of completely overhauling the railway system of this country. If ever anybody had a bad bargain, it was the State when it took over the railways of this country.

Mr. McAdden

You fixed the terms.

Mr. Ross

I am not a railwayman, but I have had sufficient experience to know that the railways were in a bad state. As to my experience, I remember getting on a train in a station in Ayrshire. The driver was my father. The fireman was an uncle of mine. In order to see that everything was right, I looked down at the guard, who was my grandfather. I have had a great experience of railway conditions in the past, and I represent the railway centre of Kilmarnock.

We need a greater degree of capital investment than we have at the present time. It is inevitable that our railway system, like others, should be bogged down in a financial crisis, but what I object to is that, since the return of the present Government, there has been some reaching out towards the same old cure of economy, which must come out of the standard of living of the men and out of the condition of the railway service itself. We have had experience of that in Scotland, in the cutting down of services to the Clyde coast piers, to take one example alone. The Minister of Transport should urge on the Railway Executive that one way of economising would be to have a little less blundering and meandering in the way they do things in Scotland, and to save on the number of public relations officers who have to go round explaining what the Railway Executive really mean.

I would remind the Minister of the trouble which he is running into in extending the policy of centralisation of locomotive repair shops in Scotland. Some hon. Members may think that centralisation is being sprung upon us, but we have had all these things before, as we know if we delve into the days of the Glasgow-South-Western Railway and see how it developed into the L.M.S. It is to prevent the errors of the past being repeated that I make this plea to the Minister that it is his job and his responsibility to look after the proper running of the transport system and to take particular action.

In Kilmarnock we have a railway locomotive repair shop which has been doing that kind of work for 100 years. Now the Executive have tried to effect a closure in order to transfer the work to St. Rollox, in Glasgow. The existing agreements with the trade unions do not allow that high-handed action, which has caused a considerable amount of trouble on the spot. The men in Inverurie feel that they are going to be next. There has been a failure to have proper consultation at the right time. This is a matter of policy throughout the whole of railway working, and it ought to be attended to.

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Member seems to be implying that this is a fault of the present Government, but he is really criticising the 1947 Act.

Mr. Ross

I am not criticising the 1947 Act at all. The Minister cannot wriggle out of his responsibility. This announcement was made to the men in January of this year, not by the Minister but by the people who are under him.

Mr. Maclay

Under the 1947 Act. Let us get this absolutely clear. The hon. Member is making a first-rate attack on the 1947 Act.

Mr. Ross

I am not making a first-rate attack. The Minister is still responsible for administering that Act and for policy, and he can give directions regarding policy. The plea is made that on economy the matter can be dealt with in St. Rollox, but can it? What have we in the south-western area? Kilmarnock is a railway centre. Two miles away there is a locomotive depot at Hurlford, 10 miles away there is one at Ayr and there are depots at Ardrossan, Dumfries and Stranraer. Between 300 and 400 locomotives are employed. Now when we want locomotives back on the road as quickly as possible, they will all have to go to Glasgow and back for repair. It means that instead of being in the workshop three days for repair, they will be there for nine days at least, and many of these locomotives are still of the 1900 class, which means that they are constantly requiring attention.

Skilled labour is there in Kilmarnock and I say that it is folly and not real economy to transfer this work to St. Rollox. This is a matter which should be looked at with urgency, not only from the point of view of Kilmarnock, but of other areas. The situation is really serious. I have seen telegrams from the Inverurie men saying that they are prepared to join the Kilmarnock men in striking. The feelings of these men have been completely poisoned by what has been going on, and how it has been handled. It is not merely a Labour Member of Parliament complaining. Last week in Glasgow we had a delegation to the regional officer from Kilmarnock town council, which is a Moderate town council on this matter. They were far from satisfied with what happened there.

We cannot afford to lose these skilled men—there are about 150—and they will not transfer to Glasgow under present circumstances. An attempt of this nature was made after the First World War and Kilmarnock was run down, but when the Second World War came defence needs demanded that Kilmarnock should be built up again. Here we are re-arming and looking at the defence requirements of the transport system as much as the defence needs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and it seems ludicrous to concentrate everything in an industrial section like Glasgow rather than to disperse in these other areas.

For real economy and defence I think this workshop in Kilmarnock must be kept on. I am sure the Minister is not deaf to the plea; I sincerely hope not. We must give him his due; he was pretty good over the question of the aye Coast piers. I sincerely hope that he will pay attention to this matter. From the point of view of efficiency of the railways and the needs of the country, I feel that this depot must be kept on.

9.9 p.m.

Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)

Hon. Members who have spoken before me will forgive me if I do not follow them in their argument as I have a local constituency matter which is of great urgency, for which I shall need all the time at my disposal. In the Winchester constituency there is the Borough of Eastleigh and in it is one of the most important centres of locomotive carriage and wagon manufacture in the country. I want to ask the Minister to consider carefully the position arising as a result of the policy being followed with regard to renewal of passenger rolling stock on the British Railways.

I understand that a decision has been arrived at to suspend completely the building of passenger rolling stock for the 1952 programme. That applies, of course, to many places as well as Eastleigh, and it may be that it is a justifiable decision; I do not know. I believe it is, strictly speaking, a decision not of the Railway Executive but of the Transport Commission. But I ask the Minister to discuss in detail with the Railway Executive or the Transport Commission, whichever may be the appropriate body, the local situation now arising at Eastleigh.

A 100 per cent. cut in the programme will mean a very serious local position for the following reasons. First, the Eastleigh works are concerned almost entirely with building and not with repairs. That means, therefore, that, unlike a lot of other railway centres, they have no repairs on which to fall back when building stops. The second reason this cut will cause great hardship in Eastleigh is that it is entirely a railway town. Not very long ago there was no town there. The works of the Southern Railway or, as it was then, the London and South-Western, were moved from Nine Elms to Eastleigh, which was built up round this great industry.

I am told on the highest authority that the result of these cuts by the Transport Commission will be that one man in three will be redundant. Furthermore, the position is much more serious than that figure alone would suggest; because there will be no cuts in wagon building, I understand, with the result that the cut will fall wholly on the carriage side of the works. In certain trades, therefore, which are mainly—some exclusively—concerned with carriage building, redundancies will rise as high as 80 per cent. That will reach down to men who have been 20 years with the railways under both private and public ownership.

It will mean the loss of the services of highly skilled, very specialised craftsmen. I need not tell the Minister of the hardship involved. It is causing great local anxiety. I have been approached by all the unions concerned and by the Eastleigh corporation. But I should like the Minister to consider the question of policy. Surely it cannot be right to disband a team of men whose services we are bound to need in the course of the next two or three years. It cannot be that there will suddenly be no more need of passenger rolling stock. Indeed, the need is great at this moment. Coaches are being kept on the rails which ought long ago to have been condemned. In the course of two or three years the British Executive will certainly have to go searching for these men again and to re-assemble them.

On the human side, the attitude of the unions is wholly reasonable. They realise that steel is extremely scarce. They realise that there are many difficulties in the way of the Transport Commission. They hope, however—and I voice their hope here—that the Minister will use every means of trying to ameliorate the serious situation that has arisen. I believe it might be possible, for example, for arms work to be undertaken in those works. It was done there during the war. I hope that suggestion may be looked at. I hope that the Minister will ask the railways to consider sending repair work to Eastleigh in order to alleviate the position.

Above all, I hope that the Minister will consider the question of a fresh supply of steel. It is surely one of the most undesirable results of too much centralisation that a decision taken to cut the carriage-building programme by 100 per cent. all over the country, which may well be tolerable in places where there is a wide diversity of work, should fall extremely hardly on the special circumstances of Eastleigh, which are, I am sure, much worse than those of any other railway centre in the country. It surely is a bad result of centralisation that we should have to apply the rule which has been worked out for the whole country to every place regardless of local circumstances.

I intervene, therefore, to express the hope that the Minister will take up this matter urgently. I believe that 527 men are under notice to leave the carriage works between this week and July, and I hope the Minister will leave no resort untried in his attempt to retain the services of these valuable and skilled men in the organisation where they properly belong, and where they can do valuable national service.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Barnes (East Ham, South)

Hon. Members on both sides have voiced their concern in this debate as to whether the capital investment restrictions are too severe and there is a general desire that our British railway system should be expanded, developed and adjusted to the modern conditions if it is to become more efficient and serve trade and the public of this country. Constituency points have been raised which affect important railway works. The decline in production and a possible discharge of labour again appear to be related to the larger problems of the supply of raw material and the investment policy followed with regard to British Railways.

We are facing a general problem, and any Minister of Transport may find difficulty in getting all that is required for the transport of this country. In view of my own recent experience, I do not feel disposed to enlarge unduly on that difficulty. I consider however that in a debate of this kind it is advisable to remind ourselves that it has been going on for a very long period.

It is now 13 years since the commencement of the last war. It is a well-known and accepted fact that during that period the railways of this country were subjected to very severe stress and strain and had to carry both equipment and passengers far beyond their normal capacity. While they were doing an essential task equal to the Fighting Services, they were not given the same assistance and facilities regarding equipment, replacements of stock and command over other services.

We are all familiar with the fact that in the post-war period the national financial and economic stringency has fallen with particular severity on the railways. They have not been provided with the opportunity rapidly to overtake the arrears of maintenance and replacements, unlike the war factory which was shut down for the process of re-tooling in order to turn over to peace-time production. The very nature and condition of our railway service compels them to work at full pressure, without any rest at all.

In a debate of this character, we use the Annual Works Bill in order to have a kind of preliminary canter over the affairs of the British Transport Commission, and I want to emphasise, both to the Minister and to hon. Members in all parts of the House, that this condition is likely to go on year after year. As far as we can see, there is very little possibility of relief in the immediate future, and, in fact, this situation is bound to produce a most serious state of affairs.

For that reason, I support most strongly the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Ernest Davies), in his opening remarks; which suggested that we are entitled to have from the Minister, in no party spirit—we have not approached the matter in that way at all tonight—a clear statement of what exactly is the position in 1952 which British Railways have to meet.

When we talk about the total sum allocated to the railways for capital expenditure, I think it is right to point out that very often there is a condition attaching to that total sum, which I think would also cast another light on the point which the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) was trying to make. Capital expenditure in 1950, he said, was below the authorised figure. It is not always possible, and, indeed, it is not always permitted, to switch any economy in one form of capital expenditure to another form.

For instance, I take it that I am entitled to put this position to the Minister, and I should like to have his confirmation. I do not think there has ever been, and there is not today, any restriction on the amount of steel available for wagon construction. Generally speaking, wagon construction has always been permitted and, whatever the quantity of wagons which the Railway Executive were capable of constructing, there has been no limit in the sense of the steel supplies available. It was that policy which helped us very considerably in the post- war years to remove restrictions on goods traffic. If, however, they do not consume the whole of their steel on wagon production, they cannot switch it to passenger coach construction, and it has been the restrictions imposed on the use of steel regarding passenger carriages which have handicapped the Railway Executive in trying to provide the travelling public with improved facilities.

Here, we have two problems that are related one with the other. The Railway Executive—and this would apply to any type of railway management; this is not a matter of whether the railways are publicly or privately owned—is faced with the fact that, during the war, the Government of the day did not adjust rail charges and keep them moving in sympathy with the general price level of all commodities in this country, with the result that railway managements were faced after the war with the very unpleasant task of having to lift up their charges to the general level of prices. That has meant a series of increases, the impact of which on the public has been most severe, and has caused, quite naturally, widespread public resentment and resistance.

If whilst that was going on the Railway Executive had been able to improve their services and able to give the public more comfort by way of new coaches and new standardised locomotives, a few of which they have been able to produce, in other words, had they been able to modernise more rapidly their system of travel, there would have been some compensation for the public for the increased charges they have had to pay.

This is a situation which flows not from the defects of management, but as a result of public policy for which I have always considered Parliament carries a large measure of responsibility. Management has had to adjust its prices to post-war conditions and has been denied the facilities and even the average level of opportunity enjoyed by manufacturers in this country. As I have already indicated, this process has gone on for 13 years, and, quite apart from whether part of our transport system ought to be publicly owned or not, we have to face the fact that unless we have an efficient railway system we cannot deal efficiently with the transport of either passengers or goods.

I now want to come to another aspect of this problem. In this Bill—I want to put this to the Minister—there are quite a number of works affecting the old L.M.S. system, the lines from London to Southend. I should like to know whether any of the works are preparatory for the electrification of the line from Fenchurch Street to Southend. The only electrification of any system that has taken place since the war has been the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line. In my view, that gives Parliament and the country a practical example of the policy that should be followed.

There is no question of theory or doubt about it, and it is related to another aspect of public policy and the investment of capital. If we spend money on roads, it is an investment of capital which is very often less remunerative in its immediate results than an investment of capital in the railways. The electrifying of the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line has resulted in 40 per cent. or more of road transport being transferred to the railways on what was the old London and North-Eastern line.

The cost of effecting a similar improvement on the road from Romford to Aldgate would have represented an immense sum from which we could never have got a similar result. Our vast Metropolitan population can give us heavily loaded trains of the most remunerative kind. The amount that the State would have to expend on the road system of London in order to achieve any amelioration of the choking of our London streets would be far greater than the amount of capital that would have to be expended for the electrification of the suburban lines of London, and the people would travel in well-lighted coaches, in comfort and with greater speed than they could ever travel on the London roads.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

And in greater safety.

Mr. Barnes

Yes, of course. I have stated often that railway transport is the safest form of transport in the world. This problem of capital investment ought to be looked at not merely from the point of view of the railway system, but in relation to larger social problems—those of road transport and accidents on the road and matters of that kind. I am exceedingly anxious that the second electrification project in London—from Fenchurch Street to Southend and from Southend by way of Billericay to Liverpool Street—should not be held up. The project was going forward when I left office, though not at a great speed I agree; but the preparatory work was going on, and I should like an assurance from the Minister that that work will proceed.

I should like to ask whether the Minister and the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive are pursuing as vigorously as they can the closing of branch lines which have already been deserted by the public and the integration of their traffic with the road transport system. The cost of carrying passengers on many of these local branch lines is ridiculously exorbitant, and there is no justification for keeping the lines going.

It is true that whenever the Railway Executive wish to close a branch line, local authorities, Members of Parliament, traders and other people find these lines of great value although for years before no-one bothered about them. It is not fair, right, or good business that the railways of this country should be neglecting their main function of carrying heavy mineral traffic and manufactured products and should be prevented from concentrating their efforts on long distance and bulk travel by dissipating their resources on branch railways.

Bodies like consultative committees designed to give an opportunity to the public to make themselves heard as far as possible have been appointed, but the problem of ensuring efficiency on the railways is recognised to be complex and difficult. When I spoke for the British Transport Commission on matters on this kind from the Government benches opposite, all kinds of suggestions and proposals were put to me from time to time.

The consultative committee machinery can be of considerable value if properly used to protect the travelling public and to give them a voice against any decision by either of the Executives. But I do not consider this machinery is quite competent to deal with many important issues affecting the major industries of this country. Therefore, I did bring into operation a preliminary system of consultation between representatives of the Federation of British Industries and the Chambers of Commerce to allow the practical men to get together round a table with the British Transport Commission and the railways.

Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that they met all too infrequently?

Mr. Barnes

In this instance it is not a question that they meet all too infrequently; this was the beginning of a process of consultation. I thought it was valuable to bring in bodies like the Federation of British Industries and the Chambers of Commerce and make them sit down with representatives of the British Transport Commission and Railway, Road and other Executives, to discuss the various problems, effects, suggestions or proposals, as the case may be.

I believe that was beginning to show some good results, and I should like to ask the Minister whether discussions of that kind have been completed; whether or not they have been useful, and whether they will continue, if the case so justifies it. I do not suggest that this was a permanent piece of machinery, but I do feel that, while we are building up a public machinery of consultative committees, that should not rule out the consideration by practical people of special and specific problems.

I want to give the Minister plenty of time to answer the points that have been submitted to him, but I do press him to make clear to the House the position of capital expenditure and, particularly, the supply of raw materials to the railway industry.

9.37 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. John Maclay)

I do not think anyone could possibly complain about the tone of this debate. Up to now it has been extremely interesting and useful. What it will be from now on is another matter. This is my first experience of piloting a Private Bill through this House and, while I have not the primary responsibility, I am to some extent the godfather, and it has been fascinating to discover how little has been said about the Bill during the course of the discussion. I hope the House will not be annoyed if I say something about the Bill for which I am responsible. I think it is essential that I should do so.

The right hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), asked me whether any part of this Bill had anything to do with the electrification of the Southend railway. I can assure him that no fewer than five of the works which appear in that particular part of the Bill are concerned with the working of the Tilbury section of that line and also, ultimately, the electrification of the line. That does not necessarily mean to say that it is going forward absolutely flat out straightaway, because the right hon. Gentleman knows that the difficulties at the moment of getting ahead quickly with that particular scheme are great indeed. But this Bill has a very definite bearing on that very matter, which in the past, I know, was of very particular interest to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Barnes

I should like the hon. Gentleman to say whether or not that scheme of electrification has been stopped.

Mr. Maclay

It has certainly not been stopped; in so far as it was moving at all when the right hon. Gentleman was in office, it has the same amount of volition now as it had when he left the Ministry.

The hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) put forward a very fair presentation of an interesting and difficult case, and he was followed by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), who put Barking's point of view. This question of level crossings is one which hon. Members on all sides of the House and all people throughout the country realise should be tackled as steadily and as quickly as possible in any given set of circumstances. No one likes level crossings, least of all my Department or myself, but there may be conditions in which level crossings are the only solution for a time.

I suggest that the right place for discussing this matter in detail—whether of a level crossing or a bridge or any type of construction which my hon. Friend would like to put forward—is in the Select Committee, because many arguments can be advanced in both directions, and it would be wrong, if this Bill were given a Second Reading, to pre-judge arguments which can be properly presented only through the procedure of a Select Committee of the House.

My hon. Friend asked me whether I could give an assurance that the matter would be attended to in Committee. I think the words "attended to" were the words which he used. My answer is this: as he probably knows, the Essex County Council already have a petition in relation to the Bill, which alone makes it quite certain that the points he raised can be threshed out fully in the Select Committee. I hope my hon. Friend will feel quite confident that not only will his remarks be noted, but that the substance of his argument will be fully discussed in Select Committee if this Bill is given a Second Reading. In the circumstances, I hope he will feel that it is not necessary to press his Motion.

May I add one point about the particular level crossing to which he referred? He produced some interesting figures about level crossings and accidents through a number of years, and these are the kind of figures which make us all have the views about level crossings which we hold; but it is at least some consolation to know that, going as far back as 1939, there has not been an accident at the level crossing which causes my hon. Friend such concern.

I should not dream of entering into the statistical arguments in which the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) became involved with one or two of my hon. Friends. Far be it from me to try to guess whether, if four lines cross a level crossing instead of two, even such a skilled railway man as the hon. Member could see to it that all trains were re-timed so that four crossed simultaneously. If that is possible, I should be delighted to hear it, because it sounds like a very ingenious railway operation.

Mr. D. Jones

It is possible to have four trains crossing at the same time. It is possible to hold up mineral trains on the slow line until the fast line is required, and the two can move across together.

Mr. Maclay

That is interesting to one who has a certain delight in being stopped at a level crossing. I like watching trains go past, and if I could see four at once instead of two, I should be delighted, but very often at a level crossing we do not even see two. Generally we see one.

If I have left out any detailed points on the specific application of the Bill, I hope hon. Members will ask me about them, but I turn now to the more general points and I will try to cover a good many things said by each hon. Member. Nearly everybody has dealt with one or two points, and I ought, therefore, first to try to say something about the allocation of steel, about which almost every hon. Member has asked.

While the debate was going on, and particularly during the speeches of nearly every hon. Member opposite, I was very conscious that I was the wrong person to be sitting here receiving questions on this point. I do not wish to be unkind in any way to my predecessor, but I thought there was a very strong line of criticism running not only against him but also against the previous Government in practically every speech made by hon. Members opposite. I will not elaborate that, as we are keeping as far as we can from party politics, but we must make certain that responsibility rests fairly and squarely for the matters raised in the debate.

Mr. Jones

Can we be sure that the hon. Gentleman will be strong enough to obtain for the railways as much steel from this Government as my right hon. Friend obtained under the last Government?

Mr. Maclay

That is a matter of which we can judge only by results in due course. Let me say this in dead earnestness, the Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power and I, from the very first days when we began to hold our present positions, have been working on this question of steel allocations, and I myself believe that the railways have got as good a share of what is available as anybody could have got in the circumstances.

Mr. Barnes

Since the hon. Gentleman has been in his present position six months, cannot he tell us what has actually happened?

Mr. Maclay

What has actually happened? We have got allocations which stand up very well in relation to those for other industries which are in many ways, if not in every way, of equal importance to the country.

Mr. Barnes

Can the hon. Gentleman 'tell us what they are?

Mr. Maclay

Dealing in terms of specific tonnages, it is not possible to give them because they come in quarters, for the first, second, third and fourth periods; and also it is a little bit difficult to give an actual comparison with last year, certainly at this stage, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there was no specific allocation of steel last year to anybody of the kind that has been made this year. That, I would suggest, is one of the real troubles that the railways got into in the last three months of last year. Here I cannot help referring to the Government of that day. There was no system of allocation that could really ensure deliveries last year. It was only when the present Government came into power that we got down to it, and tried to get a workable system, which may make a very great difference as we go through this year.

Mr. Popplewell

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the tonnage of steel requested by the Railway Executive, in the Minister's estimation, is likely to be received? Or what is the difference?

Mr. Maclay

It would not be possible to go into percentage figures, I am afraid, at such short notice. This is to go into great detail. I am not pretending for one moment that the Railway Executive are remotely satisfied with what they have got. They are not. Nor am I satisfied yet; but I think we have done as well as possible, in the circumstances, for the railways during the period. Beyond that it is very difficult to go.

I know that one hon. Member, at least, who spoke will feel: What is the use of giving sympathy instead of delivering the goods—or the steel? All I can say is that we shall be watching the availability of steel as closely as we can in the months to come, and I can assure the House—for this is not a matter for one side or the other exclusively, for we are all very concerned about this—that we shall do our best to see that the railways get as much steel as possible, always bearing in mind the relative urgency of national needs.

Mr. Smithers

Before my hon. Friend leaves that question of steel, could he say whether particularly hard cases such as that of Eastleigh can receive special consideration within the present allocation? It is, I think, an especially hard case compared with every other.

Mr. Maclay

I had intended a little later on to come to the case that was put so moderately and well by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers.

Mr. Smithers

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon.

Mr. Maclay

I will deal with it now. It should be quite clear—and this partly answers a question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, South, also—that the allocation principle that is being used at the moment means that the Railway Executive as a whole, with the British Transport Commission, have got an allocation of steel, and use it as they consider most desirable for the needs of the railways.

The question of Eastleigh, I realise, is a special problem. I understand that my hon. Friend has had discussions with Lord Hurcomb on this point, and I assume that it is being very carefully studied, whether anything can be done there in the special circumstances to try to relieve the very difficult situation that has arisen there. I can assure my hon. Friend that I have noted very carefully what he said, and shall be giving very careful thought to that, as far as it lies in my power to influence what happens there.

On the question of capital investment generally, the right hon. Member for East Ham, South, asked some specific questions. He asked whether the British Transport Commission could switch capital expenditure where they wish between different parts of the undertakings. I cannot answer offhand for what happened in the past, but I do know that at present they are allowed fair discretion in switching. They are not tied strictly to one area or another. It is for them to decide where the raw materials can be best used, and as far as capital expenditure in general is concerned, they are allowed a fair discretion.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the closing of branch lines and the value of consultative committees. The closing of branch lines must obviously be pursued where they are completely uneconomic. I really do think, though, that a lot of unnecessary difficulty was run into by the Railway Executive in the last few years because there was not enough pre-consultation with those who were going to be affected, and I am extremely glad to say that fairly recently it has been decided by the Transport Commission that references will always be made to consultative committees in advance of closing branch lines, instead of leaving consultative committees to struggle with the problem after there has been an announcement in the newspaper and everybody has formed violent views, possibly without the full facts being at their disposal. I sincerely hope that that principle will always be followed.

There is always the human element, and also a certain sentimentality in closing a branch line. I know that if one were going to be closed in my own constituency, I should find great difficulty in not crossing to the other side of the House in order to make a speech at myself. It is very important that there should be pre-consultation. The consultative committees, are, of course, doing valuable work—

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

Will there also be reconsideration of a decision to close a branch line? Action has been taken recently in Edinburgh; the closing down of the Leith Central Station has been announced; and I wrote to the Minister about it. However, certain changes in road transport charges within the city have meant a very big increase in the number of railway passengers on this line, and I wondered whether the Minister would, together with the Executive, consider what effect that might have on maintaining lines that some months ago they intended to close down.

Mr. Maclay

I am afraid I do not know the precise details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, or how far the thing has gone. I suggest that if it has not gone too far, he ought to go to the consultative committee. It is just the sort of matter the transport users' consultative committees exist to deal with.

Mr. Hoy

With all respect, I would point out that I wrote to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know whether he saw the letter, but I had a courteous reply from his Parliamentary Secretary. In view of the fact that I have already taken up with him this specific case of Leith Central Station, even though the reply came from his Parliamentary Secretary, perhaps in those circumstances he will have another look at it.

Mr. Maclay

I am always prepared to look at any letter from the hon. Gentleman, but again I must refer to the point I was arguing with his hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), about which we must be clear. Under the 1947 Act the Minister can do nothing in these matters unless something comes to him from the Central Transport Users Consultative Committee, when he can, in restricted circumstances, give a direction—but they are very restricted circumstances. The redress of the public at the moment under the existing Act is through the transport users' consultative committees. I will certainly read any letters, but I shall probably reply saying that if he feels strongly about this he should go to the transport users' consultative committee.

Mr. Hoy

At least that will be a change.

Mr. Maclay

Turning to some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who opened the debate, I really do think that his first remark was unnecessary, when he referred strongly to the deplorable state of the railways at the outbreak of war. Any hon. or right hon. Member who knows the job the railways did during the war could not for one minute substantiate the case he made that they were in a shocking state. It was just a little bit of—

Mr. Ross

Ask the men who were driving the engines.

Mr. Maclay

In 1939?

Mr. Ross

Yes, in 1939.

Mr. Maclay

All those who used the railways before the war were rude about their own particular local line at times, but the fact remains that the railways did a fabulous job of work throughout the war. I do not think any one would wish to detract from that. Somebody once described the railways as "a poor bag of assets," but that was an equally wrong charge. I am sorry the hon. Member for Enfield, East, made that remark.

He then went on to deal with one or two other points, which I have attempted to answer, and he asked a specific question about the allocation of resources to the Railway Executive. Without going into details, which would not be reasonable at this time, I can say that in 1951 the allocation was approximately the same as in 1950, and for 1952 it will be slightly higher than that of 1951. That is in terms of money. I do not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman, but it might mean slightly less in terms of work done.

The hon. Member had a word to say about the Enfield line. I expected to hear an argument break between him and the right hon. Member for East Ham, South, because I think that the right hon. Gentleman rather advocated the electrification of the Southend line.

Mr. Barnes

Southend No. 1; Enfield No. 2.

Mr. Maclay

Far be it from me to try to adjudicate between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman as to No. 1 and No. 2 priorities. I would say to the hon. Member for Enfield, East, that everyone of us realises the very great problem that exists for travellers in that part of London, and we deplore the difficulty of the restraint on capital investment which is inevitable in present circumstances.

Mr. Monslow

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the railways should take top priority, because in a national emergency they are the arteries of the nation?

Mr. Maclay

With all my enthusiasm for the railways, I do not think that I can argue, nor do I think the hon. Gentleman can, that they are the top priority in present conditions. That point does not quite go. They are obviously an extremely important element in our national structure, whether for peace or war, and the full weight of their importance must be given all consideration in the matter of priority. That is all that any Minister of Transport can properly do, and I have been trying, and will continue to try, to do that.

I had hoped to cover a little more ground, but I do not think that I can without running over my time. I would say, however, in answer to a comment of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), whose speech I missed but it was carefully reported to me, that we shall be pushing on with the colour light signalling and all the latest safety devices. I am informed that steady progress is being made in that matter at York which will have the biggest area of colour light signalling installation anywhere in the world. I am told that the Railway Executive are trying to get on with that if the restrictions on capital investment permit them to do so.

So far as the railways are concerned, I think that the whole House can feel that it is our united desire to see the nationalised railways doing as well as they can, both operationally and financially. I say that quite sincerely without any suggestion of politics of any kind. It is a responsibility of the Minister of Transport to do what he can to help the railways. One can only hope that conditions will make it easier for the proper renewal of stock and all the things that are necessary. When those times come, no one will be happier than I shall be.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.

Mr. Speaker

I informed the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) that half of his Motion— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to omit from Clause 7 the powers sought therein to make two additional lines of railway to the existing level crossing at Ripple Road, Barking, unless the Commission agree to give an undertaking to promote a further Bill within three years empowering them to build a bridge over the railway in place of the level crossing. —was out of order, so perhaps in those circumstances, and in view of what has been said, he will say that he does not desire to move it.

Mr. Braine

I intimated during the course of my speech that if I received certain assurances from the Minister, I would not press the matter. I have received a most satisfactory answer, and, therefore, I do not intend to move the Motion.