§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Perhaps I might say a word or two on the scope of the discussion, because sometimes these things are a little difficult. I would refer to the Ruling given by my predecessor on 8th May, 1951, which is reported in c. 1760 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and in which, after reciting the past practice with regard to similar Bills when the transport undertakings were privately owned, he said:It seems to me to follow logically from that practice that on a Bill promoted by the British Transport Commission, if it is a Bill of wide content, the whole administration of the Executive or Executives responsible for the matters contained in the Bill may be debated. But, if the provisions of the Bill only relate, for instance, to railways, debate must not extend to road transport, or to hotels, or to inland waterways, for each of those branches of work has a separate Executive responsible for its administration. To do otherwise would vitiate the basic rule of relevancy in debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th May, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 1760–61.]Applying these principles to the present Bill, which I have looked at, I have come to the conclusion that there could be a fairly wide debate on the Railway Executive, and also some debate on the 1363 Canals Executive, while, of course, there may be the usual discussion on details that are actually in the Bill. But there is nothing in the Bill about fares, which are regulated by other machinery, nor is there anything in the Bill about the London Transport Executive. Therefore, I call the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan).
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire) rose——
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
On a point of order. May I raise the question of the second Amendment on the Order Paper in my name? I understand that, according to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, we shall not be able to raise any of the matters connected with the London Transport Executive. The point that I should like to put is that the London Transport Executive is a part of the undertaking of the British Transport Commission, and those of us who have put down these Amendments feel that there are certain omissions from this Bill. It is not a question of what is in the Bill, but of trying to call attention to things which ought to be in the Bill, but which, in fact, are not, and I wondered if I might have your guidance on the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question is completely covered by the Ruling of my predecessor which I read, and which I adopt as my own; in other words, only those Executives whose duties are mentioned in the Bill can have their work discussed. To depart from that Ruling would be to widen the scope of the debate far beyond what is customary on a Private Bill when it comes up for Second Reading.
§ Captain Ryder
May we, then, discuss various factors which have, in fact, affected London Transport?
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot give a hypothetical Ruling; we shall have to see how we get on. Discussion of the work of the London Transport Executive is not in order on this Bill, nor is the question of fares. Of that I am sure, but I am loath to limit the debate beyond what it is my duty to do. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will proceed, I shall 1364 endeavour to restrain him if he goes wrong.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Further to that point of order, may I ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker? The Amendment which you have called does not mention fares, but rests upon the question of the administration of part of the transport system. I should like to call your attention to the wording of the Preamble to the Bill, lines 11 and 12, which state:… as to provide most efficiently and conveniently for the needs of the public.and so on. May I have your guidance on that point?
§ Mr. Speaker
The words of the Preamble are indeed related to the Bill, but they do not permit me to extend the scope of the debate to all matters which concern the public; otherwise, that would be to make nonsense of what has been the practice in these matters.
§ Captain Ryder
May I ask if the debate will be confined entirely to the first Amendment, which seems to be on a somewhat narrow subject, or whether we shall be able to finish the debate on the first Amendment and then have a more general debate?
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Colonel Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill promoted by a body whose operations are conducted in such a way that its rolling stock is dirty, its maintenance inadequate and its train service unreliable.I will endeavour to be brief and factual. The reason for seeking to discuss the matters mentioned in the Amendment is that there is general and widespread concern in the country about the matters covered by the Amendment. The British Transport Commission are seeking new powers in this Bill, and I think it is only right and in the public interest that we should question whether we should give further powers to this organisation, which, at the moment, do not appear to be using their existing powers as effectively as they should be. It is on these lines that I propose to discuss the Amendment. 1365 Those representing the British Transport Commission have written to my hon. Friends and myself asking us if we could mention specific examples of dirty trains, late trains or badly maintained rolling stock. Of course, it is not a matter of individual trains; it is a matter of a great many trains, and, therefore, to give one example of what has happened already would not be profitable in the field of investigation. I am not suggesting for a moment that the famous trains, such as the Flying Scotsman, the Queen of Scots and the Cornish Riviera Express, are dirty. I think we must realise that some of these famous trains are living up pretty well to their old reputation, but not quite as well as they should, even so.
We have the famous trains, but we have the infamous as well, and the local trains, those which do not possess famous names or do not run over long stretches of track, are frequently in a deplorable state. I do not wish to quote a whole lot of individual trains to the House, but I am sure that every member of the travelling public knows what we are seeking to do. I have had letters myself, and I know that many of my hon. Friends have had them, from a great many people in different parts of the country—from Scotland, Kent, Cambridge, Wales, Cumberland and other parts. This is not just a matter of the 10.50 from Euston to Perth that I am trying to press, although that is one of the most unpunctual trains in the British time-table.
As clear evidence of the unpunctuality of trains, I cannot do better than quote "The Times" of 19th January, which had an extremely restrained and interesting article on the subject of the punctuality of trains, and the conclusion reached and based upon figures was that in good weather—and I ask the House to note those words—about 60 per cent. of express passenger trains, and 80 per cent. of all other passenger trains, arrived at their destinations on time. Sixty per cent. of long-distance express passenger trains means not much more than half of those trains arriving punctually.
Can anybody say that that is a satisfactory state of affairs in the great British railway system? I think it is not. It is easier for a long-distance express passenger train to be late on its schedule, because the schedule is much more closely drawn than those of the more localised 1366 lines. Therefore, one could expect to have a higher rate of lateness on those than on the local trains. But the fact that only 60 per cent. are running to time is nothing to be proud of or for the British Transport Commission to crow about.
Before the war, people only commented if a train was late whereas today they comment if it is early. That is a deplorable state of affairs. The 10.50 from Euston to Perth is more often than not 45 minutes late, at least on the one day a week on which I travel on it. Curiously enough, on the two successive Friday mornings after the Amendment appeared on the Order Paper it arrived on time. I would not be so conceited, nor would my hon. Friends associated with me, to suggest that the Amendment was the reason for it, but it was certainly an interesting coincidence.
Last week, however, it was again 45 minutes late, but that was due to fog on the line. Nobody can blame trains for being late in foggy weather, and nobody but a fool would wish them to take risks in such weather. But the 60 per cent. of trains which ran to time did so in good weather. I am told that last Thursday there was fog going north, and therefore all the passengers accepted the need for caution.
The dirtiness of trains is something which is quite inexcusable, especially when we are hoping to attract tourists to this country. Some of the trains on which I have travelled are a disgrace. While there may be adequate reasons for not replacing certain trains, there can be no excuse for dirt. The things about which I am complaining are dirty lavatories, broken fitments and dirty cushions which cannot be used until a newspaper has been placed between them and one's head.
All this gives a bad impression to foreign visitors, and this tourist traffic, especially in Scotland, is of extreme importance.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman desires to be fair even to the British Transport Commission. He has just stated that a train on which he travelled was in the condition he is now describing. I think he owes it to the Commission to say what train it was and the day on which it occurred.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The dirt had certainly not accumulated in one day; it had taken years to accumulate. I do not think it reasonable to expect me to name the particular day, but the fact that we have received similar evidence from all over the country cannot be ignored. I am not suggesting for one moment that this Amendment is based solely on my own personal experience, though my own experience would amply justify it. I cannot speak for the experiences of other hon. Members, but both sides of the House will know that what I am saying is accurate.
§ Mr. Collick rose——
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The hon. Gentleman has had his opportunity. I am not trying to be unfair to the British Transport Commission, which has a lot on its plate. The fact that it is top-heavy is not the fault of the Commission, but of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The Commission have only to ask the travelling public in any part of the country to get confirmation of what I am saying. That, surely, is fair enough.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
Yes, six years of Socialism is a very black legacy.
I have in my hand an advertisement taken from one of the London daily papers—it appeared in most of them—showing a happy trio who are advised to go to see friends and to go by rail. It says:Go in comfort; get there fresher and sooner. It costs so little to visit your friends when you go by train.At the bottom it says:It is quick, comfortable, convenient.But if only 60 per cent. of the trains are punctual, how can it be either quick or convenient? If the dirt which I have described is there—and everyone knows it is—how can it be called comfortable? I do not think that is a fair advertisement. Although I agree that British Railways have the right to advertise their wares as much as any other organisation, I think they ought to produce what they say in their advertisements. I cannot 1368 talk about the British Road Services as otherwise I could give particulars of their dishonest advertisements, such as the one which says "Go by Pickfords" and does not say that it is one of their services.
Dirt and unpunctuality are two very serious matters, and I hope that the fact that we have raised this matter today may give the British Transport Commission a jolt. I know their difficulties, but I also know that they could do far better than they are doing at present.
I now come to the much more important subject of inadequate maintenance. Here, of course, we are on very thin ice as regards the matter of public safety. The Commission asked whether I could give examples, and I drew their attention to the report on railway accidents issued on the authority of the Minister of Transport by the officer appointed—as is always done quite rightly—to hold an inquiry after an accident.
The report to which I would draw the attention of the House relates to a derailment last year at a place called—I think I am right in my pronunciation of it—Blea Moor. In that report Colonel MacMullen, the reporting officer, goes into great detail about this accident, and at the end of the report he says:I can, therefore, attribute this accident only to the fact that insufficient attention had been paid over a considerable period to the examination of engine brake gear.That is a very serious statement.
He goes on to say:This serious accident … was the third case on British Railways attributable to a locomotive defect within a year.There was one at Weedon, one at Glasgow, Queen Street, and this particular one at Blea Moor.The former"—that is, Weedon—was caused by a mistake on the part of an experienced fitter who mismanaged the task of transposing the bogie axles, and it would most probably have been prevented by better supervision. In the Glasgow case a vacuum grate failure occurred as a result of a defect which had obtained for some time. In all three of these accidents the engines were in traffic in an unsafe condition, and in this particular case also the engine must have been in that condition for a considerable period.These are really terrible words to be used in connection with the public interest. 1369 He goes on to say:If the safety of the travelling public is to be ensured locomotives must be efficiently maintained and this requires the work of examination and repair to be conscientiously supervised. The fact that engines are used so much more intensively nowadays makes the question of close supervision specially important. The necessity for careful attention to detail needs no emphasis.On a still later accident, the unhappy one which occurred near Crewkerne, Somerset, the report states:The accident was … caused by part of the brake gear of the tender of the engine becoming detached. It was the result of an unsatisfactory feature in the design, but ineffective examination and an accumulation of dirt on the undergear may have contributed…Such a defect might not have been noticed because of the dirt that had accumulated under the tender, and similar conditions were found under the tender of another engine of the same class. Instructions have already been issued by the Regional Officers"—we are all glad to hear this—that special attention is to be paid to the removal of the dirt so as to ensure that all the brake fittings can be examined effectively.That is a report on only four accidents on British Railways during the year as a result of lack of examination. How many more engines are potentially liable to accident if examination is not being carried out as carefully as it should be? I believe most sincerely that the British Transport Commission cannot complain when we say that maintenance is giving rise to anxiety in the public mind today. Those of us who travel frequently on trains and meet such courtesy and attention from the train staffs find that the staff also are very worried about this; and, of course, they, who travel far more than we do, are entitled to proper supervision of locomotives and gear generally.
Our locomotives have been famous for their design for generations. Up to the war they sparkled like new pins. Today they are filthy. There is no other word to apply to them. If one sees a clean engine today one immediately comments on it whereas previously I remember from boyhood seeing firemen, whenever the engine stopped anywhere, running along and cleaning this and that.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
The old "Highland" may have had its drawbacks, but those concerned were proud of their 1370 railway, and their engines were clean. That was true of all the railways of Great Britain. It is a misfortune that we see such fine locomotives in such a disgraceful condition today. For all the dirt one sees there is plenty that one does not see, and that dirt is probably more important in locomotives, as the report of the inspecting officer which I have quoted stated.
I want to know why it is that British Railways have got into this condition. After all, the French railways are nationalised and they are very punctual. In my experience of French railways since the war, their rolling stock is certainly as clean as, if not cleaner than, that of British Railways, and the food provided is far better. That is an answer to those who say that nationalisation is to blame in this country. It cannot be that, because the French keep their trains punctual although the railways have been nationalised.
Why is it that we in Great Britain, who invented railways and gave them to the whole world, having set the example, should have now come to this sorry state of affairs? The only way to run a great organisation like a railway is to work up a genuine, lasting ésprit de corps among all concerned. Time was when it used to be a matter of immense pride to be a guard, driver or fireman on British railways. The ésprit de corps of the railways was of the highest order and that is one of the reasons why we had such an efficient service.
Why has that gone to glory? We have broken the hearts and hurt the pride of those who work on the railways. Nationalisation has smashed their ésprit de corps and everyone must agree that if ésprit de corps goes, a very large degree of efficiency must go as a result.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
If that argument is sound, why is the British Post Office such a fine institution? It has been nationalised for all these years and we are perfectly satisfied about its ésprit de corps.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I should be out of order in discussing the Post Office, but I could do so at some length. The fighting Services are efficient in spite of Government Departments, not because of them. But we must not be led away 1371 on that subject. I am talking about railways. I mean what I say and I do not think that I am unfair.
I must pass now to further items in this Bill. I leave the questions of dirt, unpunctuality and bad maintenance in the hope that what I have said may do good, and in the sincere conviction that bringing these matters to light publicly in Parliament can do no harm anyway.
There are one or two Clauses of this Bill which worry us. Clause 16 deals with level crossings and rights of way.
It states:(1) As from the passing of this Act—
The proviso referred to is in Clause 16 (2) of the Bill which states:
- (a) all rights of way over the level crossing referred to in Part I of the First Schedule of this Act; and
- (b) all rights of way over the level crossings referred to in Part II of the said Schedule other than a right of way for all persons to use those level crossings on foot; shall subject to the provisions of this section be extinguished …"The Commission shall provide and maintain for the convenience of persons on foot wicket gates or stiles on both sides of the railway …instead of the right of way. I wonder whether the British Transport Commission are within their rights, in a Bill of this kind, to extinguish automatically large numbers of rights of way without providing that a man riding or leading a horse can get across the level crossing. A wicket gate or stile is no good either to a horseman or a man leading a horse.
I should like to have an answer on that point, because the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. drew up, with the approval of this House, the most elaborate precautions for protecting rights of way in the public interest. We should have some explanation why these existing rights of way should be suddenly extinguished, just to satisfy the Commission and, I presume, just to save trouble.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
If one put a wicket gate where one did not exist before, I should have thought that that would cost more than leaving things as they were.
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. and gallant Member is on an important point. I am sure he will aprpeciate that, although these facilities are provided for the public benefit, the railways throughout the country have to meet the complete financial cost. Surely, if it is of public concern that the public should make use of these crossings, there ought to be public responsibility by way of financial contribution.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I do not have a very close understanding of this matter, not having been occupied with the railways professionally in any way, but I should have thought that these crossings were provided for the benefit of the railways as much as for the benefit of the public. I think, therefore, that we should have an explanation of why these rights are being extinguished.
Part IV of this Bill, from Clause 21 onwards, deals with lands and the power to acquire lands. This is a point on which I always feel very strongly. Actually, the amount of land which it is proposed to acquire compulsorily under this Bill is very limited, but that, unfortunately, is the excuse given for every acquisition of land in this country. If one multiplies the numbers of limited amounts of lands acquired, one obtains the hideous total of 50,000 acres of good farming land which is lost to agriculture every year in this country.
I should like to be assured by the Minister that the Commission will not be allowed to take farming land even if it is close to a railway unless there is absolutely no alternative land. I should like to know whether it is a fact that wherever land is acquired by the Railway Executive or the British Transport Commission for any purpose, the Minister of Agriculture in England and Wales and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland are consulted beforehand.
That should be the inevitable rule in these days when land is taken for any purpose other than for farming. When all is said and done, we live on farming; every acre of this country, which is only a small island, is valuable from the farming point of view, and we are going to become more and more dependent on it.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I hope I shall be believed when I say that I have not spoken for 1373 the mere fun of "getting at" the British Transport Commission, although, speaking as a member of the travelling public, I must say that that is sometimes at the back of one's mind. Bringing these matters to the notice of the Minister can do nothing but good. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us on behalf of the Transport Commission that they will give serious consideration to these matters which have been brought to light, and that they will accept that it is done not in a carping spirit but in order to put the great British railway system of this country once more in that high position which it held right up to the war.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
I beg to second the Amendment.
The House should be grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) for having moved this Amendment because there is no doubt that there is anxiety in the public mind at what appears to be the deterioration in the safety of the travelling public. If this debate provides an opportunity for the Minister to allay some of those anxieties and fears, then the time of the House will not have been wasted.
There is no doubt that the deterioration in the cleanliness and maintenance of locomotives and trains as described by my hon. and gallant Friend is one of the causes of this public anxiety. The public say that it is evident that there has been a falling off in the attention given to the trains and they wonder, therefore, whether there is some falling off in the attention given to other matters affecting safety, the running of the locomotives, the axles and such things, some details of which have been given by my hon. and gallant Friend. If the Minister can show that that public anxiety is ill-founded, we shall have done a useful job of work.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the Economic Commission for Europe Transport Division's Annual Bulletin of Transport Statistics for 1951, which was issued last year by the United Nations. Study of this interesting document shows that on British Railways the number of journeys per person per year fell from 28 in 1938 to 20 in 1951. The statistics in this document also show that other European countries registered a 1374 substantial increase in railway passenger traffic. I am wondering whether that decline in the United Kingdom is due to the reasons mentioned in the Amendment.
Another interesting fact which emerges from this Report is that the frequency of service as measured by the number of trains per mile of line has dropped in this country. In 1938 Britain was first, in 1950 we were second and now we are third. Again, I am wondering whether there is any relation between those statistics and the matters mentioned in the Amendment.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Switzerland and Holland have gone ahead of us. There may be good reasons for this, but if so, they should be stated. I mention these points to give the Minister an opportunity of producing reasons which we in this House and the public are entitled to have. There are facts and figures which are very disturbing. Our railways are nationalised and we want to see them successful. We do not want to see our railways declining in efficiency while those in other European countries progress.
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Gentleman will find much of the explanation in the fact that British Railways have been closing down their passenger services on uneconomic branch lines and have been running them in conjunction with road passenger services.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
That may be the answer. I should like to know whether similar conditions apply on the Continent. I do not know, and I am raising these matters because they should be explained to us and to the general public, who are deeply concerned.
The utilisation of passenger coaches and goods wagons in the United Kingdom is the lowest in Europe. Presumably there is some reason, but I do not know what it is. Utilisation ought to mean more economic operation. The turn-round time of goods wagons is 10.4 days in this country compared with 4.3 days in Germany. There may be an explanation, but it seems that, compared with Germany, we have twice as many wagons on our rails as would appear to be necessary. What is the answer? 1375 I come to my last point out of many which could be raised in this debate. The ratio of staff to traffic in this country is the highest in comparison with Western European countries. Why is this? It suggests that our British railways are not being operated as efficiently as they ought to be. I would like to know whether this is so.
Perhaps the Minister can say how closely this document has been studied. Why is it that certain railways in Europe are apparently able to do these things better than we can? I am sure that the whole House would like to know the answer. I raise these points only because this Bill provides us with an opportunity to consider this question, and it would be wrong if we did not take advantage of it to raise matters which are of concern and substance to this House and the general public.
§ Mr. Speaker
In answer to the hon. and gallant Member who raised the question, the original Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time" is left open to debate within the limits which I originally announced, as well as the Amendment.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) are respected in this House. I was, therefore, a little surprised that they moved and seconded their Amendment in a way which completely failed to prove the accusations which they are levelling against the British Transport Commission. Both hon. Gentlemen embarked upon a number of generalisations without giving any specific instances except that given by the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire concerning the train from Perth to London.
I cannot understand why they did not take advantage of the Commission's suggestion that they should inform them of their specific complaints, so that they could be answered and looked into.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
Perhaps I did not make it clear. I have written to the Transport Commission saying that I did not need to go into detailed explana- 1376 tions about the dirtiness of trains and referring them to the statistical figures given in "The Times" so far as unpunctuality was concerned and to the inspector of accidents in connection with maintenance.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I am concerned with this Amendment, so the hon. Gentleman may like to know my answer. I wrote to the Parliamentary agents saying that if they would look at the file in the possession of the chairman of the Commission they would find a whole series of allegations which I have made, which had been investigated, and on which I have received letters from the chairman. All the facts are there.
§ Mr. Davies
If the hon. Lady has the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, she will no doubt inform us what those complaints were and what were the explanations of the Commission in reply.
§ Mr. Davies
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment might have referred to some of the difficulties which have confronted the Commission since the war and he might also have given them some credit for what they have achieved. Their achievements have been very considerable and their difficulties very great.
The three main accusations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman were that the rolling stock is dirty; maintenance is inadequate; and there is unpunctuality. Before looking into his accusations to see whether they are justified and to see how the Commission are meeting these alleged deficiencies it would be as well if we looked at the handicaps under which they have been operating since 1948.
Due to the pre-war position, which was extremely difficult, and which arose largely from the intense road-rail competition, the railways were operating under financial difficulties and were not then able to engage in that degree of modernisation which was taking place in many other countries and which left British Railways lagging behind. After the war there were vast arrears of maintenance, which has resulted in the system becoming very much out of date and in bad repair. 1377 No one can deny that the British Railways when they were nationalised in 1948, inherited a system which was in a pretty poor state. Since then they have had to concentrate, in face of these difficulties, on endeavouring to bring their system up to modern standards of operational efficiency. It is necessary to look a little more closely at some of the difficulties which have resulted in accusations being directed against the Commission. We all recall the very bad condition of the rolling stock on many suburban and branch lines before the war. Frequent criticisms of the British Railways were made in those days. Praise was given for the operation of the main line routes with their crack expresses, but when Private Bills were before this House—and on other occasions—criticisms were frequently levelled against the railway companies.
We have seen some improvements since, but the fact remains that of the 42,000 passenger vehicles operating on the British Railways today, 5,500 are in service beyond their normal life. They should have been scrapped. They are obsolescent, but they have to be utilised because of the inability of British Railways to replace them due to the inadequate allocation of steel. That is why so many of the old coaches are still operating. However much one endeavours to keep one's old stock in good condition it cannot but look shabby and give the impression of being dirty.
British Railways are doing their utmost to improve their stock and many hon. Members may have read of the opening of the new carriage cleansing plant at Willesden this week. The Railway Executive cannot be blamed for the fact that they have to operate these very old passenger coaches, which are, incidentally, being utilised far more than they were before the war. They are carrying more passengers per coach and running a greater mileage annually than they did before the war.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I am obliged to the hon. Member for what he has said on the question of dirtiness; but these old carriages can surely be cleaned. I am not talking about dilapidations but about surface dirt, under the seats, on the seats, on the brackets and every other part. Why is that?
§ Mr. Davies
That is a generalisation. If the hon. and gallant Member gives specific instances of rolling stock being dirty and neglected, the Commission will take action.
The staff engaged at present in maintaining the cleanliness of the carriages is larger than it was before the war and new methods and new equipment are being used in order to maintain a higher standard. It is because the rolling stock is over age that difficulties arise.
The same applies to locomotives. Here, again, old stock is in operation. There has been inadequate replacement, but the locomotives are being used to a far greater extent than before the war. In spite of that and in spite of the accident which the hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted and which we all regret, there are fewer breakdowns today than there were in 1948, when the railways became nationalised. Since 1949, the mileage run by locomotives without a mechanical breakdown has been doubled, on an average. Whereas, in 1949, for every 15,000 miles there was a mechanical casualty, in November, 1952, locomotives were running 30,000 miles, on an average, before a mechanical casualty was experienced.
§ Major Sydney Markham (Bucking-ham)
Would the hon. Gentleman give the comparable figures for 1938, which would be more to the point?
§ Mr. Davies
I do not think they are more to the point when we are showing how, since they have been in operation, the Transport Commission have been striving successfully to improve the maintenance of the stock which they inherited under very bad conditions. I would scarcely say that this was normal post-war recovery when we appreciate that they have doubled the efficiency of their stock in a matter of three years. That shows that there has been a great effort by the staff, and I think they deserve full credit for what they have achieved.
On average, the locomotives in service today are subject to only one mechanical failure a year. Anyone who has an old motor car knows very well that the number of mechanical breakdowns averages far more than that. The improvement which has taken place disproves the 1379 accusations of inadequate maintenance of locomotives. In addition, the Commission have succeeded in reducing their fuel consumption substantially. The amount of coal consumed per mile per locomotive has fallen by more than 2½ lb. in the last few years, which, again, shows that there has not been inadequate maintenance.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that locomotives were dirtier than they used to be. Does he know the explanation? It is the difficulty of obtaining cleaners for locomotives. The reason for that is that whereas before the war there was unemployment and it was easy to obtain labour to do that dirty and not altogether pleasant work, today, despite higher wages and better working conditions, the railways are unable to obtain sufficient labour for cleaning locomotives. If we returned to conditions of unemployment from the present condition of comparative full employment, no doubt the situation would be different.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro) rose——
§ Mr. Davies
I cannot give way.
I want to deal next with the question of punctuality. Here, again, it is easy for us to generalise from our own experience. We are all aggravated when the trains in which we are travelling are late, but if we look at the overall picture of punctuality we see that it is much better than that quoted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman from a letter in "The Times." The figures which have been published by the Transport Commission, and which are obviously accurate, indicate that the number of long-distance expresses which have arrived at the right time or less than five minutes late has improved from 63.3 per cent. in 1948 to 68.3 per cent. in 1952, which shows a substantial improvement.
More than two-thirds of the long-distance expresses during 1952 arrived either punctually or less than five minutes late. I think that is a fairly good record for long-distance expresses when we consider the uncertain weather which we have in this country, including fog, which, of course, is the greatest factor in delaying long-distance expresses, as well as other trains.
1380 If we look at the total number of trains operating, then the percentage is 75 per cent.; three-quarters of the trains operating in this country arrive on time or less than five minutes late. I think that is a satisfactory record, and it is certainly better than the record of 60 per cent. which the hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted.
That good record could not be achieved if there were not adequate maintenance of the rolling stock and the permanent way. I therefore suggest that, although we are all dissatisfied from time to time with certain aspects of the operation of the railways—because we are all travellers and we all experience inconvenience from time to time, which is inherent in any large railway system—we should look at the overall picture and see what the record and the achievement of the system has been.
That achievement has been great and has been steadily improving since nationalisation. I do not suggest that it is due entirely to nationalisation; it is due partly to the circumstances which have made it possible and to the staff, the management and all concerned. I deny that the staff and management lack esprit de corps. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman talks to the management and to workers on the job he will find that there is a pride in operating the railways as efficiently and successfully as possible. To suggest that there is no esprit de corps is being somewhat insulting to those who are responsible for the great achievements which are to the credit of British Railways.
Perhaps I may sum up the difficulties which have arisen and which have prevented British Railways from developing in the way in which I am sure those responsible for their operation would like them to develop and which would increase the pride of all those operating them. First, there are the restrictions which have been placed on capital investment since the war. The railways have not been free to spend what they wished to spend on improving their system and modernising and developing it. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, they have been handicapped.
Secondly, there has been a shortage of labour and materials which has handicapped them in maintenance, in renewals 1381 and in general operations. Of the shortage of materials, the greatest problem has been created by the inadequate allocation of steel to British Railways, which has prevented them from building new rolling stock and which has handicapped them in normal renewals and maintenance.
Take the case of passenger coaches. In 1952, it was not possible to build a single new passenger coach. There was not sufficient steel available to British Railways to enable them to construct a single new carriage—and yet their programme provided for 2,000 new coaches. The same applied to freight wagons. Only about half the capacity available in private and railway workshops was used, the balance either being idle or used for other purposes. That was due to the shortage of steel. The same comment applies to other rolling stock and, unfortunately, to maintenance of the permanent way.
The other main difficulty which has faced them is the obsolescent or over-age stock which they still have to operate. British Railways have to make up their minds about priorities. That is a great difficulty which confronts them. They have to decide which is more important—on the one hand, to have newly-painted stations, modernised stations and clean rolling stock, or on the other hand, to modernise their signalling and to renew their permanent way. They have to decide, also, between different items of rolling stock and they have to decide the best way to allocate their materials and, particularly, the steel and the timber available to them. In making those decisions I think they try to maintain a fair balance. First of all, they want to bring their system up to the highest possible standard of efficient operation, and I consider that more important than improving the appearance of stations and effecting similar improvements.
Despite all these difficulties, the railways have been operating with a great degree of efficiency. Frequently in this House, in debates on the Transport Bill and on other occasions, figures have been quoted of the increased efficiency of British Railways. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone quoted the E.C.E. Report, I hope also with him that the Minister will give us some enlightenment on that. However, I would suggest to the hon. Gentleman that although some of the 1382 Continental railways have improved their operation more than we have ours, because they have not been faced with the same difficulties that we have, particularly as regards restriction on development, we have, at the same time, improved in certain respects at a rate of improvement that has been greater than theirs.
I would also suggest to him that it is not possible to compare the operation of British Railways with that of the railways of some continental countries. We have in this country the busiest railway system in the world. It is more intensively used than any other railway system, I believe —possibly with the exception of the Belgian. [Interruption.] I hope that the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will give us some advice when he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
As I was saying, British Railways, in spite of their difficulties, have greatly increased their efficiency. However, that is not to say they should be complacent today or that they should be free from criticism, or that no criticism is justified. Of course it is. It is of any large-scale organisation. I do think that, perhaps, the railway mind is inclined to be rigid—that it is sometimes inclined to run along tracks not dissimilar from those on which the trains run. It is unfortunate that just as British Railways were becoming less rigid, just as those responsible for their operation were becoming more flexible in their outlook, and were becoming more transport-minded, and able to cooperate and work out integration with other transport systems, the transport policy of this country has been changed, and that that integration and co-operation is to be retarded.
I think further that, perhaps, the railways have occasionally lacked sufficient enterprise—particularly in the old days under private enterprise—to seek the new traffic and enter into competition successfully with other forms of transport. I think that the airways corporations, for instance, in reduction of their charges for tourist traffic, set the railways a useful example. I think that the rather belated decision of the railways to engage in cheap trips from Scotland, by the running of the Starlight Special, is a venture that may well be extended. The reason that they have been unable to do this before 1383 has been the shortage of rolling-stock. It is only now that they are able to use rollingstock for that particular operation.
The future of the railways, I think, lies largely in this long-distance traffic. Road coaches are the biggest competitors of the railways in effect, but their probable optimum profitable distance is something about 100 miles; over 100 miles the railways can compete successfully with road traffic, provided they charge reasonable fares. I should like to see a great extension of the cheaper fares for long-distance transport, particularly by catering for special classes of the community.
For instance, it would be possible for the railways to institute some form of holiday family tickets, to run special limited trains over the holiday period at the off-peak hours, and to issue cheap tickets for the whole family, it would be a way in which the average family could be helped, and it would, at the same time, encourage them to travel by rail to their holiday resort. There are other ways in which the railways, as more rolling stock becomes available, could endeavour to recapture much of the long-distance transport, but they will not be able to do it unless they are enterprising, and courageous enough to cut down the fares which they charge for such journeys.
I would conclude by saying that I think one can direct criticism against the railways as one can against any form of transport, whether privately or publicly owned, but that the Transport Commission do not deserve the criticism that has been levelled against them tonight by those who moved and seconded the Amendment. The railways have a future. Under their present management, if they are not interfered with over much as a result of the present Government's transport policy, and if they are not starved of capital as they have been during recent years, and if they are not deprived of steel particularly, as well as of other materials, then, with vision and imagination, they have a future ahead of them which, with the continuation of nationalisation, will show that British Railways will yet catch up and ultimately overtake the railways on the Continent, to which reference has been made tonight.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, I wonder if he would elaborate his point about the shortage of cleaners? Would he not agree that the shortage of cleaners, which everybody knows about, is much more due to two factors other than the improvement in employment since the war? The first is that the differential between the wages of engine drivers, who are on the top rung of the ladder to which the cleaners are promoted, and the wages in a good job not on the railways, is much less than it used to be, so that a man is less attracted to engine driving; and the second is the call-up.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. I was going to call the hon. Gentleman later, but if he is going to make a speech now, I shall not be able to do so. Does he wish to speak? I was going to call him.
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was asking the hon. Gentleman a question. It was becoming somewhat lengthy, but if I may be allowed to carry on from where I was on that point about the cleaners. I would say that it is true that there is a very great shortage of cleaners, and that is a point which has been made before in this House on a number of occasions. But I would respectfully suggest that the shortage is certainly not due solely to the improvement in the unemployment figures since before the war.
Of course there was unemployment then. but the reason for the shortage now is that that particular form of employment is less attractive than it used to be, and it is so first for the reason I have mentioned—the differential between the wages of an engine driver and in the wages of a good job outside nowadays is not so great as it was. An engineer driver's wages are not so good in comparison with some wages paid in factories for jobs that are lighter and less responsible. Therefore, the attraction to the engine driver's job is less than it used to be.
Second, there is the question of the call-up. It is probably regrettable but it is understandable that a young man expecting to go to the Army in a very short time, when he is looking for work in the mean while, is not going to choose a job which is rather hard and which is a dirty 1385 job, and is one which, though it has ultimate prospects, has no immediate attraction. The reasons a young man became a cleaner was not because he wanted to become a cleaner. Nobody ever wanted to be a cleaner. A man became a cleaner because some day be hoped to become a driver, which was an attractive job. [Interruption.] Cleaners are promoted to be firemen and firemen are promoted to be drivers.
§ Mr. Wilson
Reference was made to fog. It has always been a puzzle to me why the British railway service still has a fog man. I suppose it is insisted upon by the trade unions, but with automatic train control and many other devices trains really ought not to run so much more slowly in fog and could be speeded up very considerably. The running of trains generally is much slower than it was before the war. A table of figures was published not long ago showing that a large number of express trains travel slower than they did in 1938 and some of them slower than they did in 1913. Of course, there has not been so much spent on maintenance in these days, but an effort should be made to increase the speed of trains.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) again raised the question of railway deterioration being due to road competition. I fancy that I would be out of order if I developed that theme. The argument has been heard in this House on many occasions, and I have never accepted it. The deterioration of the railways is not solely due to that by any means. A great deal could be done to improve the position and I hope it will be done after the changes have been made which are to take place as the result of another Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) put their case with a good deal of moderation and concentrated upon a few incidents. They did not make general charges against the British Transport Commission. It is right that that should be so at the present time because reorganisation is in the wind and is likely to take place. We hope that it will 1386 benefit the travelling public and by this——
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
On a point of order. Would it be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the hon. Gentleman to address his speech, as he is doing, to another hon. Member under the seat?
§ Mr. Wilson
I hope I was not addressing another hon. Gentleman under the seat and that I was addressing the House through you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If I was not, I must apologise. I do not want to detain the House any longer as I was unexpectedly called, but of that I do not complain.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
The hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) should be congratulated upon the manner in which they presented their case. We may profoundly disagree with a lot they had to say, but they endeavoured to be fair in the criticisms which they made.
The Amendment contains a reference to maintenance in these terms:… its maintenance inadequate.I think that the British Transport Commission would agree with the description, but not for the reasons given by the mover of the Amendment. Evidently, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not read the Report of the Commission for 1951. Very important things are stated in that Report and their effects have contributed to the complaints which have been voiced here this evening.
It may be of interest if I briefly quote one or two of the salient points from the Report, because they appertain closely to the problems that we are discussing. They relate to maintenance and the renewal of locomotives, carriages, and wagons. On page 114 the Report says this about locomotives:New steam and diesel-electric locomotives intended to go into traffic in 1951 were 424, of which 308 were to be built in railway shops and 116 by contractors. The actual number built and put into service was 317, the deficiency of 107 (53 from railway shops and 54 from contractors) being mainly due to the inadequate supply of raw materials during the second half of the year. The balance of 107 locomotives has been carried forward for construction in 1952, together with the programme for that year as far as steel supplies will permit.1387 Steel supplies were very poor indeed last year. The chances are that there are accumulated arrears of renewals of locomotives adding to the problem with which the hon. Gentleman dealt in his speech.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman complained that passenger carriages were in a dirty condition. On page 115 the Report says:The arrears of new construction on authorised programmes at the end of the year totalled 1,082 passenger carriages and 405 non-passenger carrying vehicles; this reacted on the standard of service offered during the heavy summer traffic, and is much to be regretted. 525 of the vehicles built by the railways were to standard designs and 121 of them were ready for operation in the special Festival of Britain trains which began in May. Shortage of material, especially steel, during the closing months of the year caused a reduction of 99 in the output of passenger carriages compared with 1950.It goes on to say, with reference to the repair of passenger carriages:At the peak of the summer traffic requirements, the number of passenger-carrying vehicles under or awaiting repair was 6.9 per cent. the same as in 1950. In July, it became apparent that new building would fall below expectation, and condemnation of old vehicles was restrictedIn other words, old passenger-carrying vehicles that ought to have been condemned and put out of operation were allowed to continue in service. Then the Report says:There remained in the stock 5,500 passenger-carrying vehicles over age, of which 3,000 gangwayed vehicles are over 35 years old and 2,500 non-gangwayed are over 40 years old.Freight wagons have a very important bearing on the general operation of the railway service. Under the heading "New Construction." the Report says, on page 116:36,910 new wagons, including brake vans, were built in 1951, 15,580 in railway workshops and 21,330 by contractors. The new construction included 22,452 mineral wagons with a total carrying capacity of 378,763 tons.This is the important part:The total output was less by 10,000 wagons than the workshop capacity of the railways and the trade, the loss having been entirely due to shortage of steel.At every turn of the way we come up against the shortage of steel.
It is alleged that wagons are running in a bad state of repair and that they are dangerous and contribute to 1388 accidents. The Report, after stating that there had been a satisfactory reduction in the number of wagons under or awaiting repair, shows in a table that since 1947 the number has been very considerably reduced, from 11.08 to 6.28 in 1951. The target at which the Transport Commission are aiming is 5.5 per cent. of wagons under or awaiting repair. The Report says, on page 116:The number out of service for repair would have been less—probably down to the target of 5.5 per cent.—but for two important facts; first, the need, because of the shortage of steel for building new wagons, to retain in service over 46,000 wagons authorised for condemnation.These wagons have been authorised for condemnation as being unfit to operate on the system, but the B.T.C. are compelled to operate them because of the insufficiency of steel to build sufficient renewals. The only alternative is to decline to accept traffic, which it would be impossible for the Commission to do. So the Report says that they have had toretain in service over 46,000 wagons authorised for condemnation.and to keep in stock63,000 wagons of the former privately-owned fleet which were life-expired but not yet authorised for condemnation. The enforced retention of these old wagons necessitated much uneconomical repair work.I must apologise for quoting these paragraphs of the B.T.C. Report, but they are germane to the issue we are discussing. It is no use the hon. and gallant Gentleman making complaints about the bad state of railway passenger coaches when, through the shortage of steel and restrictions on capital development, the railways are compelled to operate old, worn-out stock that ought to have gone a long time ago and are unable to construct a sufficient number of new locomotives to replace those which ought to have been put out of service as having served their time. This applies to wagons, locomotives, passenger-carrying vehicles, and accounts largely for many of the complaints of the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman had something to say about level crossings and complained about the proposal of the Commission to restrict the public user of certain railway level crossings. I think it is recognised that the public should have some financial responsibility for the 1389 maintenance of these level crossings. It is all very well to say that they exist for the convenience of the railways as well as the public, but the Transport Commission are compelled to shoulder the complete cost of their maintenance. That is a substantial item because at many of the crossings there has to be a level crossing keeper and, in some cases, two. If one takes the number of crossings in the country and multiplies by that number the wage paid to each level crossing keeper, apart from the cost of maintaining the permanent way over which the crossing runs, it will be found to be a substantial item.
It cost the B.T.C. £2 million a year to maintain public roads over railway bridges which are used by their competitors, the private hauliers. The Commission have to pay to the authority the cost of maintaining the public roadway over all their railway bridges. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman can complain if the Commission, having to maintain financially the level crossings, have come to the conclusion that they can do their job much more economically by a rearrangement.
Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the Perth run. He is unreasonable in complaining about the late running of that train. There may be one longer run from Inverness, but the Perth run is one of the longest in the country. When one studies the route of the train from Perth to London and considers the many junctions over which it has to pass, coming down through the main railway network, there is no valid basis for the complaint that the train is sometimes late. With all the good will in the world it is not easy to maintain punctuality over a very long route which runs right through the spinal cord of the railway system. It requires only a slight delay here and there, because of another train or some other unforeseen circumstance, to create a few minutes' delay.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to be reasonable in his approach to this problem because it is right that railway-men should play for safety with an express of that description. It is far better to chance a delay of 10 or 15 or 20 minutes than to involve a great express train in any risk of disaster. We must be careful that we do not press the operating 1390 staff to take too great risks in regard to express trains.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock (Spelthorne)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair to my hon. and gallant Friend. He pointed out to the House that this train consistently, twice a week, is 45 minutes late.
§ Mr. Sparks
Yes, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he travelled on it once a week and that when he travelled the train was late. It may be that it ran to time on the other five days. It is advisable to get this in its proper perspective. There is always room for improvement in express running and other running, but I do not think the hon. and gallant Member is reasonable in his attitude about that train.
In putting forward their grievances tonight, hon. Gentlemen have certainly given us an opportunity which we should not have otherwise have had to discuss these very important matters affecting the greatest transport undertaking in our country. Let us hope that improvements will result from our discussion.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I cannot pretend to have the knowledge about the subject which the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) has. I speak merely as a frequent passenger on our railways, but I suppose passengers have their importance. It seems to me that there has been improvement in the railway system over the last few years. At the same time, it has also seemed to me that the improvement has been slow. If, as a result of the debate, some more energy, some new ideas, possibly some new personalities, even personalities from outside the country, are injected into the railway transport system, we shall owe a great debt to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan).
I believe there has been improvement in the cleanliness of trains. I do not believe that a railway has ever been a very clean place, and there are certain parts of Britain, such as the Eastern Counties—this includes rtains to Cambridge—which appear to have an inherent tendency towards dirt. On the whole, since the war many trains are cleaner than they were, many of the carriages comparing quite favourably with what 1391 they might have been like after six years of war, and some soap has even reappeared, rather belatedly.
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire paid a tribute to the courtesy of the railway staff. Most passengers meet with great courtesy from the bulk of the staff. Many of the staff work under difficulties. I frequently start my journeys from King's Cross. It is like going over an obstacle course to get near the train. I suspect that the station is barely able to handle the amount of traffic which is put through it. The platform is overloaded with boxes and trunks, and through it all, with hoots and yells, are driven mechanical trolleys. It is a wonder that more boxes do not get left behind.
Any large-scale programme for replacing or improving our stations would entail a very heavy capital outlay. One of the things we must face is that until we can afford the money to straighten out the tangle of stations and lines many of our railway staff must continue to work under very difficult conditions. Judging by articles which have appeared in the "Manchester Guardian," some stations in Lancashire are even worse than those in London in this respect.
Comparisons have been made with what happens in other countries. I believe it to be true that the French railways, upon which favourable comment has been made, run at a very large loss. It is highly desirable that the loss on the railways should be cut to a minimum. I am one of those who would not like to see the railways become very much more spick and span if it meant an even bigger loss for the Transport Commission. The first thing the railways have to do is to get somewhere near making ends meet.
There is no doubt that in this country the railways must operate under great difficulties. The hauls are short. There has been a sentimental objection to cutting out intermediate stations and branch lines. Until the Railway Executive do that, I do not believe they can avoid losses. We must face the fact that many intermediate stations must be cut out and bus services substituted. I believe that where a service is continued and passenger trains are run, an effort should be made to fill them and to run a sufficient number of trains per day to make them 1392 a real contribution to transport. It is no good running a couple of passenger trains per day up and down a line with very high fares, because everyone will merely go by bus.
Again, many stations are sited some distance from the centre of population, and these must be closed or altered. It is a waste of money to run trains backwards and forwards through open country. If it is desired to keep some of these lines open for strategic or social reasons, the cost should be placed on the taxpayer and not on the railways.
I was interested in the compliments which have been paid to the Starlight Expresses. We have heard that the railways have been unable to build new rolling stock and that it is lack of rolling stock which has prevented them from introducing similar expresses before. It is curious that, in spite of the fact that the railways built no new rolling stock in 1952, they have suddenly found enough rolling stock to introduce these expresses in 1953.
I suppose it could not have anything to do with the fact that the B.E.A. are running cheaper air passages or that certain gentlemen are trying to run long-distance 'bus services. However, I cannot entirely put those considerations out of my mind. I believe that if B.E.A. and the 'bus companies will continue their good work more rolling stock will be found and more expresses of this kind will be introduced.
I agree entirely with most of what the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire said about the punctuality of trains. My experience bears out his, at least in respect of the long-distance expresses. I have found them continually late. I used to take a train to Glasgow which was supposed to arrive one and a quarter hours before the 'bus to my 'plane left, but I had to give it up because it was consistently one and a half hours late, and I missed the 'plane.
Visitors to this country before the war said that the striking thing about our railway system was that a train was hardly ever late, and if it was late every one was astonished and angry. Now everyone is astonished and very pleased if a train is on time. I think we must get back to the state of affairs in which people are astonished and angry if a train 1393 is late. After all, the schedules are slower than they were before the First World War yet we cannot keep to them. I should like to see them put back still further if the trains could meet them, but it cannot be a satisfactory state of affairs to have trains so slow and so late.
Another matter, which may seem unimportant but which I think important, is the cost of meals on trains. Most people in this country eat a high tea. They expect to pay say from 2s. 6d. to 5s. for it. If they are to pay 7s. 6d. it means that they are having an evening out. Very few people having an evening out would choose a railway train in which to indulge. Why cannot the railways put on fried fish and chips and toast, which the ordinary man expects and is willing to pay for, on a journey? Most of the travellers in this country are not very rich. We want to see the trains filled with travellers using the railways as a matter of course, not looking upon them as a luxury.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Captain Robert Ryder (Merton and Morden)
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) mentioned the question of dirt on trains to Cambridge. I do not wish to get involved in any dispute between the universities in this matter, but I would like to recall that earlier in the debate Mr. Speaker ruled that although we are discussing the first Amendment on the Order Paper we could also speak on the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." It is to that that I should like to address my remarks——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps I might save the hon. and gallant Member a little trouble. The points he wishes to raise are not in the Bill at all, and even on this Amendment he could not deal with London.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I heard the original Ruling and I thought the hon. and gallant Member was rather persistent and that I might help him a little.
§ Captain Ryder
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The point I wish to raise is that this Private 1394 Bill refers to a very considerable number of public works and it seems to me that, taking all in all, it will involve quite a considerable sum of money. What is concerning me is where the money is to come from. It seems to me that there might be some temptation perhaps to expend some of the earnings of that part of the Commission's undertaking allocated to the London Transport Executive and I make no apology for raising the question as to whether or not the London Transport Executive should in any way suffer any disadvantage from this Bill.
London Transport does, in any case, suffer from a number of disadvantages of a very general nature which, I feel, should be taken into consideration before we consider this Bill and the various measures proposed in it. For instance, it is almost a monopoly—I think practically the only passenger transport monopoly in the whole country. And, since it was placed under the overall umbrella of the British Transport Commission, this seems to have an unfortunate effect as far as the London travelling public are concerned——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am very reluctant to stop the hon. and gallant Member, but it is perfectly clear that London does not come under the Bill and it is not to be discussed.
§ Captain Ryder
I am grateful for your Ruling.
If I may go on to the next question, in Clause 15 special reference is made to the footway between Villiers Street and Craven Street. I am not clear whether this will affect the Southern Region or whether it affects those parts of the Transport Commission's activities which come under the London Transport Executive. It may be that they have joint responsibility.
In Clause 42, general reference is made to all the Railway Acts, past, present and future. Some of those might quite well affect the London Transport Executive. It was with that in mind I was addressing myself to some of the problems affecting London transport. Unlike the rest of the country, London receives no advantage from the carriage of freight. One may point to many branch lines in the country which are virtually subsidised out of increased freight charges. That 1395 does not apply to the London area. A great deal of freight originates from London——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I have warned the hon. and gallant Gentleman several times that he cannot talk about London. If he persists in doing so, I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I, with respect, make a comment on that and ask for your guidance? In the Fifth Schedule to the Bill mention is made of the rural district of Hendon and there are various other areas mentioned which come within the London Transport system. Under those circumstances, I should have thought that it would be in order to discuss it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I heard the Ruling given from the Chair at seven o'clock, when it was made perfectly clear that the London Transport Executive could not be discussed.
§ Captain Ryder
With respect, it is not clear in the Bill where the money is to come from and that is why I was trying to refer to the question of London transport. There is a great deal of misgiving in this matter. I regret if I have gone outside the Ruling on the matter, but I thought Mr. Speaker had stated that a previous Ruling had been given that matters of general interest could be discussed. I thought the Ruling was given on the last British Transport Commission Act.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That deals entirely with a different matter and not with the Bill now before us. That was on 8th May, 1951.
§ Captain Ryder
But this Bill refers, in Clause 42, to all the other Railway Acts and I find myself in some difficulty——
§ Captain Ryder
Reference is made to a number of specific works which lie within the London area. I should have thought that before we can give serious consideration to those the general background of the difficulties facing London transport was a very material consideration. I am wondering whether, on consideration of that, I may be allowed——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
No. I have made myself as clear as I can. The Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was ruled out of order. I do not make the rules of order. I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Member to continue on those lines.
§ Captain Ryder
Those who are vitally affected by these things will, I think, find the rules of the House very frustrating for them.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I wish I could believe that the purpose of hon. Gentlemen opposite in putting down the Amendment was primarily to call attention to what they regard as certain weaknesses in the organisation of the British Transport Commission's undertakings. I got the impression from the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) that possibly the primary motive of hon. Gentlemen opposite was to seek this opportunity to direct a few more gibes at a public undertaking. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I regret that that should be so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite deny it, but I do not recall an occasion when I have heard very much criticism from them about any of the failings of private enterprise undertakings.
However, whenever we get an occasion of this kind, hon. Gentlemen opposite are not slow to take the opportunity to vent their feelings against public enterprises. The obligation lies clearly upon hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they have matters of complaint such as those voiced in this House tonight, to give chapter and verse for them. I was pleased to find from the introductory remarks of the hon. and gallant Member that apparently the Commission had invited him to sustain the point of his complaint so that proper inquiries could be made. That was indeed pleasing.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted extensively from a recent report of the Ministry of Transport inspecting officer on certain accidents which had occurred on British Railways. I was pleased to hear him cite that report. I invite the hon. and gallant Gentleman to 1397 pursue his studies a little further. He might well ask himself how it comes about that there are Ministry of Transport inquiries into railway accidents. It is a most interesting history.
In the old days, when the railways were under private enterprise, the so-called virtues of which are always being acclaimed, the rate of accident and the rate of personal injury to railway servants was so high that the consequent public outcry eventually gave rise to the institution of what we now call inspecting officers of railways, whose job it is to investigate railway accidents. This has played a great part in the safety of British railways.
It so happens that I have perhaps attended as many Ministry of Transport inquiries into railway accidents as anybody in this House. The hon. and gallant Member can take it from me that the report of the inspecting officer would be closely studied by all responsible railway operating superintendents and by rankand-file railwaymen with the object of taking such steps as may be necessary to avoid any possibility of a recurrence of the accident in question. I pay my compliment to inspecting officers. Their painstaking care in investigating railway accidents has brought about a high standard of regard for what they have to say. The result is that both among rankand-file railwaymen and officers, close attention is give to these reports with the object of making our railways safer.
It may be largely due to our method of investigating railway accidents in this way that the record of safety on British Railways is higher than that of any other railway in the world. We ought to be proud of that. It is wrong for the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) to give the idea, even by way of inference, that the safety record of British Railways is deteriorating. If he investigates the matter, I do not think that his suggestion will be sustained. I shall listen to see if the Minister gives any support to the contention of his hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone.
Now that the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire is in his place, I should like to take the opportunity of telling him that his history is a little inaccurate. When he said that railway engines were cleaned until the outbreak of war, he was utterly wrong. 1398 The history of the matter is this, and it does not reflect very creditably on private enterprise. When a certain gentleman took control of a very big railway system in this country under private enterprise, in the days when the railways were having the struggle which has become proverbial in the last 20 years, that gentleman regarded railway engine cleaning as a luxury, and it was his deliberate act of policy, in regarding engine cleaning as a luxury, that caused the locomotives working on British railways to deteriorate into the filthy condition in which many of them are at the moment.
There is no one who would be more pleased than I would be for anything which the Minister or hon. Gentlemen opposite can do to improve the cleanliness of British locomotives, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) is not in his place, because, for the first time, in this debate he said something with which I agree, and that is very remarkable. He drew the attention of the Minister to his opinion that one reason there was a dearth of engine cleaners was because of what he regarded as a lack of differential in the rates of pay between engine cleaners and other grades of workers up to that of locomotive engineman, and I quite agree. Very much more has to be done to improve the rates of pay and the conditions of these men if the locomotive staff are to be maintained in adequate numbers
Now I come to this question of safety. On British Railways today, more than 24,000 trains run every day, excluding goods trains, and I suppose we should be in an El Dorado if it were not possible among these 24,000 trains to find one or two which were subject to complaint about this, that or something else. Of course, there are such trains, but what I want to draw attention to is this: British Railways carry three million passengers every day, or 1,000 million passengers a year, and, in a recent year since the railways have been nationalised, all those millions of passengers were carried on British Railways in one year without a single passenger casualty. Is not that a record of which we ought to be proud? The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) looks at me with such concern that I rather imagine the news has come as a shock to him.
§ Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)
Does the figure which the hon. Gentleman has just given include passengers on the London Passenger Transport undertaking or not?
§ Mr. Collick
It includes passengers on the four main line groups—what were the old main line groups which have now become British Railways; and, in 1950, not one single passenger's life was lost in all the millions who were carried. Surely, that is something of which we ought to be proud? I am sorry that this simple fact has not been broadcast and made more generally known. I think that when we have a record like that, of which we ought to be proud, it should be the job of those responsible to shout it from the housetops, because that great record has only been made possible largely because of the high degree of skill inherent in the operating railwaymen of British Railways.
Therefore, my answer to one of the charges made from the benches opposite is that, judged by that standard, there has been no deterioration in the safety record of British Railways. That is not to say, however, that everything is as it should be or that there is no cause for complaint. Certainly not. There is, for instance, the complaint to which I referred a moment ago, namely, the condition of British locomotives. I long to see the day when the locomotives on British Railways are as spotlessly clean as were, I imagine, in his day the buttons of the soldiers of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Service.
§ Mr. Collick
Yes, but I believe it would be a very great advantage if British locomotives were maintained in a cleaner condition. Nevertheless, I was a little surprised when I heard one hon. Member say that French locomotives are so much cleaner than ours. That is not quite my experience, and I do not know from where the hon. Member found his examples.
1400 I hope I have established to the satisfaction of the House that there has been no diminution in safety on British Railways. Railway staffs are very proud of their safety record, and I hope they will always be able to be so. If the facts remain as they have been recently, particularly in the year to which I referred, we shall certainly have nothing to apologise for in matters of safety.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Quite frankly, I do not think it leads to public enlightenment and understanding when in these debates on transport which we have from time to time Members of the Labour Party, with perhaps an exception here and there, concentrate solely on defending the public monopoly in transport with which this country has been landed.
The hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) devoted the whole of his speech of 20 minutes or so to this. He leapt to the defence of the British Transport Commission; he was eager to support every minutiæ of its administration, not offering the House any counsel, guidance or advice and not attempting to put, on behalf of the Labour Party, the thoughts that really must assail them after five years of nationalisation of transport. Instead, bound by great ideological conflict, he still felt it needful to ape the functions of my right hon. Friend in defending the Commission and everything they do.
I was rather glad that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), after the usual period of ideological defence, allowed himself to toy with the idea that British locomotives were dirty and needed a little cleaning. I wish that the hon. Member for Enfield, East, who spoke officially for the Labour Party, had been able to give the House much more counsel than he, in fact, did. Let us hope that as time goes on and as we draw away from this great Act of five or six years ago, we shall begin to hear from the representatives of the people on both sides of the House, on behalf of the consumer and the travelling public, some criticism and some interesting observations about the Commission.
After all, the Commission have a vast array of officials and of public relations officers and they have every opportunity to put out in the Press, and by the normal means of publishing, the facts of their 1401 own case. They have a great body of documents which pour out every year. When I listened to the hon. Member for Enfield, East I thought that I might just as well have spent the time reading the defence which the Commission put up on their own behalf, rather more ably than he did.
I come now to some of the cogent observations made in this debate. It is not that we on this side of the House insist on criticism of the Transport Commission while hon. Members on the other side insist on defence. We on this side acknowledge the great advances made since the war by the Transport Commission, partly due to the natural circumstances that have arisen since the war of greater ability all round, both in public and private enterprise, to ameliorate conditions and to improve service, and partly due to the real efforts which have been made by certain high officials of the Commission and the staff all the way down the service.
We are conscious, for example, of the return of courtesy on the railways, the agreeable manner in which the traveller is now greeted by railway staffs, on the station, in the guards van and in the restaurant car. That is a remarkable fact and we all acknowledge it. It contributes a great deal to the comfort of the travelling public and helps their interests.
A good deal has been said about the conditions of the railways, about the need for clean locomotives, carriages, and so on. I was rather struck with what my hon. Friend—if I may so call him—the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said about the over-riding need that the Transport Commission must make ends meet. They must match their revenue with their out-goings. It may be that now we have passed away from the days of monopoly of the railways and are seeing the railways being subjected to fierce competition from the road and air, we may not get back to the standard of service all round which the railways were able to give in the good old days. Those were the days of spick and span locomotives, richly upholstered coaches, lines without a blade of grass growing between the tracks, and so on.
On the other hand, if, by force majeure, there is exerted upon the Commission. by virtue of the travelling public 1402 moving to other fields, the necessity to economise, one hopes that the Commission will direct their economies consciously into those branches of railway administration which do not impinge upon the interests and desires of the travelling public. We must have clean locomotives. After all, we have clean coaches in which to travel on the roads. We must have clean seating accommodation, though it may not be of the order that it was in the old days.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) recalled the days of elaborately upholstered third and first-class coaches. I do not say that in modern conditions we must look to the sort of bare seating accommodation which is provided on some 'buses on the roads today. I do not say that our circumstances are such that we must go to the French and the Germans for our experience and travel on hard wooden seats for hours and hours in the course of a day, as continentals so often have to do. But we must keep that thought, at any rate, in our minds.
Obviously, fitments and lavatories are things that must be kept in good condition if the public are not to be driven from the railways and adopt alternative forms of travel. The stations, too, ought to be cleaned and brightened up. We might occasionally be given coal fires in the railway waiting rooms. We might be given rather more agreeable service in some of the railway station restaurants. I suggest that there is a very marked difference between the courtesy and comfort in the travelling restaurants and the appalling conditions and the slovenly service that we often find in the railway station tea rooms, which are equal to the worst of the tea shops to be found in the meaner streets of our great cities.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I will tell the House of an experience I had. It was at Basingstoke. I walked into the tea room on the station there one day about two years ago. My train, an important one, was stopping there for a few minutes and I wanted a cup of tea. I admit that Basingstoke is a station where trains stop repeatedly and one cannot expect the attendants to be on the qui vive and serving all the time, but there was 1403 absolutely no sign of any preparation of any kind for the stopping at that station of that rather important train.
On the Continent, when a train rolls into a station the whole station staff are quick and alive with a desire to serve. I do not want to exaggerate this matter. I see the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) looking at me rather quizically. I am not suggesting that the whole station staff should turn out whenever a train stops there. Conditions do not permit of that, and a comparison with the Continental stations is not a true one; but, at any rate, there should be some indication of a desire on the part of the waitresses in the tea rooms to have a cup of tea ready for those who leap out of the train to get one.
To return to the main point that I was making, let us keep the economies for those branches of railway administration which do not impinge directly upon the public. The railways might save money by loosening up on the overtidy manner in which they keep the permanent way. Why should not the permanent way resemble the main roads of England? Whoever thought of putting an elaborate fence along some of the great main roads running through the Scottish moors?
Since nationalisation the old private character of the railways has gone. In the old days these elaborate fences had to be erected to demarcate the property. But now all that has passed and there is no reason for those fences or for the carefully tended permanent way with men going up and down to make sure that not a blade of grass grows between the tracks [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is all very well for hon. Members to say, "Oh," but we on these benches are anxious that the Transport Commission should economise. Hon. Members opposite are not. They are anxious that public money should continue to be poured into the Commission. They are anxious that the fares should be high and, if there are any cumulative losses, that the State should come in and subvene. That is their whole philosophy and belief. Therefore. I do not accept their criticisms on the particular point I was trying to make.
§ Mr. Collick
The hon. Gentleman complains that the railways in the Highlands 1404 are fenced. Does not he realise that they are fenced to protect the deer which belong to his hon. Friends and prevent them from straying on to the railway lines?
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am not suggesting that we should dispense with fences when the main line passes through the rural part of the country, where there is intensive dairy farming and where there are many herds. Of course the livestock must be protected; but I simply cannot understand why we should protect railway property so much more thoroughly than we protect the public roads. The railways should endeavour to make that kind of economy.
On the important question of accidents, which was raised with such force by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire, I happened to be present in the Royal Scot which was travelling north at the time of the Weedon accident, and which was held up by a signal with half a minute to spare. I subsequently spent three hours on the track and sent in a report of what took place to the right hon. Gentleman who was then Minister of Transport. I do not want to dwell on that occasion; it is a very unhappy one in my memory. But, naturally, I was very much the more concerned to read the report which ultimately disclosed the cause of the accident.
As my hon. and gallant Friend stated, the accident occurred because a fitter had not taken sufficient care about the provision of split-pins for the leading bogies of the locomotive. The case was absolutely established and the guilt—if one can call it that—attached to one single man. I am not suggesting that a criminal charge should lie against a man in such circumstances, or that those people in the railway administration who are concerned up to the last minute with urgent safety considerations should work from hour to hour and day to day with the thought of policemen looking over their shoulders in case they make a fundamental mistake. That would be intolerable and would inhibit their work.
But nothing was said about what was done in connection with this man. For all I know he is still in the same job—forgiven. Is that right? Ought not the public to be assured that that man has really forfeited the right to rise to the top of the profession in that particular aspect of his 1405 work? Ought not we to be told that disciplinary measures have been taken against him and that he has been moved to another part of the railway administration where no question of any repetition of this occurrence can arise? We were told nothing about this. I urge my right hon. Friend and the Commission to satisfy the public, after these accidents, that appropriate disciplinary action has been taken in respect of those men whose connection with these events has been so directly established.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) gave some most alarming statistics about the course of affairs upon the railways, in which the administration of British Railways showed up badly in terms of trends upon the Continent. This is part of a very much wider question. It affects not only the railways but, as we shall soon see, it affects the coal mines, too. It is a problem which will have to be tackled by the House: we cannot escape it.
It is a problem, ultimately, of the very superior conditions which have been accorded to labour. How superior they have become occasionally strikes one very forcibly. The other day I took a meal in the restaurant car of a train on the Southern Region and I was told by the head steward that some of his men in that car were working only five days a fortnight, such was their roster of duties. For the rest of the time they had nothing to do; they were sent home. An old lady in the village street said to one man when he returned on a Tuesday night to spend a few days there before going back to duty, "What! You here again? Why are you not working?"
That is the kind of thing which I mean. These statistics which my hon. Friend gave directly derive from that sort of cause. It is a problem of very great significance which the House must face bravely and resolutely in the coming months. I am perfectly certain that we shall face it and that in doing so we shall perform a service of great importance not only for the railways and the coal mines but for the whole of the productivity of this great country of ours. Unless it is tackled we shall never hold our own against those countries which are producing the impressive results in power, energy and purpose as shown up by the statistics we have been given tonight.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
I am bound to agree with those who have used this opportunity to raise points of grievance against a great undertaking, for I believe it right that this House from time to time should take such opportunities as occur to examine these great undertakings, to point to their deficiencies and to endeavour to get them put right. It is true that all great undertakings—undertakings of this character at any rate—are fair game for the critic. The Post Office has been in that position, and still is, and certainly it is the position of the nationalised railways.
It is right, too, that we should use these opportunities to bring to the notice of responsible people things about which we have grave doubts; but it is also right, in the interest of those undertakings, that some points in their favour should also be made clear. I do not agree that, if some of my hon. Friends say some things which they regard as being in defence of this great nationalised industry, they are undertaking what the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) calls an ideological function. They are doing something which I think the circumstances justify.
For example, if we can educate some hon. Members opposite. or even some hon. Members on this side of the House, about the way in which these undertakings are run, it is our job to do so. I can very well remember taking some part in educating the noble Lord into understanding something which I thought was common knowledge throughout the country—that most railway engines have only one fireman. He was then advising the House that the time had come to take away the second fireman from steam engines. That is the sort of way in which we can educate the noble Lord a little, and indeed all hon. Members opposite, on some of these points. which I think are important.
I was interested in the points made by the noble Lord, and I certainly agree with him that we should not necessarily follow the Continental railways in the standard of some of the facilities which they provide for the travelling public. For example, I do not really want to undertake any lengthy journeys again on the hard seats of some of the French railways. He said that we could carry 1407 the recollection of those seats in our minds. I must admit that I carry them in an entirely different part of my anatomy.
I do not think that anybody would make any pretence that we had reached perfection on the railways. Of course, we have not arrived at perfection, and that is why it is right, as I said before, that we should call attention to the deficiencies of these undertakings in debates of this sort. What we have to remember, however, in fairness to those runing the railways at the present time, is that the railways have for such a long time been starved of the capital expenditure necessary to bring them up to date.
The Act of 1921 said that the standard revenue should be some £52 million per annum. The railways never made that amount on their capital, and, as a result, they were quite unable to raise sufficient capital to bring the undertaking up to the condition in which it certainly should have been. It is true that the 1935 Act did help to some degree by guaranteeing a loan of £29½ million, but that was never enough, and in the "square deal" agitation we had shortly before the war we did find railway directors saying, as a result of the failure to raise capital, and of the impossibility of remunerating capital:It has become impossible to raise new capital on reasonable terms, and the development of important railway services is hampered as a result.How true that is is known to every hon. Member in this House. The very fact that we were not able to do the things we wanted to do between the two wars has resulted in many of the difficulties which we are facing today. I like the story of what would be the position if her late lamented Majesty, Queen Victoria, came back to this earth again and had to undertake the journey from Buckingham Palace to Sandringham.
I can well imagine she would be staggered at what she would see—first of all at the difference in the London streets and in the buildings she would have to pass on her way to the station; but I can well imagine that once she arrived at Liverpool Street immediately there would be something which she would recognise, understand and know. There would be something which she knew in 1408 her day, which was a part of her life. Indeed, it would be true, I think, to say that once she got on the train and began to go towards Sandringham she would pass many of the Puffing Billies which were operating in the days when she travelled, and she might touch the arm of her dear Albert, and say, "Ah, this reminds me of our honeymoon." It is a fact that much of the railway undertaking was never brought up to date, chiefly because of the inability to raise sufficient capital to do it.
There was, of course, a piling up of arrears of maintenance during the period from 1939 right down to 1950; and, as a result, it is necessary for the trains to travel at a slower rate today than the trains went on some of the best lines at the end of the last century. We run our trains slower today than at that time very largely as a result of the arrears of maintenance that have piled up during the years 1939 to 1950. That leaves out of account the total suspension of major capital work. Wherever we look we find engines, stations, wagons, coaches, signalling apparatus, etc., telling the same story.
The British Transport Commission's Report for 1951 states in this connection—although the noble Lord thinks it is wrong to quote the Report, but I think it right to do so on this occasion—In the main, assets are being patched rather than replaced and funds accumulated in respect of abnormal maintenance are being spent on repairs when it would be more economic to spend money on modern equipment.That was absolutely right. It is crazy to spend money in that way when we ought to be bringing the undertaking up-to-date.
The biggest factor is shortage of steel, as it was during the war. The post-war difficulties came about as the result of this factor, which has been discussed from time to time in this House. The Report says that by the end of 1950, we were still about 3,000 passenger vehicles short of pre-war establishment.
What have the Government to say about these difficulties? The Economic Survey, presented over the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:In present conditions of steel shortage the railways will have to make substantial cuts in their programme for the replenishment of 1409 locomotives and rolling stock, and civil engineering works on stations, bridges and tunnels must also be severely restricted; there must be some curtailment of track renewal. The Manchester-Sheffield-Wath electrification scheme is the only major new traffic work in hand. Preliminary planning is starting on the electrification of the London-Tilbury-Southend line.That is in the Economic Survey of the Government for 1952, in which there is clear acknowledgment of the difficulties facing the railways as a result of the shortage of steel and the conditions which we have had since 1939, and indeed, in the inter-war years of capital shortage facing the railways.
Some points were made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport in the debate which he answered on 21st March, 1952, when he said, referring to his hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell):I must tell him with bluntness—and that is what he asked for—that the Ministry of Transport endorses the policy under which carriage construction is temporarily suspended in order to give first priority to track and wagons, and thus concentrate on railway safety and efficiency."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 2845.]He made a very good point. He was absolutely sound. We should concentrate in that way, but it adds to the difficulties of my friends who happen to be carriage cleaners on the railway in cleaning the old stock.
I want to quote what the Parliamentary Secretary said on that day. So much is quotable and is a perfect answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and others who have called attention to deficiencies. I am bound to say that there are times when I feel ashamed of the stock I am getting into, but that very seldom happens on the longest runs. It is true of the branch lines on which I travel occasionally and on a few of the longer runs that the rolling stock is a disgrace to the undertaking. We must never be satisfied with the Railway Executive or British Transport Commission, who are going to take on this job, until we put that right.
What are some of the difficulties? I have called attention to the fact that there are difficulties resulting from the age of the stock which the men are trying to clean. The fact that stock is being 1410 used much more intensively than previously means a much shorter period at the end of the journey for turn-round and cleaning. That is an important factor, as anyone who has had anything to do with railway cleaning operations will understand.
Secondly, the Railway Executive have experienced great difficulty in getting sufficient cleaners to do this work. I am not talking about cleaners in the engine sheds but those carriage cleaning staff who clean the coaches for passenger use. It is a dirty, miserable job. Most people hate doing it and are only forced to do so in conditions of unemployment. Naturally, men will not do it willingly if they can get something else to do. It will be necessary for those in charge of our railways to look at the conditions under which this work is carried on and the rates at which it is remunerated.
I have had the opportunity of visiting some of the places where this work is undertaken, and I find that carriage washing plants are being reconditioned and that additional carriage cleaning machines are being installed in a number of those places. The more there are installed the better will be our standard of maintenance. Indeed, only the day before yesterday, at Willesden, Lord Hurcomb opened the new depot there for the cleaning of our coaching stock. It was planned in 1938 but had to be put off during the war years and is only now coming into operation. What is happening at Willesden will have to happen in practically all our carriage cleaning depots throughout the entire railway system of the B.T.C.
I shall not cover the points dealing with safety, etc., which have been so well covered by some of my hon. Friends and particularly the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick). Looking at the matter from the point of view of a railwayman, I think that dirty carriages are not solely the fault of the B.T.C., the Railway Executive or the men who clean them. There has been a shocking deterioration in the use of carriages by the travelling public, and that is something for which we all bear some responsibility. In the same way, I hate to see what is happening in our parks and our countryside, which are being covered with the litter of the people who 1411 use this lovely country of ours. Those who use our carriages could help the cleaners and everyone concerned enormously if they would pay some little regard to decency of use; if they used them rather as I treat my own living room at home, particularly when my wife has her eye on me.
The points which have been raised today are of some substance. It is right that from time to time we should examine the work of these undertakings, and I hope that, as a result of our discussion, we shall find carrying us about the country a better undertaking than we happen to have at the moment, good though it be.
§ Major Sydney Markham (Buckingham)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Might I draw your attention to the fact that I have tried in every way possible to bring to your notice the fact that I have been here all the evening but have not been called? Might I, on a point of order, ask you whether it is not for you a matter of great personal regret that you have not been able to call upon the hon. Member for Buckingham this evening?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid that if every hon. Member who was unfortunate enough not to be called in a debate of this sort rose to a point of order our debates would be inordinately protracted. It is a great disappointment to the Chair not to be able to call every hon. Member, but that is inevitable. If the hon. and gallant Member is disappointed, he might console himself by asking himself whom the Chair should not have called in order to call him.
§ Major Markham
Do I take it, Mr. Speaker, that that is an invitation to say what we think on those lines?
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
If it is any satisfaction to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Major Markham), I should like to associate myself with the regret felt by Mr. Speaker. In my case, I feel it as a neighbour of his. I am sorry that we have not been able to hear what he would have to say from his 1412 knowledge of the activities at Wolverton and Bletchley, of which he is such a stalwart representative in the House.
We must all agree that this has been a most interesting debate. I feel that it could not have been concluded more happily than by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), who speaks with expert knowledge of the great railway industry and who never speaks in the House without getting support and understanding from both sides.
The Bill has been presented with the consent of the Minister under Section 9 of the 1947 Transport Act. I stand in a rather unusual relationship to it. The Bill seeks works, lands and miscellaneous powers for the Commission, similar to those contained in previous Commission Bills in the last four Sessions. There is, however, one considerable difference, and it is a difference in which I confess I rejoice, not because he himself cannot take part but because, being Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) is now firmly established as a member of the Government. Looking over the past records of similar Bills, I see that the first speech made in 1949, 1950 and 1951 was by the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
The debate has followed the precedent which was established long ago, that a whole field of activities should be open for discussion and scrutiny when railway Bills are presented to Parliament. I was glad that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) said he thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) and his hon. Friend had moved their Amendment in a restrained and sensible form. I suspected, none the less, in the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), some resentment that any criticism at all of the Commission should come from the benches in this House.
In the old days when railway Bills came before Parliament, the railway system and the railway directors were frequently criticised from both sides of the House and I think it would be rather a pity if we should drift now into some new conception of Parliamentary responsibility towards Bills of this kind. I share 1413 the view of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) that it would be a good thing if both sides of the House could approach Bills of this kind quite objectively.
When told it would be my function to pilot the Bill through the House, I was very interested to compare the situation with some of the problems and situations which existed in previous years. We are now discussing a Bill of the British Transport Commission. When, up to nationalisation, a large number of private railway Bills were introduced in the House of Commons, it was suggested from time to time that they might be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That suggestion was made on one occasion by Mr. Asquith himself, and it was most enthusiastically endorsed by a great friend of many of us, the late Josiah Wedgwood, who said that this would provide no more legislative sops for the master side. Now the master side has changed; today, the master side is the Transport Commission.
I do not think that we shall again find a situation similar to that which arose on the railway Bill of 1913, when Mr. Keir Hardie opposed the Bill, though it provided for increases in wages, on the grounds that if it became law it would add considerably to the value of the railways and would increase the charge on the Treasury when the railways were eventually nationalised. We have moved into rather different waters and I hope there will now be the same objective approach as we had from our benches in those days and a somewhat different one from that which the Labour Party at that time used to provided.
A large part of the Bill consists of standard Clauses, model Clauses, or Clauses which the Ministry of Transport, under various Governments, have suggested to railways or to the Transport Commission. No fewer than 25 of the 45 Clauses in this Bill follow that pattern. As you ruled earlier, Mr. Speaker, there is no reference—or virtually no reference—in the Bill to the activities of the London Transport Executive. I must congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) on the ingenuity he showed. He almost succeeded in getting a debate on London transport on a Bill which refers to London transport only, so far as I can 1414 see, in regard to a tip which the railways want at Rickmansworth and the alteration of a footpath which, some may say, belongs to the railways but which, I am advised, belongs to the Hotels Executive. My hon. and gallant Friend made a typically gallant effort.
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) took occasion to wonder whether the inauguration of the Starlight Express had anything to do with the activities of British European Airways. I, as Minister responsible for both, would find it rather difficult to give him a clear answer, but I can assure him that competition between various forms of nationalised activity is very welcome to Her Majesty's Government. I am told that one of the first difficulties with which my predecessor had to contend was in answering a very angry railway advertiser who complained that opposite Euston Station British European Airways. put up a large notice saying, "Next time go by air." Only a week later he had to answer an equally angry airman who objected to the railway slogan, "If you have time to spare go by air." It is my task to try to reconcile these rather different elements.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire made one or two specific statements about the British Railways system. I agree with him that there is great room for improvement. I think that in that view I carry the Railway Executive and many tens of thousands of railwaymen with me. I was interested to hear from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East of the distaste he feels at some of the archaic machinery with which the railways are still inevitably equipped. In fairness to the railways, we must remember the long years of war and the disheartening process of trying to clean what is, in some cases, virtually uncleanable. I would not share the interjection which came from the benches opposite that the dirt was pre-nationalisation. The dirt is not five years old, but it has been there for a long time.
The task of cleaning a large number of vehicles which really should have been scrapped is infinitely disheartening, but nonetheless we recognise that there is much room for improvement, and in that improvement the travelling public, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East 1415 said, have a great responsibility as well. Those of us who travel a great deal round the country and use washing and other facilities in public houses, hotels and elsewhere, know that, despite hundreds of millions of pounds spent on education, people's habits of simple civilisation leave a great deal to be desired.
The general decline in standards of behaviour is, of course, apparent on the railways as well as anywhere else. This, in part, explains, both from the angle of the customer and of the railways, some of the difficulties with which we are faced. The railways are now conducting a vigorous campaign to improve the appearance and general cleanliness of their rolling stock.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East referred to the opening by Lord Hurcomb, on 9th March, of the maintenance and cleansing depot at Willesden. I hope that circumstances will allow that to be the first of a number of similar depots. The need to have more modern washing plant and facilities to offset the distasteful nature of this task is paramount and anything we can do to help in that field we will, I know, all co-operate in trying to do.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
While realising that there is a shortage of cleaning staff, and so on, may I ask my right hon. Friend why carriages were painted a colour which requires the maximum amount of work to clean, far more than did the colour they were painted before?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I hold no brief for the disappearance of the old regional railway colours, but perhaps I had better not become drawn into an argument of that kind, which is more suitable to the Bill which has just left the House. It may reassure the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East with his Victorian nostalgia, that I understand the Railway Executive have now restored antimacassars on all the first-class main line railway expresses.
The Executive and the Commission have asked General Sir Daril Watson to conduct a special survey on how to improve the appearance of stations. Of the 6,000 stations on British railways some 4,400 will have been re-painted by the end of this year. The measure of the cost can be seen when I say that it 1416 will amount to £4 million. In the course of this year 900 will have been done at a cost of £1 million.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire referred to the report of Colonel MacMullen with regard to the Blea Moor accident, and he drew attention to a significant passage in that most excellent report. He was right to do so, just as Colonel MacMullen was absolutely right and carrying out his statutory duty in making such a report. I am glad to hear that all along the line those responsible are studying that report with the utmost care.
Colonel MacMullen, with whom I had a talk at the time, was anxious that the report should not be regarded as a general reflection on the standards of safety of British Railways. I confess I share with my hon. and gallant Friend the feeling that the break-up of the old railway districts and the esprit de corps has to a certain extent detracted from pride in the job and the efficient running of the railway system.
My hon. and gallant Friend also referred, in connection with safety, to inadequate maintenance. Here we must place responsibility fairly on the economic situation and the decision of Her Majesty's Government in 1952 in the case of carriages. There was no allocation of steel whatever available for carriage-building. We told the railways we wanted them to devote their money and resources to building wagons and maintaining tracks and not in building coaches.
I hope that this year circumstances will improve, and we shall get a bigger figure with regard to carriages, but we cannot reach the total needed for some time yet. Even in the field of wagons we are still alarmingly short of our needs. Last year only 28,000 were built, which is 20,000 short of the building capacity in the railway workshops and private shops. Also, last year 30,000 of these wagons scheduled for break-up were still in use and 100,000 over-age were also still in use. I do not think, therefore, that we can blame the railways for the inadequate number of wagons. We are far short of the number of locomotives that we need.
When we compare foreign statistics they should be regarded in the light of differing conditions We should remember that the net ton miles hauled per 1417 freight train hour was 595 in 1951; 543 in 1948 and 461 in 1938.
I share the anxiety of my hon. and gallant Friend about punctuality. I understand that since I last heard from him the Perth train was punctual twice running. The remedy is a simple one. My hon. and gallant Friend should ask me a Question about that every Monday. Statistics have been given showing the high proportion of British Railway expresses and others that are within five minutes of their scheduled time. I know of the great anxiety of the leaders of this industry and of the workers to restore wherever possible the great records of the past, and having restored them, to maintain them.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked me a question of detail about Clause 16 and the difficulties those riding on horseback would suffer as a result of the provision of wicket gates and stiles. This is a matter which had not been brought to the attention of the Commission before. I understand that the British Horse Society have recently referred it to them. They are considering most carefully all the places where gates or stiles have been provided. They will do their best within the limits of their financial difficulties to meet this most desirable aim.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked about the acquisition of land by the railways. He asked me to pay special attention to the needs of agriculture in England and Scotland. Curiously enough, by and large, the railways sell more land than they buy. This is the declared policy of the Commission. However, I share the view of my hon. and gallant Friend that small incidents all over the country will add up to a large total in the long run. During the Committee stage of a Bill of this kind every separate area where agricultural land might be taken can be scrupulously examined and arguments on both sides can be heard.
I wish to thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have taken part in a most interesting debate. We are all anxious for the prosperity and the prestige of British Railways. We know that the consequences of war weigh heavily upon our people. Some of the difficulties that our country suffers do not exist in other European countries and elsewhere. Hon. Members who may be interested would do well to read the statement, which I 1418 would not be in order in quoting, made by my noble Friend Lord Selkirk in another place on 5th March about the very report from United Nations that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) quite properly quoted.
§ Mr. Collick
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything about any progress in connection with locomotive cleaning, because that has a bearing on Colonel MacMullen's report.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Is not Lord Selkirk a Member of the Government sitting in another place, and was not he making a pronouncement on behalf of the Government?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I may be wrong in this matter, but I do not think that it ranked as a pronouncement. Even if I were in order in reading it I should run out of time if I attempted to do so and then there would be a danger that the Commission would lose the Bill, which we are all anxious that they should get.
In reply to the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), I attempted to deal briefly with the subject he mentioned. It is very much in the mind of the Commission. I believe that facilities are continually improving. The need for cleanliness of locomotives as a main factor in inspection, without which no inspection can be worth while, is most clearly apprehended. I was saying that in another place a statement was made about some of the problems which exist for British Railways which do not exist elsewhere.
One hon. Member mentioned the heavy deficit payments paid on French railways today. I do not want to get involved in comparisons between allied Powers and their various railway systems, but I can say of the railway system run by another great ally, Holland, that it has made the most spectacular progress since the war.
I had a most interesting talk recently with the Director-General of the Netherlands State Railways. All who know him know of his quality and efficiency. I think that he would be the first to agree that out of the agony and devastation that came on many parts of Holland during the war, it has been possible to replan road and rail development from the start and in the light of modern conditions. 1419 That was perhaps the only worth-while result that came to her from her great ordeal during the war.
I have found that there is a great brotherhood all over the world among railway men. We have a lot to teach each other and a lot to learn. There is nowhere in the United Kingdom where we can exchange ideas more happily and effectively than here. I know that the Commission will read the report of this debate with the utmost care. The many suggestions made will be taken fully into account when they plan their future policy.
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, in the light of the various statements I have been able to make and of the form which the discussion has taken, will see fit to withdraw his Amendment, so that this Bill can have an unchallenged Second Reading this evening.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I should like to add a word or two, if I am entitled to do so, but I do not want to talk the Bill out or anything like that.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not entitled to make a second speech, but he may rise to ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I was leading up to the point when I was intending to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment, but I was also hoping to be able to say that, from the Minister's statement and also through the helpful speeches of hon. Members on the other side, particularly that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion), we have learned a great deal, and can now rest assured that the British Transport Commission will take note of what has been said. That, and the Minister's assurance to the House, are sufficient for me, and, I am sure, my other hon. Friends, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.