§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Railways Reorganisation Scheme presented to Parliament by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Command 9191).I rise to commend to the House Command Paper 9191 which contains the Railways Reorganisation Scheme of decentralisation. Under Section 16 of the Transport Act, 1953, the Commission is required to submit to the Minister a Scheme which is to be embodied in an Order approved by affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
During the passage of the Act, many hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed great interest at this provision and desired to have an opportunity of influencing the Scheme when it was made. The Government accordingly promised that Parliament should have an opportunity of contributing both constructive and destructive criticisms. But, as a Statutory Instrument cannot be amended by the House, the Government promised that, in the first place, a White paper should be laid which could be debated fully. Before making the Order, therefore, my right hon. Friend will give full and careful consideration to all the suggestions which are made today on both sides of the House. If, therefore, we appear to be taking two bites at a cherry, it is so that there should be an opportunity for the House to influence the moulding of the Scheme.
It may be convenient if I begin by giving a brief historical account of how we have reached the present position. If I do so, I hope that it may become clear that there is no reason for any ideological difference between the two sides of the House as regards this Scheme. In August, 1914, there were no fewer than 123 railway companies in this country. During the war of 1914–18 the Government took control of all the railways and administered them as a single whole. After the Government control had been brought to an end, an Act was passed by this House in 1921 which grouped 36 those 123 railway companies into four systems. During the years that followed there was even a further step in the direction of concentration. The four groups agreed to pool about 70 per cent. of their total resources and to redistribute their revenue among themselves upon agreed principles. When war broke out in 1939 the railways were again brought under Government control, and when that system was brought to an end in 1947, an Act was passed by the recent Government which provided for unification of the whole railway system and the vesting of it in public ownership.
I think it will be agreed generally that modern concentration brings with it certain problems arising from mere size. It tends to divorce the workers from those who control them, and it makes for a certain rigidity which is extremely undesirable. In bringing forward this Scheme we are trying to give effect to what the Prime Minister announced last year was the policy of the Government. My right hon. Friend said:We abhor the fallacy…of nationalisation for nationalisation's sake. But where we are preserving it, as in the coal mines, the railways, air traffic, gas and electricity, we have done and are doing our utmost to make a success of it, even though this may somewhat mar the symmetry of party recrimination."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 3rd November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 23.]When the new nationalisation scheme came into operation, the control of the railways was vested in the Railway Executive. This was almost entirely a functional body and the members of that Executive, most of whom were technical men, were responsible for the control of specialised departments of the railways from the top to the bottom. It may very well have been necessary, in order to effect a complete unification of four different railway systems, and to obtain the advantages of economies, for the administration to begin by being highly centralised and in the hands of technicians. Quite soon, however, the Railway Executive came to feel that the organisation which it was administering would be too centralised to be a permanently satisfactory system.
Some time before 1951 the Railway Executive had appointed chief regional officers who were responsible for the administration of all departments in the six regions which they set up. The British Transport Commission came to very 37 much the same conclusion shortly afterwards. Early in 1951, and before the change of Government, the Transport Commission had come to the conclusion that a further substantial measure of devolution was necessary.
I emphasise these points to show that the need for decentralisation does not arise out of the abolition of most of the Executives by the present Government. That may, of course, have made it more important and more urgent but, even before this Government came in, the Transport Commission had come to the conclusion that it would not be possible or desirable for them to administer the railways on the same tight rein as had been the case when the concern was in the hands of a functional Railway Executive.
On 1st October, 1953, the Transport Commission introduced an interim organisation. Under this, the chief regional officers were made into chief regional managers and to a very large extent the regions were left free to administer their own concerns. The Scheme which I am commending to the House is a logical and natural development of this interim Scheme.
The Act of 1953 left the nature of the area authorities uncertain. It required the Transport Commission to decentralise, but it did not specify whether the decentralisation should be to individuals or to boards. After careful consideration, the Transport Commission has decided in favour of boards. There will be six boards responsible for the administration of the existing six regions, which will be renamed "areas." The Commission expects to find as members of those boards men who are in contact with commerce, industry and labour and representative of the general travelling public. It is hoped to find wise men of light and leading who will be able to give useful guidance to administration in the areas. It is not intended that they should be representative of any particular interest.
The composition of these boards is fully described in the Second Schedule of the White Paper. The number of members may vary from two to six, in addition to the chairman. One of these members will be a member of the Transport Commission but he will not necessarily be chairman of the area board. We 38 believe that this will be a most valuable liaison between the central authority and the boards.
It may be asked whether there is any intention on the part of the Transport Commission that these boards, in fact, should be its creatures, having been appointed by the Commission.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us in a little more detail why this conclusion has been reached and why those appointed should not be representative in view of the fact that they are to be part-time members anyway?
§ Mr. Molson
On the ground that where people are being selected to act as advisers and administrators in an area it seems better for them to have the general view and not to be representative of some particular interest.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
Would the Minister say what he means by a general view? Would be consider knowledge of transport and the working of transport as being a necessary qualification?
§ Mr. Molson
If the hon. Gentleman is asking whether these people are intended to be experts on transport, the answer is that they are not and that they are intended to be representative of the general public.
§ Mr. Molson
It is not in the least necessary for them to have any special or detailed knowledge of any particular form of transport in order to be valuable members of a board.
§ Mr. Callaghan
This is a very important point which has been raised by the T.U.C. in correspondence with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, as he well knows. It is important that we should be quite clear on the question of representation on the boards. Will the hon. Gentleman explain a little more fully why it is the view of the Minister and of the Government that they should depart from the principle that is laid down in the 1947 Act, and in other nationalisation Acts, that there should be included upon boards persons who have had wide experience and have shown 39 capacity for various things, including the organisation of workers? The hon. Gentleman owes it to the House at least to give in some detail his views of that point.
§ Mr. Molson
I am always most anxious to give way and to try to answer questions, but, generally speaking, it is convenient to the House, when a fairly complicated scheme is being put before it, that the opening speech should be one which only sets out to explain the matter on general lines. I am perfectly willing, however, to give the hon. Member an answer on this point.
Our view is that what is required of these area boards is not any detailed or technical knowledge of transport as such. While it is no purpose of mine to say anything which is in any way controversial, we are all of opinion that for a permanent system it is not a wise thing to have in charge of railways a Railway Executive exercising functional control, and consisting very largely of technical experts. We are desirous of having on the boards representative public men who enjoy the confidence of those who need to use the railways, of commerce, of industry and, I hasten to add, of those who work on the railways. Indeed, our feeling has been that it has been a great defect of the old set-up that there has come to be too great a gulf fixed between those who work on the railways and those who are responsible for them.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
Is it the intention that the Commission will have the power to terminate by notice the employment of members of these area boards? The importance of the point is that the White Paper emphasises the danger of friction between the area boards and the Commission and, therefore, states that the Commission must have power of appointment. It is of some importance to ascertain whether the Commission is to have power to terminate the appointment of members of the board at any time.
§ Mr. Molson
It certainly would not be the intention of the Transport Commission to dismiss members of boards simply on the ground that they happened to express a point of view which was not entirely acceptable to the Commission. 40 A little later I will try to develop in more detail what we hope will be the relations between the Commission and the boards.
I was just asking the Chair the rhetorical question whether there was any danger that these boards would be mere creatures of the Transport Commission. I can give a categorical assurance that it is not in any way the intention of the Commission to appoint guinea pigs to these boards.
Indeed, the only way in which the Commission will be able to obtain the services of responsible public men will be by giving them very full scope for important and responsible work; but where it has been emphasised in the White Paper that there must be no question of a rival firm, it is, as I am sure the House will agree, because in trying to decentralise administration and management we do not want to carry it to the point where there is any destruction of the unification of the railways which has been effected. We do not want any hostility to be shown by the boards to the Commission. It would be most unfortunate if there were any refusal to comply with policy decisions of the Commission which were intended to apply to the railway system as a whole.
No one will expect any concern to be controlled in day-to-day matters by a part-time committee. It is for this reason that the Commission will appoint a chief regional manager who will be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the railways in each of the areas. I do not think that there is any danger of any divided loyalty because, as I will try to explain, the boards and the Commission will, in fact, be applying the same policy.
So far, I have been describing the machinery—
§ Mr. Popplewell
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, will he define what is meant in Article 5 of the Scheme, when it says that the area authorities will be responsible for the management of the railways? Just what powers will be given to the area boards for managerial purposes if they are not to interfere?
§ Mr. Molson
That will be covered by my next point. If I do not satisfy the hon. Gentleman I shall be happy to give way again. I hope to give two illustrations which will satisfy him.
41 Policy in future, as in the past, as it applies to the railway system as a whole, will continue to be decided by the Commission, but in dealing with these matters it will be considering the concrete problems which arise in the areas. There will be a two-way movement of ideas between the Commission and the boards. The policy will, at the same time, be the cause and the effect of what is being done by the boards.
I want to give two examples to show how the Scheme is intended to work. One of the matters which is the responsibility of the Commission is stated in the Scheme to be the standard of maintenance of both the permanent way and of the rolling stock. Clearly, that is a matter which ought to be the same throughout the whole system. When, however, it comes to a question of what particular length of permanent way requires to be renewed that will be a matter for the area boards. When it is a question of what locomotives require to have a major overhaul to satisfy the general standard laid down, that, again, will be a matter for the boards. Each board will be required each year to prepare a budget both of revenue and of capital expenditure and will send that budget to the Commission to be approved. The position will be not identical with but perhaps broadly analogous to that with which hon. Members are familiar, that of Departments of the Government putting in their Estimates and obtaining the approval of the Treasury.
When the budgets, modified to meet the exigencies of finance, have been approved by the Commission then the carrying out of those works will again be left in the hands of the boards. The average amounts of many of these budgets will be about £50 million a year and, in some areas, they will considerably exceed that. The total expenditure on the railway system is likely to be in the neighbourhood of £446 million and, of that, approximately £445 million will be spent by the boards. Only perhaps a little more than £1 million will be spent directly by the Commission itself on those services at headquarters which are most efficiently and conveniently administered there.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I am not clear about the amount of devolution that is to be 42 allowed. I gather that the Scottish board will be allowed to put its own character upon the running of the system. Until now, it seems to me that it has been only a question of how it is to spend the money within very limited uniform lines and that uniformity is to be established over the whole country. What is the purpose of giving the area boards any devolution unless they have some way of implanting their own character on the running of their own system?
§ Mr. Molson
I thought from the expression on the faces of some hon. Gentlemen opposite that I was emphasising too much the very considerable measure of decentralisation which we contemplate. Scotland will be a region, just like any other region. It will have its own budget and, subject to those matters where it is desirable that the whole of the railway system of the United Kingdom shall be similar, there will be the very fullest opportunity for the Scottish board to leave a Scottish imprint upon its administration.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of who would decide that a length of permanent way ought to be renewed or that a number of locomotives should be given a general overhaul. May I take it that the Minister will absolve the chief mechanical engineer or the chief regional manager from this type of detailed responsibility and that he will take to himself the duty of telling these experts what they should do. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously ask us to accept that suggestion—that the advice should come from people with no knowledge of transport?
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the position. This is a Scheme for the decentralisation of administration from the Commission to the boards. My right hon. Friend comes into the matter only in so far as he presents the Scheme to the House with his approval. All I say, and it is important, is that the general standard which has been laid by the Commission to apply to the railway system as a whole will be put into operation throughout the country by the area boards and by the chief regional managers who operate under them.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
The Minister gave two examples of what will 43 happen as between the boards and the Commission. Will he enlighten the House as to what advantage it will be in the general interest of British railway organisation if the decision to re-lay a line is taken by the area authorities as against the Commission itself?
§ Mr. Molson
I hope the House will not think it unreasonable if I do not give way any more. The last question might very well have been elaborated—indeed, I hope it will be elaborated—in the course of speeches during the debate. My right hon. Friend will be winding up the debate and will be explaining in greater detail any of the points which hon. Gentleman like to raise. The whole purpose of the debate upon the White Paper is that there shall be the fullest discussion of the matter. My right hon. Friend will listen with close attention to the arguments which are put forward.
To reply briefly to the question put by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), it is manifestly undesirable that responsibility for considering whether a particular length of permanent way requires to be renewed this year or can remain for another year should be decided by a Transport Commission which is responsible for the policy of transport as a whole. That is essentially the kind of matter which in all normal administration is dealt with by those who live and work in the areas.
At present, the boards will be concerned only with the railways which, as I have tried to show, will give them plenty of work to do. Other duties may at a later time be assigned to them if experience suggests that that is desirable.
This Scheme was presented by the Commission in the summer to my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He gave it very careful consideration and found himself able to pass it on in its present form for consideration and for criticism, as is required under Section 17 of the Act of 1953, by all those bodies which are specified on page 4 of the White Paper.
The general response was extremely favourable. The Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Trades Union Congress were critical on the ground that they did not think there was any need for a scheme of decentralisation of this kind at all. However, that is, of course, a 44 criticism of the Act of 1953, and not of this Scheme, which it is mandatory upon the Transport Commission to produce. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce say that they still prefer their own proposals which they were good enough to explain recently to my right hon. Friend.
It has been suggested that the Scheme is enabling only and not sufficiently mandatory and that the Act obliges the Commission to set out in greater detail exactly what it intends to do. I am advised that from the legal standpoint the Scheme satisfies all the requirements of the Act.
As for the merits of the criticisms which have been made, I beg the House not to press for the Scheme to be spelt out in detail. The Scheme itself has to obtain an affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. If it were found at any time later necessary to amend it, it would be necessary again for an amended Scheme to be presented to both Houses, and hon. Members are aware how seldom it is possible for anyone to draft a scheme or to prepare a document which afterwards is not found in some respects to be unsatisfactory or incomplete. Therefore, I beg the House to be satisfied with this general outline Scheme. I can also assure my hon. Friends that the Transport Commission is looking to further devolution in the future as time and experience suggest it may be desirable.
The only justification that there could be for asking that the matter should be set out in full detail, with every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed, would be if there were any reason to suppose that the Transport Commission was not sincere in desiring to decentralise. I can assure the House, and my hon. Friends in particular, that the Commission pressed on with preparing the Scheme, presented it to my right hon. Friend in the summer, and was most anxious that, if possible, it should obtain the approval of the House before the Recess, so that it might get on with the appointment of the boards.
I also understand that some of my hon. Friends are not satisfied with Article 9. I am sure that they will have studied carefully paragraphs 36–39 of the explanatory statement which set out very clearly the difficulties to be overcome. There is, of course, no difficulty in presenting statistics and costs which deal with 45 the railway system as a whole; there is a great deal more difficulty in presenting statistics and costs which deal with particular areas, and the more centralised the control of the railways is, the more difficult it is to allocate some of the overhead costs as between one area and another.
So far, it has appeared almost impossible to prepare figures of that kind in a way which would provide a fair yardstick for comparing the efficiency of different areas. The Transport Commission has, in fact, set up a committee to go further into this subject. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend has discussed the matter very fully with the Commission and that we hope to find a satisfactory solution.
I have described the machinery contained in the Scheme and the way in which it is intended to work. The Government want to make a success of the nationalised railways. We believe that the Scheme is well directed towards reconciling and combining the advantages of a centralised control of railway policy with devolution of administration and management to the areas. We believe that this will ensure closer contact between management and those who work on the railways and will promote a more flexible service so that the needs of the nation can be more fully and more efficiently met.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for having reminded us, by reading the Motion, that the House is invited to take note of the Scheme. The Parliamentary Secretary told us on two occasions that he was commending it to the House, but if that is so, I must point out that the Scheme is not the form in which the Motion has been put on the Order Paper, and that in no sense shall we be giving it our commendation in what we have to say today.
We on this side thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his painstaking explanation of the Scheme. I cannot congratulate him upon having made it clear to us—I shall come to that matter in a minute—but at least we know that he has, as always, given his usual patient and courteous attention to the matter.
We are very glad to see that the Minister himself has returned to the Chamber. 46 He is an old friend in these debates, although I must say that as I stand here and look at him all the old clichés come into mind.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
Do not bring them out of your mouth.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The right hon. Gentleman is the poacher turned gamekeeper, making bricks without straw and leaving no stone unturned. He used to be very assiduous in his attendance at the Transport Bill debates. As we all know, he is a great champion of the London traveller. We still remember the right hon. Gentleman's impassioned appeals for lower fares for London Transport travelers, and he is now in the fortunate position of being able to carry out the policy which he enunciated when he was sitting on these benches.
He will earn the gratitude of millions of Londoners when he comes to the House and is able to announce reduced fares along the lines of the policy which he used to enunciate so clearly when be occupied the third bench above the Gangway on this side of the House. We are looking forward to that experience. When it comes, I do not know whether my emotions will be compounded more of astonishment than gratitude but there will be a mixture of both, and we are looking forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman tonight.
This Scheme, as the Parliamentary Secretary has told us, arises out of the 1953 Act. He rightly told us that the T.U.C. and the Scottish T.U.C. were opposed to this Scheme, but I think he was wrong in indicating that they are opposed to decentralisation, which was the word he used, and had not the hon. Gentleman asked to be excused further interruptions, I should have invited him to put that right there and then. In all my conversations with the T.U.C., I have never found them to be opposed to decentralisation or devolution, and we on this side of the House are not opposed to it either.
We believe that there is a very good case to be made for devolution. It was always the intention that there should be devolution of responsibility from the centre to the periphery, and, if the Parliamentary Secretary would care to turn to the Annual Report of the British Transport Commission for 1953, he will 47 see that, in paragraph 32 on page 6, it says this:As was pointed out in the introduction to the Annual Report for 1952, it had always been the intention of the Commission that a devolution of managerial authority should ultimately take place, probably on an area basis, covering all the carrying services, once the preliminary unification of all the various forms of transport had proceeded far enough.This was certainly in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) and in the mind of Sir Eustace Missenden, who was the first chairman of the Railway Executive. There was never any opposition to devolution from the centre, once the standardisation which was necessary in order to achieve unification throughout the four railways before nationalisation had been achieved.
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary fully apprehended this in his reference to devolution to the area boards. Indeed, I say that the area boards are quite irrelevant to the problem of decentralisation and devolution, and, if I wanted to find some fortification of that view, I should find it in paragraph 36 of the Report of the Transport Commission. This is what it says:So far as railway reorganisation was concerned, the Commission had, as mentioned above, already reached the conclusion that the three-tier organisation of Commission, Executive and region was no longer suitable to flexible and commercial methods of management, and had communicated their views on this matter to the Minister at the end of 1951. The Government decided that any necessary changes must be dealt with under legislation.The first point which I would bring to the notice of the House is that we could have had a changed organisation, with devolution and decentralisation, if the previous Minister of Transport had not held up the Transport Commission from carrying it out. As its Annual Report indicates, it was ready to do so at the end of 1951, but the then Minister wanted to obtain the political kudos of taking action under the Transport Act, 1953.
The present Minister regards this with incredulity. He cannot know his right hon. Friend as well as we know him. I say that the Government, so far from encouraging the Commission to embark on a useful process of devolution, prevented it from carrying out this process 48 until certain changes had taken place which the Government wanted to get through in the Transport Act, 1953.
As far as we are concerned, we believe in devolution. We think it is an essential stage in the process of securing a decision about any individual matter as close as possible to the point where that decision must be applied, but we do not believe that the area boards will help in that process at all, and that is the difference between us. We have argued previously the case against the abolition of the Railway Executive which it would be out of order to do now, but, because I am now going to discuss some aspects of the area boards, I hope the Minister will not conclude that we are departing from the criticisms which we made about the abolition of the Railway Executive at the time when it took place.
We believe that he was wrong to abolish it, and we also believe that the Commission is already taking the view that, having abolished it, it will be necessary to replace it by something, not with these area boards, but with something rather smaller at the headquarters, as time goes on. I draw some deductions from the White Paper. In paragraph 6 (c) on page 2, certain matters are reserved to the Commission, for example, the wagon stock. It goes on:…some large undertakings prefer to do their business with British Railways by negotiation at the centre instead of separately in the six regions. Other examples could be quoted. There must be a focus for these and like matters, and that focus must be within the Commission's headquarters. The organisation at British Transport Commission headquarters is not final in that respect yet, but it can be taken that a clear focus for these matters of executive railway management will have to exist, in addition to the Commission's policy-making machinery.That is because the Railway Executive has been abolished, and nothing has taken its place, but some machinery will have to be designed to take its place. There are a number of railwaymen who feel very strongly that no proper attention is being given to the individual problems concerning the railways as they crop up, and that nobody is taking a general overall view of them, as distinct from day-to-day management. I think the Commission may find it necessary to create in its own headquarters some machinery to take over the functions exercised in the past, because the area 49 boards will do nothing to help in that respect.
I should like to ask the Minister whether the specific examples which the Parliamentary Secretary gave about the work of the area boards have received the commendation of the Transport Commission, and whether the latter is in agreement with the examples that have been given by the Parliamentary Secretary. If they are, then paragraph 13 of the White Paper needs some amendment. Let me draw the attention of hon. Members to it.The functions of the former Railway Executive were thus divided as follows: The Commission took direct charge of certain specific matters (such as the design. manufacture and standards of maintenance of locomotives. …I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary that this is to be a matter for decision by the area boards. Which is right, the White Paper or the Parliamentary Secretary, or has there been some amendment in between? It really cannot be both. It cannot be the Commission taking direct charge—those are the hon. Gentleman's words—and the area boards having responsibility for doing it. I do not think I am being very obtuse here, and I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite find themselves also in this difficulty.
The White Paper says:
The Commission took direct charge of certain specific matters,in which are included the permanent way.
§ Mr. Callaghan
Well, it says:…(such as the design, manufacture and standards of maintenance of locomotives, rolling stock, permanent way"—
§ Mr. Callaghan
Do not let us become heated about this matter. I am seriously trying to find out whether there is any difference between what this document says and what the Parliamentary Secretary says.
Let me restate the position as I understand it. Under the Scheme the Commission is to take direct charge of the manufacture, design and standards of maintenance of the permanent way. As I understand the Parliamentary Secretary, the area board is to take direct charge of 50 the maintenance of the permanent way. Am I wrong? Is that not what he said? We cannot have two sets of people taking charge of the same thing.
§ Mr. Molson
I thought I had made it plain that the Commission will be responsible for laying down standards for the permanent way all over the country, but when it comes to deciding whether a particular permanent way has to be taken up, that is the responsibility of the particular area board.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am much obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think I begin to see the matter a little more plainly. I only hope that the area boards and the regional managers will be able to see it even more clearly.
This brings me to my first point of criticism. This Scheme of divided authority between the Commission and the area boards is sinning against the cardinal principle of organisational administration, that there should be a clear chain of command from the Transport Commission at the top to the people down at the bottom. I do not think that anybody who, with the best will in the world, reads the White Paper can believe that there will be a clear chain of command of that kind. The area boards have been tucked in half way down the scale to satisfy the Government's back benchers. We shall have this discussion continuously going on about where the level of responsibility lies, who is responsible, and how the responsibility is to be carried out, just because the Minister has sacrificed good administration to party dogma and prejudice.
However, I will leave that point. I do not think it is at all clear and I do not think that other people will think it clear either. If the wordsthe Commission took direct charge of… standards of maintenance of the permanent waydo not means what they say, I suppose we must accept that from the Parliamentary Secretary. It has certainly altered the Scheme for the worse so far as I am concerned.
The Parliamentary Secretary boasts, I think not so much for the benefit of the 51 public as for the benefit of his own backbenchers, that the area boards are to spend £446 million a year. How often are these area boards to meet? What sort of meetings are they to be? [An HON. MEMBER: "Part-time."] We know that they are part-time. Are they to meet part-time every day, every week, every month, every quarter, or what? Are we to commit the expenditure of £446 million of the nationalised industry's money into the hands of a part-time board when we have no idea how often they are to meet and what they are to do? We know that they will be appointed for two years and that they can be replaced at the end of that time, but major responsibility will lie with other people and not with the railways—
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
Does not the hon. Gentleman recollect that when his party established the National Health Service it set up regional boards which had part-time members and which expended very large and quite comparable sums?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am not aware of that, because I am not an expert on the National Health Service. But I know enough about this matter to know what the consequences will be in this case.
If the Minister tells us that the area board is no more than a façade and a sham under which the regional manager will do the job for the Commission, I understand. That means that he has tossed another bone to the backbenchers and that the work will go on in the same way. If he is telling me that these part-time gentlemen, who work for small remuneration for an unknown number of hours, are to be responsible for spending £446 million, I reply that it is a disgrace which ought not to be permitted.
We certainly do not agree to a Scheme of that sort. In view of the remarkable statements of the Parliamentary Secretary, I hope that the Minister will tell us what are intended to be the functions of these boards and with what degree of assiduity they will pursue their duties. We can then have some conception of the nature of the boards into whose hands we are committing this vast sum of public money.
52 I can see all sorts of difficulties arising between the regional manager, who is to be responsible to and is appointed by the Transport Commission, and the area board by whom he is not appointed but to whom he certainly has some responsibility. This offends against paragraph 4, which says:Whatever may be the organisation, there must be a continuous chain of responsibility from the apex down to the lowest ranks.I do not believe that, left to itself without this Act of Parliament, the Transport Commission would have produced a Scheme like this. It had to produce it because the Act says so, but when we consider how far short the Scheme falls of fulfilling that cardinal principle I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite can feel sure that these area boards will be useful. Putting them at their best, the boards may be innocuous; at their worst, a distinct encumbrance.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to trade union representation. The Trades Union Congress attaches considerable importance to the departure which has taken place in the composition of these area boards from the practice followed hitherto. I am sorry that he could not go into more detail than he did. It is important, as I said in an aside to the Parliamentary Secretary which he immediately accepted, that these area boards should command the confidence of those who work in the areas, not only of the business and commercial interests but of the public whom they will have the responsibility of serving.
When the previous Minister saw the Trades Union Congress, he gave it an impression that was not borne out by subsequent events. The Trades Union Congress wrote a letter to him on this particular point about the representation of workers, and said:You will remember that this point was raised by our representatives at their meeting with you on 12th December, 1952, and they understood you to say that it might be possible to provide for such appointments on the new authorities, and that you will give an assurance to this effect when the appropriate Clause of the Bill was discussed in the House of Commons. Your view of the discussion, on the other hand, is that you said that since the Bill envisaged the possibility of single persons as authorities it would not be practicable to specify that authorities should include trade 53 unionist members, although it was inconceivable that workers would not be represented on the new authorities wherever it was appropriate.I can well picture in my mind's eye this interview. I can see the Minister giving all the assurances that seemed likely to be necessary to bring the matter to a rapid and successful conclusion. This is the result of it: the Trades Union Congress feels that it has been given a promise, which promise the Minister says he did not make. The Minister says that he did not make it because the area boards might have to be single persons, but although, in fact, they are not, the promise still is not forthcoming.
I put it to the Minister that he will be making a great mistake unless he incorporates into his Scheme, before he finally presents it to the House, a formula such as is contained in Section 1 (2) of the Transport Act, 1947, namely, that the persons to be appointed shall be those who have hadwide experience and shown capacity in transport, industrial, commercial or financial matters, in administration, or in the organisation of workers.…It is a reasonable request to make. He knows already the suspicion with which the trade unions regard any departure in these matters, especially when the White Paper goes out of its way, in paragraph 25, to emphasise that persons with close knowledgeof public and business requirements in respect of transportare to be especially brought in. I hope that the Minister will look at this part of the Scheme again, and will amend it in accordance with the very strongly pressed view of the Trades Union Congress.
I also wish to make another point in connection with the area boards. I hope that they will contain a substantial proportion of persons taking part in provincial life, and will not be drawn purely from people working in and around London. If they are to have any value at all, then I am sure that they can have a value in that respect, and I hope that the Minister will bring the point to the attention of the Transport Commission when it is making the appointments.
We on this side of the House do not dissent from the view that the Transport Commission should make the appointments. We believe that this is the only way 54 in which the change-over in command can properly take place, because, although the Parliamentary Secretary is at pains to deny that these people will be creatures of the Transport Commission, it is quite clear that the Commission will appoint them. I am very glad that this will be so, because otherwise the confusion would be even worse than before.
I am also glad to see from the Explanatory Note that the Transport Commission has made it clear that the area authorities are to represent the Commission and to relieve it of work. They are not to be an opposition firm. I hope that the Minister will really insist on this point being followed, as otherwise I can see nothing but recriminations and delay instead of the advance towards the sort of transport system which we all want to see.
I come now to the question of statistics. It is notable that when the Parliamentary Secretary wanted to discuss the question of statistics, he turned to his own benches, because he knew that they were the people who would really have to be appeased on this matter. I do not believe, and I do not think that anybody who has had experience of the matter really believes, that there are many statistics that can be produced between the regions which would enable one to compare their efficiency. I doubt whether there are many hon. Members opposite who really believe that there are.
On the financial side, as the Transport Commission points out, 70 per cent. of the total receipts were pooled in the old days before nationalisation, so that no test applied to the odd 30 per cent. will really he indicative. I have tried to apply this index of efficiency to one set of statistics produced by the Commission, and I have done it in relation to the train miles run by British Railways every year. This is one set of statistics which they are going to produce and by which hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they will measure efficiency.
If hon. Members who have it would turn to the Sixth Annual Report, they will see set out on pages 190–191 statistics calledTrain miles per train engine hour,by which, I understand, is meant the total number of miles that a train travels every hour that an engine is attached to it 55 and is working, whether loaded or unloaded. I do not pretend that that is an exact definition.
Let us compare the London Midland Region with the Southern Region. As will be seen from this table, the London Midland passenger index is 10.24 miles per total engine hour. For the Southern Region the passenger index is 11.09 miles per total engine hour. Therefore, the Southern is more efficient than the London Midland, because this is what statistics are for.
But now I turn to freight, and I find that on the London Midland the index for the freight services is 3.49 miles per total engine hour compared with 3.41 for the Southern Region. Clearly, therefore, the London Midland is more efficient than the Southern. But we have just demonstrated that the Southern is more efficient than the London Midland. I feel like saying, "So what?" When one has produced these statistics and analysed them, what conclusion is one to draw, especially when we see, in relation to these indices, that the London Midland passenger steams 2½ times as much as the Southern, and that, in relation to freight, the London Midland figure is nearly six times as much as the Southern?
Statistics of this sort are susceptible to argument in almost any way, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will not place too much reliance upon them. I much prefer the comment of the Transport Commission itself, in which it says, in paragraph 282:These averages are substantially influenced by the pattern of the services required on each of the regions.I beg hon. Members not to get too much into the habit of thinking that by comparing statistics of a line like the London Midland, whose freight haulage is so great, with those of the Southern, which hauls a negligible amount, they can thereby deduce what the efficiency of each is going to be. I beg the Minister to resist the claptrap which comes from his own benches on this aspect of the matter.
I want now to express some criticism of the hotel policy as laid down in the White Paper. We on this side of the House are not very happy about the hotel policy that has so far been followed by the Transport Commission. As far as 56 we can make out, it seems to be a process of closing down or selling the moderate-sized and comparatively cheaper hotels, and of concentrating on the luxury hotels and on charging luxury prices in them.
I have no doubt that there is a case to be made out for the luxury market, and if the Transport Commission can make money out of people who want to spend a lot of money on such accommodation, I see no objection to it. However, I would very much like the Minister, in connection with the pattern in relation to hotel and catering services—especially hotel—to consider whether the Commission ought not to carry out much more fully its obligations to the ordinary members of the travelling public by providing reasonably priced hotels with a decent service, instead of just closing them down or selling them off.
I believe that there is a market there, and that the Commission has a responsibility. I do not see why it should not go into the hotel market if it can make it pay. If the Commission is to do this job, which is an ancillary part of the provision of proper transport facilities, then I ask the Minister to look into it and to discuss with the Commission the possibility of its changing its policy.
In short, we do not believe that the area boards will achieve anything of note. We do not believe that they are any more than a concession to the strongly expressed views of the back benches opposite, and that they bear no relation to the necessary organisation and administration of the Transport Commission. We believe that we could have spent our time far more profitably discussing ways and means by which the Commission could secure the technicians of which it is at present short in order to remedy the lack of capital investment from which it is suffering.
If I may venture an opinion, a few more bureaucrats in the area board will not make up for the shortage of technicians which at present is holding back the railways far more than anything else. I think it is a very great pity that the Minister has not something better with which to engage the attention of the House than a Scheme to create a few more jobs. He was, I think, the inventor 57 of the phrase "Jobs for the boys," but is now to become one of the largest dispensers of patronage in the country.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The right hon. Gentleman denies that he was the author of that phrase. I am ready to accept that he had not the originality to think it out, but, nevertheless, he used it on many occasions.
I assure him that his past will haunt him. His speeches are being looked up. There could be no bigger condemnation of his Scheme than the rather scornful words of the T.U.C. about the plan for different uniforms for the staffs and different colours for the trains in different regions. The T.U.C. say that it is playing at trains, that the right hon. Gentleman has produced a Scheme which will add not 1 per cent. to the efficiency of the Transport Commission nor add one man, one wagon or one locomotive to the equipment of the Commission.
If the right hon. Gentleman is going ahead with this Scheme—and, no doubt, with his obedient majority, he will force it through the House—we hope that he will, at least, consider the points which we have made, and will try to bring some sense into a Scheme which is confused, in which there is likely to be overlapping between the various authorities who will be responsible for this matter, and which will have to be altered within the next few years.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maclay (Renfrew, West)
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and I disagree on quite a number of matters, and I should like to say forthwith that I disagree with his closing remarks. The Scheme before us goes a fair distance to meeting what many of us felt was very necessary in the reorganisation of British Railways. Unlike a good many hon. Members who have to open their speeches by saying, "The hon. Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him," I intend to follow the hon. Member quite a bit.
I turn at once to the admission at the beginning of his speech that he and his colleagues—presumably hon. Members on that side of the House—believe in executive devolution. They felt that when, in the early stages of the British 58 Transport Commission, the unifying process was going on, centralisation was necessary. I understood him to be ready now for the coming devolution which was, at least partly, carried out in the interim organisation. Whether or not I can take it that the hon. Member and his colleagues do not quarrel with the interim organisation, which the Report says is producing very important results, at least the hon. Member has accepted that executive devolution was necessary.
The hon. Member referred in disapproving terms to the abolition of the Railway Executive but, having earlier referred to the fact that in 1951 the Transport Commission was ready for devolution he forgot that, at that stage—and it is made clear in paragraph 36 of the Report for 1953—the Commission obviously itself contemplated doing something about the Railway Executive even before the 1953 Act was passed. That paragraph states:So far as railway reorganisation was concerned, the Commission had, as mentioned above, already reached the conclusion that the three-tier organisation of Commission, Executive and region was no longer suitable to flexible and commercial methods of management…From that it is quite clear that, early on, the Commission had realised that, whatever may be the views of hon. Members opposite, the Executive structure was not the right one and that the Commission obviously thought—
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
But in September, 1951, the right hon. Gentleman told his predecessor that it was not right. The right hon. Gentleman then said he preferred to have it done by legislation.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East made rather a strong point of the Opposition's dislike of the abolition of the Railway Executive. Again and again he said that the Executive structure should not have been abolished. All I am pointing out is that it is explicit, even in those few words which I have quoted, that in 1951 the Commission was itself thinking of doing something in terms of getting rid of it.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The major point of the objection was not in regard to its existence but to its independent existence; that it was appointed not by the Transport Commission itself but by the Minister. 59 I suggest that, had it not been appointed by the Minister, we would not have heard anything about complete abolition.
§ Mr. Maclay
It is at least clear that the Commission did not wish it to exist in that form.
In studying what has happened under the interim organisation—and it should be pointed out that neither the House nor the general public have ever really known what the interim organisation was—it is quite clear that there have been substantial improvements in devolution. The first important point was that departmental officials in the areas were made responsible to the chief area managers, or chief regional officers or whatever they may be called, and secondly that, functionally, except for certain reserved subjects, all the departmental work at the centre has ceased. I welcome that. I have seen some of its results in Scotland and I think that they have been good.
When one examines the reorganisation Scheme now before the House it is difficult to see how it goes very much further than the interim organisation brought into existence some time ago, except in one very important aspect, which is the creation of the area authorities, which hon. Members opposite do not seem to like very much. What would happen without area authorities? We now have very substantial devolution from the centre, and without the area authorities that devolution would be from the Commission to the area manager responsible, say, in Scotland, for a very large country and for all kinds of interests to meet the conditions of the Highlands, the industrial belt, and the Lowlands. One man would carry that huge responsibility. I think that that is a task beyond the powers of any single man.
The area boards, while not interfering in any of those things about which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East is frightened, can undoubtedly be a tremendous help to area managers and to the Commission. That help lies, say in Scotland, in bringing to deliberations at area level a width of experience from all parts of Scotland and, if one likes to use the word, from all interests in Scotland. How will that work out? The area manager may think that he sees a method of improving services or whatever it may 60 be. Without the board—even under the interim organisation—he would, by reason of the powers devolved to him from the centre, be making his own decision.
Could he be certain of being right, or even reasonably sure of being right, in a decision affecting possibly the whole of Scotland when he, by the very nature of his job must be in, say, Glasgow, unable to travel very much and unable to test local opinion? Do not let anyone say that the transport users' consultative committee is the answer.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
The right hon. Gentleman has completely forgotten that the chief regional manager does not act on his own isolated responsibility. He has at his beck and call, subordinate to him, at least 15 departmental men who have at their finger tips the various aspects of railway organisation. He can take their advice.
§ Mr. Maclay
Everyone of them is functional and, as one of my colleagues has just whispered, every one of them is subordinate to him. That is the whole point. He will certainly get his technical advice from his assistants, but can he assess the social, and even the economic, consequences of possibly quite important decisions which he already has powers to make under the interim organisation?
Even more important, say under the reserved powers of the Transport Commission in London, if the Transport Commission makes certain decisions, can the area manager really fight the Transport Commission on his own, if he believes that fighting is necessary, in the same way that he can if he has got the backing of a representative body of people? I am talking of broad policy decisions. Some very difficult things have to be done, and I, as a Member of Parliament representing my constituents may not like some of the things which have to be done if the railways are to become efficient and make themselves pay.
We must be satisfied that, from the beginning, the broadest consideration is given to these policy matters, not by a special interest, but by people of broad understanding of economic and social problems. The transport users' consultative committee can serve a very definite function, but not a function that such a body can serve. The difficulty is that 61 there have been chief regional officers in the past, either on their own initiative or on instructions and in fulfilment of major policy instructions, acting, or at least consulting the transport users' consultative committee, at a late stage in the development of policy.
I do not think it is practicable, even with the best intentions, to consult a body such as the transport users' consultative committee right at the beginning of policy making. Such a body, even if it comes in before the event, is bound to come in at a very late stage in policy discussion, and the task of the railway authority is to try to persuade the transport users' consultative committee that the policy under discussion is a good idea. Likewise, if they come in after the event, the odds are that they cannot do very much about it.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
Is it not a fact that in the case of proposals to close branch lines, it is the policy of the Commission to ask for consultations to take place with the transport users' consultative committee at the outset so that it is aware of the policy before action is taken?
§ Mr. Maclay
That has increasingly been established, I agree. Originally there were some hitches, but later the consultations became better in the earlier stages of policy making.
The fact remains that there may be a general policy of closing branch lines, and before very serious thought has been given by the Commission to how it will do it a broad view is required—not at a later stage when the Commission has made broad decisions, and only then discusses with the transport users' consultative committee how a particular area will be affected. Surely the Commission and the area manager are strengthened and the interests of the country are best served if, at an early stage of policy making, wide knowledge is available to the Commission and to the area managers.
What the function of the area authorities is to be, one can quibble about indefinitely. That is quite right. Questions should be asked about what their functions should be. For myself, I am prepared to accept what is set out in the foreword to the Scheme, where, in paragraph 6, it makes clear thatThe British Transport Commission is a policy forming body.62The area authorities are also policy forming at area level, and supervisory. They are not intended to be executive organs of day-to-day management.There must be a certain development of working practice between the area authority, the chief regional manager and the Transport Commission in London. It would be folly to decide now exactly what the details should be.
I am satisfied with that statement, particularly when it is coupled with the sentence in paragraph 6 (b):The chain of responsibility is from British Transport Commission to area authority, and from authority to chief regional manager.That might sound slightly contradictory, but in this country we have never got our best results by being strictly logical. If we get the right type of men serving on the area authorities, good chief regional managers, we can get a really great improvement in the day-to-day operation, and in the medium- and long-term policy working throughout the country of British Railways.
Having said that I approve the Scheme in general, I should like to ask for some clarification of some of the Articles in the Scheme which I think are a little obscure. When we turn to Articles 7, 8 and 10, Articles 7 and 8, read in conjunction with a certain part of the explanatory note at the beginning make it clear that the Commission is keeping power to set up authorities other than area authorities.
Paragraph 8 says:…the Commissions may delegate to any authority set up under Article 7 of this Scheme…such functions of the Commission relating to that part of their undertaking which consists in the operation of the railways as may be specified by the Commission, being functions which appear to the Commission to be unsuitable for delegation to an area authority…I have no inside knowledge, and I cannot visualise what these authorities are going to be asked to do. It would be of help if before the close of the debate, we were told roughly what these bodies are supposed to be, or what kind of functions may be delegated to them which are something to do with railways but appear to the Commission to be unsuitable for delegation to an area authority.
Article 10 says:Subject to the provisions of this Scheme, the Commission may with the approval of the Minister, delegate to any authority…63 Does that mean any area authority, or another authority set up under Articles 7 and 8? The intention of these three Articles as they are at present drafted is very obscure.
Article 10 says that the delegation may includeany functions of the Commission not concerned or directly concerned with the operation of the railways …That raises an extremely important point of principle, on which I hold a personal view. I do not know whether it is shared by my colleagues; nor do I do know whether it is shared by hon. Members opposite, but if that means that there is the possibility of the Commission delegating to the area authorities not only control of the railways but also control of road passenger services and road haulage services remaining in Commission ownership, then I hope that nothing will be done without the fullest consultation with all those concerned, including this House of Commons.
There is a school of thought which believes that in Scotland we should be better served if we had unified control of all forms of nationalised transport, but I do not share that view.
§ Mr. Maclay
If the hon. Gentleman is going to quote the classic case of the small place near Tobermory, it was not British Road Services which was involved; it was MacBrayne's.
§ Mr. Manuel
Could the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between British Road Services and a subsidised service of MacBrayne's, which gets £360,000 a year subsidy?
§ Mr. Maclay
The important difference is that the MacBrayne structure is a fifty-fifty one, and the management lies in private enterprise hands. The management is not in the hands of the State or of any nationalised body. I well remember the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport in the previous Government saying that he believed it was an admirable way of running these services.
While there may be a case for saying that the best service in Scotland could 64 be provided by having unified control and management of road passenger, road haulage, and rail services, I hope that that will not be done without the fullest consultation. The danger is that if this is done we shall once more be setting up a monopoly which might work extremely well in the interests of the providers of transport, but not so well for the users.
A very tightly integrated passenger services scheme can be introduced which will do the job, but is such a scheme the kind which the users need? I doubt it. The same thing applies to road and rail haulage. In all our considerations for an improved road and rail transport system, whether private or public, we must remember that it is the user who matters. The financial results shown in the British Road Services Accounts for 1953 may be magnificent, but is that necessarily anything to be proud of? It is nothing to be proud of if the charges are high—and if the organisation is too rigid, how are we to know whether they are too high?
The worst of all worlds is reached if there is a limited amount of privately-operated road transport sheltering under the umbrella of a very large nationalised body. I sincerely hope that a large sector of road haulage will consist of private enterprise, which will provide a check on what the real cost ought to be. I am convinced that it is in the national interest for the British Transport Commission to dispose of as many vehicles as possible.
The British Transport Commission can easily show profits, with a unified control and a sufficiently large sector of the country's transport under its control. It can put its level of charges where it likes, and it can make certain economies, but we shall never know whether it is providing the cheapest possible service.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not know how far all this is relevant to the debate. I should welcome a debate on British Road Services, but I should like to have guidance from you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it is in order to deal with the financial results of British Road Services. If it is, I should like to ask the Government about the fact that the British Transport Commission has incurred a loss of £20 million instead of a profit on its disposals so far.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I should have thought that this was a rather wide debate, in which alternative schemes could be put forward, and I do not see why the financial results of the British Transport Commission should not be referred to.
§ Mr. Woodburn
In view of the fact that, as I understand it, transport units in Scotland are to be sold in great blocks, which will automatically create the same kind of monopoly in each district as is possessed by nationalised transport, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how that will provide a check on cost, especially when there are rumours that these blocks are to be sold at about two-thirds of their value.
§ Mr. Maclay
I am afraid I should be out of order if I went any further into those questions.
I was conscious that I might be sailing a little close to the wind, but I felt it essential to make clear the reasons why there should not be unification, under one authority, of road passenger services, road haulage and railways. I was bound to develop my argument a little by way of illustration, to make clear what the dangers would be.
§ Mr. Manuel
In trying to make the comparisons that he desires in regard to Northern Scotland, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of the routes there are completely profitless? He cannot make such a comparison because private enterprise firms will not run in those areas.
§ Mr. Maclay
What I have just said applies to the hon. Member's intervention; I am afraid I should be out of order if I followed it up.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
You having given your Ruling that the right hon. Gentleman is in order so far, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Can you assure him that he will still be in order if he continues to discuss this subject?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
What I said was that this debate concerned railway reorganisation, and that if the right hon. Member's argument amounted to an alternative suggestion, it might be in order.
§ Mr. Maclay
I think I have carried this part of my argument to the limit of 66 what you will permit, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
My remarks are nevertheless relevant, because if we keep the three forms of service under separate control, even though they are nationalised, we leave the way open for a very effective body which I hope will come into existence, namely, the Scottish transport council. That seems to be the right place at which one should co-ordinate services, and I think that such a body would exactly meet the problem raised by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel).
If we have separate structures for road passenger, road haulage and rail services, under separate managements but coming together for co-ordination, I believe that we can go a long way towards meeting problems which are very apparent in Scotland, especially in the remoter areas. I urge the Minister to do what he can in his dealings with the Transport Commission to see that no schemes or further arrangements for delegation of authority under Article 10 of the Scheme are made, at least without the fullest consultation on the part of all those who may be affected. I hope that in due course he will be able to make some statement about a Scottish transport council, which was discussed in previous debates, when the Minister made very positive statements.
I now turn to what may be a relatively small point but, in the light of this new Scheme, is an important one, namely, the functions and structure of the transport users' consultative committee. Clearly, with area boards, or whatever they may be called, the use of a consultative committee may be intensified. There is one point about the structure of such a body which I would commend to the attention of the Minister and the Transport Commission.
At present, the secretariat of the Consultative Committee is generally provided from some part of the railway organisation. Without casting any reflections upon any individual in the secretariat, I suggest that it will become almost impossible for a relatively junior man, working for an area manager or an area board in future, to be a dispassionate secretary to the transport users' consultative committee. It is probably right that the Transport Commission should provide secretariat services, but I suggest that the members 67 should not come from the railway services, because the greater part of the Committee's work relates to railways.
§ Mr. Popplewell
There is much in what the right hon. Gentleman says as far as it relates to the payment of the secretariat, but he will find that in practice, while the payment is made by the railway organisation, the transport users' consultative committee does not take undue consideration of the railway's point of view. It explores all the other avenues, such as those connected with local authorities, and tries to arrive at a fair decision.
§ Mr. Maclay
I have admiration for the transport users' consultative committee, but I still think there is quite a lot of substance in the point I have made, and that there will be more if there is controversial closing of lines and other such reorganisation.
There is another matter. At present, I understand, it is laid down by the Act that certain members of the Transport Commission or staff of the Commission shall be members of the transport users' consultative committee. That is all right for obtaining close contacts, but I suggest that it is an arrangement that should be looked at carefully to see whether they should be allowed to vote. It seems to me rather absurd that representatives of the Commission, whether members or servants of the Commission, on a body which exists to consult and possibly criticise the Commission, should have the right to vote on that body. I certainly think the representatives of the Commission should be present at meetings of the committee. It is a small point, but it may become important in the future.
Finally, I believe that if one travels by any of the different methods of nationalised transport in this country nowadays one notices a different feeling about it, whether one travels by rail, by any of the bus services that remain nationalised, or by air. It may be that these nationalised services are getting over their teething troubles. I have the greatest admiration for the work that has been done by the permanent staffs and the members of the bodies that run the nationalised services.
However, may not this new feeling be due to a realisation that there is going to be some live competition, that looked like 68 disappearing at one time? May it not be due to the stimulus of competition, the real stimulus that private enterprise can always give, even if sectors of nationalisation are to remain?
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
Many of the later remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) were reminiscent of the debates we had on the last Transport Bill. Many of us on this side of the House would like to take them up and deal with those references to the road haulage organisation and the profit that has recently been made, and we would also like to deal with his remarks about unification, but to do so would extend the debate rather widely.
When he was speaking, in the earlier part of his speech, in favour of the area boards, I think he was suffering from the same misapprehension as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, which seems to me to be that both in effect argue that the area boards would be a logical development of the interim organisation that was set up. I do not think that is so at all. The arguments against area boards have already been very well stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). Some of them I shall touch on later in my speech.
As to the argument used by the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West about the need for interposal of the area boards between the Transport Commission and the chief regional managers, the White Paper itself, in paragraph 16 of the Explanatory Statement says of the interim scheme now functioning:The new arrangements are working well.The question is. what is the necessity to change a position that is working well?
It seems to me that the two questions we have to put to ourselves in examining this Scheme are, will it make a worthwhile contribution to the improvement of the transport system and will it work? Can it work? In other words, what purpose will it serve? Will it help or hinder the railways in serving the public? Nothing that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said today or that the right hon. Gentleman has just said has convinced me that the answer to these questions is other than in the negative.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in his speech and in the explanations he 69 gave, made this Scheme appear far worse than I envisaged it when I studied it. I came to the conclusion, after listening to him not only that it is unnecessary, as I have always maintained, but that it is going to be extremely harmful. My first reason for saying that is a general one, that this Scheme makes no contribution whatsoever to the needs of transport at the present time; that this Scheme will not contribute to the establishment and maintenance of a more efficient, more economic transport system.
The needs are, first, the modernisation of the transport system. We all know that the railways need a modernisation scheme, that hundreds of millions of pounds need to be spent on the railways as speedily as can be to bring them up to date; to electrify suburban lines, to introduce far more diesel sets; and in many other ways to develop them on modern lines.
There is also need for modernisation of the roads, but that subject is outside this debate. As to the inland waterways, a survey is now being made which, no doubt, will lead to the conclusion that modernisation needs to be undertaken there. We have the London transport inquiry going on at present. There will no doubt be recommendations which will involve a vast expenditure of money. We all know the necessity for Route C, which has been given priority, a necessity made much more urgent by the development of London traffic during the last 12 or 18 months, with the increasing congestion, the increasing parking, and the slowness of travel which is referred to in the Annual Report of the Commission.
The capital investment required may be £1,000 million; it may be double that amount. Very great sums have been spent on capital investment in gas, electricity, steel and the mines, and plans have been made for spending far more. There was a Measure concerned with that which passed through the House before the Summer Recess. It seems to me that in regard to the railways the priorities have gone astray, that the railways have been neglected in this respect, and that to make up for that neglect is the first priority.
We cannot afford to spend these large sums on capital investment in the transport system unless that system is 70 planned, and unless the expenditure is planned. We need to develop a transport system with a view to obtaining the optimum use of the transport available. Does this Scheme make any contribution in that sense? I very much doubt whether it does to the railways. What do the railways need? What does the travelling public need? It needs speedier and more comfortable travel, electrified travel, cleaner and cheaper travel. Of course, the shipper of goods needs cheaper and more efficient transport for his goods. It means that the tools must be provided for the job. That means modernisation.
It is necessary, in discussing transport policy, always to keep in mind that only a certain volume of traffic is available and that transport does not create traffic. A certain amount of traffic has to be moved and it goes by the existing systems. However much we increase transport facilities, we do not thereby create demand for their use. Of course, there is some optional travel by persons who are attracted if low rates are offered, but generally there can be no increase in traffic. Freight traffic fluctuate with trade.
For reasons of history of which we are all aware, we have today excessive transport facilities, although that does not mean that they are always in the same place or the right place; there are excessive facilities to the extent that neither railways nor road haulage are used to their full capacity. The aim is to employ the available transport facilities as economically as possible.
I will not suggest that we need less transport, but we certainly need more co-ordination of the transport which exists. The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West attacked co-ordination, indicating that he supported the 1953 Act 100 per cent., because the 1953 scheme was based on what to me is a mistaken concept that by making more transport available through the introduction of competition, transport needs would be better served. In fact, the scheme only caused waste and overlapping. This has been particularly the case in road haulage, with increasing competition and the increasing amount of transport on the roads, with the results which we are now seeing.
Our view, which we implemented through the 1947 Act, was that all forms 71 of transport should be brought under one control, because we thought that in this way it was possible to bring about the co-ordination which was necessary if we were to have the most economic use of the available transport facilities. In this way it should be possible to influence the flow of traffic, possibly by different rates, and—
§ Mr. Maclay
I give the hon. Member full credit that ever since the early days of 1947 he has been consistent in this argument, but he is still thinking in terms of the provider of transport. Presumably he will not disagree with that.
§ Mr. Davies
I am not thinking only in terms of the provider of transport, because if the provider is the public—in other words, if it is publicly owned—then it will be seen that the system operates in the interest of the user. For whom is a public service provided? It is provided for the user of the service. When the right hon. Gentleman suggests that people who enter private enterprise to make profits will provide a better service in the conditions at present prevailing in the transport industry, I do not follow his reasoning.
§ Mr. Maclay
If the hon. Gentleman will apply quis custodiet to his argument, we can leave the matter and not bother the House by pursuing it further.
§ Mr. Davies
I should like to see private enterprise sacrificing itself for the users.
I remind the House that the unification of the railways, which followed our policy, has brought good results. A number of statistics, published both in the annual report and also every month, demonstrate that. They are available for anybody to study. They show that through unification there has been a steady improvement in the efficiency and economy of the operation of the railways. There has been a saving of £16 million per annum up to 1953.
In my view, if this Scheme goes through that unification will be threatened. We cannot introduce an extraneous body of control in the form of area boards, interposing them between the centre and the regions, without confusing the lines of authority and thereby 72 weakening unification. This afternoon the Joint Parliamentary Secretary took good care to point out that the members of the area boards would not be idle persons but would have a job to do. How they will do it on a part-time basis I do not know.
What he will find it necessary to pay them in order to get the type of people he has in mind and in order that they shall give enough time to the work is another question. He made it quite clear that they would not be guinea pigs but that they would have full scope for important and responsible work. On the other hand, although they are to do that, they are to have no knowledge of transport. That, too, he made quite clear. I agree with him that these people will not do nothing; if they were to do nothing there would no paint in creating, the area boards.
Whoever they are, they will create work for themselves, which means that they will build up their own staffs and in certain respects their own systems of operation, because they will not be content to sit idly by and do nothing. As a consequence, there is no doubt that the friction between the area boards and the Commission, which the Commission fears, is bound to arise, and difficulties will be imposed upon the chief regional managers in knowing where their duty and responsibility lies. Theirs is bound to be a dual responsibility, one to the area boards and the other to the Commission.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the area boards would apply the same policies as those of the Commission, but later he pointed out that they would be responsible for certain aspects of policy, which suggested that there was some confusion in his mind. In my view, the area boards are bound to encroach upon some of the Commission's present activities, even those which unification has made the Commission advocate should be reserved to it and even some of those powers which the Commission has exercised to bring about the economies and benefits to which I have referred.
In its explanatory memorandum the Commission says that absolute authority must be retained by the Commission, but if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was right in what he said this afternoon, absolute authority will not be retained by the 73 Commission. This Scheme is unnecessary and harmful and I prophesy, for the reasons given by my hon. Friends, that it will result in less efficient management, because it will reverse the policy of unification, because it will destroy many of the gains of unification and because it will prevent the Commission from proceeding with co-ordination.
We cannot have successful co-ordination of our vast transport system on a regional basis. The Commission itself shows us that that is so in its Report and its explanatory memorandum. Coordination must begin at the centre and spread through to the regions, and coordination is not the same thing as decentralisation. Decentralisation is something which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East made quite clear we support, but, on the other hand, we support the retaining of sufficient power at the centre to ensure the maximum degree of co-ordination to carry out a planned transport policy.
Once these boards are established, they will not be content to leave even the minimum of power over policy which is essential to maintain this central control and is essential to the maintenance of the benefits of unification. I do not think that these hazards which the Scheme presents, which are referred to by the Commission itself, and which have been referred to already this afternoon, should be underrated. I think that the Government should have a serious look at these hazards in the light of what has been said here today, and consult a little more with those people in the transport industry who are most concerned, and with the Commission itself.
I have very grave doubts as to whether the senior people in the Transport Commission favour this scheme or see the necessity for it. I am certain that many of them do not. Therefore, the Government should look at it again because they have a responsibility to do so, and because if they proceed with it in its present form, and these area boards are set up with the powers which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon that he would give them, the Transport Commission will be in financial difficulties.
That, unfortunately, is already in evidence and inevitable because of the loss of the road haulage business through 74 disposal. It has been remarkable how successfully British Road Services have been able to carry on while disposals have been taking place, but we are already told that the capital loss is estimated now to be at least £20 million, and it is obvious that if there are capital losses we shall get revenue losses in due course.
They have carried on successfully up to the present time but increasingly there must be losses resulting from the disposals. That money will not be available to the Transport Commission and, therefore, the increased costs which have been experienced in recent months will not be assisted by the surplus which British Road Services were making. The Transport Commission's Report itself states that the outlook is comparatively bleak. So I say that the losses of the British Transport Commission may be of some magnitude, and this Scheme, if it goes through, may well contribute to those losses.
That is to say, if the results of unification are diminished in any way and the costs of operation are increased by the creation of these staffs and this increase of bureaucracy in the regions, the Commission will be the sufferer. By establishing these area boards responsible for running the railways on a regional basis, it seems to me that another managerial body is introduced and there will be more people to interfere with the operation of the railways—people who know least of all about their operation— and there will be an increase in bureaucracy, more paper work and consequently less efficiency.
The only transport policy possible today and the only way in which the transport industry can be put on its feet is, first, to bring to an end the disposal of road haulage, to bring an end to the losses which are being made there, and to the steps which are being taken under the 1953 Act towards the disintegration of the public service which had been set up. The second need is to embark upon a vast scheme of modernisation both of the railways and all other forms of transport, which is absolutely essential: and the third is to abandon the old-fashioned belief that competition within transport will in any way increase economy and efficiency. It is not doing so at the present time and cannot do it in the future.
75 Therefore, unless the policy which the Government are pursuing is reversed, the British Transport Commission will be driven to come cap in hand to the Government and ask for the dole, and a subsidised transport system will become inevitable. None of us wants to see that, if it can be avoided, but I suggest that if this policy is pursued and this Scheme is proceeded with, that will happen.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I welcome the White Paper on the Railways Reorganisation Scheme with moderate enthusiasm tempered with a degree of apprehension because, while it is clear that this Scheme sets out to carry out the letter of Sections 16 and 17 of the Transport Act, 1953, I am not absolutely clear whether it carries out to the same extent the spirit of that Act. Whether it does so or not will depend very largely on how it is interpreted and how it is worked.
We had an admirable explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary, but he is not the person who will be working out the details of the Scheme when it is put into practice. I make these cautionary remarks because it seems to me that the shadow of the old gods lies rather heavily across this White Paper—all the old shibboleths and phrases—integration, wasteful competition, taking the cream of the traffic and all the rest—which hon. Members opposite elevated into idols which they worshipped and for which they were prepared to commit human sacrifices. The shadow of all these old shibboleths is still across this White Paper, and I think that we must look at this matter carefully.
There is a fundamental difference of attitude of mind between hon. Members opposite and those on this side of the House on this matter of what is really the principal problem of transport. This was apparent in the two speeches which we have heard from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies). Unless we can be clear on what is the difference in approach of the two sides of the House, I do not think that we can adequately debate the details of this Scheme as it is outlined in the White Paper.
I want to describe these differences as fairly as I can, but it seems to me—and 76 this particularly came out of the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, East—that hon. Members opposite start off with the belief that the total volume of traffic available in this country, passenger and goods, is limited. The hon. Member for Enfield, East said so in terms. They go on to say that the principal contestants for this limited total volume of traffic are the railways, on the one hand, and buses and lorry services, on the other. Apparently, hon. Members opposite believe that only a central, super planning authority can decide how much transport is required and can ration it out to the public as between trains, buses and lorries so that no wasteful competition need take place and all the public needs are met.
We on this side do not take that view. We do not see any practical limit to the total volume of the transport. We believe that if a form of transport is cheap enough, or sufficiently convenient, it will create its own demand. We do not believe that the principal form of competition at present is between railways, on the one hand, and buses and lorry services, on the other hand, whether they are publicly or privately owned. If one studies the statistics, that is not at all the principal form of the competition.
The principal competition now is between railways, buses and lorries which are operating public services whether privately owned or not and private vehicles, such as private motor cars and C licence lorries. Unless we adopt a slave State, which we are not prepared to do, and direct people as to what transport they should use it is not possible to avoid that form of competition between the private vehicles owned by the public itself and the various forms of public transport. The fact that that competition exists proves that at present public services, whether nationalised or in the hands of private enterprise, do not provide a service cheaper or more convenient than the public can provide for itself with its own vehicles.
The mere integration of one public service with another would do nothing whatever to meet that competition. What happened before the war and the fact that nationalisation is only one step forward from what was happening before the war is, in those circumstances, quite irrelevant. Whether or not integration 77 was the answer before the war, it certainly is not the answer now.
The reason why, in the debates on the Transport Bill of 1953, we on this side pressed for a greater degree of local control was not merely to foster local pride and strong emulation, and all the other desirable qualities that are referred to in paragraph 31 of the Explanatory Statement of the White Paper. We believed that a strong effort should be made to provide a better service for the public and that much greater local control would assist towards that end. That is why we asked for a degree of decentralisation.
The needs of industry in one area vary considerably from those in another area, and the requirements of blocks of population in one part of the country are quite different from those in another area. We think that if the railways have to compete with the privately-owned transport of the individual the only way they can do it is through local knowledge of the conditions of trade and habits of the population in a particular area.
Quick decisions will have to be taken and there must be changes of policy, not only from time to time, but from area to area, and there cannot be a uniform policy applicable throughout the whole country. If one policy does not succeed, it must be abandoned quickly and something else will have to be tried. In those circumstances, we welcome the greater degree of power which is to be given to the chief regional managers and we welcome the setting up of area authorities to advise on local problems.
I do not understand clearly some of the reasons given in the White Paper for the establishment of the area authorities. I do not think that the magnitude of the problem has been sufficiently appreciated. Article 5 (1) of Part II perhaps needs clarification. It is headed:Delegation to area authorities of railway functionsand it states:… there shall … be delegated to each area authority … the following functions …(b) promoting initiative in improving the services …(c) ensuring that contact is maintained with transport users …I hope that this means something effective, because the powers of the area 78 authorities seem to be considerably limited if policy is all to be directed from the centre. If it is not to be effective, if we are not to get local advice in management, the power and value of an area authority will be very much limited.
Reference has also been made to Article 9, which deals with operating costs. I am sorry that it is not a little more definite. What is wanted is a method whereby the chief regional manager and an area authority can see at a glance whether they are succeeding in meeting the public need and are doing better one year than in the previous year. It was the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, I think, who poured ridicule on the idea that there could be regional accounting on the railways or that one year's costs could be compared with those of another year, because even before the war 70 per cent. of the traffic was pooled and one could not say what was the expenditure or revenue in any one part of the country.
The desire from this side of the House is that there should be a yardstick not so much to compare one region with another—not to compare Scotland, for instance, with the Western Region—but to help those in the region to decide whether by adopting a particular policy they are doing better than they did in the previous year.
§ Mr. D. Jones
The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) was making was that because physical conditions differ from one region to another, net ton miles per engine hour could not provide a reasonable comparison.
§ Mr. Wilson
That is not a figure that we want. We need a figure which, in a particular region, will tell those in charge whether they are doing better this year than last year and whether some variation of policy would not be effective in improving the services which they can provide. That is an important point.
The Minister of Transport is ultimately responsible for the efficiency of the railways and, therefore, of the regions and areas, and he must have some means of telling if they are efficient. The Articles, in their present form, are somewhat extraordinarily worded. They might mean a lot or nothing at all, or they might mean that the areas are not to 79 publish any effective figures whatever. I do not suppose that that is the intention, but Article 9 (2), for example, is entirely permissive and states:Until such time as statements and statistics are specified in pursuance of paragraph (1) of this Article, the Commission shall compile and publish annually as respects each area such statistics as are specified in the Third Schedule to this Scheme.The Third Schedule is a list of miscellaneous things like wagon miles, engine hours, and so on. In those circumstances, it might well be that nobody other than those in the Transport Commission was in a position to have any clue at all as to whether a region was doing well or badly.
There are one or two other points which, perhaps, need clarification. Reference has been made to Article 10. I suppose there is good technical reason why it is necessary to have a provision dealing withDelegation to authorities of functions other than railway functions,and why Article 16 is headed:Abolition of authorities.The first of the Articles might conceivably be used for the purposes of re-establishing the area schemes which were specifically abolished by the Act of 1953. I cannot think that that is the intention of the Scheme which, as I have said, can be used for all sorts of purposes. Article 16 enables the abolishing of authorities and that might result in abolishing of all the area authorities with power again concentrated at the centre, to avoid which was one of the purposes of the 1953 Act.
With those qualifications, and subject to these observations, I welcome this Scheme as a real effort to improve the transport of the country, and in so far as it encourages local initiative and local knowledge to assist in meeting local needs, I think it will lead to greater efficiency.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) started his speech by saying that the Government had, in fact, carried out their legal obligations under the Act of 1953 but he was a bit sceptical as to whether they carried out the spirit of them. What he meant was that the Government had failed to carry out the 80 promises which their spokesmen had given and to carry into realisation the great hopes which they had given to their back benchers as to what the Scheme would really mean.
The hon. Member then left the White Paper and told us what we believed and started to argue the case from those premises. I was very glad when he left that and came back to this question of regional accountancy. The hon. Member has made it quite clear that hon. Members opposite have changed their minds on this matter, because during the debates on the Transport Bill it was made clear that it was the spirit of competition between various regions that they wanted to engender, and that this matter of statistics and regional accountancy were for the purpose of judging one region as against another.
Now the hon. Gentleman is agreeing with the Parliamentary Secretary that statistics of that kind are quite impossible. The hon. Gentleman now says that he wants statistics that would indicate to the regional manager how the region is getting on one year from another. But the regional manager already has information of that kind and every station master is compiling statistics of that description every week.
I remember that in the days before nationalisation each station was like a football team with a place allocated in a league. By results it was seen how the station was getting on and each station tried to get up the league. I remember getting out these statistics and I can recall being in a league and the station which came out on top one year was a small place called Loudon Hill. The reason it got top place was that it sent a wagon of livestock from Loudon Hill to London while the year before practically nothing was sent. The percentage increase was something which even the Executive could not calculate. It made nonsense of the whole scheme.
The other drawback to the scheme was that only the amount of money collected at the station was counted, so if a stationmaster sent off goods carriage to pay at the other end, he got no credit for it. That was an indication that any accountancy system like the old railway companies had, whereby one station was dependent on the other in matters such as that, could not give a true picture. These 81 kinds of statistics are no use at all in judging one region with another.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) told us that the area boards would be useful in discussing general policy. Of course, that is the one thing they are not allowed to discuss. The Commission made that perfectly clear in the White Paper. He then indicated that this ought not to be left to one man and that is why he welcomed the area boards. That is nonsense, too. At present, the chief regional officers have the operating and commercial departments to give them advice. The general public are not slow to give them advice nor are the newspapers and the stationmasters. There are plenty of opportunities for so doing.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Renfrew, West was much wiser than the Parliamentary Secretary, because the Parliamentary Secretary tried to give us examples of how the area boards would function. The right hon. Gentleman kept on general broad lines and dealt only with matters in a broad way, so that he gave us no examples at all.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The hon. Gentleman said that the area boards would have no say in policy, but in paragraph (b) we are told:The area authorities are also policy forming at area level …Surely that is a contradiction of what the hon. Gentleman stated.
§ Mr. Steele
If the hon. Gentleman would content himself for a moment and take the advice which was offered to him by the education authority in his constituency, which was revealed to us in the "Glasgow Herald" today, namely, to find out what his constituents really think before he makes speeches in this House, we would get on with the job more quickly.
The trouble with the hon. Member for Truro is that he is not a practical railwayman. There are no practical railwaymen on the other side of the House, whereas there are quite a number on this side.
§ Mr. Steele
The hon. Gentleman was a solicitor with the Great Western Railway 82 Company, and to be a solicitor to a railway company does not necessarily mean that the solicitor should know one end of the train from the other.
This is a Scheme for making possible a proper degree of decentralisation of management and control by British Railways. All of us would agree—and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan) made it clear—that we think decentralisation is a desirable thing. The Transport Commission itself has been carrying it out.
I joined the railways in 1919 and shortly afterwards there came into operation the scheme embracing the four different railway companies. My experience from the amalgamation up to 1947 was that the company I was with was continually experimenting with reorganisation. In fact, a great deal of decentralisation had taken place, but some things were found to be quite undesirable and they were returned again to the centre. That sort of thing was going on all the time.
Under British Railways, a great deal of decentralisation has taken place on both the commercial and the operating sides. But I think that all of us would agree—and this was the experience of the old companies—that there are certain matters where decentralisation would create chaos and complete inefficiency. The Commission's statement provides evidence of its fears of interference by the area authorities in certain fields where this would result.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), in an interruption, drew attention to some of the paragraphs. I want to draw attention, first, to paragraph 4, which specifies that the area boards are being set up in order to make possible a proper degree of centralisation of management and control. Yet paragraph 6 (b) states that they are not intended to be executive organs of day-to-day management, nor will they be suitably composed for that purpose. As I see it, this Scheme proposes the appointment of area authorities for decentralisation of management, but the authorities will not be allowed to participate in normal management. Is that a correct description? If it is not, perhaps the Minister will describe more precisely what management functions they will have.
83 Our difficulty in reading the White Paper is to find out what are the relations between the area authority and the Commission. The Minister is a master of the English language. I used to listen with awe to his facility, when on these benches, of picking up any paper and making a speech which kept us here for hours. If, however, he looks at paragraph 6 (d) he will see there a clear example of the use to which the English language can be put. That paragraph states that this is not a by-passing of the area authority, but the entire content of the paragraph is an ingenious explanation of why the area authority is being by-passed.
In paragraph 6 (e) we see that the Commission goes out of its way to emphasise that the area authorities are there to assist the Commission, and paragraph 26 states:The experience of the Commission between 1948 and 1953 has shown how essential it is that the authority of the Commission in the scheme of organisation should he absolute. The scheme should admit of no doubt on this point.That is rather different from what we were led to believe, because during the Second Reading debate the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), said that what the Government had in mind wasa substantial measure of regional railway autonomy sufficient to give genuine reality to regional railway control over matters proper to regional responsibility…the bias in future should be in favour of the widest measure of regional railway responsibility…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1414.]No doubt the right hon. Gentleman himself felt that this was what ought to be done—at least he tried to make us believe that great things would be done. I have no doubt that the staff of his Department laboured long to try to get a scheme; for myself, I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman laboured a great deal. The Minister was rather guarded in his phrases, but not the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He said:First of all, let the Committee recognise the very remarkable changes for the better that this Bill brings about for Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Oh.']… There is at the present time, under the present Act, no 84 Scottish railway authority, no devolution, no method by which Scottish views and the Scottish Councils views can be pressed or expressed—none…This Bill will create a Scottish railway authority with wide powers.Afterwards, the hon. Gentleman said that, in consultation with the Minister of Transport, and after giving consideration to all Scottish problems, a scheme would be produced but would be applicable to Scotland. We are still awaiting that scheme and perhaps we can be told when it will be available. I understand that it will mean a radical change because the hon. Gentleman said, "We propose a radical change." I can appreciate the word "radical" because he claims to be a National Liberal. Whether the hon. Gentleman will prove to be so when the scheme comes forward, I do not know.
In that speech he went on to accuse us of driving headlong into the attack, and so on. Referring to us, he said:I do not think they have yet understood what a remarkable advance it means in all Scottish transport affairs … Our proposal means that there will be, by and large, Scottish authorities running the various branches of transport."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1952; Vol. 509, c. 982–986.]The fact is that these radical changes are not in the White Paper and, the more one reads it, the more we find that the organisation remains the same, except for the area authorities. What do we find on page 10?Under the Interim Organisation the Commission have reserved to themselves only the minimum powers necessary to enable them to ensure fulfilment of their responsibilities.That means, in effect, that it has left practically nothing to delegate to the new authority. Any management functions which this area authority can undertake can only be those which have already been decentralised to the present chief regional managers. This means a transfer from one competent decentralised unit, with great experience of management, to a board of gentlemen who meet once or twice a month under the scheme and are supposed to make the railways more efficient.
The former Minister of Transport indicated that he could not prepare a scheme, but that it ought to be prepared by railwaymen. Yet the one thing that has come out of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary today is that once the railwaymen have prepared the scheme, 85 there will be no railwaymen on the area authorities to run it. I would have thought that the scheme should have been left as it was.
If that is the position, we need to look with some interest at the people who will comprise these boards. They are described in the Second Schedule as persons of wide experience and likely to be conversant with the circumstances and special requirements, in relation to transport, of the area of the authority. As far as I can see, and as far as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary stated, what is wanted is men of character, drive and ability, with independence of thought, who are prepared to cut through all the apparent tangles of red tape and drive forward to make British Railways a shining example of efficiency.
If such men can be found, I hope that they will not read the White Paper. If they do, they will find that they have singularly few opportunities to do the work which the Minister thinks that they can do. Paragraph 25 of the White Paper states:The Commission believe that certain advantages would be gained if area boards were established with proper precautions to ensure that they understood their role and were imbued with a sense of loyalty to the Commission as a whole.That is the opportunity for independence of thought.
Paragraph 26 states:There is a danger that by the establishment of boards as the area authorities an element productive of friction and lack of cohesion may be introduced. The Commission are, therefore, strongly and unanimously of the opinion that they alone should appoint the persons who would constitute the area authorities.Paragraph 29 states conclusively that… the Commission would continue to reserve for themselves the powers referred to in paragraph 13.That being the case, we want to know, and it is a fair question, what the boards are going to do. We ought to know how their appointment will affect the authority which is at present vested by the Commission in the chief regional managers.
I can see, as was envisaged by the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West that a clever regional manager will be able to get behind his board and pump the members with certain ideas so that they will kick up a noise and the 86 board will be a backdoor by which he can get things done through the Commission. If that is the method by which things will work, I do not see that it is a co-ordinated method at all. It is no wonder that the T.U.C. described the Scheme as just playing at trains.
This is only a facade for decentralisation. It will not add one iota to the existing arrangements for decentralisation. In fact, it will do the very opposite. As has been said, it will provide another 36 jobs for the boys, part-time be it noted. It will be interesting to see how many of those appointed will have an understanding and knowledge of working conditions.
My own view is that as long as appointments are restricted to part-time employment it will be almost impossible for an ordinary worker to accept appointment to boards of this kind. That is a criticism which the T.U.C. has often levelled at the Minister. I believe that the House generally has no idea of the amount of decentralisation which already exists on the railways. Because of the very nature of the job and the responsibility involved, many railwaymen are on their own, with almost complete authority. One can instance the signalmen, the engine driver, the platelayer and the guard and, last but not least, the stationmaster.
The Government and the Commission would have done better service to the country by recognising these special responsibilities and, in so doing, encouraging the right type of individual to join this great service. We may talk about decentralisation in the abstract, but when things go wrong no stationmaster has any doubt that he will be held responsible. All stationmasters are convinced that they have been appointed for that purpose. How have they been treated? I lived in a railway house which, just like the railways, had celebrated its centenary. The house was tied to the job and I discovered that only one room was usable. Unfortunately, I only discovered that after a winter had passed and all my furniture had been ruined by damp.
It is nonsense to talk about decentralisation when we consider the responsibilities of a railwayman at the present time. How many people recognise, for instance, that the stationmaster at Waterloo, only a few hundred yards from this House, has great responsibilities? 87 He has hundreds of staff under him and he is responsible for the safety of millions of people. Yet he receives little more than £1,000 a year. There are hundreds of stationmasters throughout the country who have great responsibilities which they have to carry out for only half that sum.
What is wanted on the railways is not the creation of unnecessary and expensive boards for a ghostly decentralised management, but the proper recognition of the people who are already working such a system.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The speeches which we have heard so far, including that of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), have concentrated on the area boards. I thought that the case for them was made out in the strongest possible fashion in paragraph 22 of the White Paper, in which the Commission states that the creation of a board would have three principal benefits, namely:It would provide for railway users a more direct and rapid contact with the railways of an authoritative nature; it would assist the staff by removing their feeling of remoteness from the management; and it would increase the efficiency of the departments by introducing more effective supervision and co-ordination on the spot and by encouraging initiative from below.These seem to me to be most arresting reasons, because, otherwise, we might have a dictator in a chief regional manager.
Paragraph 6 (a) of the White Paper states thatThe British Transport Commission is a policy forming body.That implies that it is not a supervisory body. I wonder to whom the chief regional manager will be responsible, for example, in Scotland. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West stopped short in his quotation at a material point. He omitted the final sentence about the boards:In this, they resemble the boards of the former railway companies.
§ Mr. Steele
Could the hon. Gentleman tell us what opportunities the staff or even the general public had to discuss matters with the old railway company boards?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I imagine that, as an old railway servant, the hon. Member would be more capable of telling the House.
§ Sir D. Robertson
It seems to me to be very clearly laid down in the White Paper that these boards will be executive and will not be concerned with day-to-day management. No board of directors of the old companies would be concerned with day-to-day management, for instance, as to whether the 4.5 p.m. train to Helensburgh was late or on time, but it would take a very active part in supervising general management. That must be the duty of any board.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Give me a chance. I shall be very pleased to do so. I am trying to clear up this point. The Minister will confirm or deny the attitude which I am taking on this very vital issue. I assert that the boards must be executive. They must have powers of control over the chief general manager. They will be responsible to the Commission. The chief general manager will be responsible to the area board. The Commission will be responsible to the Minister.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I have been interrupted continuously since I started. I do not mind interruptions, but this is a vital point. I feel, from an experience which I have already had in the case of the transport users' consultative committee in Edinburgh, that a facade has been set up purporting to be of great value to the consumers whereas, in fact, it is of very little value indeed.
I found that the committee concerned with consumers' interests was located in the railway headquarters offices, and the secretary was an old railway official retired on pension, and a most admirable man, but surely that is wrong. If one is protecting the consumer one does not want to house oneself beside the enemy. Surely one wants an independent secretary, such as a young chartered accountant, not in that building at all but situated outside and entirely divorced 89 from it. If the White Paper is only going to create a body of part-time people who sit down at a table twice a month and listen to the general manager saying what he has done, then I cannot support it at all, for that would seem to be entirely divorced from the long-established traditions of good management, beginning at the top and going right down the scale.
§ Mr. D. Jones
The hon. Gentleman says it is wrong that the secretary of a transport users' committee should be a railway official and that meetings should be held on railway premises. Has he offered any objection to the decision of the Government to amalgamate the Ministries of Agriculture and Food?
§ Sir D. Robertson
My experience is a very recent one. The House has been in session for only a few days following the Summer Recess, and it is a matter to which I should probably never have referred at all but for the debate. The answers which I got from the secretary to the case with which I was dealing were the answers which I had already got from the regional manager. The secretary was telling me the railway case that I had already learned from railway officials. I am calling the attention of the House to this because it is a matter of importance. We do not want a repetition of that kind of thing. We have to have either a board of management or a board of stooges.
There is nothing unique in what I am saying about the chain of administration. It runs right through any big business in any country, or should run through big business when Governments are, unfortunately, landed with nationalised enterprises, which I do not support for one moment. However, we have them, and we are trying to make the best of them. No one wants to make the railways pay more than I do. But we have a set-up which is neither decisive nor authoritative, and I cannot imagine that that was the intention of the Minister. When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was speaking, I had some doubt as to whether what I believed after reading the White Paper last night was correct or not. I hope we shall hear more from the Minister in that respect.
As a Highland Member, I have had some knowledge of the feelings of the people upon the subject. We have heard 90 very little about the people so far in this debate, yet they are the ones who are chiefly concerned, being potential passengers or freight users. In my area, at Inverness, we have had almost a revolt. A transport defence committee has been formed because of the treatment that we have received at the hands of the chief general manager in Scotland, which is entirely at variance with the policy announced by the very eminent soldier who is chairman of the Commission, who visited Inverness in the spring and said that there would be give-and-take.
Everyone knows how burdensome the penal rates are upon those of us who live as far from the centre as Inverness, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland and Caithness. The Inverness Chamber of Commerce was told that there would be give-and-take, that farmers could come along and say, "I have so many beasts to go to Carlisle or to London," and the fishermen could do similarly, and that arrangements would be made which would be favourable and there would be no inexorable "Take it or leave it."
The reverse has happened, and that is why a committee representing all interests—the Aberdeen and Inverness Chambers of Commerce, all the farming organisations, the fishermen, and so on—is now sitting in Inverness working out its own salvation in respect of transport because the people there have not met with success in their dealings with British Railways.
§ Sir D. Robertson
This is too important a matter for any interruptions.
That community is suffering. They sent representatives to Parliament. The Highland Members have done their best for the people, and I am sure that the Government did their best for them; but we ran up against an obstacle— "It is the British Transport Commission's duty." The Labour Party arranged for that when they passed the Act of Parliament. When we met the chairman, who greeted us with great charm and courtesy, he was reluctant to interfere. It all comes down to a dictatorship, one official controlling the actions of all other officials, saying "Take it or leave it; that is the rate."
I do not know whether hon. Members know about the case of the Thurso through-coach which has been stopped. The passengers are now decanted at 91 Georgemas, a lonely, desolate, moorland halt without any services at all—no porters—within six miles of their destination, after a journey which may well have taken them 30 hours. The people of Caithness rose in revolt, on behalf not only of themselves but also of others coming to the area. We have had technicians coming from Devon who have been travelling all the previous day and night, and then within six miles of their destination they have been decanted at Georgemas.
The through-coach service had existed for 50 years; I travelled on it to Thurso when I was a boy. An official has now come along and brought an end to the practice, so this community has had to suffer in that manner. Is that day-to-day management? Would not a board of good Scots citizens, sitting in Edinburgh, once a fortnight, have responded immediately to letters in the "Scotsman" and other Scottish newspapers?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Many of us are very sympathetic towards the case which the hon. Member is making, but how does he relate this to the Act, which he supported all through the House of Commons, which enjoined on the Commission that it had to pay its way, that it had to be competitive and that it did not have to provide a public service in the sense in which it was construed under nationalisation? The hon. Member ought to be a Socialist and not a Tory.
§ Sir D. Robertson
No, I opposed the nationalisation Act. I walked miles through the Lobbies opposing it.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
The hon. Member referred to something that he said had been happening for 50 years—
§ Sir D. Robertson
I was saying that a through-coach to Thurso had been in operation day in and day out for six days a week for 50 years, and that now, at the whim of the general manager for Scotland, it has been stopped. No doubt the general manager had a good motive. Probably he felt that he could save money by doing it, but I challenge the Commission to hold a public inquiry and show how much money it will save as a result of it.
§ Mr. Manuel
My hon. Friend on the Front Bench has instanced the way in which an injunction is laid upon the British Transport Commission to make the railways pay, but we remember that in 1953 British Road Services had a profit of £8,900,000, which the hon. Gentleman himself deliberately and willingly agreed should be taken out of the coffers of the Transport Commission, thereby deliberately laying on the shoulders of the people of his constituency higher freight rates and higher fares.
§ Sir D. Robertson
It may well be that I am guilty of all the things of which the hon. Gentleman accuses me, but I am quite certain that I should do the same again.
This is a very important question of making the railways pay. My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay), in his very fine speech, indicated that some unpleasant things would have to be done, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport indicated assent. They were referring, I think, to the closing of railway lines. I am wholly in favour of closing down any lines that are not necessary where a better and more efficient service can be given by road.
The question of transport is as important to me as it is to any other hon. Member, because in the greater part of my area we have no railway at all. We have only one spidery line going up the east coast and running two trains a day each way between the terminal points of Inverness and Wick. A fortnight ago, at 9 o'clock in the morning, at Invershin I stood waiting for the passenger train which puffs up slowly all the way from Inverness to Wick. For nine hours of the day there is no passenger train at all. The lines are almost idle.
There is a magnificent road, which was built in the days when labour was much less costly, but we were told by the Minister of Transport or his predecessor that we can never have another trunk road in the north of Scotland because of the millions of pounds that it would cost. Here is this railway line, losing thousands of pounds a week to British Railways, who would be delighted to get rid of it.
Let us face this matter rationally. It takes eight hours for a passenger on the Royal Highlander to travel from 93 Inverness to Wick—the whole of a working day. A generous Government gives me a free ticket to travel on it, but I cannot afford the time to use it. I prefer to hire a car and get there in less than half the time. Our people in the north of Scotland are subjected to receiving their mails a day late. Newspapers printed in England are delivered at half-past six in the evening, mails are delivered late at night or on the following morning, but the whole life of the people in the north of Scotland is upset by the very poor service and the very slow trains.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Having heard this terrible account of the state of the railways and of transport in the north of Scotland generally, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is pleased with what his Government now propose should be done for the north of Scotland in regard to transport? Is he satisfied with the policy of his own Front Bench in this matter?
§ Sir D. Robertson
Certainly I am. I have made that abundantly clear.
All I am saying—and every hon. Member ought to know the facts—is that large areas in Britain are very badly served by British Railways, whose duty it is to serve them. I have spoken of the situation in my own constituency. I have an alternative to offer the House in regard to this idle and almost unused railway, which is losing the Transport Commission vast sums of money, which means, in fact, that it must look for revenue to the more populous areas of the country.
In bygone days, I felt that, if there was ever any justification for the nationalisation of the railways, it must lie in universal services, and the submission I made to British Railways was that they must look to the big cities and the traffic to be obtained there to cover the costs of operating in the remote areas of the country. In an age when road transport, particularly passenger transport, is developing tremendously, it would be folly for us in this House to blind ourselves to the possibilities. We have seen what has happened in the last few days at the Motor Show, which was attended by vast crowds. We see residential districts in London in which cars are parked day and night, and we see our roads being used more and more.
94 Is it not a constructive proposal to say to the Minister that he should turn this idle and almost unused railway into a magnificent trunk road on which passengers, mails and goods of all kinds may reach their destinations in half the time and probably at half the cost? I am certain that the Transport Commission will be very glad to investigate the possibilities, and I am saying deliberately that there will be people in my constituency, like the education committee referred to by an hon. Gentleman opposite—I do not know what they are alleged to have said; I am certainly not their representative here, and what I am saying is what I think myself—who will oppose it.
I am sure that everyone in the House and the public outside want to see prosperous railways, without which we cannot have a prosperous country, but we have to face the fact that there are areas in which, probably, the railways cannot be made to pay. Once the situation is altered by the conversion to an autobahn, a "free for all," open for motor traffic for 24 hours of the day and night, we could use the stations for receiving parcels and goods coming in for transport, and there would be no difficulty in finding better employment for the poorly paid railwaymen. Indeed, I should like to see some of those in my part of the country employed at Dounreay, where much better wages will be paid. No one would suffer, and, as far as I can see, everyone would benefit.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell the Minister, who is, unfortunately, not with us at the moment, that the answer which he gave to a Question from me on this subject last week was really not worthy of his Department. It was a typical Departmental negative from people who are very good at holding down a job, who do not come into the office until 9 o'clock and go again at 5 o'clock, spending the intervening time in producing nothing.
I should also like to hear from any other hon. Member—and I would sit through the debate to the end—who would oppose the proposal I am making, because, in my view, it is a sensible one. I have put this proposition at a number of public meetings in my constituency, and not one of my questioners opposed it. One man asked whether it would not be better to electrify the line. Every 95 one here knows that that would be uneconomic in a sparsely populated area.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister to clarify the position of the area boards. Are they to be directors, as is indicated on page 2 of the White Paper, like the directors of the old railway companies, or are they just to be busy people from all walks of life, listening to what the regional manager tells them, without any powers of criticism, direction or control? If that is the case, I certainly would not support the proposal.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
While listening to this debate, I have been reminded of Nero, who fiddled while Rome burned. I have read the White Paper, and I listened to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary with something like despair. We get nothing out of the White Paper, except the information that there has to be a switch-round of jobs—"jobs for the boys," as someone on this side says. I am not concerned about that, because the spoils are to the victors in any case; they always are.
As far as the counties of Midlothian and Peeblesshire are concerned, I have 66,000 electors to consider, and their great concern is that they should be provided with an adequate railway system, which is not what they are getting today. I do not know who is to blame for that. I can only hold the Government of the day responsible. I notice from the White Paper that this matter has been submitted to various organisations such as the Central Consultative Committee, but not to the Scottish Transport Users' Consultative Committee, of which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) spoke.
I should like to correct his summing up of the Scottish Transport Users' Consultative Committee, an organisation with which I am very familiar. It is composed of able and competent men, and the fact that they meet at 23, Waterloo Place, means nothing. I can assure Scotsmen that the chairman, secretary and other members of the committee are men of independent opinion which they are not afraid to voice. I do not always agree with them and I fight them very often. This body at the moment is handling all 96 the grievances about Scottish transport. It is doing it in my constituency. Midlothian and Peebles possibly has the most grievances of any constituency in Scotland, the Highlands not excepted.
I have here the names of 33 stations which have been closed to passenger traffic, 16 of them permanently. There are eight branch lines closed to passenger transport, four of them closed altogether. There are wide spaces in our rural areas where privately-owned road transport will not function. The suggestions made by the ex-Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) are of no use in regard to this matter. We were never better served than when we had a good railway service. The farmers in Peebles-shire will take a great deal of convincing that the policy now being pursued is the right one for agriculture.
The British Transport Commission has to act along certain lines but I challenge the Government to prove that the Scottish railway system cannot be adequately run to serve everyone, and to pay. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland has just demonstrated the great difficulty in the Highlands. In Midlothian we have a special grievance. Let me give an instance of the lunacy of the present policy.
This policy demands that, as from the first day of November, no one resident in Dalkeith, Eskbank, Bonnyrigg and Rose-well, which are four very populous and growing districts of Midlothian, shall get a train out of the City of Edinburgh after 6.26 at night, except on Saturday. See how the lives of these people are affected, if they want to get to Edinburgh. Those districts house more of the professional people in Edinburgh than any others. Those people require to get to their work at a certain time in the morning. Now that the 6.53 morning train service is withdrawn, those passengers will be driven to the bus routes, which are not always convenient.
Those railway stations are now the bases of great housing developments in Midlothian. It should be far easier to travel by train than it was two, three or 10 years ago, but the professional people are driven to the bus routes. They wait for a bus, which comes along loaded. The people have to compose themselves—even in the elements, because there are 97 no bus shelters in the whole constituency of 710 square miles—and try to get on to the next bus. They have to apologise when they get to work by saying that they could not get on to the bus. What a difference on the railway system. There is always a nice waiting room, and whoever heard of passengers being left standing on the station platform?
We are asking tonight for a recasting of the policy of transport. Why has electrification of the rail-car system not been tried in these Scottish areas? We are eight, nine or 10 miles away from Edinburgh, yet in many cases are still waiting for a supply of electright light, let alone electric power. I am appealing for a recasting and review of transport in Scotland. Without a rail transport system, all we shall get is the assassination of industry. The psychology which dominates the transport industry is, "Pull a heavy weight once a day for a long distance." I ask for more trains, run as they should be to suit the people, so that they shall not have their lives ruled by someone who knows nothing about transport.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
The White Paper refers to railway reorganisation, but I can see no reference,to the shipping part of British Railways. The Heysham steamers which run on the Belfast and the Larne-Stranraer routes are part of British Railways, and are most important parts to Northern Ireland. British Railways have recently taken over the Larne-Preston Ferry. Very large quantities of raw materials from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and finished goods back to Great Britain, go by these routes, which are also largely used by passengers and tourists. In fact, these lines could be described as the most important veins carrying the lifeblood of Ulster.
There is very strong feeling among the people of Northern Ireland, particularly people engaged in the tourist industry, that excessive profits are being made by the shipping end of British Railways to offset the losses on the railways. This may or may not be true, but it is impossible to make out from the annual accounts whether it is true or not. Paragraph 36 of the White Paper says: 98The Act requires that the scheme of reorganisation shall provide for the compilation and publication in respect of each of the areas"—which, I hope, includes the Irish Sea—of such statements of operating costs and such statistics as may be specified under the scheme.I ask the Minister to let us know what regional manager, or what part of the reorganisation scheme, will be responsible for these lines which run to Northern Ireland, and whether separate accounts will be available annually to show whether the Commission is making excessive profits or losses on them.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I listened today with very great interest to the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, because I was hoping to learn from him some real justification for the scheme embodied in the White Paper. I am hound to say, however—and I am not at all sure that when he reads his speech tomorrow he may not agree—that I completely failed to find anything at all in his speech which justified the Scheme.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was particularly unfortunate in the examples he gave, because when he was referring to one part of the functions of the area authority, he explained to the House that, whereas, among other things, the British Transport Commission would reserve to itself the determination about the construction of the permanent way, its standards and the rest, the area authority would have the responsibility of determining what lines should be relaid and what line replacements should be undertaken in its area.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to say what advantage that would be to the general reorganisation of the railways in this country. I think that when the hon. Gentleman rereads his answer, he will find that it was completely unsatisfactory, because, in fact, there is no answer. I can see no advantage to railway operation in the fact that an area authority is to decide whether a line is to be relaid rather than that decision should rest with the Commission.
I regard the whole of the White Paper as an exceedingly unsatisfactory document. I do not think one need be surprised about it because, after all, how has it come about? It is particularly 99 unfortunate that, in recent times, whenever we have a White Paper dealing with transport, the Minister who has to defend it is not the Minister responsible for its initiation. We had that experience in the previous debate, and we are in exactly that position today.
The new Minister of Transport will no doubt say tonight what he wishes to say in justification of this Scheme, but I think that he is the last person who can claim any individual responsibility in connection with the White Paper, as he has only so recently assumed office. I do not know what the memorial to the last Minister may be at the Ministry of Transport. There will not even be Belisha Beacons by which to remember him. "Wrecker" is the best term that I can think of in which to describe him, as he completely wrecked the possibilities of an integrated transport system in this country.
I hope that the present Minister will at least have a little better record than that by the time he goes out of office, but I think that it is most unfortunate that on his first appearance as Minister he should have to defend a White Paper of this kind. I have much sympathy with the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson): I always enjoy his vigorous speeches in these transport debates, and I always think that in matters of transport he should be sitting on this side of the House instead of opposite.
§ Mr. Collick
I do believe it, although I know that he himself does not.
Whenever the hon. Gentleman speaks on transport, he always speaks of the problem of the Highlands of Scotland. Anybody in transport knows what that problem is. Transport in the Highlands cannot be made economic or profitable. Why does this House permit the payment to MacBrayne's of a subsidy of £360,000 a year? The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to that as well as I do. It is simply because in the Highlands, owing to their lack of density of population, railways cannot be made profitable. But the hon. Gentleman is a Tory. He believes that the principle of private profit is the right one. He says, "If you cannot make a profit on railways, close them down."
§ Sir D. Robertson
I think that that is pretty well the view of the British Transport Commission, too. Would it not be better to do that in this age? I cannot help thinking that the hon. Gentleman is living in the past. Tremendous improvements in road transport have been made in 1954.
§ Mr. Collick
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that I am living very much in the future. He knows perfectly well that it is not possible to make transport in the Highlands economic. He believes in profit-making, and that is the motive of private industry. I am a Socialist, and I do not believe in it. I want to see railways in the Highlands, because I believe that the people of Scotland are entitled to have them, and that it is perfectly right and proper that dense areas like London and Manchester should be perfectly willing to subsidise transport in the Highlands.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland does not believe that. If he did, he would not be on that side of the House. I ask him to back me in trying to persuade the Minister to do something to aid the finances of the railways, and before I sit down I hope to give other reasons why he should. If the Minister were really concerned, as he should be, about the real problems which face British Transport and British Railways, he would not be wasting his time introducing a White Paper of this kind. He would be devoting his attention to what every transport man knows are the real problems, and with which this miserable White Paper does not pretend to deal.
Why is this arrangement so unsatisfactory? That is perfectly easy to understand. The party opposite has an intense hatred of nationalisation. We understand that quite well. Ever since the nationalisation of the railways became an accomplished fact we have heard speeches from the benches opposite in every transport debate acclaiming the supposed virtues of decentralisation. It is consequent upon that, and the adoption of that outlook by the party opposite, that the Tory Minister of Transport—concerned not so much about what ought to be his job, the efficient organisation of transport—tells the British Transport Commission, "Please give me a scheme in which area authorities are established in railway organisation." The British 101 Transport Commission, if I guess aright—and this is perhaps merely a shrewd guess —knows that there is no real place for any such organisation in the modern scheme of railways, but is under orders to produce such a scheme.
Being under such orders, it does its job, and I suppose that it has made the best of a very bad job. It has produced a scheme which is embodied in this White Paper. The previous Minister of Transport had not the foggiest notion of what he really wanted, apart from the fact that it was something to do with decentralisation. The British Transport Commission produces its scheme and sends it to the Minister. The Minister looks at it and says, I suppose, "I do not know that we are very much wiser now that we have got it. Please tell us a little more of what you mean by this." That is all explained on page 2 of the Report.
The Minister says, "I am not quite clear what you mean. Where does the responsibility of the area authority begin in relation to the British Transport Commission Please tell me a little more clearly what this all means." In paragraph 6, and in the subsequent paragraphs, the Commission says that it is the policy-forming body, but it then goes on to say that the area authority is the policy-forming body. All I can say is that anybody who has had any responsibility at all in running a national organisation knows that if there are to be two policy-forming bodies, then, sooner or later, whoever tries to put the scheme into operation will come a cropper.
In this House we are perfectly entitled to argue whether the railways should be privately or publicly owned. That is a perfectly legitimate field for controversy. In 1945, and subsequently, the House made its decision on that subject, but I ask the House seriously to ponder this. It is all very well to decide an issue of principle of that kind, but is this House really being fair to a big industry like railway transport—complex and technical as inevitably it must be—by telling a body like the British Transport Commission what its organisation is to be? Is it right that we should tell that body that there must be area authorities?
I say that if Parliament has charged the Transport Commission with the responsibility of running the railways, it is the Commission's job to do it, it should be 102 left to do that job, and Parliament should hold it responsible to create what scheme the Commission thinks best. When Parliament starts telling industry that it must organise in this, that or some other way, it is doing industry a very great disservice. I suggest that this Scheme is not a service to transport or to the railway industry but essentially a disservice, and I believe that the future will justify that assertion.
I want to see as, I am sure does every hon. Member, the railways doing a first-class job. There is the technical skill to do it. When so much is said about decentralisation, hon. Members opposite should remember that the Transport Commission is clearly not itself opposed to decentralisation. Paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Statement in the White Paper states:But it was never intended that the railways should be organised permanently in this centralised manner, and before 1951 steps had been taken to delegate additional responsibility to the Regions.There is, therefore, no dispute on that issue.
It is clear that the Transport Commission itself finds it desirable and it has all the power necessary to carry it out. There was no need to introduce this Scheme to do anything of that kind. The Transport Commission had full power to do it, it was already doing it, and the Government, therefore, cannot justify themselves on that score.
I had some sympathy with the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. He was not in a position to say anything new about this. He could not give us any intelligent reason why the Scheme was necessary. There can be no justification for saying it is necessary by basing the arguments on decentralisation, when the Commission already had all the powers it needed. I think that Parliament would have been well advised to have held the Commission wholly responsible, and not to sub-divide responsibility in this chain of events, as it is now doing.
I could spend much time in telling the Minister some of the problems which should be engaging his attention—problems which call aloud for treatment. All this business really means is that we are going to bring in 36 men on to area boards, yet hon. Members opposite allow themselves to believe that this, in some miraculous way, will achieve something 103 not yet achieved for the railways. Anyone who believes anything of that kind at all is living in a fool's paradise. We should be paying close attention, not to the possibility of what 36 men may or may not do but of what 600,000 railway men may or may not do. That is a far more vital problem, and the Minister might do better by giving some attention to it.
Ten months ago we faced the possibility of a railway stoppage at Christmas. In the end, the British Transport Commission undertook, by agreement, to look into questions of rates of pay and standards and to give a new evaluation to the work of the railway staff. Ten months have passed and the locomotive men, drivers, firemen, cleaners and electric-motor men are still awaiting a decision. Whether or not the reason is that the Transport Commission has been too preoccupied in producing this White Paper I do not know, but ten months have passed and still the main line locomotive drivers are paid a miserable pittance—little more than the pay of a highly skilled typist.
If we think that we can go on like this without facing the possibility of a crisis we are wrong. If, in a few weeks, we hear of a further threat of trouble from our locomotive men, do not let us say that we have not been forewarned and that it has nothing to do with us. The transport problem here is one which should be engaging the attention of the Minister. It is no part of the British Transport Commission's case to say that the claim put forward for main line locomotive men is anything outrageous. In the opinion of some of us, if it errs at all it is a little too modest.
The British Transport Commission's problem is where to find the money to pay for the claim. Anybody who knows the economics of the Transport Commission must appreciate that it has difficulties, that this is a recurring problem which, until it is solved, means we cannot perfect railway reorganisation. I was talking to a main line engine man only this weekend. He has just finished 49½ years' service as a locomotive man. He has received a letter from the Commission in which one of its officials tells him:Upon reviewing your staff record I observe you have completed 49 years and three months 104 railway employment. I would like to express my appreciation of your services and trust you will have the best of health and every good fortune in your retirement.That is very good. At one time such a man would never have received such a letter at all. But what follows? Too many people seem to be under the misapprehension that our main line engine men retire on some adequate pension, but a further letter that this man has just received says:A pension of 3s. a week has been granted to you by the British Transport Commission "—as from a certain date—and will be paid every four weeks.It continues:The British Transport Commission reserve the right to reduce or withdraw this pension at any time…If you or your wife are in receipt of a State old age pension it is suggested that, in order to avoid underpayment of income tax, you should advise your local Inspector of Taxes that you have been pensioned and give him full details of the amounts received.Three shillings a week after 49½ years' service. That is the way this country treats its locomotive enginemen. The Minister talks about being concerned about the railways. If he is, I invite him to deal with that sort of problem. The Conservative Government have no very great record in the way they deal with old-age pensioners. We all know that, but there is a chance here for them to deal with this type of case.
Let nobody on the benches opposite or anywhere in the House think that my main criticism is against the Commission. Let it be understood that I have sympathy with the Commission, even when considering this sort of case, because much the greater part of that man's service, and of the service of many other railway-men, was spent on the railways when they were privately owned.
§ Mr. Collick
In most cases in those days the men did not even get 3s. a week. Let it be said to the credit of the Commission that it has a scheme now whereby in the future—in the long future—a man like this, who does 40 years' service, will have a pension of 30s. a week. That is a little improvement for which we are very grateful to the Commission.
105 Let me deal with another aspect of the matter with which the Minister ought to be a little concerned. I know how busy Ministers are, and I sometimes wonder how many of these reports are read by Ministers. The Chief Inspecting Officer of Railways makes a report to the Minister and to Parliament every year on the matter of railway accidents. In his recent report he said:Three accidents due to insecure engine brake gear, have emphasised the paramount importance of conscientious attention to detail in day-to-day maintenance work and in the daily and weekly examinations. Such examination of engines in the limited time available requires the vital parts to be kept free from accumulations of oil and dirt. The recruitment of cleaners continued to show a slight improvement, but the present strength is still barely half that which is required to maintain the high standard of cleanliness and smartness which is so much desired and was taken for granted under the more favourable conditions of past years.Here the Chief Inspecting Officer makes clear that the staff of engine cleaners in the locomotive sheds is still 50 per cent. undermanned. The reasons for that are abundantly clear to those who know the problem. The conditions are such that they will not attract the staff. I have taken occasion again and again to warn the House, and do so again today, that this country will find itself in a very difficult position not far hence unless more attention is paid to the recruitment of staff for the more highly skilled branches of railway operation.
I could take hon. Members to a depot not many miles from this House where in the last four months more than 30 drivers and firemen have left the service because of unsatisfactory conditions. We cannot go on facing that sort of thing without doing something about it, and my view is that the Minister would be much better employed looking into those sorts of problems and doing something about them than fiddling about with a miserable White Paper of this kind.
I come to another matter with which he should be dealing. Anybody who takes occasion to visit the Continent during holidays must be impressed by the capital development work going on on railways overeas. Consider what is going on in dear little Austria—Austria with a population of only 6 million. It would do the Minister good to have a look at the new West Station in Vienna, and see what the Austrians have done there.
106 Let him go to see the main-line electrfication going on in little Austria. Let him go to see the new road being built between Vienna and Salzburg. I think that his miserable road programme is by comparison a disgrace to himself and the Government. Unless the Government do something to increase capital expenditure on the modernisation of British Railways we shall be left well behind.
What is the good of investing millions in technical improvements to the last degree in industry if we leave transport unfitted to carry the requirements and products of industry? All my lifetime there has been talk about Lime Street Station at Liverpool being, rebuilt, and about Liverpool Street Station being rebuilt. We were to have had a new Euston ever since I have had anything to do with railways. Where are the new Eustons and new Liverpool Streets and the new Lime Streets?
§ Mr. Collick
Waiting for the new area hoards, as my hon. Friends says.
I wonder whether the new area board in the Midland region is to have the power to decide that we should have a new Lime Street Station in Liverpool. I should almost be in favour of voting for the area boards if I thought it would and that we should have the new station; but there is not the remotest chance of that. because tucked away in the White Paper we are given the information that the Commission, quite rightly, keeps control of the purse.
If the Minister really wants to do something for transport, let him make available to the railways the capital necessary for their re-equipment and modernisation. They need it, because they are out of date. Their buildings are completely unfitted for modern conditions. If he really wants to do something for transport that is worth doing, let him have a good road programme. I tell the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland that I do not mind if a railway is turned into a road. Why not, if the people there want it? I am a bit doubtful about it, though.
I dislike altogether the policy that some of my hon. Friends sometimes support of closing branch lines. I do not agree with closing branch lines. If 107 there is a case for them, let them remain; but if they are to remain let the Minister do the only possible thing there is to do, and allow the losses on one part of the lines to be carried by the gains on others, and if necessary subsidise lines. I am not afraid of the word "subsidise." We subsidise private industry of all kinds. What is there wrong in subsidising socialised transport? If we are Socialists we ought not to find anything fearful in subsidies. If the Minister wants to do something worth while I invite him to deal with those sorts of problems, instead of the fiddling proposals of this White Paper.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Thomas (Canterbury)
One cannot help but feel sympathetic towards the views expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), because his knowledge of railways and their problems is very deep and wide. Although I cannot agree with his reasons for opposing the Scheme, I feel much more apprehension about it than does my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who said he felt some apprehension.
Is delegation of the kind envisaged in the Scheme, is this organisation now suggested, capable of improving the present position and of solving quickly and efficiently the great problems which the hon. Member for Birkenhead outlined? Frankly, I must express my personal disappointment, for I take the view that, while this Scheme will not create the friction in its own immediate organisation which the Commission desires to avoid, the area boards are likely to throw sand in the wheels and cause friction in the existing managerial set-up in the regions.
In paragraph 23, on page 10 of the White Paper, the Commission says:Under the Interim Organisation the Commission have reserved to themselves only the minimum powers necessary to enable them to ensure fulfilment of their responsibilities…The paragraph concludes:The extent to which further powers can be delegated by the Commission is now limited and the conditions for their delegation will need careful consideration.I suggest that the introduction of area boards consisting of a number of directors might throw a small spanner into 108 the works, which, are at long last, beginning to turn smoothly.
One factor which I feel will cause friction is the transfer of the powers now delegated to the regional general managers out of their hands to these boards. What are the responsibilities of these boards? We find them in paragraph 27. I do not want to go through them one by one, but, on analysis, we find that they are the powers and responsibilities now undertaken by the railway general managers—the "dictators," as my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) described them.
I rather like this dictatorship system; it is beginning to be effective, and one advantage of it is that it has given once again to all the men in the Commission's employment, from the humblest grades to the top, a measure of confidence, because they know who is responsible, whether it is the yard foreman or the divisional superintendent. They know that they have contact with the person responsible and that he can give them a decision which is to their advantage and helps in the expeditious operation of the railways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland quoted the example of a through-coach which had been taken off a train at the whim of the regional general manager. I generally agree with my hon. Friend, and I certainly agree with him on the principles of business organisation which he announced, but I want to ask him a question: does he expect the House to believe that a responsible regional general manager, merely for the sake of being unreasonable—because that is what he implied—destroyed a service which had been operating for so long? If that were so, does he honestly think that the British Transport Commission would not have taken it up long ago?
§ Sir D. Robertson
I think I should clear this up immediately. The regional manager did take this action, for he has unlimited and unbridled power. He took off a through-coach, which had been running for 50 years, at the end of a very long journey by day and night, and his action caused great suffering to many people. As a result of representations from this House to the Secretary of State and the Minister of Transport, from the Thurso Town Council and the Caithness County Council, from other 109 local authorities and countless people who wrote to the "Scotsman "—because the whole country was indignant about it—the through-coach was restored a few days ago. It had been removed on the grounds of economy. In my speech, I challenged the British Transport Commission to hold any public inquiry to show whether that economy was worth while. I say that it was not.
§ Mr. Thomas
I take my hon. Friend's point, but it does not change the facts nor does it change his argument that these regional general manager are little dictators. My hon. Friend is saying that there is already too much power in one man's hands.
§ Mr. Thomas
Let us analyse it. I suggest to him that the power and the responsibility now vested in the regional general manager is considerably less than was in the hands of the regional general manager before the war.
§ Mr. Thomas
Even so, it is considerably less.
Today, the manager has nothing to do with the road passenger services, with the docks and inland waterways—which were owned by the railway companies before the war—or with the hotels. In this Scheme there is an extraordinary arrangements about dining cars, for instance. If ever there were anything which indicated duality of control and overlapping, it is in that paragraph. Today, the general manager has been divorced of all those responsibilities; all the services which, in Army parlance, I would call the A and Q side of the operation, have been taken out of his hands. The question of charges is at Commission level. All the engineering policies are at Commission level. The legal services, secretarial services and accountancy are at Commission level. His responsibilities today are nothing like those which he had personally in his hands, even with a board, before the war.
If these area boards are brought into existence, I believe that they will merely take unto themselves the power of decision now in the hands of the regional 110 general manager. That power has been in his hands for 12 months, and nobody has suggested today—except in one case —that the general managers are less efficient because they have these powers.
The introduction of these area boards at this stage merely places another obstacle in the way of the improvement and development in the railways which, since the end of the war, has been too long delayed. I believe that most of those impediments to railway development and progress are due to the House, on both sides. The whole of the great railway industry has been the subject of party battle for far too long. I reinforce the appeal of the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) in a previous debate —I am sorry that he is not here: let us give this industry a bit of peace and stability so that it can get on with the job. I am afraid that this scheme will merely cause an impediment and hindrance at the level which is the highest level of chief regional managership.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro took up a point mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary on costing and statistics. I am sorry that my hon. Friend is not here. I entirely disagree with him on the point and I am at variance with other of my hon. Friends about it. My hon. Friend said that these statistics were not required in order to compare one area with another. He said that we want them to enable the area staffs themselves to know and to get some measure year by year of the improvement or otherwise of the efficiency in their own areas.
I put it to my hon. Friend—and he was with the railways for 20 years, while I only spent the first seven years of my working life on the operational side—that he knows, as well as I do, that the general manager and all those interested in the measure of their efficiency have masses of statistics from which they can obtain the information which they require without putting the Commission to the unnecessary expense of having, as it is bound to work out in the end, another clearing house.
We have only to look at the position of the areas as they were pre-war. Circumstances varied. The amalgamations were obviously a good thing, but there is no doubt that the North-Eastern area in terms of profitability, suffered because of the area from which it gathered its traffic 111 was more sparsely populated than other areas. I say that profitability and even the costing is not the measure of efficiency that we want. I hope that my hon. Friends on this side will not press for it. There are already a mass of statistics, and the public will let the railways know and the railway officials know whether they are operating efficiently or not.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
I apologise for not having heard all my hon. Friend's observations, but I understand that he is against pressing for statistics on the ground that the statistics are already available. The point is that the outside public, the Minister and everyone else should be able to judge whether one region is doing better in one year than in previous years, and not only the officials of the railways.
§ Mr. Thomas
I think the public can discover that for themselves now. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) pointed out, the figures are available between areas, and these area figures are available to the staff. I hope that the present organisation will not be burdened with the enormouse expense of another clearing house. I can see that under certain circumstances area boards are a good thing, but only if they take their proper place in the chain of command.
I hope that the form of legislation which is required to put this Scheme into effect will be so worded that, while it will give the Commission power to build up these particular bodies when necessary, the Commission will give the present scheme a real trial, because it seems to be working well at the moment, and only bring in this sort of a supra-management body as and when it finds it necessary to relegate further functions and further powers to the regional areas.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
We have just listened to a very refreshing speech by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), but I thought he rather spoilt it by his last sentence or two—but perhaps one can understand that. He will know that in the White Paper it is stated that the establishment of the area boards must come into operation within three months of the regulations being approved by the House.
§ Mr. L. Thomas
I know the point which the hon. Gentleman is making, but the area authority can be one person.
§ Mr. Popplewell
I quite agree with the hon. Member, and I must revise what I said because I think now that the whole of his speech was good because when he suggests that the area authority should be one man, the general manager, I am with him completely.
The Parliamentary Secretary's opening observations on this subject this afternoon were rather peculiar. He said that there was no ideological differences between both sides of the House on this particular point. Surely, having listened to the debate up to now, he has realised that there are tremendous ideological differences between both sides of the House. It is evident that the only thing that has accentuated their decision on this particular matter is because the party opposite has pledged itself to a further carve up of our nationalised railways undertaking.
In trying to find a way out of it, as some of my hon. Friends have said, they approached the British Transport Commission and asked them to give them a Scheme. In that Scheme they have issued a directive saying that area authorities must be established. That was in accordance with the 1953 denationalisation Act which they put on the Statute Book. During the passage of that Act, we asked them for a definition of the duties of these area authorities and also tried to glean some information as to what further authorities it was proposed to establish under that Act, and what their duties would be.
One would have thought that the Parliamentary Secretary, in moving the Motion that we take note of the White Paper, would have cleared up some of these difficulties and questions that we are putting to him. What have we got? It is rather interesting to note—and I hope that the Minister will listen—that the Parliamentary Secretary is reduced to defining the powers of the area boards as being concerned with the length of permanent way that will be renewed each year and the general overhaul of locomotives. To give the Parliamentary Secretary credit, I must say that I think that was a slip of the tongue.
§ Mr. Molson
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent 113 me. I tried to make quite plain that the general standard of the maintenance of the permanent way and of rolling stock is a matter for the Transport Commission. The actual carrying out of that policy is a matter for the area boards.
§ Mr. Popplewell
That is not what the hon. Gentleman said earlier today. I was trying to give him an opportunity of correcting himself. I think he is trying to infer that the area authorities might suggest to the administrators—the chief general managers—that a certain subject should be undertaken by these particular bodies. That is not asking the House and the Transport Commission to accept what he said earlier, that the area authorities would be able to instruct the chief general manager or chief mechanical engineer what he has to do in that particular direction.
Let us remember that if there is an accident these people will have to face up to that issue at a Ministry of Transport inquiry. If Ministers in this House cannot define the duties of the area authorities, I suggest that there is no necessity at all for their appointment. Previous speakers have rightly pointed out that if these men, who have no knowledge of railway organisation but purely an outside knowledge of business requirements, are to work in a part-time capacity and instruct experts on this essential undertaking how to carry out their job, there will be a tremendous amount of friction. The Transport Commission is adamant in its dislike of this set-up.
We realised when we passed our Act in 1947 that the structure which we then imposed was not necessarily permanent. In 1951, the Commission intimated to the Minister that there was need to change from the three-tier system. The Commission evolved a scheme, but the Minister refused to allow it to operate until October, 1953, when it was put into effect. The net result of this scheme has been a tremendous increase in the efficiency of our railways.
The Minister now has his new proposals. Does he propose to upset the headquarters arrangement, established by the Commission in accordance with his own Scheme, whereby, instead of using Broadway, everything is concentrated at 222, Marylebone Road, with the heads of 114 departments available to give information and to compile statistics so that the Commission may define its policy and make assessments accordingly? Will the chief regional managers have access to Marylebone Road for consultation and settling matters at a regional level, as is now done expeditiously?
What will be the duty of the area authorities in this direction? Will they be called in as intermediaries between the chief regional managers and the Commission? The Parliamentary Secretary tried to suggest that this would be part of their job. Reading between the lines, one visualises that there is nothing that the area authorities are being asked to do that cannot be more quickly and more admirably done under the present arrangements and by the present staff.
It is said that the new Scheme will provide quicker and more direct contact with railway users. But already representatives spend the whole of their time in going out and seeking traffic. They already have direct contact with users and their requirements, and are able to bring to bear the physical possibilities of the railways to meet the needs and demands as they arise. The existing transport users' consultative committees are useful bodies, but there is ample scope for increasing their usefulness- by means of additional publicity so that the public knows what is taking place.
Another object of the Scheme is said to be to assist staff relations by removing feelings of remoteness of control. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) has rightly pointed out some of the things that could assist staff relations. I suggest to the Minister that it would be wiser for him to give to the Commission the power to meet the very reasonable requests being made by the staff, instead of doing as the Minister's predecessors did as soon as they took office. Although an overwhelming case for an increase in fares had been put up to the Transport Tribunal, the first action of the Government was to refuse it. This prevented the Commission from meeting the just requirements of the men.
It is evident that the Ministry and the Government as a whole are still prepared to allow railways and transport generally to remain the Cinderella industry, bolstering up all other industries, and to prevent them from establishing that efficient niche 115 that they could well do if given any encouragement at all.
Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the necessity of capital development. Time after time the Government have denied to the railways the essential supplies that were necessary for technical development. Only now are the railways being allowed a measure of development with electrification and diesel locomotives. The need has existed for a long time, but the Government have preferred to keep the railways in their Cinderella state.
In the proposed organisation of area authorities I visualise a set-up that will be a great deterrent as far as the efficiency of undertakings is concerned. Questions of management and policy, wages negotiations, conditions of employment, design and similar matters, are to be left in the hands of the Commission. If the men who are appointed to the area authorities are worth their salt, why are they to have no say whatever? It will be extremely regrettable if they prove to be a constant thorn in the side of the Transport Commission.
I ask the Minister to let the present Scheme, which has been working for about a year, have a fair crack of the whip. If he were to do this and were to afford encouragement, as well as fostering the joint consultation side, which is now again being developed, we would get the railways to something like their proper state.
It is nonsense to talk of competition between the regions in the ordinary commercial sense. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) rightly pointed out how absurd it was to compare, for instance, the figures relating to net ton miles per engine hour—which, I suggest, is the best criterion for any state of efficiency—between one region and another. There are so many factors involved. It is not just a question of region by region in the repair shops competing for efficiency, such as a product say from Derby to be compared with one from elsewhere. There may be a case for that, but that does not require any area authorities.
When we come to consider the men concerned, they like to think that they are being dealt with as decent human beings, on a proper level. For that reason we suggest that the Commission 116 should be allowed to go ahead with its work. It will get all the esprit de corps that is possible. Questions as to whether a region should have a separate uniform or different coloured engines does not enter into it. The Commission itself is quite alive to that particular line, and it does not require such organisations as are proposed here for that.
This scheme is simply a question of "jobs for the boys." When the Minister was on these benches he declared that the people interested in these nationalised industries were quislings and that they—meaning the then Opposition—would know how to deal with them when they came into office. But what is the position now? He is being a complete quisling to the Department he represents. Does he care for efficiency in the railway industry? Does he care for efficiency in transport? Why does he not let the men who understand and know the job get on with it without all this interference?
The Scheme refers to the matter of dining car and refreshment room staffs. What does it suggest? All railway users know that dining cars and refreshment rooms cannot be divorced from railway administration. They are part and parcel of it. What is suggested in the Scheme? In addition to the cumbersome area authorities it is suggested that the Hotels Executive should continue to be responsible for dining car and refreshment room services and it is to appoint a person who would associate with the chief regional manager. In effect, equal power is being given to that individual with the chief regional manager for dining cars and refreshment rooms, and if there is any point in dispute it would have to be settled by the Commission itself. Is that not a lot of duplication and absolute nonsense?
These are some of the things which the Minister would do well to give further consideration to before he finally introduces his particular regulations. I hope he will give sufficient thought to them and that he will drop the whole Scheme as being an imposition on the authority and something which will nullify the work of those who, at long last, are commencing to build up our railway system into a decent and efficient organisation.
It takes a long time to deal with railways. It was about 10 years before the 117 1921 Act reached maturity. The present nationalisation scheme has not had an opportunity to develop. It has not had even three clear years to mature. We nationalised the undertaking and instituted a certain formula in order that the Commission could take it over and go ahead with it. We said, in effect, to the Commission, "Go ahead and prepare your scheme in the light of developments and determine what is the most efficient for the system."
But then a change took place. The present Government came into power. The Commission was prepared with its scheme, but the Government were determined to denationalise transport and they prevented the Commission going ahead to attain that degree of efficiency that it knew it could achieve if it were given the power. How could it go ahead with plans for road haulage or railway reorganisation, as it wanted to do in 1951, when the Minister was preventing it from doing so?
Even though it was faced with many difficulties, the Commission built up a transport system of which we ought to be very proud. Chambers of trade and commerce, businessmen up and down the country, are seriously perturbed because the Government are denationalising road haulage. If the Government will not take any notice of us on this subject, I hope they will take some notice of their supporters, the businessmen. They know that an efficient system has been established for road haulage.
The Government should end their proposals about road haulage. If we could get agreement in that particular direction at this juncture we should be delighted, because what is taking place in road haulage is nothing less than tragic for our economy. The same can be said of railway reorganisation. Drop this dogma, this doctrinaire approach that has no support from anyone who actually understands the job.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
We on this side of the House think that a reorganisation scheme as envisaged by the 1953 Transport Act is going to be for the advantage of the railways. There is going to be advantage in the promotion of friendly rivalry and competition between the various areas. We think that the various areas and those who work in them want to see such a 118 scheme. In the end not only will the areas be better for it, but it will be to the public benefit in every way, including greater efficiency and everything that goes to make that up.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) said it was not to be expected that the 36 men forming these boards could work miracles. We are not expecting them to work miracles, but we expect that they will be an important and integral link in this rivalry which will come as a result of this Scheme, and which will be to the permanent improvement of our railways.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
Are we to understand from this line of argument that the hon. Member does not agree with the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson)?
§ Mr. Cole
I do not know whether the hon. Member means my hon. Friend the Member for Truro or my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), but if he listens to my speech he will see how far I agree with the Scheme and how far I disagree with certain points.
I am quite certain that some sort of scheme is necessary, and what is more, that the British Transport Commission has not been entirely opposed to some sort of a scheme like this. On page 12 it refers to the degree of esprit de corps which has already grown up in the regions. In other words this is a natural human element. Call it competition, call it esprit de corps, call it whatever one likes to, but it is there and by this Scheme we are trying to encourage it and give it full sway.
I cannot agree that the area boards are going to have no duties. I see that no fewer than six sets of duties are set out on pages 11 and 12 of the White Paper, one of which is to encourage this esprit de corps and also to ensure attention to the welfare of the staff in all its forms. May I point out that the Commission itself—and this refers to the point I made just now—says that some individual identity would stimulate local pride in the regions? Whether that takes the form of uniforms or the colour of the carriages does not matter very much, but it recognises this point of individual pride in the regions. I am sure that any hon. Member who knows the average person will appreciate that point of view.
119 Up to the present in this debate, although we have heard a lot about the constitution of the area boards and their functions, little has been made by the opposite side of the House of the point that one reason why a scheme was laid down in the 1953 Transport Act was to encourage the natural rivalry existing between one man and another working in different regions to try to show that his region is as good or better than the others. I believe that if we get to that stage, we shall have a better railway system.
In passing, may I mention that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) did not show his normal debating vehemence? I got the impression that the hon. Gentleman felt that he was making bricks without straw, and he did not exhibit that critical faculty which we have learned to expect from him. That makes me all the more certain that this Scheme will go far towards giving us what we want. The hon. Gentleman complained that the boards would have too much power because they would be responsible for the spending of £445 million a year, that is, all but £1 million of the total budget of the B.T.C. Yet his hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) complained that the boards would not have enough power.
I suggest that when the House rises those two hon. Gentlemen should get together and decide whether they think the boards have too much or not enough power. Personally I think it is reasonable to expect these boards to have the power to spend this money. Why is the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East so worried about it? The gas and electricity boards spend comparable sums of money in their regions.
§ Mr. Steele
I think my hon. Friend took the view that this money would not be spent by the boards. I was asking the Government what powers the boards will have. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us. His hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) did not know either.
§ Mr. Manuel
Will the hon. Gentleman also remember that there is a big difference between producing gas and running the railways?
§ Mr. Cole
I would not attempt to debate with the hon. Gentleman the production of gas; I am sure he is more expert on that than I am.
Since, however, my remarks were directed particularly to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, I was interested to see that his hon. Friend found it necessary to explain the difference in their point of view? The fact remains that there was a difference between them as to whether the boards had too much power or too little. I am satisfied that it is an index of the authority of the boards that they will be allowed by the B.T.C. to spend 99 per cent. of the annual budget of the Commission.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the B.T.C. had already engaged in further devolution, and the items given in the Third Schedule to the White Paper give details of the statistics it is proposed to publish. Here I want to make a request to my right hon. Friend the Minister, because I understand that useful suggestions made by hon. Members will be considered for possible adoption.
In the presentation of the budgets by the various area boards to the B.T.C., it will be necessary to produce figures to show why they want to spend that money in the next financial year. As those figures must be available for the B.T.C., I am worried about Article 9, which deals with the amount of statistics which the Commission is able to publish. I do not wish to press the Commission beyond what it can feasibly do, but if it is able year by year to decide on the respective efficiency of its areas, either in comparison with each other or in comparison with the previous year, it must have a yardstick at headquarters. If so, why cannot that yardstick be made available to the general public?
It is not enough for the regional managers to know how efficiently their area is working vis-à-vis another area or the previous year. The railwaymen working that area should know the respective standard of efficiency of their area. And that brings me back to my first point about friendly rivalry between one area and another. If those statistics are made available to the public, automatically they will be available to the railwaymen, and then the 650,000 railwaymen we have heard about will know how their area is faring compared with another area.
121 We have heard that because there are differences of running in various areas comparative figures cannot be published, but in the science of statistics that is not a valid reason for non-publication. There can always be weighting for different areas—for instance, the Scottish area versus the Midland area—and without comparative statistics we cannot find out how one area is doing compared with another.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will realise that on this side of the House we are pleased to see this Scheme. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) said, we think it goes a long way towards what we wanted to achieve under the 1953 Transport Act. We want it to go forward, we think it will be for the good of the railways of this country and that, in the end, the public at large as well as the railwaymen, will benefit thereby.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Proctor (Eccles)
The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) seems to have great faith in the use of statistics, but I think that the job of the railwaymen and transport workers is to shift the traffic, not to produce statistics. I could give the hon. Gentleman an instance where, for the sake of statistics and in order to avoid recording that a train was travelling with only two wagons on it, the wagons were left in a siding and the traffic was thus delayed, purely for statistical purposes.
I beg the hon. Gentleman to remember that statistics are costly and that what we really require is that people should do the work. As for the point that the railwaymen in southern England will be thrilled if they are told, by means of a dose of statistics, how their operations compare with the Scottish operations I say that it is utter nonsense.
§ Mr. Cole
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent what I said. I did not say that the railwaymen of southern England or any other part would be thrilled to be com- pared with their Scottish colleagues. I said that necessary allowances could be made for the respective differences.
§ Mr. Proctor
I understood that the hon. Member wanted railwaymen in one part of the country to compete with those in another. Unless they are given a bit 122 of a thrill, we shall not have competition of that sort. To produce statistics of the number of train miles run in the north of Scotland will not ring a bell. I beg the Minister to take no notice whatever of that proposal that it is possible for the railway region to compete.
The right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) said that the interests of transport users were the real issue. The real issue is the interests of the nation as a whole, and in the nation I include the railwaymen and the people who are moving the traffic and doing the work. The right hon. Gentleman also said that there was a better spirit abroad in the nationalised industries than there was a little time ago. I certainly agree.
One of the reasons for that is that the men who now constitute Her Majesty's Government have called off their unscrupulous campaign against nationalisation and are operating some of the nationalised industries instead of traducing them. One of the first duties of the Minister of Transport should be to apologise for the scandalous and deplorable speech at the Tory Party Conference when he denounced the men who were devoting themselves to the nationalised industries as "Quislings" and said that they would be taken care of in the future. Now he has to ask them to pull their weight and do their best. Such is political life in this country that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have the courage to apologise for his attack upon them.
Railways have been regarded as monopolies in this country. Before the introduction of other forms of transport they were a virtual monopoly. The mistake that the nation made was to treat the railways as monopolies long after they ceased to be monopolies. The nation prevented the railways from using roads, dealing in road transport and thus developing into transport companies and not remaining purely railway companies.
When the Labour Government came into office we rectified that situation and brought road and rail transport together by means of nationalisation. That worked very well. We were getting on towards balancing the budget and creating a system of transport unequalled in any other country in the world. The success of the British Transport Commission in introducing a proper road transport 123 system was astonishing. The present Government came into power and were determined to wreck that achievement.
The great crime which the present Government have committed is that they have wrecked the work done by the previous Government in bringing together all forms of transport and using them efficiently in the interests of the nation. The story, however, does not finish there, because it is difficult to finance railways if they are run on their own, and the Government have taken away a profitable section of the transport industry and handed it back to private enterprise. losing millions of pounds of public money in the process.
We must face the fact that the railwaymen will not allow their wages to be depressed to balance the budget of the railways. In these circumstances we may be faced with the necessity of having to subsidise the railways as a result of the policy which the Government are now pursuing.
It was a pleasure to listen to the courageous and forthright speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas). It is a pity that the Minister of Transport was not present to hear it but no doubt he will read every word of it and observe the wisdom of the criticism that was made. The hon. Member has had actual experience for seven years on the railway, and not in a railway solicitor's office. It is remarkable that there is no support whatsoever for this Scheme forthcoming from any Member with transport experience.
I can understand hon. Members opposite becoming a little disturbed about the Scheme. As a community we have to face the fact that no one has found the ideal solution to the problem of the management of big industry. Neither private nor public industry has discovered it, and we are always looking for a solution that will give us real efficiency. The great thing that we want in a big industry is the passionate support of every person working in it. I cannot say what contribution this Scheme will make towards that end.
Much has been said about decentralisation, and by that I do not mean decentralisation in administration, because we are all agreed on that. We on this side of the House have agreed that decentralisation in administration is 124 necessary and good, but the Tory Party has been holding out to its followers the possibility of decentralisation of executive authority.
The party opposite has suggested that new boards would be set up to run the railways in a completely independent fashion. Hon. Members opposite must know that that is utter nonsense. It would be impossible to give a board in Scotland complete authority to do what it liked unless one also demanded at the same time that that Scottish board should find the money. We know that if a board was given complete authority and financial responsibility at the present time the situation would be absolutely intolerable for the people of Scotland. It is nonsense to suggest it, and the Government have not proposed it, although they suggested to their followers that that was their policy.
The British Transport Commission, under this Scheme and under the present Government, is more powerful than it has ever been. As proof of this I quote paragraph 27 of the White Paper, which states thatThe responsibilities which the Commission would place upon the area authorities in relation to the railways would be(a) to exercise as organs of the Commission general supervision of the railway system within their areas, and particularly to ensure that the policies laid down by the Commission were faithfully executed; —That is a lovely example of independence.
Article 5 of the Scheme, which is described in the margin as "Delegation to Area Authorities of railway functions," states:(1) Subject to the provisions of this Scheme and to such conditions and limitations as the Commission may impose, there shall by virtue of this paragraph be delegated to each Area Authority the function of ensuring that the policies of the Commission in relation to that part of their undertaking which consists in the operation of the railways are carried into effect—and so on. All that is provided is that the area boards shall carry out the instructions of the Commission.
Previously the Minister of Transport had power to appoint the Railway Executive. He has handed over complete power of all appointments in this Scheme to the Transport Commission. Therefore, the Commission, as a centralised authority. 125 is more powerful now than it has ever been. That is the kind of decentralisation that the Tory Party has brought into being. I am surprised that some back benchers opposite have not had the courage to denounce the Scheme.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I have not yet had the opportunity to speak and I should like to pose this question to the hon. Gentleman, as he will not be able to reply to me later. Do you agree—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
Order. The hon. Member has no right to ask me a question.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I was really addressing the question to the hon. Member through the Chair.
I should like to pose a question. If it be so that this removes accountability from Parliament to the Commission, does the hon. Member think that there should be an amendment to the Scheme?
§ Mr. Proctor
I leave the hon. Gentleman to get the answer from his own Front Bench. I will not make any suggestion to get him out of his difficulty.
What hon. Gentlemen opposite are hankering after is the old system of boards of directors responsible for the railway undertakings. The old system of boards of directors is impossible in a nationalised industry. We cannot have financial policy dealt with on a regional basis when we have a central responsibility for finance. Under the old system of boards of directors, when the railways were independent private authorities, the boards were manned by some railway experts but very often there were people who had a dual interest—an interest as shareholders in the railways but also an interest in steel, coal, and other great industries. I have no doubt that they brought business and influence with them.
They had an interest in the railways from a financial point of view. But the danger of the present system is that when people are brought in from outside as representatives of other industries they have no financial interest in the railways. Their sole financial interest is in the concerns which they represent. That is a dangerous procedure.
There is one way in which this Scheme may do a little good. I refer to the 126 representation of railway workers on the boards. Railway and transport workers operating on the boards may make a valuable contribution to the management of the industry. I suggest to the Minister that he should not be afraid to appoint people on a part-time basis. There is nothing wrong in a guard, a shunter, a stationmaster or anyone else spending part of his time in considering railway affairs on a board and making a contribution from his knowledge of transport, and still performing his ordinary job when not engaged on the board.
I take the view that the closer we can get the trade union movement and the workers generally interested in railway and transport management the better it will be. It would be possible for spare-time members to be contacts with the trade union and labour side of the industry. I envisage the position that they could attend branch meetings of the staff and make a real contribution. Other than that, I see no possibility of the Scheme being of any use at all.
I beg the Minister not to allow good railway and transport time to be wasted in the collection of statistics. In pre-war days it was really terrible to see the immense volume of statistics which had to be produced by the railway companies for the satisfaction of the Board of Trade and other Departments of the Government. When the Transport Act was passed I was deeply concerned about the situation. The Tory Party then, as now, were clamouring for statistics. A development during the war was that statistics were cut down to about one-fifth.
Under the Act there is provision for the amount of statistics that the companies were compelled to produce during the war. We considered what should be done. I pressed my hon. Friends to leave out the provision but they thought that we should let it slip through and that perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite would not notice that they had only one-fifth of what they had before. The result is that the statistics are cut.
The cost of producing statistics just for people to look at is immense. The Commission should be free to produce all the necessary statistics, but to make the production of statistics a statutory duty may mean that these statistics will continue to be produced long after they are needed.
127 I knew a transport operator who had five lorries in the pioneering days. When he had a load to transport anywhere, he used to come to the railway company's offices and ask us what the rates were. This was very handy for him, for legally, the railway companies had to give him the information, and that gave him an idea of the cost of the traffic and how much he could undercut.
I once asked him "Have you any idea of the cost of the various operations which you are carrying out?" The operator replied, "No, and I am pretty certain that it would bankrupt me to find out what the cost is. I should want about three clerks to find out the cost. It is cheaper for me to guess it than to bother about finding out what the actual cost is." That applies to a very great extent in this instance. We are going mad on statistics. The job is to shift the traffic, and rather than go in for statistics, we ought just to count up at the end of the day.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
It is a pleasure to reply to the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) because he alluded to what I regard as the important point under the Scheme, namely, the subject of accountability to this House and the guidance which the House has been able to give in such matters to the Commission in the past and will give in future if the Scheme is amended in a certain way. It is an even greater pleasure to have the opportunity of having the Minister reply to the debate, because he has very considerable constitutional knowledge and, whether or not he agrees with them, will appreciate the points which I am going to put.
I want, first, to deal with a point raised by some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas), about the regional general manager rather than a board being the authority. I believe that very much too much is placed upon the shoulders of these men today, and that it would be to their advantage and benefit to have an advisory board able to assist them and, to some extent, having certain executive powers.
I had recently to write to the regional general manager of my own area, with the support of the chairman of the Corn- 128 mission, to get an appointment to speak to him about a matter of considerable urgency in my constituency, railway electrification there, electrification already having been completed to a neighbouring constituency. The earliest date—I make no complaint about it—on which he could see me is more than a month hence. Do hon. Members think that a man who has the burden of work that these regional general managers have is in a position to carry the whole of the burden alone? Would it not be better for him to have assistance? I do not think that we should pass on to these men too much power.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Gentleman is complaining because the regional general manager is unable to see him on the date which he desires about a small scheme of electrification. Do I take it that the hon. Member is advocating that part-time members meeting once a month or so should have authority to authorise electrification schemes?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The subject of electrification may be a small matter to the hon. Member, but I can assure him that from the point of view of an area board in the Southern Region the subject of the priority of electrification covering the whole of a county is an important matter. It is a matter on which I should have thought that a manager or a board should be able to give priority to see a Member of Parliament or someone else wishing to make representations about it. I go no further than that. I believe it to be an advantage to have a board, because a board could be of assistance to the manager in an advisory capacity. I do not believe that a man should be given powers which, in fact, require him to do jobs which he has no time to do.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) referred to the Minister as not being responsible for the initiation of this Scheme of which we are taking note today. That is quite right, but we in this House are responsible, if need be, for its amendment, or, at least, for making suggestions for its amendment, because if it goes through by means of Statutory Instrument, it must be approved or defeated without amendment.
The question which the hon. Gentleman posed was, "Is it right that this 129 House should tell the Commission its policy?" and the hon. Gentleman said, "No." I should like to alter the question and put it this way, "Is it right that this House should give some guidance to the Commission as to its policy?", and to that my answer is, clearly, "Yes." If this Scheme goes through without amendment, it is quite true, as was said by the last speaker, that the Commission will have a great deal more power than it has at present. I do not think it right that there should be a two-way movement of ideas; I think there should be a three-way movement of ideas. I believe that this two-way movement of ideas, to which expression was given by the Parliamentary Secretary, is based on a wrong principle. It is based on a flow of ideas between the area boards and the Commission, but I want also to see this flow coming towards this House and away from it.
In support of that, I wish to quote the very admirable resumé in the statement made by Lord Hurcomb, Chairman of the Transport Commission at the time he was speaking, to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. The sentiments expressed in this White Paper are not imposed in the Scheme itself, if we read it carefully. By the purpose of the Scheme itself, the Commission is to become a law unto itself, and that is an affront, though not an intended one, to the Parliamentary system in this country. If this Scheme goes through in its present form, Parliamentary and Ministerial control will suffer, and that is something which neither side of the House ought to allow to pass merely because of a lack of close study of the provisions of the Scheme.
This is the way Lord Hurcomb put it:There is a very real problem ultimately of accountability to Parliament on the part of these corporations. I have been able myself to think of no better solution than some kind of committee … The committee would do much to satisfy the very legitimate demand of Parliament for a greater knowledge than can be got in debate about the affairs of one of these great corporations.Lord Hurcomb continued:One of the very greatest handicaps under which anyone in my position suffers is that he gets no opportunity of stating his own case or of explaining what are his difficulties direct to M.Ps.130 From such a group of M.Ps., Lord Hurcomb pointed out, very natural questions might arise. For example, they might say, "Are your methods of maintenance right?" and, "What is the technical advice you proceed on? Have you ever brought in an outside person or compared your results with what is done in a foreign undertaking?" Lord Hurcomb continued:All those sort of things, if I may venture to say so, I think it would be natural and proper for a committee to raise, and it would be helpful indeed to the undertaking to have an opportunity of explaining the position and it might be good for it to have the necessary challenge now and then in some respects.Lord Hurcomb ended by saying:I would not in any way shrink from such a procedure. I can see some very substantial advantages in it from the point of view of the undertaking.There Lord Hurcomb was dealing only with control as between this House and the Commission as a whole. Let that be clear. But that control is, in fact, being snatched away by this Scheme. Let me point out where. First of all, the Minister has the power to amend this Scheme, although he has imposed upon him a duty to consult the Transport Commission. He can have all the necessary amendments made, and let us also remember that, at this stage, this is entirely the Scheme of the Transport Commission and has not been amended by the Minister at all.
The points in respect of which I would suggest amendments are not those involving managerial control, but would be constitutional amendments affecting the accountability to this House and the opportunities for this House to be kept in touch with the Commission. If hon. Members will look at paragraph 9 (1) of the Scheme they will see that it says:The Commission shall compile and publish as respects each area such statements of operating costs and such statistics as the Commission, with the approval of the Minister, may specify.There has been a lot of argument from the other side of the House about this matter, but it was quite unnecessary. As this matter stands, there is no obligation whatever on the Commission to compile and publish any statistics. It need not take any action on paragraph 9 (1) at all and there is nothing to indicate that it has any intention to produce any real scheme. In fact, the document is a scheme to make 131 a scheme. It is not a scheme. As such, it is a sham. The reality is only in what follows.
The only way by which this may be amended is by saying that there must be such a statement of operating costs "as the Minister shall specify, after consultation with the Commission." That would be the proper way to get Parliamentary accountability and to keep control by this House over operating costs. I am not going to say what is actually provided, or to say how comparisons shall be made between one area and another. I do not claim that experience. There are hon. Members of the House who have that experience and who could make those suggestions. I am upset to see a Scheme which leaves the matter entirely in the hands of the Commission without guidance—I stress the word "guidance"—in that respect. There is no obligation there, and it is in no way mandatory.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I think we are all following the hon. Member's remarks with great interest. He has left out the words which indicate that the Commission has to have the approval of the Minister. No doubt he did that by inadvertence. Would he address himself to the further point that, as the Commission is required to be competitive, the matter of what it publishes should be left to its discretion so that its competitors shall not have the advantage of knowing the Commission's operating costs?
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am not prepared to be drawn into that argument. It turns on the question of efficiency.
The problem whether a nationalised industry, plus the Minister, should not publish accounts for reasons of secrecy is not to be solved in this House. We are trying to deal with a Scheme which has to have wide flexibility. I entirely agree with the opening statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that it has to be so flexible that over the years ahead we shall not have to come back to this House for another scheme. What we must ensure is a three-way movement of ideas instead of a two-way movement, with accountability to the House of Commons and to the Select Committee, so that, no matter what Government may be in power in the future, there will be objective Parliamentary control. I say that sincerely, in no party spirit whatever.
132 Paragraph 7 (1) of the Scheme says:There may be set up such authorities other than area authorities as the Commission, with the approval of the Minister, may specify.Again, I do not think that this is strong enough. It seems to me that it should be for the Minister to specify, with the approval of, or after consultation with, the Commission. Then, again, paragraph 8 says:Subject to the provisions of this Scheme, the Commission may delegate to any authority set up under Article 7 of this Scheme, subject to such conditions and limitations as the Commission may impose, such functions …There is no mention of approval or consultation with the Minister there. It may be right that it should be for the Commission to impose conditions, but there should be at least approval by or consultation with the Minister.
The same point arises in the Schedules. We find in the Second Schedule, paragraph 1:Each area authority … shall consist of a chairman and not less than two nor more than six other members, all of whom shall be appointed by the Commission.Why "by the Commission"? There is no reason why the normal practice should not be followed and why appointments should not be made by the Minister after consultation with the Commission.
If these few amendments are made—they are only constitutional amendments and ones which the Minister is justified in putting to the chairman—they will be consistent with the views of Lord Hurcomb. So far as one knows, Sir Brian Robertson's views are the same as those held by Lord Hurcomb. No difference has been expressed in regard to them. If, therefore, it is Lord Hurcomb's view that there should be consultation with Parliament, that it would be useful to have the guidance of this committee throughout the whole of their work, and if, also, it is good for him to have the opportunity to come to us, then I venture to think that we might translate that into a wider idea.
There is no evidence in the Scheme of the sincerity on the part of the British Transport Commission as a whole to carry out the devolution contained in it. It may be so or it may not be so, but it is not in the Scheme. Paragraph 19, 133 on page 10 of the Explanatory Statement, says:…as much freedom and flexibility as possible should be allowed to the Commission in developing the future organisation.Flexibility is translated as meaning flexibility for the Commission. I should like to see the paragraph read as follows:…as much flexibility as possible should be allowed between the Commission and the areas proposed to be set up and subject to proper Ministerial control and Parliamentary accountability.I view the Scheme in, the sense of leaving the matter of flexibility, managerial control and financial responsibility to the Commission, but I venture to think that it requires amendment in both ways in order to secure the idea expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary, and that the two-way movement should be a three-way movement in which all should have their effective part to play.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
We have today listened to a long debate on railway reorganisation, and one thing which has stood out during it is the poverty of argument emanating from the Government benches in support of their general transport policy. I have sat here throughout the debate and have listened to practically every speech that has been made. One remarkable fact is that one speech from the benches opposite actually got down to realities. It was the speech made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. L. Thomas).
It can, I think, be said without exaggeration that in that speech the hon. Member for Canterbury was even more scathingly critical of his own Government's transport policy than anything that might have been said in speeches from this side of the House. Of course, the railway descent of the hon. Gentleman may, perhaps, account for that fact. He knows something about railways, and his well-known father took an outstanding part in the organisation of the trade unions on the railways.
This body of proposals arises inevitably from the policy of the Government. I would not say that it is really the policy of the British Transport Commission. It arises out of a responsibility of, and an obligation placed upon, the Commission by the Government under the Transport Act, 1953. That Act placed upon the 134 Commission a responsibility to introduce a scheme of reorganisation. Section 16 required the scheme to provide for the setting up of the area authorities, adding that the area authorities could be individuals or bodies of persons.
There was, therefore, no question of leaving it to the Commission to decide whether area authorities were the best method to improve the organisation of our railway system. The Commission had merely to do what it was told to do in the Act by this Government, and it has now produced this Scheme as making the best of a bad job.
The Scheme's real core lies in paragraph 26. The more one reads that paragraph the more one is convinced that the Commission really does not believe that this Scheme will work for very long, or succeed in its object. In railway history over the last 40 or 50 years, the outstanding fact is that the first great measure of reorganisation followed—in my opinion inevitably—on the experience of the First World War. The second great step in that direction followed on our experience of the Second World War.
This Scheme, which the Transport Commission had been forced to produce, turns the wheel backwards. It is a reversion to the old ideas and ideals which were given voice to by an hon. Member whose constituency I cannot bring to mind.
§ Mr. I. 0. Thomas
No, it was a Tory Member—the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) —who spoke even worse rubbish.
§ Mr. I. 0. Thomas
When I listened to that speech I thought that I was attending a juvenile debating society. One would have thought that all that was necessary was to split up the railway organisation, and to give those concerned special uniforms, a little train to play about with, and all the rest of it. A speech further divorced from reality could not be conceived.
If this Scheme goes through it will be an experiment that is bound to fail. There is no reality in it. Even though it be put forward as a scheme for the 135 devolution of authority from the Commission into the regions, the Commission itself, in all essentials will inevitably need to have a last word. And that will be a good thing. If, and heaven forbid that it should happen, an international upheaval occurs again, the people, and especially the Government which have the misfortune to be in power at that time, will curse the day when any scheme of this half-boiled character was ever put into operation.
The one thing we want in this country is a properly unified and co-ordinated system of transport, not merely of rail transport but of all forms of transport, instead of the atomic thinking about transport that has been characteristic of the Government, starting with the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was Minister of Transport. I hope that the Government's policy in colonial affairs will not be of such an atomic nature under his leadership as has been their policy for transport. This is not a scheme for the reorganisation of transport. It is a scheme for the disintegration of transport. I hope it will not come about. If it does come about it cannot have a very long life.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Earlier today I thought it would be appropriate to describe the right hon. Gentleman as a poacher turned gamekeeper, but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) gave a description of him as the "arch-Quisling" come to judgment that seems more appropriate to the occasion. The original of this Scheme was presented to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor about May this year. It was presented to Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in July. The Order abolishing the Railway Executive and introducing the interim organisation came into operation on 1st October last.
Eleven months have elapsed between the time this document saw the light of day and that at which it comes to the judgment of this House, so that this House may pronounce upon it and in order that the next steps may be taken and the British Transport Commission can go ahead. In my view, and, I think, in the view of my hon. and right hon. Friends, 136 that is not playing fair by the Commission.
The present Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he occupied the position of Minister of Transport, said:Any detailed scheme for railway de-centralisation must, of course, be prepared by railway men, and I am not posing as a railway man, nor am I claiming that the Government of the day, in the Bill before Parliament, are attempting to draw in any great detail the form of de-centralisation which they have in mind, but this I do say: it is right that the Government of the day should lay down certain fundamental criteria."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1952; Vol. 507, c. 1414.]At least seven speakers—I think I am the eighth—in this debate who have had experience in the various departments of the railways have, with one notable exception, the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), been critical of this setup. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor invited a scheme drawn up by railwaymen. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will have some regard for the criticisms that have been made of the Scheme by the clerical staff, the locomotive staff, the traffic staff—people who have spent long years of their lives on the railways and who know the railways from the inside, and who are, therefore, entitled to tell the right hon. Gentleman what they think is wrong with this Scheme.
The more we see and hear of the working out of the Transport Act, 1953, the more we become convinced that it was born in hate and is being worked out in disillusionment. As reported in HANSARD, column 1590, the Minister of Transport said, on 3rd December, 1952:It is our hopes that it will be possible to finish with the procedure of disposal by the end of the year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1952; Vol. 508, c. 1590.]That was in December. I do not suggest that he meant 31st December, 1952, but I believe he meant 31st December, 1953. We are now nearing 31st December, 1954, and about 8.000 of the lorries have been sold.
The Minister will no doubt be conversant with what the world outside, particularly the Press, has had to say about the scheme which his predecessor put forward. I am not sure whether his excellent public relations department has called his attention to what the technical Press has had to say about the scheme. 137 In case the department has not done so. I will remind him.
This is what the "Railway Gazette" said, on 16th July, 1954:The White Paper gives little detail of these boards, but their creation would not seem to be either necessary or desirable. A great deal has been said about the need for, and the intention of, granting much greater autonomy and responsibility to the Chief Regional Managers. This we consider to be fundamentally sound, but, in our view the effect of creating boards is not in the least likely to assist this process. Either the boards will tend to become managerial in their functions, which will be bound to reflect adversely on the position of the Chief Regional Managers, or they will intervene between the Chief Regional Managers and the Commission, which will whittle down his direct access to that body, and thus reduce his authority, or they will be negligible parties of nonenties who will serve no useful purpose and thus had better never to have been created.By no stretch of the imagination can the "Railway Gazette" be thought anything other than friendly to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government in most of its criticisms. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree, too, that the "Economist" cannot be regarded as very hostile to the present Government; but the "Economist" finds live area boards under the conditions laid down difficult to imagine and even more difficult to set up.The counterpoise between the Commission, the boards and the manager will be vague and difficultit says.
"Modern Transport" thought that there might be a tendency for the boards to usurp the authority of the Commission and, in striving for independence, to deprive the railway system of many benefits of unification. It said that the Chief Regional Managers should be responsible solely to the Commission, which must beware lest it finds itself saddled with six railway executives instead of one, one reason for abolishing the Railway Executive having been the removal of one layer in the management of nationalised railways. The right hon. Gentleman proposes now to restore that layer.
The following week the "Railway Gazette" returned to the topic:Further study of the proposals for reorganisation of the railway put forward in the White Paper, on which we commented last week, does little to dispel misgivings as to the suggested interposition of the regional boards between the B.T.C. and the Chief Regional 138 Managers…Apart from the fact of the regional boards, the very existence of which must prejudice the autonomy and responsibility of Chief Regional Managers, the Commission has emphasised that day-to-day management is to be left to the Chief Regional Manager and that the reorganisation of railways should be developed from the principles of the interim organization…I could go on to give the right hon. Gentleman comments by many other newspapers, but I thought I would content myself in the main with expounding the views of the technical Press. No doubt the Minister will have read the communication sent to him by the Trades Union Congress, or rather to his predecessor, so far back as 24th May. It has already been indicated what the Trades Union Congress think about this proposal. In particular, it considers that the area boards can serve no useful purpose.The duties allocated to the boards in the Scheme are, or can be, adequately performed by existing railway officers and the interpolation of the boards between the Commission and the Chief Regional Managers introduces an additional and unnecessary link in the chain of authority.The General Council of the Trades Union Congress, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, is a responsible body, with a large number of people on it who have a great fund of knowledge and experience in the administration of industry, and who appreciate the need and necessity for an up-to-date railway system in this country to provide the arteries through which the economic lifeblood can flow to every part of the country. Therefore, what it has to say on this problem of railways seems to me to be very pertinent to the position.
The right hon. Gentleman may not have had very intimate consultations with the Central Transport Consultative Committee. His predecessor had some consultations with it. Indeed, on a previous occasion, the Central Transport Consultative Committee had some adverse comments to make upon the lack of notice which his predecessor had taken of some of its recommendations. The Central Transport Consultative Committee had something to say about what area schemes should contain. It said, in paragraph 5 of its annual report of 1953:we further recommended that the Commission, when preparing their schemes of reorganisation, should give us an opportunity of commenting upon their proposals before these were published. We had specially in mind: — (1) the preservation as far as practicable of the present regional boundaries of 139 the Railways. (2) The continuation of the control of wagon supply throughout the country by a central authority "—The next paragraph is, I think, very important—(3) The setting up of a central organisation by the Commission to ensure that the economies and advantages of employing standardised units, both mechanical and otherwise, would be continued.I think that the Minister ought to have some regard for what the Central Transport Consulative Committee has to say.
Indeed, the Commission itself had very grave doubts about this scheme—but, unfortunately the Commission was influenced—and it says so in paragraph 23, on page 10 of the White Paper:The Commission have in this connection studied not only the Act itself, but also the debates which took place in Parliament, and they have had in mind the special reference made to the case of Scotland.It is no use hon. Gentlemen on the back benches opposite denying any responsibility for this Scheme. The Commission had to look over its shoulder and not only consider the contents of the Transport Act, 1953, but had to have regard, as it says in the White Paper, to the comments which were made in Parliament. I wonder whether that is the reason that area authorities are contained in the Scheme, in spite of the fact that the Commission felt that it would have been far better, having removed the third tier, as the Press described it, by the abolition of the Railway Executive, not to have imposed now a further third tier.
At least it can be said that while the Railway Executive was in existence the Minister had the opportunity, after consultation with the Commission, to make the appointment. But if this Scheme goes through in its present form, the whole of the 36 members, or as many as are appointed up to 36, will be appointed by the Commission and the right hon. Gentleman will have no control whatever over them. To that extent, at any rate, the position into which we now drift is worse than the original position.
The Commission states that it considered the debates that took place in Parliament. But in its 1952 Report the Commission had already conveyed its intentions about reorganising its method of control. From the introduction to the Report one gleans that in 1951 the Commission had submitted proposals to the 140 Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay).So far as railway reorganisation was concerned "—said the 1953 Report—the Commission had, as mentioned above, already reached the conclusion that the three-tier organisation of Commission, Executive and Region was no longer suitable to flexible and commercial methods of management, and had communicated their views on this matter to the Minister at the end of 1951. The Government decided that any necessary changes must be dealt with under legislation, and the Act accordingly placed upon the Commission the duty of preparing a scheme for railway reorganisation for submission to the Minister.I wonder whether that has any relationship to area boards of management, and whether the right hon. Member for Renfrew, West is not after all the nigger in the woodpile, who was not prepared to allow the Commission to go ahead with reorganisation in 1951 because he felt that the reorganisation which the Commission would establish would not allow his business friends to be put upon the area boards.
§ Mr. Maclay
The hon. Member must realise that at that period a new Bill was under contemplation and there was bound to be a hold up of some things to see how the organisation would fit into a new scheme.
§ Mr. Maclay
We cannot discuss something which was never made public, but clearly only a part of the proposals dealt with railway reorganisation.
§ Mr. Jones
If the right hon. Member hides behind Cabinet secrecy, I am entitled to express my point of view. But the White Paper on railway reorganisation was not submitted until May, 1952, and the ultimate Bill was not mentioned until the Gracious Speech at the beginning of the Session towards the end of 1952, 12 months afterwards.
I begin sometimes to wonder who was the author of the 1953 Transport Bill. I hold in my hand a book called "The Transport Act, 1953," by a gentleman called H. S. Vian Smith, and on the front 141 cover he is described as the Secretary of the Home and Transport Division of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. It says he was:closely concerned with the passage of the Act from its conception to its receiving the Royal Assent. As the representative of industry he took an active part in the discussions with the Government which led to its final shape, and few people are better qualified to explain the purpose of many of its most important sections.No wonder the right hon. Gentleman repudiates his responsibility. Now we have the Association of Chambers of Commerce claiming the parentage of this—I am afraid it is not a Parliamentary word, otherwise I would use it.
The Commission, in paragraph 26—and apparently the Minister agrees with this because he commends this White Paper to the House, and one assumes that in commending it without amendment he agrees with it—says:The experience of the Commission between 1948 and 1953 has shown how essential it is that the authority of the Commission in the scheme of organisation should be absolute.Further it goes on to say—and here again is the fear that has been behind almost every paragraph in this White Paper—There is a danger that by the establishment of boards as the area authorities an element productive of friction and lack of cohesion may be introduced.The railway trade unions, to whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour paid magnificent tribute last December for their statesmanship in difficult circumstances, are concerned about the provisions of this White Paper, and they have said so in no uncertain way. They have voiced their opposition to the scheme, and who are better fitted to do so? The whole of the livelihood of their membership and the welfare of the families are wrapped up in the railways, and they have memories of inter-war years, when the cry for economy went out from the boardrooms of this country.
Do the Government mean the "economy" of those boards of directors which are very dear to the heart of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Indeed, in the White Paper there is a reference to the area boards being responsible for economy. What kind of economy? They 142 are responsible for appointments. Are they going to be responsible for dismissals, too? Is each separate unit in this country to have to carry its own redundancy in the way it did before the war, or is there to be some central Organisation to cover the problem if the present trade buoyancy should suffer a recession in six months' or 12 months' time, as might very well be the case?
If these area boards are to be responsible for economy, does it mean that they are going to determine the size of the staff, irrespective of considerations in other regions? But if, in spite of this apprehension, the area boards are to be proceeded with. we agree with this sentence:The Commission are, therefore, strongly and unanimously of the opinion that they alone should appoint the persons who would constitute the area authorities.Indeed, we feel especially strongly about that, because we would not want the right hon. Gentleman to have the job of appointing 36 Quislings. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quislings?"] He made the charge that the people who undertook this work in nationalised industries would be Quislings, so presumably the right hon. Gentleman would have pleasure in appointing 36 Quislings, such is the fate of Parliamentary life in this country.
§ Mr. Renton
Would the hon. Gentleman describe the part-time members of the area boards for gas, electricity and coal, and the regional hospital boards as well as others of a similar character, in that way?
§ Mr. Jones
It was not me, it was the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport who described them as quislings. I thought they were doing a magnificent job and I still think so.
All I am saying in that connection is that we ought not to impose this third tier of part-time people. I am not saying that part-time people in their proper place are Quislings, because I think they do a good job. However, we on this side of the House are of the opinion that if area boards are to be appointed, they should be appointed in accordance with the methods laid down in paragraph I of the Second Schedule to the 1947 Act as it would give a much better basis. We
143 believe that the membership of those boards should be drawn frompersons who have a wide experience and have shown capacity in transport, industrial, commercial or financial matters, in administration or in the organisation of the workers.Article 5 (1, b) of the Scheme provides that area boards should have the function of:promoting initiative in improving the services and facilities afforded to the public on the railways, and in effecting economies.Who better can be found to undertake this work with the least possible injury to the man on the job than someone who has had long experience in the organisation of the works?
If the Minister wants to secure loyalty and esprit de corps, both he and the Commission had better take fully into their confidence the organised workers. The best way to secure that is to give them responsibility, not to talk about giving them different uniforms in different regions. What the railwaymen of this country want is a decent uniform, not a different uniform.
I shall conclude by agreeing with those who have said that regional rivalry will not be secured by painting the coaches in the different regions a different colour. What happens in the case of the train running from Edinburgh to King's Cross or the train from Newcastle to Plymouth, when it runs through all the regions? Who will have the pride of colour? What utter nonsense to talk about a different uniform. I have no doubt that the next time one of the chief regional managers goes on a visit to the West of England in a special train, he will get all the men to line up on the platform as he goes by in order to see that their buttons are clean. It is a decent uniform they want, not a different uniform.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that unless this Scheme is altered and the area boards are eradicated from it, we shall reserve the right, when this Scheme again comes before the House, to vote against it. As the weeks and months go by and the consequences of the 1953 Act unfold themselves, it becomes plainer than ever that the fanatical attitude of the Government in applying a doctrinaire principle to this industry was taken up primarily to satisfy their paymasters in the country.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I often think that debates on a Motion to take note of some document or other are the most valuable that we have in this House. In the nature of things there is less need for emphasis on divisions of principle between us and perhaps a greater willingness on both sides to concede that the black is not quite so black or the white so white. One also has the chance to make use, as the House is wise to do, of the wealth of experience and practical knowledge which exists on both sides of the House on topics of this sort.
Therefore, it seemed to me, and I have heard practically every speech which has been made today, that from the point of view of those of us who are concerned with the future of our railway system the debate has been very valuable. I hope to deal with a good proportion of the very large number of points, many of them helpful and constructive, which have been put. It might be convenient if I deal first with one or two major issues of principle and then, as far as I can, with the practical and detailed points.
I was glad to hear from the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) that the Opposition, in his own words, favour devolution and decentralisation. As I understood his very interesting speech, he and his hon. and right hon. Friends favoured a move towards decentralisation of control in our railway system. His quarrel was not with that main objective but rather that he disagreed with the particular methods which we are employing to effect it. Against that background it would be helpful if we could debate the matter not on the basis of whether, in general, control ought to be decentralised, but rather on the point of whether the methods put forward by the British Transport Commission and commended to the House in the White Paper by my right hon. Friend the present Colonial Secretary are, broadly speaking, sensible and useful.
I do not want to introduce undue polemics into the debate and therefore I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) in quoting who were in favour and who against these proposals. The hon. 145 Member quoted, quite legitimately, certain newspapers but, as the White Paper makes clear, there have been very wide consultations in this connection with a number of organisations which are set out in page 4 of the White Paper.
It is a fact that, broadly, with the exception of the T.U.C. and its Scottish opposite number, and certain reservations by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, a considerable number of important bodies have indicated a good deal of general agreement with the Scheme. Perhaps significant is the fact that that view has been taken by the Traders' Co-ordinating Committee on Transport, which includes and acts for a large number of important organisations.
I do not propose to debate this matter on the basis of what other people have said on the merits of the Scheme, but rather to seek to convince the House that those merits are merits which the House itself should broadly accept. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked me—and he has been good enough to indicate that he would like an answer —to clear up any doubt there may be as to where, under the Scheme, the chain of command will go. I willingly respond. The chain of command will be from the Commission to the board and from the board to the chief regional manager. That clear chain of command will not prevent, or interfere with in any way, the ordinary staff consultations which in any great organisation take place between the staff officers of the supreme and the staff officers of the subordinate body.
Many hon. Members have had experience of the operation of Army staffs. While the chain of command runs from the higher to the lower commanders, there is a constant contact, to and fro, between the various branches of the staffs at the various levels. That is a principle of organisation which goes fairly wide in large-scale organisations and, after all, here we are concerned with an organisation employing in this respect about 600,000 people. That is the chain of command.
The main argument has been as to the value, purpose and composition of the area boards themselves. I will deal with 146 those aspects of the boards in that order. Take, first, their value. I beg the House to think about this. It seems to me that it must be useful in each area to have working in close contact with the chief regional manager a number of people of wide general experience, of knowledge of the affairs of that area and of understanding of its problems in the widest sense.
I suggest that hon. Members should put themselves in the position of a chief regional manager. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) that these men have done an enormously strenuous and difficult job in recent years. If one put oneself in their position, would it not be a great help in one's job to be in contact with and able to refer to a number of people of good general experience, of common sense, and of understanding of the needs and feelings of the people of the area in which one was working?
If I put myself in the position of chief regional manager I should find it a great comfort and help to have the support of this kind of board. These boards will act not from the point of view of day-to-day executive management but both from the point of view of policy in its local aspects and of general guidance both to the regional manager and, by way of report on local conditions, upwards to the Commission.
I have been asked again and again what these boards would actually do when one got down to brass tacks. It is traditionally dangerous to pick out a particular example because the mere fact that one picks it out so often causes people to attribute to it peculiar, special and disproportionate importance. However, it might help to indicate one or two examples of the sort of things which one of these area board would do. To take one example, suppose it felt that the interests of the area demanded a really drastic revision of the railway timetables in that area. That is a matter which affects vitally—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That affects profoundly the whole social life of the neighbourhood. If, for example, one alters the timing of the suburban railway services of a great urban area that has a profound effect on the social life of the area. I 147 am surprised that hon. Members who claim to understand these matters do not agree. That is a most important matter. calling for—
§ Mr. Collick rose—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I really would ask the House to accept this. It calls for not only a knowledge of the technique of railway operation, but a knowledge of the economic and social needs of the area.
If hon. Members do not like that example, let us take another. We are hoping that when the new charges scheme has gone through the normal processes and been approved, the Commission will have very great freedom in arranging the rates. There, again, is a matter where local application, as certain speeches today have indicated, may have profound social and economic effects. I suggest that the application of such charges under the much freer system may be a matter which it is very appropriate indeed that an area board should be able to consider and decide upon within local limitations.
Those are only two examples. It will be appreciated that they are examples where—I beg the House to forgive me for repeating it, but it seems to us to be so important—it really is useful to have a board composed of people who are in contact with all the manifold activities of the area in which they work and have a knowledge of how the operation of the railway system acts and reacts upon the lives of their fellow citizens.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am sorry; I cannot give way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The hon. Member has made a good many interventions. I have 18 minutes left in which to answer a great many questions. If I give way to him I shall not be able to answer some of the other points which have been raised. The House will know that I am not normally unwilling to give way, but I ask the hon. Member to forgive me on this occasion.
The next question raised relates to the composition of the boards. I feel very strongly, as does the Commission, that the members of the boards should not be appointed on the basis of representing particular and special interests no matter how important those particular and 148 special interests may be. It is true, as the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East reminded us, that the 1947 Act proceeded on a different basis, but when one considers the functions that these boards are to perform, it seems better to have people appointed for their personal qualities and personal abilities rather than because they represent, and for the reason that they represent, particular interests. I must say that I think that members so appointed will feel somewhat freer to use their knowledge and discretion in helping the deliberations of the boards than if they represent a particular interest.
The specific point was raised, naturally and very properly, of the appointment of representatives of organised labour. As I have said, there is no intention to make appointments in the capacity of representative of any particular aspect of our life, but it is clear that in these days the trade unions occupy such a position in the life of the country that no body performing functions of the nature that these boards perform, which I have attempted to describe, would be sufficiently broadly constituted if trade unionists were omitted from the field of selection. The Commission is, in my view, quite right in standing out against representative boards, but I have been told by the Commission that it is counting upon the services of experienced trade unionists to assist it on its area boards.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), and other hon. Members, went perhaps a little outside the narrow boundaries of the Scheme and raised some extremely important questions relating to the general administration of the railways and, in particular, the vital subject of investment, development and modernisation. No doubt, if I were to follow up their points on this Motion, you would call me to order, Mr. Speaker, but perhaps I can say this. I have been informed by the Chairman of the British Transport Commission that he hopes to present a plan for the re-equipment and modernisation of British Railways before the year ends. This plan will be of a drastic and exhaustive nature, based upon a reassessment of the future rôle of the railways in this country. A great deal of careful preparatory work has been necessary, and the plan is now before the Commission.
149 I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West, or the hon. Member for Birkenhead in political recriminations on the question of the provision of capital for the railways, but if I wanted to do so I could point out that it seems to have been the policy of all Governments since the war to give priority in capital investment to fuel and power, and to leave the transport industry somewhat towards the end of the queue. I only say that because I thought the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West was less than fair to my right hon. Friends when he referred to the starvation of the railways. There is, of course, an enormous amount of work to be done by way of modernisation, and the statement I have just made to the House as to the present position will, I hope, reassure hon. Members that we do intend to get on with this as soon as we can.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East had a little fun about "jobs for the boys," and he concocted the rather curious argument that this proposal involves an increase of the patronage at my disposal. I do not follow that argument. Under the Transport Act, 1947, the right hon. Gentleman who filled my present office had at his disposal some 63 appointments to the Commission and the six subordinate Executives. Under the provisions of the 1953 Act, under which this Scheme is made, that number is reduced to 24, and it is, therefore, really quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there is any increase in patronage in a development which has, in fact, reduced the amount of patronage to some 40 per cent. of what it was when the hon. Gentleman left office.
I am glad of that, because I feel that, as a matter of general political philosophy, it is a bad thing to concentrate in the hands of Ministers of the Crown too many appointments of this nature. I think it is right, when setting up these area boards, to place the appointment of their members not in the hands of Ministers but in the hands of the Commission, and, in that respect, I venture to differ both with the hon. Member for The Hartlepools and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).
§ Mr. D. Jones
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent me. I said that the new set-up would 150 take away from him a number of appointments, and we think that right.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman; I am glad there is nothing between us. He appears to share our view that it is desirable to keep the number of appointments in the hands of Ministers down to as limited a number as possible, and, therefore, in this Scheme we are following that principle. I shall still have to settle with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet afterwards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) and a number of other hon. Members dealt with Article 9 of the Scheme and the provision of statistics. Hon. Members opposite seem to shy away from the production of any more statistics than are produced at present, but it is an important aspect of the matter to which I have been giving a good deal of attention in recent weeks. I fully share my hon. Friend's view that, if it were possible to devise a system of statistics or operating costs which could give a clear and reliable index of relative efficiency as between one area and another, there would be an overwhelming case for adopting such a system.
The difficulty is to find a system which really does that. Even before the war, when the four main-line companies were in private hands, 70 per cent. of the receipts of the railway were subject to a pooling system which depended upon a number of arbitrary assumptions. Since then, centralisation has gone further. For example, there is, under this Scheme, a centralised wagon pool. I am not sure that a straightforward profit-and-loss account would necessarily teach us very much. I am going further into this question, because the Commission and I are anxious to provide and publish statistics which will really enable the House and public opinion to judge sensibly on these matters.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary pointed out at an earlier stage of our debate that the Commission has appointed a commitee—my hon. Friend used the appalling phrase "working party," but I prefer to call it "a committee" —of a technical nature to work out a scheme for the giving of statistics which will really help in this connection. Meanwhile, if my hon. Friends will refer 151 to the Third Schedule of the Scheme they will see that a substantial amount of figures will continue to be given. I undertake, with the approval of the House, to pursue with the Commission the provision of further figures which will help in this respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) raised a number of important points on paragraphs 7, 8 and 10 of the Scheme. Paragraph 7 enables the Minister to appoint authorities other than area authorities, and my right hon. Friend asked what was in contemplation. There is no immediate intention of making use of this provision but as time goes on the Commission may desire to delegate to a non-area body such matters as control of the wagon pool to which I have referred. That would be more a matter of administrative convenience but in view of the terms of the 1953 Act it seemed to the Commission and to me right and straightforward to put this matter under that Act rather than to rely on the powers of the Commission under the Act of 1947.
I was asked a number of details by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro about the delegation under paragraph 10 of powers to area boards other than on railway matters. In particular, I was asked as to the possibility of bus services being placed under area authorities. I can reassure my hon. Friend. If he will look at the Scheme he will see that what may be delegated is the functions of the Commission. The Commission's interest in bus services consist, as my hon. Friend will know, of its ownership of the shares. I understand that that function of ownership is not one that may be delegated under this paragraph. Apart altogether from that point, ownership of the companies gives the Commission very wide powers over those companies. The real effect of this provision is negligible.
As I understand, it would be possible to place the bus companies that the Commission owns in a very close relationship with the area boards. This Scheme could not add to that power. In any event, in view of the reference to functions, it is improbable as a matter of law, I understand, that it could do so. It is possible, however, that there may be certain minor activities which, as time goes on, the Commission may desire to put under the 152 area authorities, and I think it is extremely important that it should be free to do so without it being necessary to produce another scheme.
My general approach, and the Government's general approach, to this matter has been this. We are here concerned with a great trading organisation, and it would be wrong if when that organisation wants to make adjustments, which experience dictates making in the case of all great trading organisations, too close and definite a scheme approved under Statutory Instrument by this House were to tie the Commission down so that even small adjustments could not be made without reference to this House, and, therefore, might well not be made at all.
As my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, we have sought to give flexibility to the Scheme because we are not here dealing with a Government Department or a direct exercise of Government authority, in which case, I concede, it is generally proper for there to be the strictest limitation of the powers given. We are here concerned with a great publicly-owned trading concern, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are anxious not to cripple that concern by too close and detailed a regimentation of it under the scheme. I am sure, when one looks upon it as a trading concern which has to fight and live in the competitive position of today, that it is absolutely essential that it should not be tied down too tightly.
My right hon. Friend asked two other questions relating not to the Scheme, but to the transport users' consultative committee. I noted his point both about the Secretariat and about the Transport Commission members of the consultative committee. Coming from him, these observations require very careful consideration, and I am very grateful to him for making them.
I ask the House to look at the Scheme in this light. A good deal of hard work and thought have been given to trying to evolve a Scheme which will help our railway system to operate efficiently in the very difficult situation which it faces. Anyone who knows anything about our railway's knows that they have been through a rather difficult time. War and the aftermath of war, political changes, and so on, have created their problems. None the less, we have the asset of the 153 finest technical knowledge and of the best railway staff in the world. We believe that, given proper freedom to use that asset, the railways can bring about their own recovery.
This Scheme is designed in all honesty and sincerity in an endeavour to try to assist in that move towards greater freedom and flexibility in railway administration which we believe to be essential for the success of our railways in the fiercely competitive conditions of the latter part of the the 20th century. It is in that spirit that these proposals have been conceived, and it is in that spirit that I know the House will consider them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper on the Railways Reorganisation Scheme presented to Parliament by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Command 9191).