§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I beg to move,That this House, while congratulating Her Majesty's Government on the expansion of the road programme and the measures to modernise and streamline the railway network, urges that the utmost attention should be given to the problems of transport in rural areas which the success of such policies involves such as increased traffic congestion on rural roads as a result of traffic fed on to them from improved trunk roads and motorways and adjustments in local public road services for passengers and goods made necessary by the closure of branch railway lines.The House will notice that I have drafted the Motion in somewhat wider terms than has been customary in such Motions which have been considered in the numerous debates on the problems of rural transport held in this House in recent years. I have done so deliberately because I believe that the problems of rural transport are comprised in and form part of the wider problems of transport as a whole and cannot be effectively considered except in the context of those wider problems. I hope, therefore, that the House will forgive me if I start by making a few general observations relating to transport as a whole before applying such principles as arise therefrom to the particular problems of rural transport.
We must remember that transport is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is merely a method whereby man transports himself or his goods from one place to another, and he chooses that method—he has always done so—from one or other, or a combination of two reasons. Either he finds it cheaper to use the form of transport which he chooses than it would be to use some other form; or it is more convenient; or in his own estimation there is some combination of the two advantages—it may vary according to individual taste—which causes him to choose that form of transport. This has always been so from the beginning of history. I have no doubt that originally all human beings walked and carried their burdens on their heads or on their backs, and when they obtained animals they found it more convenient either to sit on the back of the animal or to place their burden on the beast.
795 I have no doubt that when the wheel was invented the invention took place because it was found more convenient or cheaper to get an animal to pull a bigger load than one could get on its back. Roads with hard surfaces must have come about for a similar reason, and the railway line was merely an extension of the same process. The first steam locomotives were regarded as mechanical horses whose tractive effort was, and is to this day, measured in horse-power The automobile when it first appeared was regarded as a horse-less carriage.
The first point to notice from this brief thumb-nail sketch of the early history of the development of inland transport is that, although profound changes in transport always took place in former days, they took place so slowly that no one noticed, except in the invention of the steam locomotive, which came as a great and rapid change. Even the invention of the locomotive was followed by a very long interval—something like a hundred years—before the internal combustion engine made any substantial inroad into the supremacy of the steam engine.
Secondly, we should notice that changes have not always been in one direction. A hundred years ago there was a great decline in trunk roads. There is a famous passage, which is often quoted, describing the famous Bath Road, which in the 18th century had been such a scene of traffic congestion and in the early days of the railways became a grass-grown track. That has now been reversed and trunk roads have come back into their own owing to quite unexpected developments in transport.
Thirdly, we notice that changes, although profound, have hardly ever been complete. It is very rare indeed for any one form of transport completely to supplant older forms. The new is superimposed on the old, which continues for some specialised use. For pleasure we still ride horses across country and we are sailing more boats on rivers, canals, in the estuaries and round our coasts than we ever did in former generations. Even the porter's head, a means of transport which one would have expected would completely disappear, is still used in this country, as 796 a visit to many of our markets will show. This third point arises because choice in transport is now, and always has been, a very individual matter, a matter of individual choice depending on what each individual estimate is of the relevant values of cheapness or convenience. There is a variety of opinion as to what may be considered convenient.
How are we to apply all this to the problems of transport, and particularly to the problem of transport in rural areas? First, unlike our ancestors, we live in an age in which transport is changing very quickly indeed. All sorts of developments are taking place. The internal combustion engine has been followed by diesel and electric traction, aircraft, helicopters, the V.T.O.L., hovercraft and now piplines. All these developments are crowding in upon us one after the other, and very often at the same time.
In the last ten years road transport has made a break-through and supplanted the supremacy of the railways as the chief carrier of passengers and goods in this country. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport recently gave some figures showing that in the last ten years the position had been reversed. Whereas formerly, notwithstanding the long development of road vehicles, the railways were still carrying the majority of passengers and goods, now the reverse is true and road transport is carrying more than the railways.
In these circumstances, we must not be alarmed if nowadays we find that the pattern of transport has suddenly changed, almost overnight, into something quite different from that to which we are accustomed. Secondly, since changes are so rapid and depend so much on individual taste, it would be most unwise to attempt to plan in too much detail how much of any form of transport we require to meet national needs. It seems much wiser to permit and to encourage a wide degree of competition between various forms of transport, to allow the public to adopt the rough and ready but effective method of voting with their purses for what they want by paying directly by means of fares and charges for whatever form of transport they prefer, and 797 not trying to decide for them what we think is best in their interests.
Of course, this will bring me into conflict with hon. Members opposite. I recently got into trouble with one hon. Member opposite for repeating, as I have so often done, that I do not believe it possible to produce a completely integrated service of public inland transport for passengers and goods unless we are prepared to enforce so many controls and restrictions that in effect and in practice we should become either a Fascist or Communist dictatorship. I have said that on many occasions, and recently an hon. Member opposite told me to change the record, but I believe that is absolutely fundamental.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
Is there no alternative between dictatorship and absolute freedom?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am coming to that. I have also said on many occasions that I am not a Liberal and do not believe in laissez faire. We cannot be Liberals in transport only. It is all very well saying that transport, like water, should find its own level, but, if we are logical, we must have a complete laissez faire State. If we have town and country planning, build new towns and restrict new development of factories to particular areas and do all sorts of things to restrict the free flow of traffic, yet at the same time do not direct it in any sort of way, instead of finding its own level traffic will form a bog, as water would do in similar circumstances.
What I think Government policy should basically do is to allow a wide degree of competition between various forms of transport, but bearing in mind the special considerations which arise in connection with particular areas and in connection with certain forms of transport. There are all sorts of considerations. A degree of control is necessary, but I do not think we should attempt, or pretend to attempt, to provide an integrated service because I do not think that is possible in any form of State which our people would be prepared to tolerate.
Therefore, I start my Motion by congratulating the Government on the road programme and the railways modernisation scheme, and the streamlining of the 798 railway network to something which is more consistent with the modern age. Of course, the road programme does not satisfy everybody. There are a number of highly organised professional organisations in the country concerned particularly with that aspect of national policy. The A.A. and the R.A.C., the British Road Federation and, of course, the Roads Campaign Council, have all expressed views about the road programme which are that they think it is not sufficient and should be more.
This House owes a debt of gratitude to those organisations for keeping this matter constantly before us, but, unlike them, this House—and certainly the Chancellor of the Exchequer—has to bear in mind very many other matters than merely the question of transport of goods and passengers by road. We have to provide for defence, education, agriculture, housing and health, to name only a few, and, bearing all these things in mind, the House should congratulate Her Majesty's Government on providing a substantial road programme which has greatly increased in recent years. In 1951–52, only £5.4 million was being spent on new roads and major road construction. In 1961–62, that figure went up to £88 million, and for 1962–63, it will be £102 million. There has been a substantial increase. There is no laughing it off and saying that we have not tried.
What is more, the results are beginning to show. There has been considerable progress on the five major projects decided on some years ago: the reconstruction of the Great North Road, the main road from London to Carlisle, the road to the Channel ports, the road between Birmingham and the South-West, and the road from London to South Wales, which, although progress on the last named so far has not been very great, is under construction, and quite a lot of work has been done on the programme as a whole. Many hon. Members will have seen some of the construction taking place. The Roads Campaign Council, which sometimes comes in for criticism from us, has enabled representative M.Ps. to see roads being constructed in Europe. Those who have seen construction going on both on the Continent and in this country will have no doubt, I think, that the methods and plans which we are using 799 here are completely up to date and, if anything, an improvement on what is going on in Europe. A great deal has been and is being done.
There is also a vast amount of work going on on the lesser roads. The last figure of expenditure I saw was about £16 million. Anyone who makes a road journey across any part of the country cannot escape noticing what is being done. Roads have been widened here, carnets rounded off there, a new bridge built somewhere else, and it all adds up to a formidable total. At the same time, of course, the volume of traffic is growing very rapidly, but I think that, on the Whole, the Government have made a determined effort and are to be congratulated on it.
We have had no major improvements in the South-West. We have not a motorway or anything like that as yet, but already the major improvements elsewhere and the lesser improvements nearer home are making themselves felt in the far West. Many more cars are coming to the West from far afield. This brings me to the first point in connection with rural transport to which I wish to draw attention.
In Cornwall, we have undoubterly very good surfaces on the classified roads. I have been struck by this, and on several occasions it has been brought to my attention by Americans who have remarked to me on what excellent surfaces we have on our secondary roads. As recently as the beginning of this week, an American who is an expert on these matters, a traffic engineer, expressed surprise at the excellence of the surface on some of our lesser roads.
§ Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)
Is it not true that our system of second and third class roads is the best in the world?
§ Mr. Wilson
I have not seen all the roads in the world so I do not know, but I can say, from what I have seen in many countries, that our standard must be fairly high.
Although the surfaces are good, the same cannot be said of the planning. The planning of our lesser roads was of very ancient origin, long before the motor age. Many of our roads in the West give the appearance of having been planned by cows meandering home or 800 by persons walking round the edges of standing crops. It is quite easy, for instance, to find a road which makes two or three right-angle turns for no apparent reason.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
Does my hon. Friend recall as Chesterton said:The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
§ Mr. Wilson
That may be one of the explanations. Certainly, the planning is not at all what one would expect in a modern age. It was quite adequate for earlier purposes. From the point of view of agriculture, people did not want to use too much good land and, if they could twist the road round in a direction which made it more convenient to get a sizeable patch of ground for farming purposes, that was an advantage, not a disadvantage.
However, as a result of improvements in the roads up country, as people say in my part of the world, we are experiencing a flood of tourist traffic, particularly tourists trailing caravans behind their motor vehicles, which is congesting almost to bursting point some of our rural roads.
§ Mr. Hayman
The Cornwall highways committee has for years been protesting at the action of the Minister of Transport in cutting down substantially its estimates every year for the improvement of minor roads.
§ Mr. Wilson
I know that that is so. If the hon. Gentleman had waited for a moment or two, he would have heard me make the case for special consideration of some at least of the rural areas which are in difficulty not because of user of the local roads by local people but because improvements in roads elsewhere have led to large numbers of people from other parts of the country finding it convenient to spend their holidays or their weekends in places far more distant from their homes than was formerly the custom. It is because so many people are doing this that there comes the urgent demand for improvements in the local roads, improvements which, as I have explained, are not really necessary for the local farmers or villagers, but are convenient or necessary because of the user of the roads by persons who do not live anywhere near the district.
801 Hon. Members will know that the roads of which I speak are subject to direct grants from the Government of amounts varying from 50 per cent. to 75 per cent., but the rest of the cost is found by local ratepayers. The effect is as though, when using a hose to water a lawn, one dumps the end of the hose in a corner of a flower bed without turning off the tap. The water flows freely through the hose but makes a puddle in the flower bed and a frightful mess. It is this mess which the local ratepayer, to some extent, has to pay to clear up. The success of the Government's trunk road and motorway programme is having its effect in many rural areas, especially if a television programme happens to advertise any of them as areas of scenic beauty.
Most hon. Members will be aware of the unfortunate predicament in which the beautiful village of Castle Combe was recently placed as a result of an injudicious advertisement that it was the prettiest village in England. It ceased to be so very rapidly, becoming one of the major bottlenecks of the country. The local people must have had to spend money to find parking accommodation in order to deal with the problem thrust upon them from outside.
I hope that my hon. Friend will convey to his right hon. Friend the thought that this problem will grow as the major road programme progresses. It has not been very noticeable until now. It is becoming more noticeable and will definitely grow in importance as time goes on.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) mentioned that the local authorities have been complaining from time to time about the minor works programme. I have, in fact, received no complaint from them in connection with this debate, though I know that it is a problem which arises and is likely to grow.
This problem of the local roads is involved in the question of the closure of branch railway lines, and that is likely to cause more difficulty in this respect. It is obvious that a railway network designed in conditions of railway monopoly in competition only with horses and carts cannot and ought not to be the proper system of railway service in an age when the majority of 802 passengers and goods is not carried by the railway at all but by other means of transport. It would be extremely wasteful to keep the pattern exactly as it developed 100 years ago in circumstances which are quite different to what they are now, and to attempt to do so would be placing an undue burden on the taxpayer, many of whom use the railways hardly at all.
As all hon. Members know, the railways lost £151 million last year and are expected to lose £146 million this year, which, as my right he Friend the Minister of Transport has pointed out, is equivalent to 8d. in the £ on Income Tax. We ought not to expect the general taxpayer, who possibly may not use the railways at all, or only once or twice a year, to pay a sum in excess of 8d. in the £ on Income Tax to keep the network in the form it happens to be as a result of the competition between the various promoters in the early days of the railway when the network grew up in a rather haphazard way and has never sorted itself out since that time.
The theory that some hon. Members opposite put forward that the railways ought to be a social service is quite fallacious. They compare the railways to the Post Office or the National Health Service. We must have a postal service of some sort, and I think that we are all agreed that we should have a health service of some sort. We should have a transport service of some sort, but it need not necessarily be a railway transport service. We must get out of our heads the idea that the railway is the only possible form of transport. I say that rather sadly as an ex-railway employee who served 20 years on the Great Western Railway, of which I was very proud, but I feel that we must recognise that in many cases transport facilities for the individual or even for a local area can be provided better by other means than the railways. I think, therefore, that the effort being made to streamline the railways so that they fit better into modern conditions is right. In that connection I understand that Dr. Beeching has instructed that there should be a survey of what railway services pay their way and what are the traffics which can be expected to pay, and that there will be consideration of the general network which will be necessary for the modern age.
803 I hope that when the Government come to consider the suggestions made in connection with the network they will bear in mind that there are other considerations besides those of the Railways Board. I think that in planning a network consistent with the general and economic position of the country there are other people who ought to be allowed to express opinions as to what is required. It may be the Federation of British Industries or the various chambers of commerce, or it may be the county councils, should be consulted. At least there must be some consultation with interested parties as to what will be the right pattern in the future. I have no doubt that that will be borne in mind, but I hope very much that in the great pressure of work which is involved in this process consideration of interests other than of the railway itself will not be overlooked.
As I understand it—and perhaps my hon. Friend will confirm whether I have this right—the Government have all along recognised that there may be some places where there is an uneconomic railway service and no adequate alternative service and where it may be necessary in the national interest or for social reasons to continue a railway service on the ground of hardship, although it is uneconomic. We cannot expect that there will be many such cases, but my reading of the Government's policy as it has been announced is that that has been recognised.
Reference was made to this in paragraph 50 of the White Paper on Reorganisation of the Nationalised Transport Undertakings, Cmnd. 1248, which stated that the suggestion of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries that such services should be financed by specific grants from public funds was being considered. I assume that in consequence of the difficulty that such a precedent would cause for other nationalised industries such a policy was not adopted. Instead, in the White Paper on the Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries, Cmnd. 1337, paragraph 32, it was stated:To the extent that commercially unprofitable activities are subsequently imposed from outside, a Board would be entitled to ask for an adjustment of its financial objectives.804 That seems to me to be a recognition that there may be such cases and that they will have to be met.
The House will have noted that in Clause 57 (9) of the Transport Bill recently before it, an area transport users consultative committee with whom an objection as to a proposed closure has to be lodged has a duty—I think that the introduction of the word "duty" in this connection is something new—to report to the Minister of Transport on hardships, if any, which it considers will be caused by a proposed closure and—this seems to me significant—at the end of the Clause it states:… proposals for alleviating that hardship.If the transport users' consultative committee agrees that it is uneconomic to continue a branch line but that hardship would be caused if it were closed and if the Minister of Transport agrees with the committee, I take it that the Minister has the choice of one of two actions. Either he can direct the Railways Board to continue the service notwithstanding that it is uneconomic, or he can take steps to ensure that the hardship is alleviated.
The Minister has ample powers for so doing. If there were insufficient alternative road services and if they could not be arranged by ordinary commercial means, the Railways Board under its working agreement with the local bus company, preserved for it by Clause 4 (1, b) and Clause 31 (2, d) of the Transport Bill, could call upon the bus company to provide an alternative service and could also, if necessary, subsidise the service. The idea of a railway company subsidising a bus service is nothing new. It has often been done, even under these agreements.
§ Mr. Webster
Does my hon. Friend infer that it would be the Holding Company which would enable bus companies to run unremunerative services and indemnify them?
§ Mr. Wilson
No. Hon. Members who were on Standing Committee E will know what I am talking about. I doubt if other hon. Members will, because this is a highly technical matter. Perhaps without getting out of order I may mention the history of the matter, because it is relevant to the closure of branch railway lines mentioned in my Motion. The 805 Great Western Railway Company was a pioneer in bus companies. I believe that it ran bus companies in the west of England as long ago as 1903, before they were ever run in the London area. Its fleet of buses gradually grew to a substantial size. It was so much a part of the railway that it was manned and operated by members of the National Union of Railwaymen and not by members of the Transport and General Workers' Union.
In about 1928 the four main line groups of companies took extensive powers under the Railway Road Transport Acts of 1928 to run bus services. At about the same time, activity was going on to regulate the bus industry, which was becoming chaotic. Statutory provisions were introduced. The Railway Road Transport Acts of 1928 were never operated, but under one Section in those Acts—I understand that there is a similar Section in each Act, namely Section 11—main line railway companies, the four which then existed, could enter into agreements with local bus companies which provided for the pooling of resources. The Great Western Railway sold part of its interests in certain bus companies. The other railway companies purchased interests in bus companies. There was a partnership between the main bus company groups and the railway companies to run buses. Between each individual bus company and each railway company there was a working agreement which provided, inter alia, that, if the railway company ceased to run a service, it could call upon the bus company to do so.
Those agreements covered about two-thirds of the bus companies in the country. In connection with the British Electric Traction Company these working agreements have operated unaltered to this day, but because the Scottish Motor Traction Company and the Tillings Group sold all their shares to the British Transport Commission after the Nationalisation Act, 1947, thus placing all their shares in one ownership, the working agreements relating to them had the appearance of becoming dead letters. Whether in the case of companies which are still in the B.E.T. group or the other two groups, I understand from my reading of the Transport Bill that all those working agreements 806 still persist. They subsist between the Railways Board, not the Holding Company, and the bus company. I am talking about the working agreements, not the parent agreements.
This means that in many cases such an agreement will be still in operation. In these circumstances, it is open to the Railways Board to call upon the bus company to provide an alternative service. In the case of temporary interruption, this has been done very recently. There were instances in which the British Transport Commission called upon the Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company Ltd. to provide alternative services at the time of the recent floods in Devon. If there is any difficulty about finding alternative services on the closure of the branch lines, I see no reason why these agreements should not operate and why bus companies should not be called upon to provide alternative services. It seems to me that they could be called upon to do so even if the services did not pay and that the Railways Board could, if necessary, subsidise such services.
In addition, there are general powers in the Bill which would enable the Railways Board to apply to the Traffic Commissioners to run its own bus services if no other services were available. The Board would presumably be granted permission to run such a service. This is all very complicated. It is a long story. The point is that I believe that the Railways Board has powers, which the Minister could, if necessary, direct the Board to exercise, which would give him an overall right of ensuring that there was an alternative service if he thought that there was not a proper service in an area and that hardship was being caused by a closure of a branch line.
§ Mr. John Howard (Southampton, Test)
My hon. Friend mentioned the B.E.T. group. I am a director of one of the companies in that group. Does he agree that the B.E.T. group is rather disturbed by the fact that this arrangement is not picked up automatically through the shares in the B.E.T. companies being held by the Railways Board and not by the Holding Company? This arrangement could be far more automatic if that arrangement was not disturbed.
§ Mr. Wilson
That is another and a very long story. I should be out of order if I strayed on to the question of the ownership of shares and where they will end up under the Transport Bill. But it makes no difference to the working agreements. My hon. Friend probably knows that I had a good deal to say about this in the Standing Committee. I discussed at some length what happened to the parent agreements because the shares, instead of going to the Railways Board, go to the Holding Company. As to the working agreements, it is specifically provided in the Measure that agreements of that sort shall continue as between the Railways Board and the other people. That is why I referred to Clause 31 (2, d). Whatever anxiety my hon. Friend may have about what will happen to the shares in the B.E.T. group, it does not make any difference, as far as I can see, to the working agreements between the B.E.T. companies and the Railways Board. They will continue. I am saying something which is perhaps not to my hon. Friend's advantage. I am saying that the Railways Board will have the power to ask B.E.T. companies to provide a service and if the Board asks for a service, B.E.T. will have to provide it. If B.E.T. cannot pay for the service, the Board will have power to subsidise the service.
There is no difficulty with regard to goods. There is some residual power in the Railways Board under the Bill to run goods services. In any case, under its ordinary collection and delivery arrangements there is no reason why it should not collect from a longer distance and have depots at places away from its main line. When there are closures of branch lines and when it is admitted that the closure is necessary because the line is uneconomic, I ask the Minister to ensure that there are adequate arrangements and depots for the collection of goods in areas which have ceased to be served by local railway stations. That should be provided for by the regional board, but I submit that there is a responsibility on the Minister to ensure that it is done.
These points may seem small compared with the vast problems which come before members of the Government, but they are of vital importance to local people and they cause a great deal of trouble if they are not properly 808 attended to. I hope I have that summary right. It is all very complicated.
Perhaps I am rather inviting criticism by giving the House a lecture on the meaning and effect of a new Bill, but it is very important that there should be some appreciation of these matters. It is most important for people's confidence that they should appreciate that there are powers to protect them if the closure of a branch line causes hardship—
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
Would my hon. Friend confirm that the replacement of existing rail services by bus services is not always adequate, inasmuch as in nine cases out of ten the bus services are more expensive and, in almost every case, considerably slower than the corresponding journey by train?
§ Mr. Wilson
That may be so, but I do not think that one can insist that the fares on the replacement service shall be the same as those on the previous railway service. I assume that efforts would be made to see that the replacement service vehicles travelled at a reasonable speed, and I should have thought that complaints of inadequate service could be made to the traffic commissioners on the ground that the service being provided by the bus company was defective in that it was too slow or too costly. I do not think that it is the responsibility of the Railways Board, but no doubt it would be borne in mind when the Ministry was considering whether hardship would be inflicted—and hardship is the thing, not inconvenience. And whether there was an alternative service is, no doubt, a factor that would have to be considered.
What I have so far said is on general application to many rural areas, but I now want to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary a specific point relating only to Cornwall. For some time there have been rumours that the Western Region intended to close part of its main line. Depending on who says it comes from Devon or from Cornwall, the rumour is that the line will end at Plymouth or at Exeter. The more popular version is that it will end at Plymouth, and it is sometimes suggested that the Minister of Transport himself has directed Dr. Beeching to that effect. As there are inadequate road services, 809 and hardly any air services, and, if the rumour proved correct, no railway services, Cornwall would be allowed to stew in its own juice.
I have found no foundation for this rumour—and I have talked to Dr. Beeching about this both officially and in a private capacity—but I should like an assurance that such a thing is not contemplated at the moment, and would not be contemplated at all without a great deal of consideration of the general picture of the transport facilities in the areas concerned.
It is a great mistake to suppose that Cornwall, although distant, is rural in the sense that it has few inhabitants or industries. It has quite a dense population and has some substantial export industries. Not only are there the horticultural and flower industries, but there is a mining machinery industry in the constituency of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, and the extensive china clay industry in my constituency, of whose products 70 per cent. Are exported—an astonishingly high figure. Because of its name, china clay is always assumed to have something to do with Stoke-on-Trent, but that is far from being the case. St. Austell is of great importance to Stoke-on-Trent, but Stoke-on-Trent is far less important to Cornwall because many other industries use china clay.
§ Mr. Hayman
If the Minister of Transport has not said anything about the closure of the line west of Plymouth, Mr. Dean, the Western Region district superintendent at Plymouth, at a county conference at Truro last Friday, when asked whether there was any truth in rumours that one line to the west was liable to be closed, replied.The answer is, every railway is suspect.He added that a main line had been closed in Norfolk without any serious repercussions, and said:But I am sure that if our services are used, which I am sure they are going to be, there is no risk of the line being closed.That does not seem to be much of an assurance, does it?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am aware of that statement although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I was not present at that meeting because I was attending another one.
810 My point is that there are substantial interests, and I am sure that they would be considered. What Mr. Dean said was right. I said that people voted with their purses for what they wanted, and if people want the main line to Penzance, let them use it. That is the right way to make sure that it is not closed. I am sure that it is unlikely to be closed, but I should like the Minister to confirm that that is so.
In passing, when we are considering congestion on rural roads, we should remember that as I said at the very beginning of my remarks, there are a good number of new forms of transport coming into being with which we are not very familiar. There has been very considerable extension of air transport for internal domestic use. Penzance has a small airport, and there are a number of other airfields in Cornwall. A great deal of the products of the horticultural and flower trades are transported by road, but flowers are particularly suitable for air transport. They are light in weight, they command a high price, and it is very essential that they should reach their market quickly.
In considering transport problems in rural areas, I hope that we shall bear in mind that part of the congestion on the roads is caused by through traffic of export goods, and any development of air services, for freight in particular, would be a very valuable means of relieving that congestion. Incidentally, I have not checked it, but someone told me that Penzance airport is much nearer Paris than it is to London, and should we be involved in the Common Market we might develop cross-channel traffic, air traffic rather than cross-country road or rail transport to a port and thence by sea.
We also have in Cornwall a few small ports, and one of them that is growing is Par, which is in my constituency. It formerly dealt with a small number of small vessels, but it now deals daily with up to 8 vessels of up to 1,000 tons each. It is dealing with large quantities of china clay, chiefly exported across the Channel. A great deal of china clay now goes by road to destinations in this country but if we could make greater use of coastal shipping for some of this traffic it would be an advantage to the roads.
811 The last point with which I wish to deal, though it is by no means the least important, is that of rural buses. I realise that many hon. Members are concerned with this matter but I will not say a great deal about it because first, it is extremely complicated and, secondly, its solutions would be somewhat outside the terms of the Motion. Hon. Members will be familiar with the problems that are involved. The troubles of the rural buses really stem from the growth in the number of private motor cars now on our roads. But although these cars are more numerous in the rural districts than ever before and have caused a diminution in the number of passengers using the bus services, private forms of transport do not meet the travelling public's need.
A survey produced some time ago by Mr. David St. John Thomas, of Darting-ton Hall, concerning the rural areas showed—and I shall not attempt to explain this phenomenon—that it is customary in these parts for the man of the house to drive the family's motor-car to the exclusion of all other members of the family. I do not have the faintest idea why this is so but, for some reason, the man will not allow his wife to drive. This produces an odd situation in a family which possesses a car, for when the husband is at work the family is house-bound. These facts, revealed in this survey, show that, for example, the daughters of the house get fed up with this situation and take jobs in the towns. Naturally the mother wants to be near her daughters so she, too, gives up country life and joins them. This shows that, despite the large number of cars in the rural districts, this movement from the country to the town is afoot because an adequate public transport service is not available to carry the population.
§ Mr. Gordon Matthews (Meriden)
Might I remind my hon. Friend that, according to the population statistics for England and Wales, the populations of the rural districts have been rising steadily for some years? The same applies in the landward areas of Scotland and the rural parts of Northern Ireland. The population is rising, not declining, as my hon. Friend implied. This might have a bearing on the fact 812 that the services to which he is referring are really not quite as inadequate as one might suppose.
§ Mr. Wilson
I did not know that, and I am somewhat surprised to learn those facts. I understood that, in certain areas it was declining. Certainly the number of people employed in agriculture has declined but perhaps they have been employed in the country in some other capacity. If my hon. Friend's observations are right, then that rather disposes of my argument. I had intended to say that it would be foolish to spend a lot of money on subsidising rural telephones, electricity services, and so on, if the people using them were leaving these areas.
I do not know the exact figures or what is regarded as a rural area as distinct from a town. I am using the word "town" not as a conurbation, such as London or Birmingham, but in reference to places like St. Austell and Truro and others with populations of 10,000 to 15,000 people.
§ Mr. Matthews
The figures are in the Annual Abstract of Statistics in which the rural figures are distinctly quoted and are compared with the urban districts. There is a section for Scotland giving the figures for the cities and burghs and another for the landward areas. In Northern Ireland the statistics are given for the urban and rural parts and the big conurbations and cities are separately stated.
§ Mr. Wilson
That makes the situation even more complicated. The argument has hitherto been used that better bus services are needed to prevent depopulation.
The Jacks Committee recommended that there should be a subsidy from the county councils for these bus services but hardly anyone else agreed with that recommendation. As Mr. James, in the Minority Report of the Jacks Report pointed out, if the county councils subsidised certain bus services the cost would probably be much greater than the Jacks Committee thought because although the Traffic Commissioners have no power to prevent a bus company from withdrawing its services there is, in fact, a sort of gentleman's agreement between the bus companies and the 813 Traffic Commissioners. This gentleman's agreement has as a part of it an understanding that the companies will run a number of uneconomic services.
If certain services were selected for subsidy no one could object if the bus companies threw all their uneconomic services into the Traffic Commissioners' hands, telling him to get on with it. It would mean, I suppose, that county councils would have to subsidise more and more services and many difficulties would arise. My view, although many people do not agree with me, is that a contributory solution might be a reduction in taxation, but that is not a matter for debate today; rather for the Finance Bill.
I do not suggest that I have the answer to this problem but I hope that the points I have mentioned today, including the important one of bus services, will result in the Ministry of Transport, despite its preoccupation with other major matters such as the road programme and the streamlining of the railways network, will remember that there are urgent problems in the rural areas which are accentuated by the very success of some of those other activities. Our rural areas are some of 'the most attractive parts of the British heritage. Special attention should be paid to them and I hope that, when considering these matters, the Ministry of Transport will bear in mind what I have said today.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:calls upon Her Majesty's Government to revise its road and rail policies, which are causing grave hardship in the rural areas and which will result in economic disaster for some of the remoter parts of Great Britain".I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having called this Amendment, because I feel that the Motion gives the Government far too much praise. I feel equally sure, from what I have so far heard, that some hon. Gentlemen opposite intend to be somewhat critical of the Government. As there are many Members wanting to speak, I shall be as brief as I can.
May I say, first, in referring to the Motion, that the road programme is 814 proceeding far too slowly. The implementation of the programme was too late, after the Conservative Government had been in power for many years.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
What did the Socialist Government do?
§ Mr. Hayman
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will show a little more appreciation of the circumstances in the years immediately following the war, when much of the country was destroyed and little or no progress had been made in improving road and rail transport. Nothing had been done to the railways beyond what was needed for the prosecution of the war. There can be no comparison between those first six years after the war and the years that followed them.
§ Mr. Hay
I can understand the hon. Gentleman having a somewhat guilty conscience in the matter. If he is to make that sort of point, that the road programme which we now have, and which is the biggest ever known in the history of this country, is too little and too late, he ought to tell the House how much was done by his party's Government instead of taking refuge in those specious excuses.
§ Mr. Hayman
I will leave the matter for the House to decide. I do not want to take up the time of the House now. I will simply say to the Parliamentary Secretary that when I introduced my Motion on this very issue of rural transport on 11th December last I was deliberately unprovocative from a political point of view.
§ Mr. Hayman
Because it was a Motion which had the support of many hon. Members on the Government benches. Indeed, apart from the hon. Gentleman, all but one of the speakers supported the Motion.
§ Mr. Hay
Could the hon. Gentleman tell the House why it was desirable on 11th December simply to put down a Motion which calledupon Her Majesty's Government to take such steps as are necessary to secure adequate transport facilitiesin the rural areas, whereas today he finds it necessary to put on the Order 815 Paper an Amendment in highly condemnatory terms? What has happened between December and now to change the situation?
§ Mr. Hayman
His own speech in reply to the debate on 11th December was, I may say, one of the worst contributions to that debate. However, I may have a little more to say about that later. I do not want to be personally offensive to the hon. Gentleman, because in the course of correspondence with him I have found him very helpful, but some of the things that he said in the debate, and what he has said this morning, will justify some of the other things that I may say later.
Today's Motion congratulates the Government. Taking the countryside as a whole, and judging from the reports in the Western Morning News, which is our west of England daily newspaper, rural transport is one of the greatest controversial issues of 1962. Almost every day one finds some reference to it in that newspaper. Congestion on the roads is getting worse every day. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) referred to traffic in Cornwall. I take it that the traffic conditions in the small towns of Cornwall are repeated everywhere throughout the country, in that the traffic is almost strangled. Then there are complaints about rail closures, and there is also the danger of bus routes in the rural areas being abandoned.
Much has been made by hon. Members opposite of the suggestion that if the consultative committee grants permission for a branch line to be closed, it will then make a condition that some rural bus services are provided to deal with any difficulties that may arise.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
That is not right. The consultative committee does not grant permission; it only issues advice.
§ Mr. Hayman
Whatever it is, the impression given at the local inquiries is that an alternative bus system will be provided. But, as everyone knows, there is no guarantee that the bus services that may then be provided will be continued. As has been pointed out, the rural bus services are much slower than the branch railway lines.
816 I would point out that the Motion that I moved on 11th December was the seventh that year dealing with that subject, many of them, I agree, by way of Adjournment debates. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews) raised the question of rural depopulation. I wonder whether he would do me the honour tof reading my speech in the debate on 11th December, when I dealt with that subject rather fully. I think that he will find that my conclusions were rather different from his. However, this is not the time to go into the matter in detail.
I should like to read two extracts from the Parliamentary Secretary's reply to the debate of 11th December. He said:Then, there is the question of hardship. Is there intolerable hardship, or is there only inconvenience? The Jack Committee, in paragraph 9 of its Report, which summarised some of the other parts of it, came to the conclusion that hardship was undoubtedly involved to a small number of people, and that the degree of hardship might well be severe in individual cases, but that there was inconvenience to quite a lot of people.Later, he said:We must not forget that some cases of hardship or, it may be, inconvenience, are always met in the countryside by a measure of neighbourly help. A lot of people who have a car are prepared to give a lift into the town on market day to their neighbours or friends. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 93.]But people use their cars every day and not only on market day. I suggest that if one is living in the country and is working some miles away from home, one usually takes the car, which means that the car is not available for one's wife or family. I should have thought, from my knowledge of west Cornwall, that most wives drive and that very few husbands would try to prevent their wives from driving.
§ Mr. Hayman
I think that the best comment on the Parliamentary Secretary's speech came from his hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir), who said:We have had the same cackle which we have had year after year, whilst the problems have become worse and worse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 98.]817 The Parliamentary Secretary said that there was one car for every seven people in Cornwall. That may be so, but it means that 280,000 people in Cornwall are without cars. The extraordinary thing is that the Minister should say, "Oh, yes, you are suffering severe inconvenience. We do not agree that it is hardship; it is severe inconvenience. You have some miles to go to the nearest market town. Cadge a lift."
§ Mr. Hay
The hon. Member must not distort what I said. I have been looking at column 93, from which he has quoted some of what I said, and I see that I continued:There is a good deal of this sort of neighbourly assistance. I do not suggest that it is an answer to the problem, but it is a factor which has to be taken into account when weighing up the degree of hardship".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1961; Vol.650, c. 93.]That is rather different from what the hon. Member said to the House.
§ Mr. Hayman
It is a question of how one looks at it and of whether one sits on this side of the House or the other. Presumably even hon. Members opposite want the countryside to be prosperous. If it is to retain workers, they must have adequate means of transport to get to the nearest town or to other places, or even to their work. That is to say, they must have wages or salaries which will enable them to get cars of their own. At the moment, there are 280,000 people in Cornwall without cars.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Do the 280,000 people include children under the age at which they could get a licence even if they had a car?
§ Mr. Hayman
Of course, but the argument still holds good. Even if the hon. Member thinks that one car is enough for one family, there would still be six-sevenths of the families without cars.
I shall now be even more controversial. The Tamar Bridge was opened by Her Majesty the Queen Mother a fortnight ago. We were very pleased that the Queen Mother was able to come to 818 the far West to perform the official opening. We are all pleased to have the bridge. But there is a history to the sanctioning of that bridge. There was a great demand from the people of Plymouth and Cornwall, in particular, that a bridge should be provided. Questions were asked in the House, some by me, requesting the Minister to provide one. Ministers refused to do so.
A Private Bill was promoted and passed, but even then the Minister refused the request of the Tamar Bridge Authority to provide the money to proceed with the preparation of the plans and necessary exploratory work. That refusal continued until I was accorded by Mr. Speaker the opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment. By some coincidence the sanction came from the Ministry of Transport on the day that Mr. Speaker announced that I could have an Adjournment debate on the subject.
The work having proceeded much more quickly than had been expected, the Tamar Bridge authority, and the people of Plymouth and of Cornwall naturally wanted work to proceed, but again the Minister refused. By another coincidence, when I applied for an Adjournment debate, the request of the Tamar Bridge Joint Committee was granted.
The conclusion which I drew was political. The Minister knew that the people of Plymouth badly wanted this bridge. They had two Conservative M.P.s for Plymouth, and they were afraid that it would have an adverse effect on the political fortunes of the Conservative Party in Plymouth if the delay continued. I am entitled to assume that, because I am not one of those in political affairs who think that there is much of a coincidence when Governments make a concession.
§ Mr. Hayman
It certainly played its part, because at the last election they retained their seats with handsome majorities. But if the hon. Member will read this morning's newspapers he will find that the Conservative Party suffered severe losses in the municipal elections yesterday.
§ Mr. Hayman
Yes. The Labour Party gained several seats, and the Conservative Party has almost lost its majority on the authority which until yesterday, I think, was 30, although I am not sure of the exact figures.
I have spoken of the conference at Truro last Friday, convened by the general purposes committee of the county council to consider the closure of branch railway lines. There were 90 present, drawn from local authorities all over the county and various other organisations such as chambers of commerce and trades councils. I have already referred to the comment made by Mr. Dean, Western Region superintendent of British Railways, on the suggestion that it is the intention of either Dr. Beeching or the Minister to make Plymouth the western terminal for the Western Region of British Railways. Mr. Dean's answer was significant, and I take the liberty of repeating it, "Every railway is suspect".
I know that perhaps it is unfair to expect a district superintendent to give a categorical answer to a question of that sort, but his reference to the closing in Norfolk of what he described as a main line was significant. He said that it had been "without any serious repercussions."
The conference was unanimous in its decision. It was resolved that the continuance of branch railway lines in Cornwall was essential, taking account of the remoteness of the county and the need to encourage industrial development. It was also resolved to ask the Transport Minister to receive a deputation which the Cornwall Members of Parliament should be asked to lead. I hope that the Minister will accede to that request, because if there is no danger of the main line from Plymouth to the West being closed, the Minister Should give an assurance to the leading representatives of Cornwall, if the Parliamentary Secretary is unable to give that assurance in reply to the debate today.
Cornwall will be an area for the reception of many tens of thousands of evacuees in the case of nuclear war. If there is no railway, how will these people be distributed? We have as yet no assurance that there will be a railway 820 from Plymouth to the West. I also ask the Minister to take into account the fact that most of west Cornwall is a development district under the Local Employment Act and that many of our new industries are big users of railway transport. In one factory in my constituency a considerable quantity of raw materials is taken by rail and the finished products are sent by rail, too. That applies to at least two other new factories in my constituency in Camborne-Redruth. The hon. Member for Truro has said that the Holman Group of engineering works, which employs over 2,000 men, sends a considerable quantity of products away by rail as well as receiving a considerable quantity of raw material by rail.
Dr. Beeching ought not to be carrying out these operation to maim the railway system now. He has been asked by the Minister of Transport to give a survey of the requirements of the railways and of the best traffics for which they can cater. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to take this seriously. The people of Cornwall expect no further curtailment of branch line or main line services until this report from Dr. Beeching has been considered by the Minister. My own feeling is that if further closures of this kind are to be made, and if the branch lines are to be shorn off, we shall be left in the rural areas with only the main trunk lines, which will mean disaster for many remote areas.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) will, I am sure, at once understand if I do not follow him in his remarks, because one of the great problems of rural transport is the fact that the situation is very different in different parts of the country. We have had various reports on this problem, but most of our efforts to solve it centrally have not been successful for the very reason that the problem differs from area to area.
When we are discussing this question, there are certain assumptions that we must make. We must obviously understand that a system of railways which was the best in the world when it was introduced, before there was anything so vulgar as the internal combustion engine on the roads, must need alteration 821 today. Indeed, all of us must feel that we cannot afford to use public money to support uneconomic railways, unless there is a real need for them in the interests of the public as a whole. We must realise, too, that any change must create some hardship at any time.
I should like to describe very briefly the problem as we see it in Lincolnshire, though not to particularise about that county, because a good many of our problems are the same as those which extend over the countryside. Lincolnshire is the second largest county in England. It sends to market more agricultural produce than any other county. It contains the largest fishing port in the world, and it produces one-tenth of all the steel produced in this country. Until very recently, it has been largely an area of under-employment, and even at this moment we are on the borderline of being under-employed, and may have to have special help, as we have had, and for which we have been grateful, in the immediate past. Again, another problem which affects us is that the county is always being considered as an area suitable for a new town.
To administer an area of that nature, the three county councils—those of Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland-with-Boston—must attach the greatest importance to transport in general and public transport in particular. As the House knows, we recently passed a new and very embracing Local Government Act, and one of the reasons why we were asked to pass it was to give greater power and responsibility to the local authorities. It was probably for that reason that we so readily gave approval to the Government in passing this new Act.
Indeed, a great administrative authority such as administers Lincolnshire has tremendous responsibilities. There is the question of town and country planning, the problem of education, which is recognised by the Minister of Education as being particularly difficult in a scattered area—and in connection with which special allowances are made, because it is more difficult to carry it out—and local authorities also have to co-operate with the National Health Service in the new advances towards providing better hospitals and better 822 distribution of the Health Service facilities in that large, scattered county.
In all these things, transport, and public transport in particular, are of paramount importance. I sometimes think, when we are talking about transport in country areas, that we are rather apt to talk too much about amenities. When we use that word, we are apt to think of people who want to go shopping, to the cinemas and other places. I believe that these great matters of county administration are far more important than any amenities for the people, important though they may be. In fact, I suggest that no administrative authority can possibly carry out the important duties which I have outlined at a time of great national economic and transport changes unless it is consulted and co-operates to the full in making the final plans for public transport in its area.
One would have thought that that was axiomatic, but, unfortunately, the whole principle is abrogated by the Minister of Transport and by the Transport Commission. Dr. Beeching's transport studies, which we are to hear about in the autumn, are completely inadequate for this purpose. I readily agree that, from the point of view of running a great organisation, an examination of transport such as he is making, is exactly what is wanted, but it is not what is wanted in the public interest. What is wanted in the public interest is an examination of this problem in conjunction with the authorities which understand their own areas—the people who live in Lincolnshire and who know the problem. I think that I have a right to know, too, because I am the only Member of Parliament who lives in Lincolnshire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you.
I want to give an example of the sort of mistake which is being made in this type of planning at present, though without going into details. It is proposed to close down two branch lines in Lincolnshire, one in my constituency and another in another part of the county. In passing, I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that we were given only one month in which to make objections to this proposal. The Minister of Transport, in his Second Reading speech on the Transport Bill 823 on 20th November, 1961, in column 948 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, very strongly criticised the Transport Commission for putting forward proposals without giving adequate notice for people to make their objections.
On this occasion, the Lindsey County Council, with the agreement of the other two county councils—and the whole of Lincolnshire is unanimous on the subject—has said that it must be told what are the future plans for public transport in Lincolnshire, and must be consulted about them before there are any more closures. It has asked the transport users' consultative committee to put that objection forward. The county councils say, and I agree, that this erosion without consultation or planning must stop.
But an entirely different attitude is taken by the Commission itself. I shall make two brief quotations from a letter written by the Clerk to Lindsey County Council to the Eastern Region traffic manager of the British Transport Commission, and the reply. The clerk wrote:I expect that the County Council will take this opportunity of suggesting that the Transport Users' Consultative Committee should not report upon this or any further proposal of the Transport Commission for the withdrawal of services in Lincolnshire except against the background of a comprehensive long-term plan covering the county.The reply stated:Meantime, I would point out that in the proposals now lodged with the T.U.C.C. for the East Midland Area to close to passenger traffic Tattershall, Dogdyke and Langrick stations, we have indicated that this is, indeed, part of a larger plan; further than that I could not at the moment give any more information as to the future.Could there be a greater betrayal of rational planning in an adult community? It is quite ridiculous that the county council should be prevented from having reasons for disagreement because it does not know what the full plan is. The consultative committee itself is placed in an intolerable situation. It cannot protect the position of the public since it does not know what the future holds. That state of affairs should be brought to an abrupt conclusion.
I give another example of what the closure of two small railway lines means. This is the sort of thing which the Transport Commission cannot properly comprehend. On the map, this looks a perfectly 824 harmless operation and from London there does not seem to be any reason why they should not be closed. But both these lines connect with East Coast ports. One of them is Immingham, one of the least-known British ports. But, if one reads the Rochdale Report, one will see that it is one of the most rapidly growing of our ports. The other port is Boston.
Both ports are going ahead very well at the moment, and almost everybody who knows about business in that part of the country will agree that if we go into the Common Market they will enormously increase in importance. We are teetering on the brink of going into the Common Market, yet these ports, which would increase their business greatly if we joined, are having their facilities reduced.
Near one of the stations being closed, an aerodrome has been reopened and will become, we understand, perhaps the biggest of the V-bomber aerodromes in this country. A large building programme is to be put in hand to cope with it. Yet, on the very eve of the reopening of the aerodrome, it was proposed to close the railway line.
These are matters of great importance to planning and administrative authorities. All the authorities of Lincolnshire believe that they have an absolute right to be consulted about, and to co-operate in, the planning of the future transport system in Lincolnshire. All county councils in other parts of the country should fight for that right. I appeal to them to do so.
What is the solution? It is inevitable that rural transport problems should have local aspects. What may be right in one district may not be applicable in another. These problems are not suitable for a central, final solution. That is one reason, perhaps, why the Jack Committee Report, of which we had such hopes, has come to very little. It tried to make general provision, whereas each area must be dealt with separately.
In an area such as ours, however, I think that the Jack Committee was perfectly correct in believing that the main administrative authorities—the county councils—are the people to do what they think is right for the area—with their own money, if necessary, 825 because we realise, as does every taxpayer, that we do not want heavy taxes or subventions to help us to do what we think is right for ourselves. If a county council wants to do what it thinks is necessary to provide transport, it should have the right to do it and should be allowed to do it.
I have read a great many speeches by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I read them with great interest. Will he please not just sweep this matter to one side with those nice, platitudinous remarks one sometimes gets in all Ministers' speeches? I would much rather that he said little about it today, but promised to give the most serious consideration to it. Let him not despise or underestimate the forces arrayed against him to fight for the right of local authorities to plan the destinies of their own areas.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
The hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) has emphasised very properly some of the difficulties which are facing the rural area he has the honour to represent. I suppose that it is typical of many of the rural Members of Parliament that he is faced with lack of services on the one hand and failure of proper consultation with the local authorities on the other. The House generally will be very sympathetic to the point of view he put. There is always room for more consultation and for more information to be given to the local authorities concerned in these matters. We are dealing with a problem of many difficulties and it has been waiting far too long for a solution.
The Motion is naturally designed to congratulate the Government upon their negative policy towards rural transport. It fails to face the realities of an appalling situation and seeks to cover up the inaction of the Conservative Government for the past ten years. I join with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) in saying that the road programme of the Government is commendable, but I do not think that anyone on this side of the House will believe that even the present programme is adequate to meet the requirements which will arise in the very near future. We all hope that the present programme will be increased 826 considerably during the next financial year so that we can spend more money, not only on the construction of motorways and the improvement of roads, but on other matters relating to the provision of road facilities.
I join issue with the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) when he seeks to congratulate the Government on their measures—I use the hon. Member's own words in his Motion—to modernise and streamline the railway network.Rural rail services are being neither modernised nor streamlined. They are being closed down. The difficulties of the rural population are being intensified and their Conservative Members of Parliament apparently rejoice and marvel at the wonderful performance of the Tory Government.
As far back as 1958, Conservative Members of Parliament were saying in this House how tragic it was that when the countryside was being given a share of modern amenities, they should be threatened by a collapse of the transport system. We have had Motions on the Order Paper put down by Conservative Members representing rural constituencies, we on this side have tabled motions also and we have had a number of debates on rural transport, but on every occasion we have merely been put off by a plausible story from the Dispatch Box.
Conservative Members representing rural constituencies have gone away year after year satisfied with an unsatisfactory explanation by the Minister. Apparently, as long as they could go to their constituencies and say, "Well, I have ventilated the position in the House of Commons and we hope that something will be done", they have not had the moral courage to intensify their pressure upon the Ministry of Transport to ensure that something was done within a reasonable time to deal with this growing problem.
Although I represent an industrial city, I speak also as one who has had a considerable number of years' experience as a member of a county council. Therefore, I am not unacquainted with the difficult problems of the rural areas, When the hon. Member for Horncastle mentioned the question of the county 827 councils paying for the services, presumably to maintain a bus service, following the Jack recommendations, I was rather surprised. Having served some years on a county council, my recollection is that the urban areas—the small municipal boroughs and the urban district councils—who already have to make substantial contributions from their rates to provide the local government services in rural areas, would strongly object to any suggestion that they should also provide moneys from the urban ratepayers to provide bus services for the rural areas while the Government, without any apology or hesitation, rake off in unfair taxation from the bus undertakings the money which would enable them to provide the services that the rural areas require.
An awful lot of nonsense is talked about solving the problem of bus services in the rural areas. We have to consider the history of the development of the bus services in those areas. Having surveyed the history we would be in a better position to ascertain the remedy. The history is clear. The bus undertakings in the rural areas have never paid, and were never likely to pay, their way because of the lack of traffic. Nevertheless, they were essential to the communal life of the rural areas and it was the desire of both sides in Parliament and of the community generally that these services should be provided so that social amenities in the countryside could be improved.
In consequence, the bus companies, which, incidentally, in the main, were given a monopoly over their routes, had to apply, as all bus companies do, to the traffic commissioners for powers to run their respective services. In considering applications from bus companies, the traffic commissioners had to pay due regard to the requirements of the rural areas and also to the extent to which the bus undertakings who were making application to provide area services were able financially to carry the cost or the loss incurred on the rural services from what were called the remunerative services in the more populated urban areas.
Having been closely associated with this type of transport for many years, I regarded it as worthy of the highest 828 praise that the bus companies themselves were as anxious to provide these unremunerative services in the countryside as a service to the community as we were anxious that the traffic commissioners should ask them to do it.
It ought to be clearly understood that the fact that more motor-cars are owned by people living in the country areas does not alter the position, because in any event the bus services in the rural areas never paid their way. Therefore, if there is, in fact, any effect from people having more motor-cars today than ten years ago, it is a very minor one compared with the problem which confronts the bus undertakings.
The bus undertakings, as I said, have performed a very great social service to the rural areas. Time and again during the past ten years I have in this House placed before Tory Governments the financial difficulties of the passenger transport industry, and I have been up against just a blank wall. I do not know whether the average Member realises the amount of taxation which is put on the back of the passenger transport which is having to perform a public service to the community. We are not only taxed on our fuel oil most outrageously, we not only have to pay our normal taxation on vehicles, but we actually have to pay a tax on every seat in the bus.
I could understand this if every seat were full all the time, but the passenger transport industry is in a most exceptional position. A passenger transport vehicle does not run like an ordinary road haulage vehicle; it is not running from A to Z with a full capacity load, the operator knowing very well when he starts that his profit is assured when the vehicle gets to the other end. The bus operator is having to carry out a scheduled service approved by the Traffic Commissioners, a service during the offpeak periods as well as the peak periods, so that the number of unremunerative miles is tremendous in the passenger transport industry.
What we say is that instead of all this nonsense and this waste of time pretending that it is difficult to find a solution to this problem we should realise that the bus services today, owing to the drop in traffic in the more populated areas, the urban areas, the cities, 829 are not now able to carry all those unremunerative services in the countryside. It is as plain and as clear as that, and that is the reason why we are today having this continuous withdrawal of country bus services, not because the undertakers are not anxious to carry them out but because the economic circumstances arising from outrageous taxation make it impossible for them to do it.
I remember the time when city and all urban passenger transport was reasonably prosperous. I remember when we had to put special buses on to take people to the theatre and to the pictures. We had to work those buses into the schedules to take the people there and to bring them back again. I remember all these things, but today there has been a change in the modes of the people and in their circumstances. Not quite as many people go to the pictures; they have television at home. The whole idea of travel has changed, and that is coupled, of course, with the fact that more people nowadays provide their own mode of transport, by motor car or motor cycle and the like. I acknowledge this quite frankly, but what I appeal to the Government to do is to cut out all this nonsense about pretending that this is a difficult problem.
I think they have been absolutely disgracefully unfair not only to the rural communities but even to their loyal Members, Conservative Members for rural areas whom they have badly let down in respect of this problem. It has surprised me how Members on the other side who sit for rural areas have allowed this system to go from bad to worse during the last ten years without really going for the Government. I believe that if the National Farmers' Union had put as much pressure on the Government about the lack of bus services and amenities for the farmworkers and their wives as they obviously can put in respect of the Price Review we should not be discussing this problem here this afternoon.
I say quite frankly that my charge—and I make it deliberately—against the National Farmers' Union is that it has not realised the importance and the seriousness of this matter, probably because so many farmers have got their own mode of transport. I want to be 830 brutally frank. I believe that if there were not a single motor car in the rural areas, if the farmers themselves had not got motor cars, we should have had this matter solved ten years ago.
I conclude by doing what seems almost to be a fruitless thing. I make an appeal to the Government. I make an appeal to the Minister of Transport to make the strongest representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Within the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer lies the sensible and best solution of this problem, and the problem is the heavy taxation upon the bus transport industry. The amazing thing about this taxation is that it applies only to anything on wheels, immediately one puts a motor vehicle on the road. It is then, of course, we have to pay this heavy fuel taxation. It does not apply to the industrial users. I once got from an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer some statistics which I think were exceedingly interesting. I was inquiring what the cost would be to all the users of fuel oil and petrol if the fuel oil taxation on all vehicles, commercial and private and so on, were spread out. The reply I got was—I am speaking from memory—"I think it would be something in the region of a tax of 3d. to 4d. per gallon."
I say quite frankly that the taxation on the motor industry generally has become unbearable through the passage of the years. I believe that we have got into the habit of thinking that this is an easy way of getting some extra revenue and we have not paid regard to the fairness, the equity, of this continuous increase. When, in his Little Budget, the Chancellor brought in the temporary 10 per cent. tax it automatically went on the bus undertakings and automatically it put 3d. per gallon on the fuel oil on every bus service vehicle serving the rural areas. We did not protest at the time because, quite frankly—and it does not matter which political side we are on—we realised that the Chancellor was in a jam, in financial difficulty. We will not discuss this afternoon whether or not the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have got into that difficulty. On that occasion no one pressed him not to include petrol or heavy fuel oil, but everyone on both sides of the House 831 thought that it was a mere crisis increase which would be removed immediately the Chancellor was able to do so.
I am sure that the industry received the shock of its life when the Chancellor calmly decided to consolidate the extra 3d. in the duty. It is monstrous, and it is taking a mean advantage of the difficulties of industry and is doing something which is decidedly contrary to what one would expect the standard of political decency to be in this matter.
It is this heavy burden of taxation on the bus undertakings which is making it more difficult to provide for the agricultural worker, his wife and his family that reasonable method of transport to which they are entitled. Are hon. Members opposite, in particular, going to allow this debate to pass after, possibly, hearing from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport a long story about the desire to solve this problem and being told that the Minister is keeping the matter in mind, and so on? Are they prepared to go away from the House this afternoon after listening to a statement such as that and then wait for, probably, another twelve months before some other hon. Member promotes a debate on the subject? Unless we are on our toes and unless we worry the Government repeatedly on the subject they will simply forget all about it immediately the debate is over this afternoon and we shall be left with a still further deteriorating position.
I am deeply concerned about the transport facilities generally throughout the country, and I am particularly anxious that the rural areas should enjoy a pattern of transport such as is applied universally throughout the country. The industry must be given a fair chance to provide the efficient service that is required. If we are going to tax it out of existence and make it physically impossible for it to provide such a service, then we are doing a disservice to the countryside and something which is contrary to what is desirable. In point of fact, we shall inevitably cause a greater number of people to leave the countryside owing to the lack of amenities.
I believe that the men, women and children in the rural areas should have 832 reasonable facilities to get to the nearby populated areas, and I think that it is the duty of Parliament to ensure that these facilities are available and not, by excessive taxation, to prevent the local bus service or the national bus service from providing such facilities. I believe that if the Chancellor really came to grips with the problem and made substantial concessions in oil fuel taxation the traffic commissioner would then be able to say to the bus undertakings, "Look here, we know that you have had difficulties owing to heavy taxation and the loss of receipts, but the Chancellor has now given you some remission in taxation. We now feel that you could maintain your existing rural services and restart certain rural services that have been stopped because of the lack of financial resources."
I have never known the plea or the influence of the traffic commissioner to fail in getting a bus undertaking to do what he wanted it to do, but no traffic commissioner can force a bus undertaking to run a service when it has not the financial resources so to do.
I am sorry to have spoken for so long, and my only excuse for doing so is that I feel very deeply on this subject. My whole life has been connected with road passenger transport and I believe that to allow this position to continue in the rural areas is a scandal for which the Government ought to be heartily ashamed.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I wish, first, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) on again raising this matter of transport in rural areas. I believe that the continuous raising of the subject goes to prove that the present situation is a very pressing one.
What I am now going to say is not for the purpose of pacifying the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy). But I have felt for many months now that the Government have been marking time in coming to a final decision about what should be done for rural transport. I realise that the matter is very much tied up with Dr. Beeching's studies, but I hope that before the end of the year a final decision will have been reached.
833 I agree that the recommendations of the Jack Report are in some cases unworkable and would be hard to administer, but I think that everyone who has so far participated in the debate would agree that some action must be taken. I feel that the Government must bear some of the financial responsibility. Rural buses should be recognised as a type of social service, at any rate for a few years to come, though perhaps not for always.
I am quite sure that it is almost impossible to lay dawn a "master plan" which could adequately cover the whole country. The problems, as has been pointed out already, are so different in each of the nine regions. The two areas which I know best are Kent and Herefordshire. Nowadays, Kent could hardly be described as completely rural. There are bus services to nearly every part of Kent compared with a county like Herefordshire, where we also produce most excellent hops and apples. Unfortunately, from the point of view of transport—though many of us think fortunately—Hereford is still unspoiled and is one of the most completely rural areas in the country.
One of Hereford's troubles is that it has very few bus services. Obviously, the same plan would not be suitable for both these counties. In Hereford, as in other counties since the war, rural amenities have steadily improved. There has been the building of houses, the widening of roads, and piped water, electricity and telephones are all continually being brought into our outlying districts. But if the people living in those districts are completely cut off from the villages and towns the womenfolk will continue to persuade their husbands to get jobs in the towns. Although the farming is becoming more and more mechanised, with the result that it needs a smaller number of men, nevertheless it cannot afford to lose skilled men as it has been doing over the past few years. I am convinced that the wives will have the last word on this matter. If they cannot reach the towns to do their shopping and for purposes of recreation, they will persuade their husbands to move.
Many suggestions have been advanced. I believe that it would help if the Traffic Commissioners were a little more flexible in the granting of licences to new 834 operators to run local services, and if Ministry of Transport inspectors were able to relax some of the regulations imposed under the public service vehicle legislation. For example, a bus operator must either employ a conductor, or fit an electrically operated door to his vehicle. Both of these things are often beyond the means of small bus operators in my part of the country.
I realise the great difficulties which would be created by cutting the fuel tax. But could not differential taxes be introduced backed up by distinctively coloured motor fuel similar to the coloured fuel which we had during the war years, which would be used only for rural buses? This method could be used in selected rural areas.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, such conditions need apply for only a few years. Today, every ninth person has a car and it is estimated that by 1965 there will be 10 million cars in the country, so that private transport in rural areas should greatly improve. But we must face the fact that there will always the women shoppers elderly people, widows in remote parts of the country who need some kind of transport, and unless it is provided, they will not be able to travel. As at present some farm of transport assistance on a neighbourly basis may be one of the answers.
The problem caused by the lack of buses has not been helped by the closing of small branch railway lines which it is said, are uneconomic to operate. These railway services are often used as an alternative means of transport during bad and icy weather, but most of us agree they must be closed because today the country cannot afford a train service to meet the needs of passengers whose numbers may be estimated in busloads or even taxi-loads. In the Western Region alone about £30 million a year have been lost over uneconomic branch railway lines. But if the branch lines are closed it is the duty of the Government to provide other forms of transport in such areas.
As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, if there are no bus operators in an area willing to run a service, the Railways Board has power to operate a bus service; or the House could vote a lump sum to the Traffic 835 Commissioners—who know in what parts of the country transport cuts have hurt the most. In special areas they could recommend a subsidy out of this special fund to be used to help to keep bus companies going. The test would be one of hardship.
In Herefordshire, we have been extremely lucky. In 1961, only one branch line was closed between Tenbury Wells and Wolferton. But, by the end of this year a passenger train service may be withdrawn between Hereford and Brecon which would mean closing the line between Eardisley and Talyllyn. There are rumours that the line between Bromyard and Worcester may be closed to passenger traffic, but would have to be considered by the transport users' consultative committee.
The small market town of Bromyard has always been greatly affected. Last year, the local bus service was curtailed, so the chamber of commerce called the local traders together and organised a free bus service. It ran on market days and Saturdays and covered two areas with a tour of 30 miles in each area. It brought an average of 18 passengers per run into the town. The service was run extremely successfully from about 12th August until the beginning of November, when it had to stop because the promoters discovered that they were breaking the law. This provides a magnificent example of local initiative, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that a situation which required such measures should never have been reached. It shows how extremely serious is the problem of rural transport in some parts of the country.
Now I would like to say a word about rural roads. The Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretaries deserve great praise for the real progress which has been made with the national road programme. Motorways have been provided. Plans for by-passing towns are no longer merely on paper, but are fast becoming realities. I hope, however, that the importance of the continual improvement and the bringing up to date of rural roads will not be forgotten. We must try to keep the plans in balance. An analysis has shown that 17 per cent. of motor vehicle mileage is 836 travelled on unclassified roads and about 12 per cent. on Class III roads, which means that approximately 30 per cent. is travelled on the lowest grade rural roads. To put it in another way and to show the importance of our rural roads, that is nearly three times as much mileage done in rural areas as in urban areas.
For a long time many drivers have maintained that rural traffic signs need improving. In my opinion, a drastic change is needed. The signs are not sufficiently prominent; they are not legible, especially at night. It should be necessary to take only two quick glances in order to get "the message" which the sign is intended to convey. They are not sufficiently simple, nor are they standardised. Drivers should not have to reduce speed to recognise traffic signs which should be sited in such a manner that you come on them at the right time and sufficiently early to take action. Where possible, signs should be illuminated at night, and always be reflectorised.
Existing road signs tend to clutter up corners. Some are very unattractive, and what is worse, they are confusing. I am sure that the time has arrived for a survey and a change-over to "Continental symbols" which speak for themselves and are easy to understand. They are common all over Europe. Today, tourism has become one of our best foreign currency earners and we want to encourage more and more people to visit this country and to bring their cars and motor around England. Soon we may have a Channel tunnel which will bring in many more foreigners than we ever had before. If we enter the Common Market, continental symbols will, of course, be the right answer.
I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary what is being done about this. Can he tell me how the Minister's new signs committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Walter Warboys, is progressing? Lighting in rural areas is difficult and expensive, but our aim, where possible and practicable, should be that all signs at all important intersections should be lit. The siting of lighting columns is often 12 to 18 inches from the edge of the road. I have always felt 837 that a very serious hazard. All obstructions should be put back at least 3 or 4 feet from the edge.
Linked with the problems of rural signs and lighting, is the problem of improving the safety factor on rural roads. "Cat's eyes" and the centre white line in fog and storms have proved to be the right answer but not enough is done about adequate reflectorised markings on the side of the road so that motorists can orient their position in fog and at night. Recently, I have read excellent articles in a British magazine which I am sure my hon. Friend knows of, "Traffic Engineering and Control" regarding progress made in America by the use of edge-lining and edge-marking. Already 46 out of the 50 States in America are using edge-lining. It helps the motorist at night and in the fog.
In the absence of edge lines, motorists are inclined to be guided by the centre line and the result is that they look directly into the glare of oncoming headlights. Edge-lines have proved useful in obtaining a great reduction in head on accidents from this cause and accidents by side scraping at night. This system is simple and very inexpensive to put down. It helps to reduce accidents and helps the flow of traffic. As I said, it has been used with tremendous success in America. It has been used also in Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Holland.
Another safety device I should like to see introduced is advance warning of halted vehicles. This applies especially in country lanes where cars cannot pull off the road. Of course it also applies for use on motorways. The answer is to have a red reflective triangle of about 16 ins. with a 2 in. wide red border. This has proved to be an answer to the problem on the Continent. I wish that we could try it more in this country. The triangle is carried in the car, lorry, trailer, or caravan. If the vehicle breaks down and has to stop, the driver can put the triangle 20 yds. or more behind the vehicle as an advance warning to motorists, especially motor cyclists, who may be following.
It is surprising how many accidents occur involving stationary vehicles, even though their rear lights are on and their reflectors are clean. Investigations by the Road Research Laboratory have shown that of 400 accidents occurring in 838 one area 13 per cent. concerned stationary vehicles. Of 621 accidents on three main roads in Buckinghamshire during the years 1956–58, where there was no speed limit, 15 per cent. involved stationary vehicles. These accidents occur even on motorways. An analysis of accidents on M.1 shows that, of 383 accidents recorded, 20, or to put it another way, 5 per cent., involved a stationary vehicle on the carriageway or on the hard shoulder.
Tremendous progress is being made with rural roads, but we never seem to have enough bus bays or bus shelters and certainly we do not have enough lay-bys, especially at beauty spots. We also need them for use in emergency in breakdowns, as resting places, and at places where people want to picnic. Where possible, with lay-bys there should be some form of lavatories.
I am a great believer in safety fences at sharp bends and on the sloping ground of hills. They prevent vehicles running off the road. They are made in different ways; some are of posts, some of rails and some of steel cables. I realise that they do not stop accidents, but they have a psychological value. Their use should be encouraged in the countryside, because when a driver sees a safety fence he is automatically alerted.
I mentioned two challenges which the Ministry of Transport appears hesitant to accept for battle. Will my hon. Friend continue to try to sell the idea to all county councils and city councils of the importance and value of having trained highway and traffic engineers on their staffs? If they are to plan for the increasing number of vehicles coming on to the road, such an engineer should not be looked upon as an expensive luxury, but as a real necessity to keep the flow of traffic moving.
Lastly, I come to my pet hobby-horse, the elevated monorail. This form of transport is ideal for moving passengers from central London to London Airport. It could also be used to link main cities by express carrying of passengers and goods over built-up areas and especially over agricultural land. At Whitsuntide, I hope to inspect the new monorail at the World Fair at Seattle, which is transporting 10,000 passengers an hour at 60 m.p.h. from Down Town, Seattle, to the fairground.
839 In the past this country has led the world in all forms of engineering. I do not want to see it get left behind in this exciting new form of transport. If we could produce it, it would be an export winner which we could sell all over the world.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)
The whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) who has raised this important problem of rural transport today. Now that he has had good fortune in the Ballot, I am able to support the Amendment.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Bossom) in the points he made, especially his reference to the monorail, because I want to devote my remarks to problems of rural transport and that is something which is "airy-fairy" in relation to the rural areas of Norfolk although I know that it is a pet hobby-horse of the hon. Member.
The problem of lack of transport in rural areas is of vital importance to those of us who represent such constituencies as mine, which is almost completely rural. It is of such vital importance that rural district councils in my constituency have asked me to speak on this matter and to try to get the Government to take some action to remedy the situation which in many instances is quite deplorable. I was glad to see only yesterday that the General Council of the T.U.C. is so concerned about the question that it has decided to raise it with the Minister of Transport. We are in good company this morning because this matter is agreed by hon. Members on both sides to be a serious problem, although no doubt we have different suggestions to make about how it should be resolved.
I do not think that anyone would disagree when I say that people living in rural areas have always been at a great disadvantage over public transport. That was brought home to me early in life when I was living in a village where there was only one bus each way on two days a week. I went to London and I was told that I had to catch a No. 101 bus going in the direction of the docks. I saw one coming and sprinted 100 yards to catch it but, to my great surprise, I 840 found that it was followed by a convoy of 101's all going in the same direction. It was a lesson to me that I have not forgotten.
In the rural areas, of course, we have always been at a disadvantage. The limited bus services which we have are constantly being cut, often being taken off altogether, with the result that people in many villages are virtually without public transport of any kind. There has been argument in the House about whether our road system has been improved in recent years. We have had a Tory Government now for eleven years, and, of course, they have improved our roads. We say that they have not done nearly enough, but they have definitely made some improvement. However, this applies generally over the country. In the rural areas, on the other hand, we have less transport now in many villages than we have had for the past generation.
§ Mr. Hilton
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman—less public transport than at any time in the past generation. Even in the difficult days immediately after the war, we had skeleton bus services in all the small villages, but these have recently been whittled away and in many cases cut off and people left without public transport.
Our villages are often at a disadvantage compared with the towns and cities. Many of them are still without such things as sewerage schemes, piped water supply, and so forth, and people feel, now that they are without bus services, that the Tory Government do not care very much about those who live in rural England. If they did, they would do something about it. In some respects, it seems that the Government have a grudge against rural people, against the retired farmworkers now living in the villages. These elderly farmworkers and their wives have a wonderful record of work and service to this country, a record second to none, yet those who have, after a lifetime of work on the farms, retired to the villages very often find themselves without any form of public transport to take them to the local towns or the market to do their ordinary shopping. This is not good enough. These people, who are the salt of the earth, should be encouraged, not treated in that way.
841 In many villages, the buses come round in the morning to take the youngsters to the secondary modern school and they bring them back in the evening, but there is no public bus service to take the mothers into the towns to do their shopping or fathers to the football match. Nat long ago, we were discussing in the House the problem of bringing industry and people out of the big towns and cities into the rural areas. In just about every village in Norfolk there are some empty cottages, in spite of the acute housing shortage in the country generally. People will not be encouraged to come to the villages and occupy those houses if they are to be denied a public transport service there. If something were done to provide a reasonable public transport service, these houses could be occupied and help, to some extent, to solve our housing problem. If nothing is done in that direction, the tendency towards the complete depopulation of many of our small villages will be accelerated, which is the last thing I ever want to see.
It is said in the Jack Report that people who live in the rural areas have cars and, being good neighbours, are ready to carry people to the towns or elsewhere. In the area of which I am speaking, nearly all the people are farmworkers. Although a few of them have cars, it is still the exception rather than the rule for a farmworker to have a car. That suggestion might apply to places where people are fortunate enough to have cars, but it does not apply generally in Norfolk villages.
§ Mr. Hilton
I agree, but, surely, the hon. Gentleman would not expect a farmworker with a moped to pick his neighbour up and take him on the back of his moped into the local town. Some of them have such forms of transport, of course, but I am basing my remarks to a large extent on the older people who are retired. Very often, they are stuck in the villages, unable to get out to the towns.
There is much speculation in Norfolk today about further closures of branch railway lines. About two years ago, 842 there was a serious cut in our branch lines. At that time, additional buses were put on, for the time being, to serve the area which lost its railway line, but, gradually, the bus service has been whittled down, and I understand that there are now no extra buses to serve those people. The situation has gradually deteriorated, and there is much concern lest the same sort of thing should happen if there is a further cut in the railway services in Norfolk. In my opinion, it would be disastrous if there were further closures of railway lines and no additional transport was put on.
Another reason for not closing the branch lines in Norfolk now is that, despite improvements, our roads are already carrying all the traffic they can bear. To my knowledge, many roads are very crowded. For three months of the year they are overcrowded by vehicles carrying large loads of sugar beet to the local factories. If branch lines are closed and the additional traffic comes on to the roads, the situation will be very serious.
It is the responsibility of the Minister of Transport to see that our roads are improved before additional traffic is put on to them. If a branch line is to be closed eventually, we ought to improve the roads now to make sure that they are capable of carrying the additional traffic that is likely to be thrown on to them. As a member of the Norfolk County Council, I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that, if he can persuade the powers that be to allocate the money, the Norfolk County Council will see that the road improvements are carried out.
In a way, I can understand what Dr. Beaching is doing. He has been engaged at a salary of £24,000 a year to cut out the unprofitable sections of British Railways. He was given that job, and we can expect him to continue with his ruthless cuts if various sections do not show a profit. Lack of profits is the reason why rural bus transport has been cut so drastically. It is in some cases completely cut off. It is obvious that private bus operators cannot be expected to run services at a loss. No one is suggesting that they should do so. Despite this, I claim that people living in rural areas are entitled to a public transport service. If it is unprofitable, 843 as it will be in many cases, I say without hesitation that it is the responsibility of the Government to subsidise it. We subsidise all sorts of things, some perhaps which are not so deserving as the matter we are discussing. I would go so far as to suggest a direct subsidy to the rural bus operators. They need not use big service buses. There are different sizes of buses which could be used.
I remember two or three years ago when I was on holiday in North Scotland seeing a postman delivering letters to a house in the distance. I could not see another house anywhere. This made me think about rural problems. It was quite obvious that the postal service on this round—I noticed that there were only 3d. stamps on the letters that he was delivering, only a handful of them—could not be made to pay for itself. The next day I travelled to Edinburgh and Glasgow where I saw that the postmen were delivering thousands of letters with 3d. stamps. I think that this is a good example of what I am trying to say. In the case of the postman in Scotland, it was that of the strong helping to carry the weak or the many helping the few. I am sure that the same applies in the smaller villages and hamlets in Norfolk at the present time. I am positive that some of the postal service which is provided there cannot pay for itself.
Less than 20 miles away there are towns and cities and there, again, the strong, or the many, help to pay for the few. I suggest that the same principle should be applied to rural transport. I am sure that in many of these smaller villages where public transport should operate it cannot pay for itself. In such cases in my opinion the Government should subsidise such a service. It has been suggested in the debate that it should be the responsibility of the county council to subsidise it. As a member of the Norfolk County Council I do not agree with this. The county council area there is mainly rural.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Is not the conclusion to be drawn from the hon. Gentleman's analogy with the Post Office that the more profitable bus routes should subsidise the less profitable ones, leaving out a public subsidy of any kind? Why not, 844 therefore, suggest a scheme based on subsidy in that way?
§ Mr. Hilton
That is what happens at present. I am sure that as the hon. Member represents a partly rural area he will want to speak in the debate and make the same point that he is offering to me.
I consider that the same principle should apply to rural transport as now applies to the Post Office. I do not think that it should be the responsibility of a county council, such as the Norfolk County Council, because already it is at the great disadvantage that in many areas it will have to provide sewerage schemes, piped water supplies and many other services. Already its financial resources are strained to the limit without having a subsidy of this sort imposed upon it. The thickly populated areas which have big towns and cities in them do not have the same problem as we have to contend with in a county like Norfolk, and it would in my opinion be quite unfair to impose an additional burden on the county councils. It should be the responsibility of the Government to subsidise directly the rural transport service which is the right of the people who live in the rural areas and who have served the community and the country so well.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Matthews (Meriden)
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson), who moved the Motion, said that the pattern of transport is changing all the time. Indeed, it is a very rapid change and will have far-reaching effects. In my constituency, in the heart of England, there will be in a few years' time an international airport, two main railway lines recently electrified, a motorway and a whole network of quite excellent secondary roads. Yet, in spite of the exciting developments, the problem of rural transport remains the main anxiety of the people in the rural areas. It is also one of the main anxieties of two of the rural district councils in my area.
Between the two towns of Atherstone and Coleshill in my constituency there is no public transport service whatever. When the country wayside stations and the intermediate stations on the main railway lines are completely closed, as many of us fear, there will not be one 845 station left in my constituency. Some of the villages only 15 miles from the centre of Birmingham, with a combined population of about 1,000 inhabitants, are completely cut off from Birmingham and Nuneaton, except for a very limited bus service on Thursdays and Saturdays. Why is this?
Is it not largely due to the surprising development of private road transport. But it is very difficult for old people, handicapped people and others, who either cannot afford to own a motor car or cannot drive one. This is one of the facts that we have to face. The Jack Committee's Report, in Appendix C, states quite clearly that there has been a steep rise in recent years in the production of motor cycles and private motor cars. We know from statistics and experience that an increasing number of country people are finding that a family car of some kind is absolutely necessary. Many people in the lower income groups now possess motor cycles, secondhand cars if not new ones, some sort of van or old Landrover, or other means of locomotion. It is no longer true to say, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) said a few moments ago, that the majority of people in the countryside do not have the advantage of a car. I think I am right in saying that in most rural areas there is one car to about every six people; this is almost equivalent to saying one car for every main household.
§ Mr. Hilton
I said that my constituency is completely rural and the majority of workers there work on farms. I repeat that it is still the exception rather than the rule for farm workers to have cars. The reason is that the minimum wage of farm workers is still £8 15s. a week.
§ Mr. Matthews
I accept the point which has been made. My argument is that if the present trend continues, as I believe that it will, before long almost everyone in the countryside will have some means of locomotion. In the countryside mobility is absolutely essential. This is borne out by the fact that quite a number of country people have to devote a higher proportion of their personal income to meeting transport costs than people in urban areas. This proves that the private car or van is an economic proposition even for the 846 humblest householders, if the vehicle is sensibly used and if it is used reasonably sparingly—that is, when it is full to capacity, or nearly so, of passengers, parcels or farm produce, or in cases of emergency, as for example when a taxi or a hire car would be necessary to fetch a doctor.
Another consideration when considering whether a oar in the country is an economic proposition is that passengers being given lifts make contributions. This is done to a very large extent in the countryside. It is illegal, but it is going on nevertheless. If contributions are collected towards the cost of vehicles, I believe that very soon most people in the countryside will be able to get about by private vehicles. To many of us time is valuable in these days. If one is saving time which will add to one's earnings, that is a further justification for the extra cost of running a private vehicle.
In addition, we must recognise that many families in the country are prepared to pay extra. As a rule, it costs more to run a private car than it does to go by train or bus, but they are prepared to pay the extra cost of running a car, if it is within their capability, because of the great convenience of door-to-door transport at all hours of the day and night and because of the ease of handling parcels and produce. There is also the added social status enjoyed by possessing one's own motor car. There is also the question of being able to take friends and relatives out for pleasure trips. There is an increasing practice nowadays of taking out old people, cripples and handicapped people on various pleasure outings.
If what I have said is true and if that is the trend, how are the railways and the bus companies going to pay for short journeys in the countryside? It is easy to argue that the bus industry should produce a comprehensive plan. It is easy to find instances of lack of road-rail co-operation. I have a good example of that in my home town of Stratford-on-Avon. In a prosperous area the railway station is one side of the town and the bus station is the other. Although I would like on many occasions to use the public services, I am hindered by the fact that I have to walk across the town, possibly with a suitcase and a briefcase.
847 I believe that in rural areas the local stopping passenger train and the stage bus service have had their day. The sooner we recognise this the better. In many of these things we can often take a warning from what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. I should like to quote from the Jack Report on experiences in other countries. The Report says on page 14:A report covering the whole of the United States showed that in 1954 87.8 per cent. of passenger miles were travelled by car and only 4.1 per cent. by bus.I add my own comment on that sentence that a large proportion of those bus journeys were long distance buses and not the short distance buses of which I am talking.
The Report continues:Official State inquiries into the situation in Michigan, Iowa and New England revealed that the number of passengers on local (that is, mainly rural) services had fallen by 65 per cent. in the years 1945–58 as compared with a decline of 50–60 per cent. on all services. By 1954 a quarter of the communities in New England with over 1,000 inhabitants had no form of public transport at all.That statement goes to confirm what is happening in the village of Shustoke in my own constituency.
The Report continues:Legislation has already been introduced by both the Federal and the State government in an attempt to deal with the problem. The most important measure has been the reduction of taxation … Individual States have reduced the fuel tax and licence fees on short-range bus services (those with a route-mileage up to 50 miles). Many States have also introduced new legislation to control contract work in order to assist the stage operator. In Montana, local authorities have been empowered to place contracts for unremunerative but socially desirable services and to subsidise them from the rates. Despite these measures the demand for local services has continued to fall, mainly as a result of the increasing car population, and bus services are still being reduced.These are very suitable comparisons to make with the present state of affairs in this country. The Report goes on to mention Sweden. It will be germane to this debate if I make a few quotations concerning Sweden. The Report says in paragraph 49:The problem confronting the bus industry in Sweden is similar to that in Great Britain.The Report says later:The Government have already acted on two recommendations of the Commission—raising the fares on rural bus services and giving the 848 stage operator a preference in respect of school contracts. This latter measure has been very successful. … It is expected that the Government will act shortly on three further recommendations: the rationalisation of the rural bus system by the licensing authorities; the remission of one-half of the vehicle tax to rural bus operators; and the standardisation of bus company accounts (to prepare the ground for a possible future subsidy).The Swedish Transport Commission do not think, however, that these measures will do more than hold the position for the time being. … In cases where the traffic is slight, the Traffic Commission envisage that the licensed operation of private cars might be a better answer than the provision of a bus service. … Certain further measures are also contemplated, such as the introduction of differential fares more closely related to the cost of providing the service.These remarks convince me, at any rate, that the problem of passenger transport is changing rapidly. It is a case now of the need for more specialisation even in country areas. The design of the buses we use probably needs reconsidering with a view to making them more suitable for carrying parcels and merchandise. It is certain that the old set-up is not flexible enough to meet the present need. The railways started to face the challenge immediately after the conclusion of the 1914–18 war over forty years ago. The bus companies started to withdraw their services about twelve years ago. This trend has been going on for a considerable time and we cannot reverse it at this late hour.
What can be done about this lingering, problem? One of the great questions is whether rural transport services should be subsidised to keep them alive. I think that this is unfortunately necessary, but I know that many people living in the countryside detest the fact that they are having to be subsidised. They hate to feel that they are receiving any form of charity, but if we are to increase bus and rail fares—
§ Mr. Matthews
Yes, many of them do. It is a very different problem, but many of my constituents do feel the same about agricultural subsidies.
I was about to say that if we increase rail and bus fares as we have been doing in recent years, we shall reduce the traffic still further. Would it not be better and wiser to accept that within the 849 next ten years or so, most of the present rural rail and road services will inevitably come to an end? Meanwhile, let us raise fares as is necessary in order to keep the services going, and give private transport the chance to adapt itself to the new situation.
Let us relieve the bus companies of taxation during this transitional period. I support the suggestion that there should be a slight remission of the fuel tax based on making the amount of tax payable by approved stage service operators proportional to the mileage of their scheduled services in rural areas. That would be only a short-term solution, but it would help the carry-over during that transitional period. The Jack Report has said that the problem of so administering the tax is almost insuperable, but I suggest that if the rebate were based on estimated fuel consumption, which would be required to conform with the public timetables, there would not be much chance of serious evasion.
I also suggest that in order to assist with private transport some of the legal restrictions on plying for hire in rural areas should be relaxed. That would encourage country people to give lifts, particularly to old people, handicapped people, women, and those who cannot drive. It would help to ease the situation. In Birmingham, where I have lived for a number of years, there is a scheme under which voluntary drivers do excellent work in taking handicapped and old people for trips into the country in taking them to the doctor, or the hospital, and so on. There is considerable scope for such development.
I believe that road finances need re organising so as to provide financial assistance to local authorities in rural areas. Fundamental decisions on policy are needed. The present system of road charges and budgetary taxation is a jumble and needs to be unravelled. The system of taxing lorries on their unladen weight I believe to be illogical; heavy diesel lorries which compete with the railways are, in effect, being subsidised by smaller vehicles.
What is encouraging is the tremendous increase in Government expenditure on new roads and major road improvements, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro. The greatest 850 effort is being made to modernise our national trunk road systems linking industrial centres; and to relieve urban congestion. The rural areas pay their share of the taxation that pays for the heavy costs of clearing congested urban areas, but they do not get their share of the benefit. That justifies us in our claim for some concession for rural services.
Our aim should be to relieve the private motorist in the remote areas as much as we can of the taxation burden, and to encourage small operators to develop cheap and flexible methods of conveying, not only passengers but parcels and produce—and, perhaps, mail. That would probably involve an extension of licensing control over contract and private-hire operators, in order to prevent overlapping and protect the stage operator where he continues to exist; and also to maintain the standards of reliable service.
In that connection, I suggest that many of the big companies are rather out of touch with local conditions. Their standards of maintenance of vehicles is probably too high to make their services an economic proposition in the countryside. The advantages of the small operator—lower running costs, opportunities for improvisation, and personal supervision, with the possibility of spread-overs of working time—are all very vital factors there.
My conclusions are that local trains and buses will not be able to compete for long with privately-owned passenger and goods vehicles. Private cars, the C licence commercial lorries—which represent about five out of every six commercial vehicles on the road—have such tremendous advantages of convenience and speed that we must accept the fact that their numbers will continue to increase.
I appreciate that there are possible criticisms of what I have said. It may be argued that the service element is being eliminated, but I deny that, because I believe that the service will be there just the same but will come from the small private operators and from individuals. It may be argued that I am abandoning an attempt to integrate rural transport, but I believe that there is not enough of that transport in remote 851 areas to justify the cumbersome administrative machinery that would be necessary and, in fact, there are few services to co-ordinate.
Effective integration is not possible without including the C licence vehicles of traders carrying their own goods, or without including the private motor car. The new Transport Bill recognises the need for greater commercial freedom; the boards are to be given the maximum freedom to fix their own charges, and are to be relieved of out-of-date legal obligations. The same principles should be applied to all forms of rural transport.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
On this occasion we have to look at the rural transport problem not as it is in the United States or in Sweden, however interesting the position there may be, but as it is in Great Britain today. The frequency with which these debates on rural transport occur in the House indicate with what concern hon. Members and their constituents regard this matter. Our last debate on the subject was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), who has moved the Amendment to the present Motion.
I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was unnecessarily harsh towards my hon. Friend, who is perfectly entitled to move his Amendment in these terms. One good reason why he should do so is that it is six months since we had our last debate on rural transport and the Government have done nothing. On this sunny day, one could also say that my hon. Friend reflects the present mood of the electorate.
We are grateful to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for choosing this subject far debate, and for his speech. He ranged over a wide field. He gave us a great deal of interesting information but, at the end of his speech, I was not completely clear what he really believed in in relation to rural transport, or what he really wished the Government to aim for.
After all, the question which hon. Members who represent rural constituencies and people living in them are asking is: what will be the position in 852 the countryside if and when the wholesale closure of branch railway lines takes place? That is the real fear in the rural areas and, in my view, it is fully justified. It is feared that what is happening in Monmouthshire and other parts of Wales may soon be general throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne mentioned the remarks of Mr. Dean of the Western Region. After all, we understand that the Government have told Dr. Beeching, in so many woods, "You must make the railway's a paying proposition." If so, then obviously it may mean the closing of a large number of branch lines. If that takes place—and I agree that we cannot say certainly that it will because the results of the B.T.C.'s traffic studies are not yet available—the House will have to face the problem of vast areas in England, Scotland and Wales being without a railway system.
My fear is that the result of the B.T.C.'s studies will not help the rural areas. As I understand it—and I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm this when he replies—the chief purpose of these studies is to discover precisely which services pay in terms of passengers and freight. If that is the purpose, and if profitability is to be the criterion as to whether or not a line remains open, then many branch lines will be closed. I hope that when the studies are carried out the branch lines are not taken in isolation. The users of those lines in association with the main lines must be considered. Passengers who start from the main line stations—Paddington, Euston or Marylebone—and end on a branch line should be credited proportionally to that branch line. It is not good enough merely to take those who actually purchase their tickets at a branch line station and discard those who, while they purchase their tickets at a main line station, are making their way to a branch line.
I understand that these studies will be concluded in October. Can we be told if the results will be published? It is important that Parliament, local authorities and the public in general should be fully informed of the facts and statistics upon which the new Railways Board 853 will be basing its policy. It is widely resented that while these studies are taking place closures are also going on. The whole thing seems very haphazard and piecemeal. For example, the Western Region seems to be proceeding independently of the London Midland Region. There seems to be no co-ordination between the regions.
There seems to have been no advance since nationalisation. There still seems to be a lack of co-ordination between the regions, and that is a bad thing because the country should be looked upon as a whole and any closures that are proposed should be related to the entire system and not treated in isolation. These are our views in Wales. We have a Motion on the Order Paper which sets this out and we believe that closures should now be postponed until the studies of the B.T.C. are available to Parliament and the public.
I now wish to consider the arguments which Government spokesmen advance when these closures are brought to their attention. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary will today be unusually original I think that I can reasonably anticipate what he will say. I am afraid that his remarks will be a variation on an old theme.
When he wound up the debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on 11th April last the Parliamentary Secretary said—rather patronisingly, which was unusual for him—that my hon. Friends from Wales had said nothing about transport to illuminate what formerly was obscure. So far, we have heard nothing from his right hon. Friend or himself which illumines the darkness surrounding the Government's policy in this field. It has become more and more the habit of the Government in recent years to call upon the Opposition for a plan when the Government are in difficulties. It is, after all, not cur duty to provide them with a plan.
When the Labour Party assumes office after the next General Election we shall take steps to integrate the country's transport system—road and rail. The hon. Member for Truro saw a great danger in that. I profoundly disagree with him and I am in good company. I am speaking "off the cuff" but I recall—and the hon. Member for Truro, 854 with his great experience will correct me—that the Committee which sat in 1932 under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Salter came out strongly in favour of a unified transport system. Sir Arthur, a former Conservative Minister, is now Lord Salter.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Committees which sat before the war worked on a basis that there was too much transport for the traffic available. That is not the case today.
§ Mr. Hughes
If I recollect aright the terms of that Committee and its evidence, what the hon. Member for Truro says does not detract from the point I make; that they felt at that time, having examined the whole road and rail system of this country, that a unified transport system was the answer. Things are far more complicated and difficult today compared with 1932, and the findings of that Committee are, even more, valid. But whatever I say I do not suppose I shall be able to convert the hon. Member for Truro to my view.
The first argument which the Parliamentary Secretary advances in these debates is that people are no longer using the railways. It is said that if people used the service, the lines would not be closed. There is merit in that argument and I will not deny it. No one could defend the retention of a service which is not being used, save by a negligible number of people. There are a number of such lines throughout the country. But surely the services which, although they do not show a profit, are used by a substantial number of people every day—for example, by people going to and from work—are providing a public service and these lines should not be closed arbitrarily.
In many cases, in Scotland, Cornwall and West Wales, these branch lines are used by tourists, especially in the summer. Tourism plays a big part in the life of Cornwall, the Lake District and Mid-Wales and the closure of these branch lines involves local people in a financial loss. In areas of great natural beauty which are tourist centres there should be a special survey directed to the problem which would be created if branch lines were closed.
At present, an elaborate advertising campaign is being conducted by British Railways in conjunction with the three 855 tourist boards; the British Tourist Association and the Welsh and Scottish Tourist Boards. Attractive posters published jointly by British Railways and the tourist boards are displayed in railway stations throughout the country. The lines which appeal most to the tourist are branch lines. These advertisements should read, "See beautiful Cornwall by rail, but do not be surprised if some of the lines are closed by the time you arrive." How can we justify an expensive publicity campaign of this kind when we are closing the lines in the very areas to which we seek to attract tourists?
§ Mr. Hayman
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has estimated the value of the tourist industry in Cornwall at between £35 million and £40 million, being money spent by tourists there, and that that is approximately equal to the value of the total production by farms in Cornwall?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. That is the point that I am seeking to make. The closure of these branch lines should be considered not in isolation, but against the larger industrial and tourist background of the country as a whole and of the national economy.
There is no doubt that much more could be done to make rural rail services more economic. This subject has been raised in debate after debate, and I simply mention it now in passing. In parts of Wales, trains are still run on the pattern of the old Cambrian Railway. The same timetables operate. If a train had eight carriages seventy years ago, it still has to have eight carriages today. These carriages, I understand, weigh 32 tons each. Pulling 128 tons less—that is, with four carriages which I understand would serve the purpose today—the train would be faster and more efficient, and there would be a saving of fuel and on general wear and tear.
It is true that fewer people are using the railways. Society has changed beyond recognition since the railway system was devised and built, but more could be done to adapt our rural rail services to the changing conditions. Not-withstanding modernisation—and I 856 know how much has been spent on that in the last few years—there has been no streamlining in the rural areas to make the train services more attractive and economical. The central point in this debate and, indeed, in any argument on this subject is whether a rail service should be kept open as a service to the public even though it does not pay.
At what point of unprofitability should a line be closed? It is not for me to give the answer, but if I were asked to do so I would say that if it is used by a reasonable number of people for the purpose of taking them to work, bearing in mind the point I made about tourism and streamlining, it should be retained.
There is a strange dichotomy among hon. Members opposite on the question of subsidies. Subsidies for some things are splendid, but for other things they are not acceptable. If agriculture receives a subsidy, why should there not be a subsidised rural transport system? Let me give one example. The principle of subsidies is well established. Consider civil flying services to Scotland. They have always been subsidised, as I understand, and they always will be.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am saying that British European Airways' services in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland are subsidised. They are run at a loss. So far as the civil servants in the Ministry of Aviation are able to say, they will always be run at a loss. I am not against that—
§ Mr. Webster
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned agricultural subsidies as though they were subsidies to the farmer. I suggest that they are subsidies very largely to the consumer. All the food is eaten. In the case of the railways, there is a subsidy—although I do not know who gets the benefit—but the railways are not being used. That is the essential difference.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is making a debating point. I should be called to order if I were to go into 857 this subject of agricultural subsidies. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I am getting at. These aviation services in Scotland are partly rural transport services. I do not cavil at that. I accept these services as necessary, in view of the distances in Scotland and the geography there. What I am saying is that rail services in that part of the country are equally vital and that the same principle should apply on the same terms.
Furthermore, as I sought to point out in the last debate on this subject, the closure of these lines can have an important effect upon industry. There has been and still is a serious unemployment problem in my constituency of Anglesea. We still have the highest percentage of unemployment of any county in the whole of the United Kingdom. I know from my own experience that when we meet industrialists to discuss the possibility of establishing new industries in the area, one of the first questions they ask is, "What rail facilities can you offer?"
Fortunately, in Anglesea we are able to offer very good rail services. But what would these industrialists say if we had to answer, "None at all"? I am certain that they would think twice before investing their capital in an area where there were no rail facilities of any kind. It seems to me, therefore, that before a rail closure is approved, especially in an area which is scheduled under the Local Employment Act, 1960, the Board of Trade should be called in to decide whether a closure would militate against the chances of bringing new industry into the area.
The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews), who is not now in his place, referred to the increase in the rural population. I have been spending a few days in the beautiful county of Montgomery. I was not there on holiday. I went on a mission and I worked hard. This charming county is cursed with the problem of depopulation. Here is a county where the rural population has declined progressively over a period of sixty or seventy years. The Government have been in power for eleven years and have done nothing to alleviate this problem. It is no use the Prime Minister sending flowery messages to the Conservative candidate extolling the virtues 858 of Tory policy. The fact, is that the population in the London region is increasing by an annual average of 100,000 while the population of Montgomery declines because there is no work there—a policy of "boom and bust", boom for London and bust for Mont-gomeryshire.
What about the Barlow Report and the Abercrombie Plan? All these things have been shelved. We know that the traffic situation in and around this greaty city is chaotic, and in Mont-gomeryshire, which after all is not very far from London—only 176 miles, and it is even closer to Birmingham—there is a fear that the branch lines will be closed. The Mid-Wales Development Committee, which is working hard to bring new industries to Montgomery and adjoining counties, is alarmed lest the task be made virtually impossible by these potential closures. I urge the Government to think very carefully before they approve the wholesale closure of branch lines in Mid-Wales. That is, if the Government are serious about wanting to bring new industries there.
The second point which the Parliamentary Secretary has been making in these debates is that if a line is closed an alternative bus service will be provided to take its place. No doubt there are many cases in which a regular bus service would meat the needs, and, indeed, would be even more convenient for people. This point was dealt with in detail in the Jack Committee's Report. Provided that the bus service which takes the place of the closed railway line continues to run, all is well. But there is no obligation upon the bus company to keep the service going after an initial period. This is the problem, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us his thoughts on the question, because it is important: if, after twelve months, the bus company discontinues its service, there is no public transport at all, and this has already happened in some areas, as the Jack Report points out.
The danger is that if this state of affairs continues there will be large areas of the country without any public transport at all in two or three years' time. This is what Professor Jack and his colleagues envisaged when they made their recommendation for a subsidised rural bus service.
859 It is at this point in our debate that the Parliamentary Secretary generally produces the third rabbit out of his hat. He starts giving us the figures of the increase in the number of motor cars, motor cycles and mopeds on the road, and he points out that neighbourly people will always give lifts to their neighbours when they need to go somewhere and there is no public transport. He will probably tell us how many cars there are in Montgomeryshire and in the other Welsh counties.
All this is true; we know it as well as he does, and we do not dispute it. There are more cars and there are good-natured and neighbourly people. But I hope that he is not suggesting that whole communities should depend for transportation on lifts from other people. He has made this point so often and placed such emphasis on it that I am bound to put this question to him: is this an important factor in the Government's policy on rural transport?
When we had our debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on 11th April he made the point with great force, when he said:It may well be that bodies like the Women's Voluntary Service have a great rôle to play in rural areas, as railway transport services are withdrawn, in helping those people who have no other method of transport. The general picture one gets, and it emerges clearly from the figures, is that in Wales and other parts of the country, particularly in rural areas in contradistinction to the towns, is that the number of private vehicles is going up all the time, and this is bound to have an effect on the transport problem of individuals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 11th April, 1962; c. 103.]But the fact is that there is, and will continue to be, for all the increase in the number of vehicles of all kinds, and no matter how many more cars there are, a substantial percentage of people in the foreseeable future without private means of transport. This is what we must face. The hon. Member for Meriden was far too optimistic. I do not know what things are like in Meriden; he seemed to say that every family there has a car. That is very different from the areas in Wales which I know. There are big sections of the community with no transport facilities at all, and the Government cannot fob it off by saying that somebody will give 860 them a lift. These are the realities of the situation. The Jack Committee gave ample and specific information on the question of the hardship which exists. I have quoted from the Report and I could quote from it again, but it is available for hon. Members to read. It is this section of the rural community for which we must cater.
I hope, therefore, that today the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, first of all, what the Government have decided to do with the recommendations of the Jack Committee. The Report has been in their hands for eighteen months and they have had plenty of time to think it over and to have consultations. Are the county councils to be brought in? Is there to be the remission of fuel tax? The time for talk is over. Now is the time for constructive action.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for raising this important question. He made an interesting and very comprehensive speech. It is rather difficult to say anything very new or original about the subject, because most of it has already been said. That does not mean that I do not realise the very great importance of this question. It is extremely important for all people who live in the country, particularly in remote and scattered areas, of which there are many in my constituency.
It has been pointed out that the Jack Committee said that the lack of public transport can mean hardship to a number of people—perhaps not such a large number nowadays—but it can also mean inconvenience to many more. One of the difficulties concerning anybody who seeks to provide public transport in rural areas these days is that as the years go by public transport will have fewer and fewer customers. Hon. Members who look at the statistics about cars will see that in 1905 there were fewer than 16,000 cars in this country. I remember that my father was one of the few people in Devonshire who had a car at that time. I well remember being driven along a country lane as a little boy at the terrible speed of about 10 m.p.h. and seeing two old men, dressed in smocks and billycock hats, crouching against the hedge and shaking their fists at us as we went by perched up on 861 the top of my father's landaulette, dressed in dust coats and goggles and enveloped in a aloud of dust. Such an infernal machine was the motor car considered in those days by many simple people. Today we have 6 minion motor cars on the roads, and the number increases every year. The increase in numbers has been particularly marked in the rural areas.
Nothing has altered the pattern of our lives as much as has the internal combustion engine in the last 60 years. The increasing number of cars draws our attention to the ever-present question of improvement to roads, and I agree that the Government are doing a fine job in improving the roads in this country, but those of us who live in the West Country would like more of the money which is available devoted to the improvement of roads in our part of the world.
As car ownership increases, the time will come when many rural bus services will be unremunerative, and some of them probably unnecessary, provided, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was accused of saying, there are sufficient good neighbours to give lifts to those who have not cars. As time goes on, more and more people will have cars. But we have not yet reached that stage, and it is essential in country districts where branch railways are closed that the Minister should help to ensure that some form of alternative public transport is available. Bus services must be flexible. They must either be re-routed in order to cater for those villages which were previously served by the train or else enterprising carriers or garage proprietors who are willing to provide public transport by van or omnibus or by some other means should be encouraged to do so with the least possible red tape or restrictions.
However much one may regret the closure of many small branch railway lines for sentimental or other reasons—one may have known them all one's life—no sensible person could argue that a line which is running at a loss because too few people are using the trains should be kept open—provided, and this is important, some alternative form of transport is available for people in that area.
862 There is a rumour which is worrying many of us down in the South-West. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro was concerned about trains beyond Plymouth, but we have also heard a rumour in Devon that there is to be only one main line from London to Exeter, and that Paddington Station may be closed. I fail to see how that could work—I suppose that it is a question for Dr. Beeching—but I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us, if he can, that this rumour, as other rumours very often are, is "a lying jade".
§ Sir H. Studholme
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro for raising this matter and to congratulate him. I hope that the Minister when he replies will be able to tell us what decision the Government have reached with regard to rural bus services in the light of the Jack Report.
§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (Billericay)
I should be very discomforted if I found that as a substitute for Government policy we had to rely in future for rural transport on the charity of motorists in giving people lifts. It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews), and this may be the situation which he envisages. I am sure that is not what the Government envisage and that the Parliamentary Secretary will put any such fears at rest this afternoon.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on his excellent choice of subject, and on his very informative speech. He was, as I noticed, the only hon. Member in this debate today to touch upon the subject of walking in the countryside—not very surprisingly because this method of getting around is quickly becoming obsolete. Nobody seems to walk in the countryside today. People do not walk to work, children do not walk to school if they can avoid it, and at last people have apparently giving up walking for pleasure. Indeed, walking seems to be regarded by most people in the countryside today as one of the tiresome results of a poor bus and railway service, and both can be deplorable on occasions.
863 Some bus services in the countryside, quite obviously, are inadequate, but surely one of the most infuriating characteristics of the rural bus is its almost sadistic time-table. Far too many rural buses seem to leave the local railway station just before the train in which one is travelling arrives, or to reach the railway station just a moment or so after the train in which one hoped to travel has left. This apparently careful mistiming is repeated daily throughout the country, with a waste of uncounted hours and the exhausting of an untold fund of saintly patience. It does not seem that it would be very difficult or take a great deal of thought to cure this eccentricity in rural travel. Indeed, the buses are not alone to blame, because there are some features of the train services in the countryside which are equally absurd.
I do not believe that unused branch lines should be allowed to bankrupt our railways, but I do think that British Railways could make a lot more money out of rural transport than they do at present. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in the debate of 11th December of last year, said that the big contest in rural transport was between road and rail. No doubt, many hon. and right hon. Members in the House saw the suggestion in a letter to The Times recently that branch lines could be made to pay if new towns were built upon them. The idea may be tempting, but I doubt if this holds any attraction for British Railways, which are, it seems, prepared to concede immediate victory to the roads in some rural areas.
For example, the new town of Basildon already exists. It has been built in the middle of rural Essex and attracts people from all the countryside around. The people of Basildon are very concerned about this problem of rural transport. Some may say that they are fortunate, because a modern railway line—a very busy one, serving large rural areas around the town—passes right through the centre of this new town, but very few people in Basildon in fact travel by train. Passengers do not get on trains there and passengers do not get off trains either because the trains pass right 864 through the centre of the town and keep on going. There is no railway station.
There is an excellent site reserved for a railway station but British Railways refuse to build one. There are plans to build a magnificent sports centre, which will cover 350 acres. It will attract thousands of people from the countryside around, and when it is built, we can be assured that the railway trains, hundreds a day, will still continue to pass through the centre of Basildon. Very shortly, we are to have a magnificent new hospital in Basildon, which will have a landing site for helicopters. By the time it is built, we can be assured, because British Railways have said so, that its trains will still be passing straight through the centre of Basildon without stopping.
The present population of Basildon is 60,000. Shortly, it will be 106,000, and British Railways say that, even at that figure, they will not consider stopping their trains at a railway station in the centre of Basildon. The people of Basildon—
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
This is rather interesting; indeed, illuminating. Has the hon. and learned Gentleman thought of making any direct representations to the transport users' consultative committee, or, indeed, to Dr. Beeching direct, directing attention to the matters which he is now bringing forward?
§ Mr. Gardner
I have. I have personally attended a number of meetings, one of them with representatives of the Eastern Region of British Railways, and what I am saying now is the direct result of what has been said by the representatives of British Railways at those meetings.
The facts have had, as one might imagine, considerable circulation, and in circulating they have caused considerable disturbance in the minds of people who live in Basildon. They do not understand—and I see their point—how it comes about that, with this growing and comparatively immense population, British Railways are not supposed to pay. They see it, as I also see it, as an exhibition of defeatism. One wonders how many people must live in a town before a railway station serving it can be expected to pay.
865 The figures I have seen make this state of affairs quite inexcusable, and I believe that it can only lead to feelings of widespread dismay about the future of British Railways if they argue seriously that, with an immense population at their disposal, they cannot build a railway station in the centre of one of these new towns, provide a service and make it pay.
I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to give his support to the representations, being made strongly to representatives of British Railways and to Dr. Beeching, that this particular defect in travel in that part of rural England should be removed, and removed as soon as possible.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I will endeavour to be brief, as I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to make a contribution to the debate. I do not share the argument that goods and freight should be forcibly or by legislation taken off the roads on to railways. Particularly where industry is situated in an area remote from the main market centres, it is essential that manufacturers should be free to send their goods by the cheapest possible method, so that the disadvantages of being remote from sources of raw materials and markets are minimised.
As a number of hon. Members have said, there is considerable ground for believing that British Railways have not taken all the steps open to them to reduce to the lowest possible point the running costs of branch lines still open. In my constituency, for instance, there are a number of manned level crossings. Indeed, two of them are within 100 or 150 yards of each other. Each crossing is operated by salaried personnel. This is quite unnecessary, I believe, and before any decision is taken to close a branch line the fullest investigation must take place as to how it can be most efficiently operated, because until one has decided that there is no means of knowing what the actual saving will he by closing it.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) mentioned that many branch lines carry heavy holiday traffic in the summer and that, if a return ticket is purchased at the point from which the journey begins, in many cases no portion 866 of that money will be credited to the line concerned. This has, as he said, an effect on the accounting system which prohibits us from finding out the true revenue of any given line.
In my constituency there is a very sensible campaign which is not called, "Save the Exe Valley Line", but, "Use it or lose it". The emphasis is on the fact that everyone who would derive benefit from this line must be made fully aware of the service, so that they can at least have an opportunity of making full use of it, thereby demonstrating their need for it. I find that a most admirable attitude and I wish it every success, because if it succeeds in increasing traffic on the line the major part of the battle is won.
But I put in a caveat against the argument about the degree of efficiency of branch lines. If one centralises complete services at a big depôt, such as Taunton, thereby depriving branch lines of a lot of revenue, and then endeavours to prove that they are operating at a loss, the argument is somewhat lacking in honesty.
If the savings brought about by the closing of branch lines are used to finance an improvement of the roads that serve the areas affected, that is one thing. But if the savings are used to subsidise commuters from the outlying areas of London, who travel at far less than the economic cost to and from work, While the services in the rural areas are deteriorating without any offsetting benefit, that is another matter. Moreover, the subsidy element that is so greatly needed there will then have been merely transferred to another section of the community which is less in need of it.
I emphasise one other aspect which has not yet been mentioned. It appears to be part of the Government's health policy to concentrate many of the medical services on large hospitals located a considerable distance from many of the areas which they serve. This item of policy is accompanied by the recommendations of the Platt Report concerning unrestricted visiting.
If, at the same time as hospital services are concentrated, the railway transport facilities which must be used to facilitate visiting deteriorate, the one policy is contradictory to the other. 867 These two items of policy—the concentration of hospital medical services and the encouragement of visiting by friends and relatives—will only work together in harmony in a context of expanding rural transport facilities rather than contracting them.
I wish to make one suggestion to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I have no desire to penalise road transport artificially and to drive goods on to the railways. When, however, unnatural loads are carried on the roads at a very low speed and of such dimensions that they greatly impede other road transport, the other road users are, in effect, subsidising the person who carries that unnatural load at a speed far less than the average traffic speed.
I therefore suggest that when heavy loads which move at a speed below the average traffic speed or loads of unnaturally large size are carried, a special licence fee should be charged for each such journey so that the community as a whole recovers part of the extra cost which has been laid upon it by reason of inconveniencing and impeding everyone else.
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
I wish briefly to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) has said and to what has been said from the benches opposite concerning piecemeal closures of branch lines in country areas. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Horn-castle have both made the point that we await in September the final traffic study that Dr. Beeching and the Transport Commission are to produce. Equally, there is already in existence—it is referred to certainly by the district traffic manager for the Eastern Region—a plan under which these branch line closures are being carried out.
All that the Lindsey County Council and all the county councils in Lincolnshire want to know is simply what is to be their fate. Local authorities as a whole take a responsible attitude to this problem. They want to know the outcome so that they can make proper alternative arrangements and can view the situation as it affects the whole of 868 their areas. The existence of two plans and not disclosing the full extent of the existing plan for branch line closures makes a mockery of the local transport consultative committees.
Another equally important factor is that the uncertainty about the future of rural transport is extremely damaging to the community in the countryside. It makes it quite impossible for any local authority to plan the expansion of market towns or to encourage small light industries to come into the market towns. Nothing can be done about this until the transport pattern is firm and secure and one can see what it will be for the future.
A much more human side to it is the question of the large number of people in the villages who cannot, and never will be able to, afford their own transport. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner) when he mentions the ridiculous timetables operated by the local buses. They seem to bear no resemblance whatever, let alone to train times, shopping times, cinema times and opening and closing times of the "pubs". They always choose the most inconvenient time possible for running their services.
This problem of rural transport is, I think, very much at its worst and its most difficult in the counties round our coasts, counties like Lincolnshire with a long coastline which is on the way to nowhere. If we are dealing with rural transport in Warwickshire we have literally hundreds of means of transport, road and rail, weaving through the county and between great industrial centres, and we have got a mass of through traffic. We have not got anything like that in a county which is bounded by the North Sea. So it is important that we should decide what is the best form of public transport in such an area, based on the needs of that area, and, if need be, have a form of grant in aid, and then give it in the most efficient possible way.
Certainly, in Lincolnshire the real answer is the bus, because the railways do not attempt in any way whatsoever to go for goods and freight connected with the agricultural business. We have only to look at the attitude of British Railways towards moving the wool clip 869 in the north of Scotland. British Railways are just not interested in moving the farmers' produce, and they admit that the passenger services lose money. So let us not argue, in discussing retention of the railways, whether they do or do not pay. Let us assume that public transport in the county loses money, decide the best form of transport, and then try to devise a way of giving it with some form of grant in aid. The responsibility for working the service and the payment of the men and managements in the rural areas should be the responsibility of the authorities administering the rural areas, and I would suggest to my hon. Friend that the grants in aid made by county councils towards rural transport services should equally be the subject of a proportion of grants from the central Government.
It may well be said by some more cynical Members that we have had a long discussion in the House today over parish pump politics. I do not believe that that is the case. I believe we have had a good breath of fresh country air blowing through the House. We have discussed matters which really are of vital importance to the people who live in the countryside. These are the things those people are worried about. These are the things which those people really are interested in, and I am quite sure that they await with interest the reply of my hon. Friend on this vital matter.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), who, as he said, has brought a breath of real country fresh air into this debate. Several hon. Members have referred to the Jack Report, which is fairly ambiguous, and some Members have taken one line while others have taken a completely contradictory line.
I thought it interesting that the debate began with two Cornish Members speaking from the land of Brunel, and we have had the Opposition point of view from the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), which is joined to the mainland of England by a bridge built by Thomas Telford and commemorates a first-class engineer and was built at a time when the industry was pioneering. 870 It was a time when there were cranks of various sorts putting forward proposals and who thought of the railways as dangerous and dangerous to the countryside.
There was that Marquess of Exeter, who opposed the line at Stamford Bridge. He ought to have been a constituent of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Gardner). Shortly after that we had a crank like Dr. Dionysus Lardner, who put the view that if railway engineers put a train through a box tunnel the pressure on the eardrums would become so immense as to drive one mad. Railway engines were fire-belching monsters, as he called them, which, going through the land, would drive cows crazy, turn the milk sour, and turn fair and happy milkmaids into unhappy ones, and thoroughly ruin the country.
What a change we have today. Disraeli said at one time that the Conservatives were more liberal than the Liberals. I think we can say that the Socialist Party is often more conservative than the Conservative Party. It tends to keep these things going regardless of the unpalatable fact that no one seeks to use them, and it still wants, at vast expense to the taxpayer, these railways to go to the villages of England.
We have to remember that the rural population also comprises taxpayers. In Committee on the Transport Bill, when my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) and I, in discussion of Clause 56, urged the Minister to make more public the transactions of the transport users' consultative committees, the Minister said that he would try to take the country into his confidence further on this difficult and complicated subject. The fact is that, however unpalatable to hon. Members opposite, the motor car is here to stay, at any rate until the hovercraft takes its place.
In those circumstances these branch lines, however Emmet-like and romantic they may be so long as one does not have to travel on them, are a liability round the necks of many people in the country. If the branch line in my constituency, the Cheddar Valley line, should be closed, there would be a howl of protest from people who never use it. The first question they would be asked by the chairman of the inquiry 871 going into the matter would be how they came to the inquiry. In nearly every case they would say that they came by car.
§ Mr. Hayman
The hon. Member may be interested to know that Mr. Dean, the traffic superintendent of British Railways, travelled to Truro by car last Friday.
§ Mr. Webster
I thought that the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) would want to keep that dark.
I am not worried about those people who kick up a row, but those who actually use the line. I am also worried about other considerations in the area it serves. It is a line which goes out of Bristol almost parallel—as much as a railway can be parallel with a road—to the main road which feeds Bristol and South-West, the A.38. That road is very congested in summer and also in winter. It is the road on which people go to spend their holidays at points further west and it is the road used basically to carry business traffic. This point should be hammered home as hard as possible. If that road becomes congested, businessmen will decline to set up factories in the South-West whether they are assisted by D.A.T.A.C., or B.O.T.A.C., or anything else, because they will not be able to move goods on that road, particularly during the summer months.
At present, we are waiting for a motorway to be built south of Bristol. We have heard with great concern that very shortly, due to the great endeavours of the Minister, we are to have a motorway linking Bristol to Birmingham, which is to go further north to my old compatriots in Scotland, who, I am sure, will come down to Somerset and Cornwall as soon as they can and use the benefits of that motorway.
We are to have a motorway to Wales across the Severn Bridge and linking up with the motorway to the north in Bristol, and a sort of motorway to London. All these will converge in Bristol while south of Bristol, on the route of the A.38, there will be no motorway for the next five years. During that period we want to do something to keep this branch line open to relieve the congestion 872 on this exceptionally busy stretch of road.
The Minister has very rightly said that the main criterion when closing a branch line should be that one is prepared to provide an alternative bus service. I was glad to have from my hon. Friend the Member for Truro, whom we all congratulate on the way in which he initiated this debate today, an assurance that under the standing and working agreements of the 1928 Act it will be the Railways Board, and not the Holding Company, which enforces on the bus services the need to keep a service going where a railway is closed and, if necessary, indemnifies them.
When an important city like Bristol is served by a railway running parallel with the road I think that we should consider whether it would be possible to modernise the railway rolling stock. I am aware of the difficult economic considerations which would have to be taken into account. In the southern region of Hampshire the rail dieselisation scheme resulted in a 42 per cent. increase in passenger miles in 1957, the year of its inception. This sounds very impressive until one knows that there was a 132 per cent. increase in the train miles travelled by the rolling stock so that, in fact, the expenditure of carrying 48 per cent. more passengers was not beneficial to the revenue.
There is also the question of the removal of 80 locomotives and 40 old carriages and their replacement by 18 dual-carriage—if that be the correct word—combination units which would cost between £15,000 and £30,000 each.
Estimating it at the lowest level, say, at £20,000 each, that would represent a total cost of £360,000 for rolling stock alone regardless of what would have to be done to maintain the track and the signalling system, keep the railway gardens in repair and to do all the other things which it would be necessary to do. I appreciate, therefore, that this is an economic problem, which it will be very difficult to resolve.
When, however, one is considering a service such as is provided by the Cheddar Valley line running almost parallel with what will become one of the most heavily used parts of the road system during both the summer 873 and the winter months, I think that this should be given a trial and I suggest that it is something which should be taken into consideration before any decision is made.
§ Mr. Monslow
Having regard to the fact that road traffic has reached a saturation point, would not the hon. Member agree that traffic should be directed back to the railways?
§ Mr. Webster
Certainly not. I should not be in favour of directing traffic back to the railways, and this was the point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Truro. That might be possible in a Communist or an almost Fascist State. We should rather consider ways of making the railway service efficient in the long-haul and in that way achieve what the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) desires. When one considers that the average speed for goods throughout the whole of the British Railway system today is one mile an hour, it is obvious that that average should be raised.
§ Mr. Monslow
There is also the question of the safety factor. Considering that the traffic on the road has reached a saturation point and that there are so many deaths occurring from road accidents, I have no hesitation in expressing the view that something ought to be done quickly to obviate that situation.
§ Mr. Webster
I should be among the first to pay tribute to the excellent safety record of British Railways, but I should like to continue with another point, because time is running short.
We in Somerset, and, indeed, in the whole of south-east England, are concerned about the major road improvement grants. If, for the time being, we are to be deprived of a motorway running south of Bristol—I again urge upon my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister, the vital importance of bearing in mind the problem which will be caused by congestion south of Bristol when the city is linked with other parts of the country—we shall find that there is a grave need to increase the grants.
This area of England is a holiday area and it is repeatedly said that holiday business is one of our best ways of earning 874 foreign currency. But it is also an industrial area and one which helps to feed the nation with the produce from its farms. Early crops are grown in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and the broccoli about which we hear so much is raised in the constituency of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne at the beginning of the year. My constituency in the village of Cheddar is renowned not for its cheese, but for its strawberries. Some of the finest in the country are moved from Cheddar very rapidly at this time of year to the markets of our great cities.
It is vital to remember that our agricultural produce is going to find increased competition from the Continent if we go into the Common Market, and for this reason the greatest improvement that can be made to our rural road system and also to our main road system in the South-West should be carried out as quickly as possible. I think it is fair to say that today the countryman has his motor car, and so has the village shopkeeper. Not all countrymen live in the country. Many live in the village and never step out of it from one month to the next except to go to the market town.
We have to remember that in the case recently of the "Battle of Castle Combe" where the unfortunate village was termed the tidiest, cleanest or most beautiful in England, everything was done before Easter. Everyone in that part of the country had to see Castle Combe that weekend. Down they went, and they "bunged up" that village and made it the most putrefying, smelliest village in England. The local authorities kept their heads. The Ministry of Transport applauded their excellent off-street parking. They put it into a farmer's field, although I cannot think that that practice should go on too frequently because our agricultural produce is essential to the earnings of the South-West.
In conclusion, I would say to my hon. Friend that we in the rural areas know that the stage of transition is coming. We know that transition is frequently painful, and we urge him and his right hon. Friend to help us over the painful period of closing a branch line by the generous provision of alternative bus services. We also ask the Minister to ensure that the rural areas, particularly 875 the South-West, should get their full share of road improvement money so that they can make their alternative routes when the roads get "bunged up" during the summer months. They should keep not only the tourist business, but the very lifeblood of their industry going during this transitional period.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Hay)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I wish to extend my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for having chosen to bring before the House once more this important subject of transport in the rural areas. As has already been remarked in the debate, this is not by any means the first debate that we have had on the subject in recent months. I have the liveliest recollections of the debate on 11th December last, when the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), in a more benign frame of mind than he appears to be in today, brought up the subject.
I must say that I rather agree with a profound remark that fell from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) when he said how difficult it is to say anything new or original on this subject, because the plain fact is that the House has on a number of occasions in the last year or so had occasion to debate rural transport. I feel that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) and I, since we participated in the debate as recently as 11th December, would both be in some difficulty in finding something fresh to say.
For those very interested in the matter, perhaps I may say that the speech which I made on that occasion was very carefully considered, and what I would now like to say in reply to this debate may be considered as an extension of our views in the Ministry of Transport on this subject. The debate today has been somewhat wider in scope than the previous ones, and this is largely because my hon. Friend the Member for Truro drew his Motion in rather wider terms than previously. We have today been concerned not just with the subject of 876 the rural bus services, but more generally with transport as a whole, and particularly with railway transport. I was a little surprised that so much of the discussion, even in regard to the railways, was directed to passenger transport. Quite rightly, the Motion refers to rural transport services generally. This is significant. There is no doubt that throughout the countryside as a Whole, there is no dearth of sufficient goods transport services. There is plenty of accommodation available for goods traffic both by road and by rail, and the problem is really one of rural passenger transport services.
My hon. Friend in his Motion is kind enough to congratulate the Ministry and the Government as a whole upon the progress we have made in several directions. I assure him that we shall be only too willing to accept the Motion. I cannot accept the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne. I find it significant that, of the six hon. Members who signed the Amendment, only two were here today at all, and those two both made speeches. We were not blessed with the presence of the hon. Members for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) and for Aberdare (Mr. Probert). Since the Amendment is in very trenchant if somewhat alarmist terms, referring tograve hardship in the rural areas and … economic disasterit is not altogether surprising that those hon. Members were not present.
§ Mr. Hayman
The Motion did not appear on the Order Paper until two days ago, and an Amendment had to be tabled on Wednesday. In order to show that what appeared in the Motion did not apply to the West of England only, I invited colleagues from different parts of Great Britain—from Scotland, Wales, the North-East and the North-West—to sign the Amendment, but I knew that some of them would find it impossible to be here because of earlier commitments.
§ Mr. Hay
I can understand that the hon. Gentleman had difficulty in finding a Scottish Member to sign the Amendment. The hon. Member for Craigton, of course, coming from Glasgow, is vitally concerned with rural transport. I 877 suspect that, in all probability, the Amendment is more a tribute to the persuasive powers of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne than to the rectitude of its argument.
§ Mr. Hay
The facts are not in dispute. We all know them. In the rural areas, for a number of years now, there has been a constant decline in all forms of passenger traffic on all forms of public transport. As I said in the debate on the 11th December, the picture of transport presented in this country, which is reproduced in many highly developed countries abroad, is of two contests going on: on the one hand, the contest between public and private transport, and, on the other hand, the contest between road and rail. These two contests, as they continue, are intertwined with each other, and the picture one has is of more and more people deserting public transport because they are able to afford their own means of private transport and of more and more people choosing to go by road rather than by rail.
I have here some interesting figures which show the extent to which the railways have been losing ground in both passenger and goods transport in this country. During the 1950s, the total number of passenger miles travelled on British Railways rose slowly. Since 1959, they appear to have fallen slightly. Passenger travel by buses and coaches and by the Underground in London has diminished steadily throughout the past 10 years, and by 1960 it was nearly 20 per cent. lower than it was in 1950. The same fall continued in 1961.
In contrast to this decline in public passenger transport, the mileage covered by cars, taxis and motor cycles has increased until, by 1961, it was approaching three times its size in 1950. We estimate that in 1950 about half of the total passenger mileage was covered by buses, coaches and similar vehicles, with railways and private transport accounting for roughly one-quarter each. By 1960, private transport had risen to account for over half the passenger miles travelled. The share taken by buses had fallen to 30 per cent. and the share taken by the railways had fallen to 17 per cent. In 1961, there was a further substantial rise in the use of private transport. I think that these figures are of 878 great significance and they are the background to our debate today.
May I say a word about the consequences of this expansion of road traffic which is taking place all the time. It has something which has greater or lesser effect upon the lives of virtually everybody and not just upon those who live in the country. Taking the trunk roads and classified roads together, over the past five years traffic has increased by some 50 per cent. and it is to cope with this relentless and continuing increase that the Government have authorised what my hon. Friend the Member for Truro spoke of earlier as the biggest road programme we have ever known in this country.
We are spending over the next five years in new construction and major improvements some £540 million or, if we include Scotland, some £605 million. Big as it is, this programme cannot cover everything. We have to have a priority system so that the most urgent needs are dealt with first. It is a matter of balancing needs which cannot all be met at once. Within the overall increase of 50 per cent., traffic has grown slightly faster on the urban roads than on the rural roads, although in 1961 there were some signs of a reversal of that trend. On the trunk and classified roads as a whole, urban road traffic has increased by 51 per cent. over the past five years and rural traffic by 49 per cent. Of course, we accept that the increased traffic on country roads in some cases presents problems, and the global figures that I have quoted will of course conceal very wide differences between roads where the traffic has increased very little and roads where it has increased much above the average.
I think that it is generally accepted that in this country we have the best maintained secondary roads of any country in the world. I have travelled quite a bit abroad and nowhere else can one explore the beauties of the countryside so thoroughly simply by driving along neat, clean and well-maintained roads.
The real danger, quite apart from the natural growth of traffic, is that if the main roads become too congested many drivers not only of private cars but of other vehicles may be forced on to the secondary roads which may become 879 through routes for long distance traffic for which these rural roads were never designed and which in the majority of cases they are entirely unsuited to carry.
The most sensible way of tackling this problem is what we are doing. That is to say, we are constructing new motorways and improving trunk roads so as to give long distance travellers direct, fast and easy routes from point to point, leaving the secondary country roads in the rural areas for those who have to use them, for the farmers, local inhabitants, visitors and holiday makers who can thus enjoy them to the full.
It is true, I am afraid, that we have not been able so far to carry out this policy in a very extensive way in some parts of the country. The south-west of England is frankly one of them. With limited funds and limited physical resources, we have to have priorities, so we have given priority to the long distance, predominantly industrial routes. This does not mean that we do not recognise that the less industrialised parts of the country have their own needs, too. We realise that they are much more than holiday areas and that even if they were no more than that adequate road facilities ought not to be withheld from them for all time. Certainly for the present—and I say this categorically—the lion's share of our resources must be devoted to the main industrial routes and the big congested cities and towns.
It may be appropriate if at this stage I say a word or two about the railway modernisation programme, because to some extent this is a counterpart of what I have been saying about the road programme. Modernisation of our railway system in its technical and physical aspects is one major factor in our overall policy for the railways. Much has been said in this debate, quite understandably, about the policy of closing railway branch lines and withdrawing various facilities and services.
§ Mr. Monslow
This is rather interesting. As the Parliamentary Secretary will be aware, I am interested in the sociological implications of the closure of branch lines. A conference will take place in the South-West at the end of this month. I listened with interest to 880 the hon. Gentleman's statement that £540 million capital expenditure will be made on roads over the next five years. Having regard to the sociological implications of the closure of branch lines, instead of using that amount of capital on the roads, would it not be better to apportion it so that some of it could be utilised to keep branch lines in existence? This would obviate the sociological implications likely to follow from the closures.
§ Mr. Hay
That question goes rather a long way. I should like to think about it very carefully and not give a snap answer. As I understand the implication of what the hon. Gentleman said, it is that we, should reduce the road programme and provide more money for railway modernisation, both in the country and on the main routes.
§ Mr. Hay
I hope that I can show the hon. Gentleman shortly that we are doing that without reducing the road programme. I was saying before the hon. Gentleman rose that the modernisation programme is one of the major factors of our overall policy towards the railways. We have not got just a negative policy of closures. That would be a counsel of complete despair. In answer to the hon. Member for Anglesey, our policy is a positive one. It is postulated on four main principles, which have been debated at some length in the House in the course of the last few months in connection with the Transport Bill. The first is the complete and radical reorganisation of the structure of the British Transport Commission. The second is a complete financial reconstruction of the Commission, and the railways in particular, relieving them of the great burden of debt which at present is weighing them down and preventing them from making the best use of their assets. The third principle is to give them the maximum practical commercial freedom, both in respect of charges and in respect of the development of their property, to bring them into line with the people with whom they have to compete. The fourth is the modernisation programme.
The answer to the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) is that 881 at the same time as we have been spending increasing sums of money on our road programme and at a time when we are forecasting, as I have just said, an expenditure over the next five years of over £500 million on the roads, we have in the last five years between 1958 and 1962 spent no less than £770 million on the railway modernisation programme. The programme is still going on. It has not come to an end. It is proceeding. We are finding the money for this as well as for the roads.
This is the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Truro rightly made. It is the policy of the Government to ensure that the needs of the customers, those who want to use transport, should have a very important place in our thinking and that we should not starve one form of transport of finance simply because we have a theory that traffic should go by some alternative form of transport.
The modernisation programme of the railways to which this money has been devoted does not consist simply of improvements to main lines. A good deal of assistance, both direct and indirect, is received by the rural areas. One example may be given. That is the new type of rolling stock which is being provided for many of the branch lines in rural areas. The use of diesel rail cars and diesel multiple units is another example.
§ Mr. Hay
Not necessarily, but a good deal of money is being spent in the valleys of South Wales, and indeed throughout South Wales, on such things as the renewal and improvement of signalling, the provision of better safety devices, and many other things which I have not the time to mention and of which I have not got all the details now. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that Wales has been receiving a fairly good share, as I know, of the money available for railway modernisation.
However, it is clear that, whatever one does in respect of the reorganisation of the Commission—by reorganising its finance, by giving it commercial freedom, and by improving its physical 882 assets—there must still be radical changes in the railway network, because it is much too large and cumbersome for our modern needs in the latter half of the twentieth century. For that reason, the programme of closure of branch lines that are completely unremunerative, and unlikely to be anything other than unremunerative, and the programme of withdrawal of services that are also unremunerative—and these will often be in the rural areas—must, I am afraid, continue.
The hon. Member for Anglesey somewhat criticised us for allowing the B.T.C. to continue with its programme of closure of branch lines at a time when the Chairman of the Commission is conducting a series of traffic studies. Dr. Beeching's traffic studies are intended to be a guide to the long-term size and shape of our railway system. As and when the information that is obtained from those traffic studies is sorted out and analysed we should be in a position to see where, in the future, traffic is likely to flow, and where, in the future, the railway system will still be needed.
The hon. Member asked me whether the results of these studies would be published. I cannot give an answer to that question today, for the simple reason that, strictly speaking, it is a management matter, but I will bear his request in mind. It may well be that when the studies are completed, their results will be in a form that would not easily lend itself to publication. However, I shall certainly see whether anything can be done to assist him—
§ Mr. C. Hughes
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but will he bear in mind, and will he convey to the authorities, that it is the general sense of this House, as I understand it, that at least a summary of the results should be made available, so that the House may have the statistics that are the basis of the future plans?
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Before my hon. Friend replies, I wonder whether he could, at this moment, make any comment on my suggestion that when those studies are completed, consultations should take place with various outside bodies such as county councils, the F.B.I., and so on?
§ Mr. Hay
I take note of what has been said, but I would prefer not to make any comment now. I must emphasise that the studies might well produce a mass of facts and figures which might not be comprehensible to anyone not trained in the analysis of statistics. What I think the House and the country will be interested in is the results; that is to say, the future shape, size and pattern of our railway system. That will obviously be a matter of public concern, and I note the request that some kind of information should be made public. I shall certainly bring that to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
Whatever may be the position that arises from the studies, whatever may be the future size and shape of our railways, it is quite clear that there is a vast amount of dead wood that has to be cut out. That is really the answer to those hon. Members who have asked me to give an assurance that the programme of closures now being carried through by the Commission should be halted until the results of the studies are available.
The B.T.C. is, after all, engaged at present on a programme of getting rid of unremunerative services which it is satisfied will never be able to pay again. I must, just to put the record straight, make it clear that the Commission would not wish to withdraw a service or close a line which it thought had even any long-term prospect of making a profit. It is only where the Commission is satisfied beyond a peradventure that there is absolutely no hope of that that it proceeds to make these proposals. For those reasons, I cannot say that we should ignore, or tell the Commission to ignore, the very substantial and significant savings that may be achieved over the next few months by the continuance of the programme of closures.
I should now like to say a word about the Jack Report. This may not seem to be very relevant to what I have just been saying about the railway system, but I hope that when hon. Members have heard me, they will agree that it has a significance. Hon. Members have been asking when we are going to come to a conclusion about the recommendations of the Jack Report and when we will tell the House what our conclusions are. The very fact that we are now in 884 this situation, where Dr. Beeching is producing information which will lead to an assessment of the future traffic pattern for the railways, in itself makes it necessary for us to take a little more time before we come to a conclusion about the Jack Report.
We are frequently asked, and rightly so, to look at transport in this country as a whole and not to look separately at the railways, buses, motor cars, ships and aircraft. It would, therefore, be stupid for the Government to come to a conclusion on the Jack Report and on rural bus services in general without knowing what is likely to be the future size and shape of the railway system. For that reason we are entitled to say that we need a little more time before we can make any final conclusions and an announcement.
The issue of the question of rural bus services has been ventilated a great deal in the Press and elsewhere recently. Suggestions have from time to time been made that the bus licensing system should be relaxed so as to make it easier for private cars to carry fare paying passengers as a possible solution to the rural areas' transport difficulties. Indeed, I think a Bill has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) which would have the effect of exempting vehicles which carry less than six passengers from having to have a road service licence.
I cannot anticipate any debate there might be on that Bill but perhaps I might say a word about the background to the licensing system. The licensing of bus services under the Road Transport Acts is based on the broad principle that regular operators should be given some protection in return for running regular and efficient services. It also protects the profitable services which help to bear the cost of the socially desirable but uneconomic services.
This was recommended by the Royal Commission on Transport in the late 1920s and was given effect to in the Road Traffic Act, 1930. It has, therefore, been in operation for more than 30 years and remains the foundation on which the bus services have been built up. The Road Traffic Acts distinguish between bus services—which 885 need road service licences before they can run—and other forms of public road passenger services, which do not have to be similarly licensed. They also try to make it possible for some paying lifts to be given by car owners.
There are five conditions which, if all are fulfilled, exempt a vehicle carrying passengers for hire or reward from the need to have a road service licence. They are first, there must not be more than four passengers; second, an agreement to pay separate fares must not be initiated by the driver or owner of the vehicle, except when passengers are not being carried in the course of a business of carrying passengers; third, there must be no previous advertisement; fourth, the journey must not be one on which passengers are frequently or as a matter of routine carried at separate fares in the same vehicle; and fifth, the journey must not be made in conjunction with a service provided under a road service licence where the vehicle is owned by the holder of such a licence.
The provisions of the Act were intended to protect established bus operators. These operators pay special licence fees and must comply with a number of strict rules to ensure the safety of the public. The fares are controlled and as long as a licence is in force the services must be maintained as advertised, whether or not sufficient passengers make this a paying proposition. The larger bus operators are also expected to provide a number of uneconomic services which are, in fact, paid for by the more profitable routes.
It is on the basis of these heavy obligations since 1930 that the operators have been given protection against the possible loss of passengers through unlicensed competition. In recent years operators have had other difficulties with which to contend, including the loss of many passengers through private car ownership, and their services, as a consequence, have diminished.
I recognise the argument that by easing the law over lifts we might make a contribution to the solution of some of the rural transport difficulties, but we should be under no illusions about this. An amendment of the law designed to ease the way for private operators to carry fare paying passengers without 886 licences might result in the disappearance of still more bus services. The matter is largely a question of balance. But I certainly would not wish at this stage to rule out the idea in connection with our examination of the problem of rural bus services which follows the Report of the Jack Committee.
May I finally thank the House very much indeed for the interesting and stimulating discussion that we have had today. There are a vast number of topics with which we have not had time to deal, and a number of issues which I am afraid are still regarded as unresolved. I can tell the House this, and I say it sincerely, that we in the Ministry of Transport, and my right hon. Friend in particular, are not in any way complacent about this important and difficult problem of transport facilities in the rural areas. I believe that it may be that solutions can be found empirically for many of the problems, and I do not think there is any single overall solution which one can apply. Nevertheless, we shall continue to do all we can to assist with the provision of solutions where possible, and I hope, too, that in dealing with the matter and when we bring forward our proposals from time to time we shall have the continued support of Members of this House.
§ Mr. Hayman
Will the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the main railway line west of Plymouth will be maintained?
§ Mr. Hay
I thought that point had already been more or less answered. The fact is that unless and until Dr. Beeching's traffic studies have been completed, no one—not even Dr. Beeching—can say whether any particular line is going to remain open or to be closed. Any rumours that there may be circulating in the west of England claiming categorically that this or that line is going to be closed—apart from the minor branch lines that I have talked about earlier and which have been announced—are nonsensical. There is no firm plan for the closure of any main lines at the moment, and there will not be until the traffic survey has been completed and the necessary analysis has been made. I shall be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if, despite his obvious disappointment, he will do all he can to scotch that rumour.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I am in the rather odd position of having the opportunity of speaking now, after having heard the arguments deployed on both sides of the House and the very favourable reply by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like to say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) for instigating this interesting debate.
I feel that perhaps we have had a predominance of West Country views in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) both represent West Country constituencies. Some of us feel that when we are successful in reaching a distant corner of this country, such as Land's End, or Penzance, there is nowhere else to go and one might as well stay there, so that there is not much need of rural transport.
I have been struck forcibly today by the complete and utter absence during the debate of any representative of that "emerging" party, the Liberal Party. Many of us who know with what concern our own constituents view the parlous state of road and rail transport in our constituencies feel that, in the months ahead, if the Liberal Party is to retain any appeal in the country whatsoever, it will have to get down to earth, get its head out of the air and to apply itself to some of these major fundamental problems which concern us on both sides of the House.
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.