§ 3.44 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the Report of the British Railways Board on the Reshaping of British Railways as a major contribution to the development of a sound and well-balanced transport system for the country.
Before I start on the main part of my speech I should like to make two observations. First, I should like to ask the permission of the House to wind up the debate tomorrow, because this subject is so big that it is quite inevitable that there will be a number of points which I shall miss now and I should like to answer the points which hon. Members raise during the course of the debate. Secondly, we are in this debate discussing proposals, and only proposals. As Minister, I have to decide individual closures of railway lines. Therefore, nothing I say on the generality of the proposals should be construed as signifying that my mind is made up on individual closures. They will be judged on merit.
Having said that, I would wish—and I think that it would be for the convenience of the House—to divide my speech into two parts. The first part will deal with the plan itself and some of the points in it, and the second part will deal with the longer term—where do we go from here? How do we implement the proposals? What are the longer-term transport aspects which the Government have in mind? I think that that will meet the convenience of the Opposition, because they, too, have wanted to have a wider debate than one merely on the plan alone.
I want to make one point clear to the House before I start on the railway plan itself. We have deliberately worked towards this sort of plan for over three years. It is not just something which has been conjured out of the air. I draw the attention of the House to the statement of the Prime Minister in March, 1960, when he said:First, the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects. In particular, the railway system must be remodelled to meet current needs, and the modernisation plan must be adapted to this new shape."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 643.]723 After that, we had a White Paper which gave the Government's proposals. Then we had a Bill. Then we appointed Dr. Beeching to the British Transport Commission and then to the chairmanship of the Commission and after that as Chairman of the Railways Board. So we have worked to this for three years and I think the House ought at any rate to realise that that work did go on.
I want to make five main points about the Report of the Railways Board. The first one is that it is not based on emotional thinking or wishes. It is based on actual research and scientific analysis. I am quite certain that the whole of the House would wish to thank Dr. Beeching and his Board for a Report of great clarity, something which, I think, we have not had in the history of our railways before. All the credit for that is due to them. The Government are examining all the aspects of this and, naturally, consulting the many interests which are concerned.
The second point is that the railways' deficit must be reduced. In 1963, it is expected to be £150 million. The last Railway wage increase added £22 million to the total expenditure. In the future, unless we do something, then, about 1970, the deficit will be astronomical. Therefore, we cannot afford to delay the implementation of this plan. The resources which will be so freed could be used better elsewhere.
The third point is that contraction of a part of the railway system is quite inevitable and ought to be done as quickly as possible. A third of it is scarcely used. One-third of the route mileage carries 0.8 of 1 per cent. of passenger miles. One-third of the route mileage carries 1.5 per cent. of freight ton miles. A third of the stations produce I per cent. of the passenger receipts. A third of the stations produce 0.6 of 1 per cent. of freight receipts.
A third of the system is not used at all—or hardly at all. One-third of it is very good and ought to be developed; a good deal of money should be spent in making it viable and competitive with the roads. The other third of it is doubtful—some of it good, some of it bad—and ought to be looked at after we have disposed of the third which is proposed to be dealt with in the plan. There 724 should be continuous examination of what the railways are contributing both to freight and passenger transport. This is just the first instalment of that.
This is not only a negative Report. It has a positive side as well. The Railways Board is trying to exploit the railways' natural technical advantages and to capture those traffics which are suitable to the railways. They have shown that in this Report. They have made enormous studies of what is carried by road, the greatest traffic studies made in the history of this country. The effort is to take the freight off the road in certain areas where it is technically suitable to the railways and to put it on the railways.
The fifth point is possibly the most difficult of all to make. It is about manpower. The 1960 White Paper said:If the railways are to regain solvency, and provide a fair livelihood for their workers, efficiency of operation and the most economic use of manpower are crucial.I believe that that is so.
I should like to devote some time to the question of manpower on the railways, which is a difficult, human problem which will face this country in many respects and in many industries—not only the railways, but other old industries. It is something to which we ought to give our undivided attention.
It is difficult and delicate at the best of times to speak about this subject, but under the threat of a national strike on the railways it is even more difficult. If by any chance I say a wrong word, I hope that it will not be interpreted maliciously.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The right hon. Gentleman has said too much already. That is the trouble.
§ Mr. Marples
No, Sir. I think that I should be abdicating my duty as Minister of Transport if I did not try to set out for the House objectively the facts about what is to happen. I reject the suggestion of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). I hope that all I say will be said temperately, because by nature I am a very temperate man.
On 27th March I said that the adoption of the railways' proposals would mean the disappearance over the next few 725 years of about 70,000 jobs. I emphasised, however, that most of the reduction would be effected by normal wastage and control of recruitment. Actual discharges were not expected to be more than a small proportion of the total reductions. The number of discharges would depend largely on how far it would be possible for men to move to other work in other places.
Meanwhile, the Railways Board calculated the probable detailed effects on its employees during the twelve months ending September, 1964. It considers that this period will see the most intensive implementation of the plan on the assumption that closures will go as fast as anyone could reasonably expect.
It has worked out two things: first, the number of men who are likely to leave the railways by what is called normal wastage—that is, retirement, resignation, death and so on—and, secondly, the number of jobs which are likely to disappear as a result of the plan. It has worked out these two factors in a variety of ways.
First, the railways system is divided into six regions, and the six regions are divided into 28 areas. These areas are, in general, those parts of the railway system within which men would normally be expected to move on promotion or transfer. Working out these figures by areas gives us more information than the actual global figure.
Secondly, the total figures cover different grades of employment. Again, the Railways Board has analysed the figures for the four main grades in each region and each area—that is, the salaried, footplate, other conciliation and workshop grades. I should like to give the results, because hon. Members ought to bear these figures in mind.
On the railway system as a whole the global figures are these. The wastage is expected to be 46,068, and the jobs which will disappear are expected to be 25,726. So there is an overall shortage of staff of 20,342, but these figures—I admit it quite freely—hide variations between areas and grades.
The second result is the expected figures for wastage and jobs which will disappear area by area. In 22 of the 28 areas normal wastage will in total materially exceed the jobs which will disappear. In six of the areas normal 726 wastage will be less than the jobs which will disappear. The highest net redundancy foreseen is 261 in the south-west area. So in 22 of the 28 areas the problem is not so difficult, and in six of the 28 areas it is more difficult.
The third result is the analysis of the four main grades of staff. The railways have shown by each grade in each area the jobs to disappear and the natural wastage, and the pattern is just the same.
What does all this add up to? It adds up to just this, and I would ask the House to remember that an area is that part of the system in which, in general, men are expected to move on transfer or promotion. I think that this is a fair comparison to make. In each of the 22 areas the railways expect to find men other jobs in the same area—if they will accept them—though the type of work offered will not always be the same as what the man is doing now. In six areas all the men cannot be found jobs in the same area, but they can still be offered jobs in other areas, possibly an area adjoining them or perhaps another one.
To sum up, in the year ending September, 1964, which will be the most difficult year, the vast majority of the men affected will be offered alternative jobs. A small minority—perhaps a few thousand—may not be offered jobs and may become redundant. These figures show that talk of "colossal sackings" of 70,000 or 100,000 men is absolute nonsense. If the men will accept another job, the redundancies will be small. I say "if the men will accept another job", because neither the unions nor anyone else can be precise about the numbers who will accept other jobs. It would be dishonest to give figures and expect them to be accepted by the public. But it can be said that the vast majority will be offered other jobs. The Board will offer the jobs. That is certain. What is uncertain is how many will accept the jobs.
What has been done to make transfers more acceptable? An agreement between the Railways Board and the N.U.R. and A.S.L.E.F., two of the three railway unions, was freely negotiated and signed on 15th February of this year, just over two months ago. This agreement provided for transfers and redundancies. It is not an old agreement. It was signed when everybody knew that the Report was coming.
727 Here is what it provides when a man moves. First, he gets the same rate of pay for five years, instead of three years under earlier agreements, irrespective of which job he moves to. He gets free residential travel, which varies as between a married man and a single man. He gets a lodging allowance, and the movement of his furniture is undertaken free of charge. A disturbance allowance is paid, and financial assistance is given towards the expenses on the sale and purchase of a house.
I say straight away that, obviously, deep down, if it affected people in this House or outside, they would naturally want to stay in the same place where they had sunk their roots and would not wish to move. That is an obvious human emotion, which we cannot get away from. But as it is a fact that we have got to move if we are to be efficient in this country, the Railways Board and the unions have signed an agreement which goes some considerable way towards easing the difficulty of asking a man to move from one place to another.
The man has this option: if he does not want to move he can leave the railways, and then he gets a lump sum compensation on the basis of two-thirds of a week's pay for every year of service, a continuing payment which is subject to a certain number of conditions, and time off with pay, plus free travel, for the purpose of finding another job.
I admit that no cash, no arrangement that any Government can make, can really compensate for asking a man to move from one place to another. But this agreement is as good as any that has been negotiated in the past, and it is a genuine effort to meet a very difficult situation. All I can say is that I believe that the Railways Board's proposals are certainly very humane and are not selfish or ruthless in any way whatsoever.
What does the National Union of Railwaymen want? It has asked for the plan to be carried out by natural wastage alone. This means that it would not be necessary for one man to move or change his job, even within the area where he worked. Logically, it means giving men the right to stay in the same job in the same place until they leave voluntarily, retire or die—and all this even if there is no work for them to do. 728 It might mean delay in the closure of an unused country station for years because a station master refused to move, even in his own area. It means that it might take decades to complete the reshaping of our railways. It is impossible for the Government—
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe) rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I have a great deal to say. I shall wind up the debate tomorrow. If the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, I will answer his points.
§ Mr. J. Hynd
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but we must keep to the facts. What the right hon. Gentleman has said is not the facts of railway life at all. Station masters and other members of the railway staff are repeatedly moving from their place of work. That will not stop whether the recommendations in the Report are carried through or not.
§ Mr. Marples
I did not say that it would stop. What I said was that it might mean delaying a closure if a station master refused to move. I agree that members of the staff move, but, if we accept the doctrine that he must stay until such time as he retires or dies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will repeat what I said. This is what has been asked for by the N.U.R. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] If the union says that this must be done by natural wastage, every man will be allowed to stay in the same place [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Certainly. If a man is prepared to move, in 22 out of the 28 areas he will be offered a job and there is nothing to worry about. I am not worrying. It is the N.U.R. which is worrying about this, and I am trying to explain the position.
If what the N.U.R. suggests were accepted, it might take decades to complete the reshaping of the railways. It is impossible for the Government to accept this doctrine—
§ Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)
We want to understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. The House wants to debate this matter very seriously. Has a station master the right to refuse to move under present rules? If he has not, why is the right hon. Gentleman pretending that that is what the N.U.R. has asked for?
§ Mr. Marples
The real point—and I am dealing with what is being asked for by the N.U.R.—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The real point is that, if this is so, it destroys the N.U.R.'s case for this reason. [Interruption.] This applies not only to station masters, but to other grades. It is all grades—it is most of the grades, anyhow.
§ Mr. Marples
Therefore, the Government would not be acting responsibly or in the national interest if we accepted the proposed doctrine.
§ Mr. Popplewell rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. More hon. Members will have the opportunity to speak if we conform to our rules of order. If the Minister does not give way, the hon. Gentleman should not persist.
§ Mr. Marples
Therefore, in the 22 areas, if the matter is dealt with by the resettlement officer whom the Railways Board has appointed, there should be little or no difficulty, relatively speaking. There will be difficulty in the other six areas. I freely admit that. But the Railways Board has assured me that it will make great efforts to ensure that difficulties in those six areas are kept to a minimum.
I hope that, in view of the figures which I have given for the 22 and the six areas, the N.U.R. will decide not to carry out the strike. If it did not carry it out, it would be in the interests of members of the public, who own and use the railways, and of the railway industry itself. If it has a strike, it will only damage its business, and it will lose more business to the roads, which we do not want to see happen. The strike would be a tragedy. It would harm everybody and would benefit no one. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who is to speak tomorrow, will agree that it would be a tragedy if this strike took place, because I do not think that anyone could gain from it.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
Where are the six areas to 730 which the right hon. Gentleman has referred?
§ Mr. Marples
I will give them to the hon. Lady later. I will give her the figures, too, if she wishes.
I should like to turn to the transport principles which we in the Government have in mind under the railways plan. First, we believe—and this is crucial and divides both sides of the House—that in a democracy the customer must choose the most suitable form of transport, be it passenger or freight—after all, he pays. In a dictatorship, it is otherwise.
The Select Committee of the House—and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) was on it—took this point. It said:It seems to Your Committee that the best initial test of what the public need is given by what they will pay for. If, thereafter, there are other considerations which make it desirable for members of the public to travel or freight to be carried on some routes at prices below the cost, it should be for the Government and not the Commission to decide".We believe that the customer should decide whether he goes by road or rail, and the artificial restrictions—
§ Mr. Marples
When there are only two people on a large train, the people have already decided that they do not want to use the railways. This is what is happening.
Secondly, each form of transport must be allowed and encouraged to develop itself technically. It must be free to compete and to carry those goods for which it is best suited technically. Thirdly, there must be co-ordination, and we on this side have always said this. [Laughter.] We have said it before. I would repeat what I said on 6th November, 1962, when I gave a definition of it:To me, successful co-ordination is when the reasonable needs of the consumer—including cost, speed and service—can be satisfactorily met by one or more of the several parts of the inland transport system, whether 731 road or rail or water, on a competitive basis and without extravagant use of the national resources.The party opposite has used the magic word "integration," and this is what it has always wanted. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will, when he speaks tomorrow, explain what he means by "integration"—
§ Mr. Marples
—because it will be the first time that we have been given a definition of it.
How do we propose to implement the Beeching proposals? I should like to describe the work which has been done, and what we are doing, to reconcile the differences between the buses, freight, the roads, urban areas and the distribution of population and industry. Before I do that, I should like to refer to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when I was indisposed last November. He said:So far as the implications for the country as a whole are concerned, a number of factors have to foe taken into consideration.",and he referred to the location of industry, national defence, and so on. He went on to say:For example, if a railway is to be closed down, are there adequate roads to take the volume of traffic …? Should the existing roads in any particular area be widened or modified to a new standard, or should others be built?… Another question is: even if roads are adequate, will bus and other transport services be forthcoming? Is there likely to be any shortage of freight haulage in any particular district…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1962; Vol. 668, cc. 685–6.]My hon. Friend announced the machinery which we set up to deal with that. I should like to tell the House how we propose, on the basis of what my hon. Friend said then, to reconcile what we are doing about the third that it is proposed to close down and what action the Government propose to take.
First, what is the problem, and what are the difficulties, concerning the buses? When a passenger railway closes, the problem is to avoid hardship to the passengers who have been using the railway. There should be either the railway or the bus in sparsely populated areas where neither system has been patronised reasonably, but not necessarily both. If it is more economic to use the 732 bus than to use the railway, the bus it should be.
In general, we have had discussions with the bus companies, with the independent bus companies and with the Transport Holding Company, which controls quite a lot of the buses. British Electric Traction has been present, also. They believe that they can do the job. They believe that in some cases the passengers displaced from the railways will go on to the buses and help their cash position. They will need 700 extra buses in all.
The decision to close anything in the case of passengers, whether a station or a railway line, is taken not by the Railways Board, or by Dr. Beeching. It rests fairly and squarely on the Government. It is their responsibility. I accept it. I do not want the House to think that we close down anything, either with or without conditions, until we have consulted a large number of other people.
Let me give some examples in particular cases. I can refuse consent or give consent subject to certain conditions, and I will give examples of the variety of methods. First, we can insist upon the railway remaining, as we did in the case of Rhondda and Swansea, when, on merit, the railway should be kept. We can close a railway and insist upon a bus service because buses may be cheaper. That was done in the case of Ditton Junction and Timperley. Such a bus service cannot be taken off until the Minister of Transport and the Government of the day agree that it can be taken off.
The bus service can be provided either on an economic basis or on a subsidised basis. In the case of Westerham—Dunton Green, the railway was closed and a subsidy of £8,000 a year was given originally by the railways to the bus company to cater for the passengers displaced by the closure of the railway.
As to action concerning freight, the railways are now quite free. Their first step after the publication of their plan was to consult road haulage, both British Road Services, the nationalised sector, and the Road Haulage Association, which is the private sector, to try to dovetail the road operations, which would be based upon fewer but better and more modern railheads.
In the case of agriculture, we have had, and will have more, special consultations.
733 The Post Office, which had its own parcels system, was formerly a Department for which I was responsible, so I know something about it. I always thought it an anachronism that the Post Office and the railways should be doing the same job. Now, they are trying to make sensible arrangements in that respect.
A study is going on in my Department of both road and rail and how we should feed the ports. I have asked Lord Rochdale to see, when his Ports Council is set up, that in the curtilage of the ports areas we get sensible arrangements to receive the goods, whether they arrive by road or by rail.
Now, the roads. The problem is to make sure—
§ Mr. H. Wilson
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but this is important. He has explained that not a line can close without his permission, that he is in a quasi-judicial position in respect of every closure and that there are statutory inquiries and consultations with all kinds of interests before he can decide upon a passenger closure.
§ Mr. Marples indicated assent.
§ Mr. Wilson
If that is so, why has the right hon. Gentleman repeatedly this afternoon, despite his semi-judicial position, used the phrase, "the third of the railways we are to close"?
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman will see that what I said was that one-third of the railways system is carrying such a small amount of traffic that it is obvious to anybody that it should be closed. I said when I began that anything I said on the generality of cases should not prejudice what I said on the individual case.
§ Mr. John MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
My right hon. Friend is dealing with passenger services, but, surely, the Transport Commission has a free hand concerning freight closures.
§ Mr. Marples
I said that. If the railways wish to close any station or line concerned with passengers, the procedure is for the Railways Board to put forward the proposal and advertise it twice. After the second advertisement, six weeks later, the transport users consultative committee for the area in question can, if it wishes, take evidence and advise 734 me. It advises me on two things: first, the degree of hardship to passengers; and, secondly, what alternative services can, in the committee's opinion, be provided. Then, and then only, when that evidence is given to me as Minister, can I make a decision. I have already given examples in which the Railways Board has put proposals and I have turned them down.
§ Mr. Wilson
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny what was within the hearing of the House, that a few minutes ago—not at the beginning of his speech—he used the phrase "the third that we are to close"? Will he tell us how that phrase can be reconciled with his quasi-judicial capacity?
§ Mr. Marples
What I said—it is in my notes—is that one-third of the system is not used, or is used hardly at all and that, therefore, most of it ought to go. I said at the beginning, however, because I knew that this point would arise, knowing the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition particularly, that anything I said should not be taken as prejudicing individual cases. Otherwise I should not be able to give the House an account of the plan as a whole; I should not be able to make my speech.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock) rose—
§ Mr. Marples
I have already given way and I have a great deal to say. I shall be winding up the debate tomorrow. I am prepared for hon. Members opposite to make what points they like in their speeches. The Leader of the Opposition will make his points tomorrow and I shall try to answer them.
As for roads, the problem is to make sure that they can carry any increased traffic which is due to rail closures. As I said in November, the divisional road engineers will look at the roads. Most rural railways to be closed already have parallel roads and these may have to be strengthened or widened or realigned. We have considered this problem in general. When each closure comes forward, we shall examine it in particular.
§ Mr. Marples
Yes, Scotland is in that. It is quite true that the roads in Scotland are managed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I have given a pledge to the House—unfortunately, the hon. Member was not in his place when it was given—that my right hon. Friend and I always consult on any closures in Scotland. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will agree with that.
What will be the effect upon the road system of the closure of the third of our railways system? Many judgments have been given. Many hon. Members opposite have said that there will be chaos, congestion and road casualties. If the proposed one-third of the railway system is closed completely, and everything goes through the procedure laid down by Parliament and the whole of the one-third is closed—that is, lines, station' stopping trains and the lot—what will happen is that the traffic which is diverted to the roads will add 1 per cent, to the total road traffic over the country as a whole.
This is less than two months' normal increase in road traffic. [HON. MEMBERS: "Chaos."] Hon. Members opposite can say what they like about it, but less than two months' normal increase cannot be considered as chaos or any of the whole lot of adjectives which have been applied to it.
§ Mr. Marples
It will be 1 per cent, added to the roads, which is less than two months' natural growth.
§ Mr. Marples
I come now to the question of freight. If the proposals in the Report are carried through, and the railways attract all the freight which they want from the roads, this will reduce total road traffic by 2 per cent. Therefore, if the plan is implemented in full and the liner trains succeed, the railways will take 2 per cent, off road traffic in freight and will add 1 per cent, to road traffic from the closure of the passenger lines.
736 In the urban areas, the rail closures may cause special problems of parking and travel. I recognise the difficulties and will watch the situation carefully. Social benefit techniques give us a new weapon of measurement, as it were, and we are gathering experience. We want conurbation problems to be treated as a whole wherever possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the hon. Gentlemen opposite will be kind enough to listen to me, I will give them some examples.
First, we are commissioning a social benefit study on the Great Northern and Surburban electrification. Secondly, we now have the Co-ordinating Committee of the Railways Board and London Transport. Thirdly, we have already had estimates made of the Victoria-Waltham-stow line on a scientific basis. We have sanctioned this line, which will take 260 million passenger miles off the roads in congested London—more than are carried on the one-third of the system we have been discussing.
Since Scottish Members have interrupted me, they might care to listen to what I have to say about the Blue Trains in Glasgow, which have been electrified at a cost of almost £13 million. Before electrification, they carried 91 million passenger miles and now they carry 259 million—an increase of 168 million to nearly three times the total they carried before. This has helped Glasgow enormously.
I speak from memory, but I think that during the weekend the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that the balance sheet should not rule everything.
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman said that book-keeping should not rule everything.
In the seven or eight conurbations outside London, the railways lose money on these services. Their gross revenue is £6.8 million, which falls short of the total cost by nearly £25 million. It cannot be said that that loss means that we are going to be mean and hard towards the urban areas, because hardly any change is proposed for them and we are, if possible, to get together with the local authorities in the conurbations to see if we can reconcile the buses they 737 run with the railways and so get more sense into that set-up. I repeat the figures: the receipts total £6.8 million, falling short of the total running cost by £25 million. What I have said shows that we have the problem in mind and that book-keeping will not be the only judge.
My last point on this relates to the broad national background of industry and population movement. The problem is to relate transport planning to national planning. I accept this as a difficult problem which has to be tackled. What action have we taken? We have already announced the setting-up of the high level official inter-departmental working party. I will give examples of the decisions we have made to prove that we have had this in mind for a long time.
First, the railways were allowed to withdraw passenger services between Wellington and Much Wenlock. But Dawley New Town may develop and need a railway—we do not know yet. [Interruption.] I wish that hon. Members opposite would listen. I do not mind a knock-about in a winding-up speech, but I am trying to keep to a serious theme. The time may come when Dawley needs the railway and, therefore, the passenger closures on this line were agreed provided that the Railways Board did not lift the track without my consent. Thus, the track is there and everything is still in existence. If it is decided in the future that Dawley New Town should expand beyond a certain limit, the railway can be operated for passengers again.
The same thing occurred between Ashchurch and Redditch, because of the proposed expansion of Redditch New Town. Before the Barnard Castle-Penrith line was closed I discussed it with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, who decided that no defence interest was involved. We shall discuss the Stranraer line with Northern Ireland. So the people there need not worry that there will not be consultation before it is closed down. [Laughter.] If we have consultations with them and it is proved that it should not be closed down, then it will not be closed down. It is up to them to give the evidence they have in mind and also to my Scottish hon. Friends to say what they have in mind.
738 The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Office will be consulted. If they can prove that it should not be closed down, then it will not be closed. If they cannot prove it, then it will be closed down. The Minister decides in that case.
Now I come to the application of principles to our general transport policy. I ask the House to consider what is happening in transport as a whole. The trend over the last ten years has been quite fantastic. The total growth of freight has been 10 per cent. Ten years ago the railways had one-half of that traffic; now they have one-third. The roads had less than one-half and now have two-thirds and this traffic is still growing. Most of the growth has been in C licences. For lorries alone, the increase in C licences accounts for 70,000 out of a total increase of 100,000.
The amount of passenger travel by rail, including London Transport, is roughly the same as it was ten years ago. But the railways' share of all passenger transport declined from 20 per cent, to 13 per cent. The share of the buses has also gone down, from nearly 40 per cent, to about 25 per cent. now. Travel by private car and motor cycle has more than doubled over the same period. Its share has risen from 40 per cent, to 60 per cent, of all passenger travel. Expenditure on private motoring has risen from 2 per cent, of all personal consumption to 6 per cent. That is the most fantastic figure of all. Three times more personal consumption expenditure has gone on private travel, while there has been a tremendous reduction in the total share of public transport.
There is an enormous and determined swing to private transport, both freight and passenger. Any general transport policy, on either side of the House, must take that into account. It may not be the only factor, but people are determined to own their own private transport if they possibly can.
The Government are determined that transport policy must be related to national planning, growth and the movement of industry and population. We have more information than we have ever had in the past—as I am sure that the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) will agree—and we shall get more. First, we have the Beeching 739 Report itself. Secondly, there is the Hall Report on The Transport Needs of Great Britain in the Next Twenty Years. Thirdly, there is the study of the South-East—what will be required of transport in that area and how far it can meet the requirements. Fourthly, there is the London Traffic Survey, which is the biggest of its kind undertaken in the world. It is a joint effort by the Ministry and the L.C.C. Fifthly, there are the conurbation studies in co-operation with local authorities. Examples of these are Newcastle and Manchester.
Therefore, in the general transport field, we recognise that the use of transport resources is related to the use of total national resources.
§ Mr. Marples
From this side of the House we have the Secretary of State for Scotland speaking in the debate with particular reference to Scottish problems. I do not think that anyone on the Front Bench opposite will speak from the Scottish point of view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I said, from the Front Bench. I think that I am right in that.
I want right hon. and hon. Members opposite to listen to what I have to say on road transport, because this is rather an important point. If co-ordination is to develop, road transport must operate in the right framework of control. We must get an informed view of what part our road transport will have to play in the transport pattern and how it can be made to do so efficiently.
We propose to re-examine the fundamental bases and working of the licensing system for road goods transport. We intend to appoint an independent committee of inquiry to examine the whole question of licensing road haulage and to make recommendations on what changes, if any, should be made. Having got the foundation—at least, having got a Report which will enable us to get the right size, shape and function of the railway system and which will show us which way we are going—we think that this is the right moment to inquire into road haulage, which has not been looked at since 1933.
I now come to the question of buses, especially in rural areas. Most of the heat which is engendered in rural areas 740 when railway lines are taken away is about whether the passengers and other people living in those areas will have decent transport facilities; but the curious thing is that in many rural areas where there has never been a railway the problem is more acute than it is in those areas where railways have been closed down.
Special studies are going on in six such areas and we hope that the results will be available by midsummer. When they are, I hope to be able to make an announcement to the House about the studies and what they have found out. Exhaustive inquiries have been made in these areas and there have been pilot schemes to find out which way people go, which way they want to go, and how we can meet their wishes.
I now come to roads and traffic. For the short and medium terms, this year we are investing £130 million in roads. I think that the House will agree with me that between the towns there has been considerable improvement—on trunk roads like the A.1 and some of the motorways, and a large number of completions are coming forward. The problem in the short term is between the towns, but in the medium and long term it will be in the towns themselves, as I have always said. In the towns we have built over- and underpasses and flyovers, and so on, but not as many as we would like. But one other great development has also taken place in the towns and that is in connection with traffic management and engineering.
This country is way behind America and other countries in traffic engineering. In London, where the Ministry of Transport is responsible, we have tried to set an example to the other great conurbations, and many of them are now following that example. All the money which we are now spending fills in what I call the hungry gap during the next ten to fifteen years. By that I mean that without a shadow of doubt the long-term problem is how to rebuild our cities to come to terms with the motor car. No country is solving this problem—not America, nor any country in Western Europe or anywhere else. It is the problem of how to reconcile the preservation of environment with the passionate desire of most individuals to own and use their own cars.
741 This is a gigantic problem. Few people realise how quickly it will be upon us and what will hit them when the avalanche of cars descends. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put the traffic on the railways."] An hon. Member asks: why not put it on the railways? That cannot be done. In the towns and cities goods are collected and delivered by road. The problem is, therefore, that the ownership and usage of cars on the scale now contemplated cannot be reconciled with the continued existence of our cities as we now know them. I am certain that the whole conception of cities is challenged.
We all have two distinct views of the motor car. It is liked by some people and hated by others. Collectively, motor cars are regarded as a traffic problem which wrecks our cities and pollutes the air and kills and maims many people, and so on; but, individually, the one particular vehicle which we own, and which is in our garage or outside our house in the road, or generally outside someone else's house, is a status symbol, a very desirable object which opens up our lives. Our own car is precious; the rest are a traffic problem.
We have had the Beeching Report on the railways and the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has asked why we should not have a Beeching report on this problem. I would point out that we appointed someone to look into this problem before we appointed anyone to look into the railways. That was Mr. C. D. Buchanan, who started his work before Dr. Beeching started his with the railways but who will finish afterwards. His report will come out at the end of the year. I hope that it will be published in November. It will be another milestone in the solution of our traffic problems. I hope that it will point the way in this country.
Some hon. Members opposite who have studied this matter know some of the ideas of Mr. Buchanan and expect a great deal from this report. Having seen some of his first draft, I can assure them that they will not be disappointed. It will point the way to how we can meet the challenge of the motor car.
We in the Government have looked at all these points. These are proposals, and only proposals. Every single one will be considered on its merits, and objections will be able to be made, and 742 so on. But whatever happens at the end of this year, when we get Mr. Buchanan's report, we shall then be in a position to be able to say that over the last two years we have analysed more about roads and traffic in our time than has been analysed in any two years before.
But no matter how much we analyse and talk about modernisation, the difficulty which we always face in a democracy is that modernisation means change and that everybody agrees with change in principle but resists its application in detail. Change is good as long as it is for the other fellow.
Psychologically, the problem is difficult for any Government, whatever their complexion. It is the problem of persuading men and women to change from old to new techniques, from old to new industries, from old jobs to new, from old habits to new. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is a young and enterprising man who is trying to modernise everything, but I say to him that, if we funk reshaping the railways, we funk everything, because this is the most patent case for change and change reasonably quickly.
This test will show whether we mean business and whether we have the power and courage. I hope that we will do it efficiently and with humanity. If Parlialiament backs the Government, we shall not fail—I can promise that. I can assure the House that it will not be easy. The responsibility on me is big. I have the responsibility for making the decision on these lines, and it is not easy. Indeed, it is very difficult. I shall try to do it as fairly as I possibly can and I shall try to do it with efficiency and with humanity. If I succeed in doing that, we will have done very well.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
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 defer making decisions on the major rail closure proposals contained in the Report of the British Railways Board until such time as a thorough survey of the nation's other transport services and facilities has been completed, and a national transport plan devised".My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, having heard the speech 743 of the Minister of Transport, suggested to me that the Opposition might be well advised to waive its right of reply. I would have agreed with his advice, even though it meant my refraining from delivering the speech which I had prepared, if it were not that we have an Amendment of some importance on the Order Paper, for which the arguments should be put to the House.
I am glad that it has been agreed to devote two days to this debate as the issues which Dr. Beeching's Report raises are of great importance. If fully implemented, the proposals contained in the Report will severely affect some regions, will inflict great hardship on others, and blight the prospects for the future prosperity of yet others. It is, therefore, desirable that as many Members as possible should have an opportunity of expressing their views in Parliament, and expressing the fears, anxieties, and as I think the Minister will find, the anger of their constituents at some of the proposals which the Minister may implement during the next year or two.
Within the narrow contents of his appointment Dr. Beeching has produced a Report that makes a valuable contribution to the basic information needed for the formulation of a national transport policy. Indeed, I go further and say that his Report is a challenge to all those who are concerned with this problem. It is, however, a partial report, and, moreover, an accountant's report rather than an economist's one, and it deals only cursorily with the social problems involved.
As we know, the Report was launched on the public with brilliant showmanship. On the day that it was made available to us Dr. Beeching was never out of sight of Press photographers or television cameras, and he obtained a publicity success that far outshone anything the Minister has been able to achieve on his most exuberant days.
In view of all that has been said about this Report, a great deal of it ballyhoo, I think that the House should review it with great care, and, moreover, appreciate the fact that exactly the same things were said on the publication of the modernisation plan in 1955 which was received with identical acclaim. I should like to remind the House what that 744 modernisation plan foretold, because Dr. Beeching's Report is nothing more than an extension of that plan, and promises very much the same thing.
The modernisation plan said:The result"—that is of its implementation—will be a transformation of virtually all the forms and services now offered by British Railways. In particularand so on, and the Government of the day said that this was
- (i) as regards passenger services, remodelling of the operations will provide fast, clean, regular and frequent services, electric or diesel in all the great urban areas; intercity and main-line trains will be accelerated and made more punctual; services on other routes will be made reasonably economic, or will be transferred to road.
- (ii) as regards freight services, there will be a complete re-orientation of operations designed to speed up movement, to reduce its cost, and to provide direct transits for main streams of traffic; and to attract to the railway a due proportion of the full-load merchandise which would otherwise pass by road,"a courageous and imaginative plan to provide this country with a modem and efficient railway system.Let us therefore be careful when we are considering this Report that we are not carried away with the same uncritical optimism which the Government showed at that time. We do not want to fall into that error, and I remind the Government—the right hon. Gentleman did not hold his present appointment at that time—that when the modernisation plan was published we said that the forecasts made in it were far too optimistic.
We must not today and tomorrow concentrate our attention too much on Dr. Beeching. He is the technician—I think that technocrat is the correct description in modern phraseology—who has answered the limited questions put to him by the Minister, and it is the Minister, and he alone, who is responsible to this House and to the country for transport policies. Our sole concern therefore is the extent to which the right hon. Gentleman accepts the arguments contained in the Report, and proposes to implement its recommendations.
The background to the whole business is the alarm caused by continuing and increasing railway losses. This is mainly due to what may be called natural causes, by which I mean the world-wide 745 phenomenon of railways being put into the red by road competition. This is the main cause, but it has been exacerbated by the actions of successive Conservative Ministers of Transport who have all played ducks and drakes with the finances of the railways. They deliberately contributed to the railway deficit on many occasions by vetoing fully justified increases in railway charges, by retarding the modernisation plan in periods of Exchequer squeeze, and above all by selling off to private interests a large part of the profitable road haulage organisation. They would have liquidated the lot had they been able to do so.
Moreover, they constantly unsettled the smooth working of the railway system by their compulsive mania for reorganising its central control as often as possible. They reorganised it so much and so often, and in such conflicting ways, that nobody knew where he stood. For example, having abolished the Railway Executive and absorbed its function into the British Transport Commission, a few years later they abolished the Commission and set up a separate Railways Board with exactly the same responsibilities as the old Railway Executive.
They then declared with increasing emphasis and indeed shrillness that the salvation of the railways lay in the application of two remedies. One was more and more decentralisation and the other more and more competition and disintegration, and when they appointed Dr. Beeching to his responsible position they were no doubt confident that he would enforce their nostrums and carry them further. But Dr. Beeching proved far too intelligent to do anything of the sort. He reversed engines as quickly as possible. He was horrified at the proposals for further decentralisation which seemed to have gone further than was desirable and was already causing a great deal of waste and inefficiency. His Report stresses over and over again the need for co-ordination between road and rail services.
Indeed, the Report can justifiably be read as a strong condemnation of past Conservative transport policy and a vindication of ours. It certainly pinpoints the folly of the Government's 1962 Transport Act which the House will remember severed the buses from the 746 railways and put them under the authority of a seprate holding company. It will be remembered, too, that at the time even many of the private bus companies in which the railways had minority shareholdings protested strongly about this and pointed out the adverse effects which this disintegration would inevitably have.
Dr. Beeching's Report is his answer to the limited question put to him by the Government—what is to be done with the railways with the primary consideration of making them pay?—and much of his answer, certainly not all, is irrefutable. He might have truthfully added that the only way to eliminate losses with certainty would be to shut down most of the railway system, if not the lot! But the Government did not put to Dr. Beeching the fundamental and important question of how the various forms of transport in this country could best contribute to the country's social and economic needs. The Government could not put that question to Dr. Beeching, because he is in no position to assess those things. Dr. Beeching is only able to suggest what he would like to see done to make the railways a tidy and compact system unencumbered by the burden of keeping in operation services that are difficult to run or do not pay. But it would be the height of folly to base our long-term transport policy solely on such considerations.
Nevertheless, I want to examine some of the more important aspects of the Report, drawn up from that narrow angle but drawn up nevertheless by an expert, whom we all respect. My first comment is that when the Report leaves the field of ascertainable fact and enters that of forecasting it appears to be dangerously over-optimistic, in exactly the same way as were the forecasts contained in the modernisation plan. I say "dangerously over-optimistic", because people may be deceived into believing that if this and that are done and they are forced to give up the railway services upon which they are accustomed to depend there will be the compensating advantage that the railways will be nearly paying their way by 1970, and that by then the present annual deficit of £170 million will almost have disappeared.
The financial results to be achieved by applying Dr. Beeching's proposal are continually stressed in the Report. The same 747 sentence is printed twice—once on page 54 and once on page 60, namely:If the plan is implemented with vigour, however, much (though not necessarily all) of the Railways' deficit should be eliminated by 1970.That is a fairly definite statement.
Let us consider some of the considerations on which it is based. First, there is the development of liner trains. This is a desirable and attractive concept. By this development it is hoped to save between £10 million and £12 million a year. But there is grave doubt in the minds of everybody—even Dr. Beeching—whether this proposal is feasible. All that Dr. Beeching will say is that he will study the matter and see whether it can be made a success. On the evidence available so far that seems doubtful. We hope that it can be made a success, as we want to see as much traffic diverted from the roads to the railways as possible, but to rely upon such a great diversion of traffic by these liner trains, with their containers, is very unwise.
When Dr. Beeching talks about attracting a great deal of traffic from the roads to the railways by cheaper freight rates I do not think that he realises that what causes traffic to go by road rather than by rail is not so much the question of cheapness as the question of the additional handling which rail transport involves and also the importance of delivering goods not only on a particular day but often during a particular time of the day. This is vital to certain industries. In those circumstances, I feel that the prospects of this development are very doubtful.
Dr. Beeching hopes to save between £7 million and £10 million by making changes in the transport of coal. That depends upon persuading the National Coal Board to spend tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds in establishing loading facilities at each colliery. That also depends on building a small number—say, 250—of coal distribution depôts, to which the Railways Board will not contribute. That seems a very doubtful proposition, too.
Then we come to the closures proposals, which Dr. Beeching states will save directly between £34 million and £41 million—say, £37 million. It is suggested—but the Report is vague about 748 this—that there may be some additional savings in overheads. These calculations are based on the assumption that all the closures set out in the Report are authorised by the Minister. Although I believe that he will authorise as many as possible, I cannot conceive that even he will agree to some of the increditable and ridiculous proposals set out in the Schedule.
Dr. Beeching's calculations take no account, moreover, of the subsidies which will have to be paid, presumably by the railways, to bus companies for carrying passengers which the trains are no longer to carry.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am talking on the narrow point of savings to the Railways Board. No doubt it will be asked to subsidise bus companies in the future, perhaps to a considerable degree. No account is taken of that fact.
Nor is any account taken of the £40 million a year which, according to Mr. Osborne, the financial adviser to the British Transport Commission, will have to be found by the Commission in the next five years in additional yearly interest payments, in respect of capital expended under the old modernisation plan. Then there is the £250 million which Dr. Beeching himself refers to as being the new capital necessary to bring about the developments that he has in mind. This is additional, so there is also the interest to be paid on that. I am therefore very doubtful whether Dr. Beeching's calculations are accurate, and whether it is possible to achieve anything like what he envisages.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
There is some substance in what the right hon. Gentleman says, that Dr. Beeching may be optimistic about the profits, and so on, that he hopes for in the future, but does not that make the case all the stronger for going even further than Dr. Beeching proposes?
§ Mr. Strauss
No one would question the desirability of getting all the freight traffic on to the railways that Dr. Beeching possibly can. I said that I was doubtful whether he would achieve anything like the savings he anticipates 749 from rail closures. We all want to see the finances of the railways made as sound as possible, but this Report is deceiving the public, and it seems he may even have deceived himself, in view of the optimistic forecast that he puts forward.
I want to quote a sentence from the appreciation of the British Transport Commission of the results that would be achieved under the modernisation plan. The sentence appears in a document called "The Reappraisal of the Plan for the Modernisation of British Railways," issued in July, 1959. It says:In the light of the appreciation set out above and subject to the many assumptions necessarily inherent in such a forecast, by 1963, the Commission's gross receipts should more than cover the working expenses, leaving a substantial working surplus, which it is considered can reasonably be put at between £50 million and £100 million.That estimate was put forward not by fools but by experts, many of whom have been concerned in putting forward the proposals which are now in front of us. Let us therefore accept these forecasts with caution.
The House will also note that a large part of the savings which Dr. Beeching hopes to achieve are not reductions in expenditure, so much as a passing over of expenditure to other public bodies. What in fact is proposed is a gigantic hiving-off of losses. Dr. Beeching is putting on to the Coal Board a burden of we do not know how much, but at any rate millions of pounds. He thinks that the Coal Board can bear it, and perhaps it should. But it will finally have to be borne by the public.
He will also place a large burden on local authorities, as he wants them to subsidise some of the services that he is giving up. A substantial burden will also be placed on the Exchequer, in respect of the new roads, road widenings, road maintenance and other work that is to follow the closure of many stopping services. He will take some traffic from British Road Services, with its 16,000 wagons. That may be a good thing, but a large part of the financial advantage that he hopes to achieve will be at the expense of other public bodies, and will represent no net saving to the public.
Let us consider his proposal to reduce by 6,000 the fleet of coaches which are 750 now required for holiday peak traffic. He hopes to save £2 million or £3 million a year by doing that. This means, if it means anything at all, that a greater number of buses will be retained for this purpose during the peak periods. They will be used only during the peak periods and the burden of doing this will therefore have to be accepted by the bus companies. And if the buses are going to be run at a loss we know that the Minister or some public body will have to pay for this loss. To cut out peak services of trains and to put that traffic on the peak services of the buses is again only passing the buck, as the bus services will have to buy an additional number of buses which they will keep in their garages except for a few months in the year.
In regard to the closure proposals, we are told that this is the first instalment. Perhaps there are many more to come. I am not going to say very much about this today as there are a large number of right hon. and hon. Members who want to speak on the subject. Indeed, I understand that if all those who have put down their names as wishing to speak were able to do so, the debate would last a week or more. I am surprised that both Dr. Beeching and the Government seem to think that the closure proposals can be easily absorbed and will not be very serious. I think that the word "trivial" has been used in this connection.
In some areas closures have unquestionably been justified in the past and there are many which may be justified today. The railway unions have never opposed the closure of branch lines or stopping services where a good case for so doing has been made out. But this is something on an entirely different scale from what was contemplated before.
I want to take two examples showing how serious some of these proposed closures may be. One is the comment made in a letter published in the Guardian on 1st April, written by Mr. Halsall, Chairman of the Disley Rural District Council. The letter reads:Has no one ever hinted to you how many people each day use, for instance, Disley, Hazel Grove, and Davenport stations? Between 8 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. 10 trains on this line arrive at Manchester, all of them fall, 751 most of them crowded with standing passengers. What is the A.6 road, already jammed tight in the morning, to look like when all these people, in cars and buses, are dumped on it? At present, one can get from Disley to Manchester by train in 19 minutes. The bus, on which Mr. Marples says we will happily climb and forget our troubles, is scheduled to take an hour, and in rush hours has been known to be half an hour late. The mail coach, in 1826, I am informed, took one and a half hours to Market Place, Manchester, from the Ram's Head at Disley. So we can hail the advance of modern transport. We have reached 1826!This is the sort of thing which Dr. Beeching seriously proposes, and it does not need any comment from me or anyone else to show how utterly ridiculous and contrary to the public interest this would be.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Maccles-fleld)
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making the point about this. It is in my constituency. If I am fortunate in catching Mr. Speaker's eye, I will enlarge on the point with more effect later on.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am glad to hear at this early stage of the debate that I am assured of the support of the hon. Gentleman.
The other example I want to mention is Skegness. I hope that the hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) will forgive me if I anticipate in a few sentences what he wants to say, but it is essential to the theme which I am trying to put forward to point out that many of these proposed closures—I instance only two—are fantastically wrong and must be opposed.
The main industry of Skegness is that of a holiday resort. I am told that 350,000 visitors go there yearly. Two-thirds of the visitors go there in the thirteen summer weeks. There are exceedingly bad road approaches to this town and in busy periods at the present time not all the traffic is able to get there. The police frequently have to turn cars back which are trying to enter the town. The last seven miles of the approaches to the town are frequently so crowded that traffic can barely crawl along. To close the station at Skegness and to say that in future people cannot get to Skegness, unless they are prepared to walk there——
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on making the point, but he has very much understated the case.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am not usually accused of understatement, but in view of what the hon. Gentleman says it gives me confidence that he will vote with us when it comes to a Division.
When one considers the consequences of these proposed closures to Skegness and Ilfracombe, I wonder whether this is the sort of prospect for holiday resorts and holidaymakers which the Minister envisaged when he discussed with his Cabinet colleagues at Chequers over the weekend their plans for Britain in the 1970s.
Finally, on this point, I wonder—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain it to us—what Dr. Beeching meant when he said that he proposed to bring about large savings through No. 5 of his proposals bythe damping down of seasonal peaks of passenger traffic.
How does one damp them down? Does he mean by organising artificial rainstorms during the summer period and thus discouraging people who want to go on holiday? I repeat, how does Dr. Beeching propose to damp down seasonal peaks? I hope that the Minister will tell us.
I now want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a few questions and make a few comments on the procedure he proposes to adopt when considering these proposals and before coming to a conclusion. First, about timing. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what Mr. Ernest Whittaker, the Chairman of the Transport Users Consultative Committee, said as reported in The Times. that it would take three years for the regional committees to assess the hardships involved by the proposals in the Report? Is that true or was Mr. Whittaker talking nonsense, and does the right hon. Gentleman propose to put into operation and really carry out what he said a little time ago that he was going to do before he agreed to a single closure proposal? On 27th June last year the right hon. Gentleman said:The Government will have to ask themselves a number of questions when considering the plan put forward by the Commission. The first question to be asked is: how will the plan affect the travelling public? Next, how 753 far could alternative services be provided? It might well be that alternative services will have to be provided. Thirdly, will subsidisation be necessary for any of the alternative services? Fourthly, from whom should any subsidy come? Should it come from the central Government, or part from the central Government and part from the local authorities who enjoy the services?"—Note that the local authorities are going to be asked to contribute; maybe they will be asked to organise flag days for the purpose—The Government will then have to ask themselves whether it is necessary and possible to build a new road which would take the place of the track on virgin ground, or whether a new road should be put along the railway track, or whether the existing road should be improved and modified. These are all questions which will have to be answered when the basic plan comes before the Government, and there are many others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 27th June, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 1174.]If the Minister is to carry out all these investigations before he agrees to every closure proposal which is put forward, this must take not months but years.
What Parliamentary control and check is there to be over the right hon. Gentleman's decisions? Will he consider the regions as a whole and come to a decision covering large areas, and then will he make the decisions in the privacy of his Ministry without saying a word to the House? At what stage will the House be able to check and question proposals before the Minister for closure and to argue that they should not be made—or, in other words, to exercise the control which Parliament should exercise over a Minister in a matter of this sort? As far as I am aware there will be no check whatever. The Minister has not to come to the House for any Order. He makes up his mind and then announces that the decision has been made—and all we are able to do is to move a vote of no confidence after the decision has been made, which, of course, will be totally ineffective. I suggest that if the Minister wants to carry the support and the confidence of the House in the matter he should devise some method by which the House will have an opportunity of debating the merits of any major closure proposal which may affect large areas or millions of people. Unless he does so the check on the Minister will be a farce and Parliamentary control will have disappeared altogether.
In considering all these highly important questions arising from the Beeching 754 Report, we must not lose sight of the general principle which should guide us in deciding the nation's transport policy. Here we have a sharp conflict between two schools of thought. We all want to bring the transport system up to date, to shape it to modern requirements and to eliminate wasteful expenditure. Some people, including the Government, impelled by the heavy railway losses, want to base the reshaping operations primarily on railway balance sheet considerations. Others, including the Labour Party, believe that this is one of the factors to be taken into account but that there are equally important factors, such as the social requirements of each region and of the country as a whole.
If one accepts our view, that means rejecting all actions which may save the railways money but which will imperil the development of areas of high unemployment by discouraging the establishment of new industries there, or actions which will encourage the drift of industry and population from the South to the North or from rural areas to the towns. It means rejecting possible increases in railway revenue obtained by raising commuter fares which would encourage people to travel by private car and so add to the congestion of the roads in the cities. It means considering all the transport services and facilities as a whole and not considering road and rail as separate entities.
It also means recognising the fact that in one way or another the community will have to pay much larger sums in future than it pays now or has paid in the past in providing the transport facilities which the country needs. How much should be in the form of subsidies to the railways and how much in the form of capital expenditure on new roads is a question of judgment and not of principle.
It means that the provision and maintenance of any particular transport service should not depend on the test of profit or loss. Indeed, if this test were rigorously applied it would deprive most of the population of the means of travel either by road or by rail. Many roads carry as small a proportion of passengers and freight as Dr. Beeching's calculations showed are carried by the stopping passenger services, and it can be demonstrated on any accounting basis that these roads do not pay their way. 755 But no one would suggest closing them down on that account. It is only by considering road and rail facilities as a whole that we can see where the balance of financial advantage lies.
A striking example of that fact is the decision, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, arrived at recently by the Government after ten years of inexcusable and wasteful delay, to build the Victoria-Walthamstow line. That, we all know, will add to the railway losses, but these losses will be compensated by the profit to the community caused by freeing the roads of congestion. The right hon. Gentleman gave a figure today. Techniques are now available to calculate those losses in financial terms pretty accurately. It would indeed be silly, when we are building at great expense a new railway which we know will not pay, to close similar ones on the ground that they are not paying.
All this boils down to two conclusions, neither of them accepted by the Government. The first is that the essence of public transport is to provide a public service. It must meet the reasonable needs of industry and the people even where this does not pay, as the Post Office does, as many of the bus services now do and as most of the railway rural stopping services have always done. This concept of public service is a vital element in our transport system, but it is not shared by the Government. I say that on good evidence—from what the Minister of Transport himself has said. On 17th April, in discussing in the House the Transport Bill, the disintegrating effect of which on the nation's road and rail services will make any sensible solution of the transport problem much more difficult, he used these words:the railways can no longer be regarded as a milch cow, torn between considerations of public service and profitability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th April, 1962; Vol. 658, c. 266–7.]I ask the House to note the contumely with which he regards the public service aspect of railway transport. One is tempted to ask whether "public service" have become dirty words in his Ministry.
The other conclusion which one reaches is that it is folly to make final decisions about the future shape of our road and rail services, and the relative amounts of our national resources which should be devoted to them, until the 756 essential facts about both sides of the industry have been ascertained. So far we have only a partial survey. The others, we are told, are coming along. Similar surveys should be obtained covering the whole of the other transport services, and only then shall we have in our possession the necessary data on which to build a sensible transport policy. If the Minister likes to appoint Dr. Beeching as the man mainly responsible for making those other surveys, I personally will have no objection.
When those other surveys are available and they are married to the regional and national needs of the country, then we can proceed on that to making a plan. But until such knowledge is available we say that no irreparable change should be made in the pattern of the railway system and that no major closures—I emphasise the word "major"—should be effected. When we have all these data and these views before us, we can make decisions, and we can then decide how the various transport services can best contribute to the development of the social pattern which we have as our objective.
Transport must be the servant and not the master of our social planning. This is one of the reasons why we nationalised the railway system. Drastic changes in our transport services and facilities may well be necessary. Provided that all the workers whose interests are adversely affected as a consequence are fairly treated, we should support and, given the opportunity, resolutely carry out whatever steps might be necessary to adapt those services to the present and future needs of the nation.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
It would take too long for me to answer all the points made by the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), but I should like to welcome his words about the general pattern of Dr. Beeching's Report in that he commends the thought and analysis that has gone into it.
The right hon. Gentleman shot many thunderbolts at my right hon. Friend the Minister, but not many that I shall take up now. I should like to put three points to him. The first is his accusation that the railway deficits were largely due to the malign action of succeeding Tory Ministers of Transport.
§ Mr. Strauss
I said that they were mainly due to what I called natural causes, but that a contribution had been made by the foolish actions of past Ministers of Transport.
§ Sir R. Nugent
I do not wish to be unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. The Government have to their credit the fact that they have provided cash to the extent of £1,500 million to £2,000 million for the modernisation of the railways, and I would say that a Government, either in this Parliament or the previous one, who provide money to this extent for the modernisation of the railways can hardly be said to be interfering with the general progress of the railway system.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the Government said that the old British Transport Commission must go on to the open market and borrow money at very high interest charges. Under the 1962 Act the Government certainly wiped out a little of it, but the Railways Board will have £109 million a year interest to pay.
§ Sir R. Nugent
No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be making his speech later.
The second point which I should like to make in answer to the right hon. Gentleman is the general doubt that he expressed about Dr. Beeching's forward estimates. He felt that they were too optimistic and he made some interesting analyses. I am prepared to go with him. One must be cautious, because it is hard to tell how the future picture will turn out. The only general answer that I would make to that is that Dr. Beeching's proposals for the shape of the railways for the future seem to me to be right and to have the best prospects of meeting the transport needs of the country so far as rail can meet them.
In dealing with closures, the right hon. Gentleman had a great deal of fun at my right hon. Friend's expense. He referred to one or two that particularly pleased him. The point, surely, is that when the right hon. Gentleman says that there is a common wish to see the modernisation of the railways we have to accept that that will mean a certain number of closures. My right hon. Friend has explained the procedure for closures—the transport users consultative committee, which is independent, 758 and my right hon. Friend's decision at the end of the day. Those, I would have thought, are reasonable safeguards to ensure that the closures will not be made unless they are reasonable.
Looking at the broad pattern of Dr. Beeching's proposals, they are, on the whole, a fairly cautious list. The right hon. Gentleman has some knowledge of the railway system. I have a slight knowledge, too, and I know that many other proposals could have been made, particularly with regard to some of the duplication on the main lines. Dr. Beeching has refrained deliberately from making drastic proposals of that kind because he takes the view, and I think that it is the right one, that at present we cannot tell whether these railways will be wanted, especially with the improved services.
The lines which he proposes to close and which carry so little traffic cannot, in the main—I do not say that there are not exceptions—be justified by any criteria. It includes a big route mileage of about 5,000 miles, but that carries only about 1 per cent, of passengers and 1 per cent, of freight, and the general presumption is that this is almost certain not to be wanted in any circumstances in the future.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said about the men whose jobs will go if these proposals are carried out. I think that we are all very anxious that the men should be fairly and generously treated. I am glad that the numbers that may be directly affected are as small as he told us, and I hope and expect, in due course, the undertaking that he has given to be fulfilled.
If I may refer to the other human aspect, that of the travellers who will be affected if their services go—I have some interest in my own constituency where the Guildford-Horsham line is to go—I should like my right hon. Friend, when he winds up the debate, to deal with this point, which, I am sure, is of great interest to many; Will he make sure that where railways closures are justified and bus services are laid on in their place, the time schedules meet the convenience of the travelling public, whether commuters or others, morning and evening, and that the termini for the bus services end up in the station yards?
759 This is a vital fact in the link. We, cannot expect people to hump luggage around or go a quarter of a mile or half a mile from the bus station to the railway station. Subject to those two points I think that the general picture is a sensible one on which to go ahead, and I hope that the House will support it.
I believe that most people see the Beeching plan as being a sensible plan to modernise our railway system—another big step forward to modernise this old nineteenth century system which still needs a tremendous lot done to it if it is to meet the transport needs of today. People are becoming increasingly aware of the enormous cost—£150 million a year—and my right hon. Friend must be right to try to lift that off the taxpayers' shoulders.
§ Mr. Manuel
Is the right hon. Gentleman now pledging his support for the principle that where public subsidies are given to anything which is not paying it should be closed down?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his speech later.
I am talking about the railways. In this context, I think that it is right. That is why I support it. I am not saying that no aspect of the railways should ever be subsidised or supported by the State. I shall have something to say about that later. I join with my right hon. Friend in expressing the hope that the National Union of Railwaymen, deeply disturbed though its members naturally are, will think again about its intention to call a strike next month.
I want now to discuss the point which appears in the Amendment concerning the necessity for a national transport plan before railway modernisation in accordance with the Beeching proposals takes place. I agree that we must evolve a national transport policy. However, such a plan is not a blueprint which can be plucked out of the skies and then applied to the nation's transport as if it will fit our needs for ever. A national transport policy is an evolving policy which changes all the time as the transport needs of the nation change. This is inevitable.
The Government, especially my right hon. Friend, have made great advances in evolving a transport policy. Examples of this are the development of a motor- 760 way system and the spending of over £100 million a year on road building, the Government being committed to spend £650 million in the next five years. This is a huge contribution to a transport system which will meet our needs.
My right hon. Friend rightly referred to urban traffic. He has to his credit the development of traffic engineering in London, which is a pioneering effort. This is the first time that scientific engineering principles have been applied to the movement of traffic in great cities. I am glad to see that other cities are beginning to copy it. This is an important development which this Government—my right hon. Friend in particular—have to their credit.
I warmly welcome the acquisition of such experts as Mr. Colin Buchanan and Sir John Hall to my right hon. Friend's staff to make the necessary long-term scientific study of transport requirements. The right hon. Member for Vauxhall referred to the Victoria line. He rather gave my right hon. Friend the stick about this. This is a great credit to the Government. The Government have now found a use for these new techniques so that social cost and benefit are brought in as well as the financial balance sheet to show whether this is a wise investment for the nation.
I was very impressed by the evaluations which were made. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making them. I would echo the warning of Mr. Foster—one of the experts—that social cost and benefit are an aid to judgment and not a substitute for it. There is no doubt that there has been very great development in our national transport policy. I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend that the right policy is that which allows the consumer free choice, either for passenger or freight, provided that he is prepared to pay the price, whether he wishes to go by rail, road, sea or air. This is the right system. It will suit our country, whatever will suit any other country.
It is the Government's job to ensure that the services are there as the life of the nation develops and—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is waiting to hear me to say this—provided that the prices are right. I agree that at present the prices are not right. The prices for our various transport systems 761 are fortuitous. They are the product of history. They have grown up over the years. They have not been worked out scientifically. Consequently we have arrangements like the licensing system for road haulage and public road transport which we introduced in the 1930's to cure the most obvious inequities.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that he will make a fresh inquiry into this whole subject. This is long overdue. It will take some time to devise the right criteria for fixing the prices. This is a common problem. No nation—not America, nor Germany, nor France, nor any other European country—has yet satisfactorily worked out the right basis for road, rail, air and water transport to work together so that the right balance is obtained. This is one of the great problems of our time. It would be wrong for the House to let this go by without at least recognising the contribution my right hon. Friend has made.
The American Association of State Highway Officials, which goes under the fascinating initials of "A.A.S.H.O.", has just completed a monumental piece of research. It took the Association some years to find the precise data of road wear to destruction by vehicles with varying axle loadings varying from 1 ton to 15 tons. The Association has not yet produced its final report, but this is a vital piece of research designed to show exactly what it costs for each vehicle to run on the road. I rather fancy, from the figures which have already been issued, that the light vehicle—the private car and light van—causes relatively little wear, but that the heavily loaded vehicle causes very heavy wear and may, therefore, well not be paying its full share.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will ask the Road Research Laboratory to study this problem. This is an important piece of information if we are to find the right criteria to ensure, first that each form of transport is priced right and paying the right amount to replace the resources it is using and, secondly, to ensure that transport investment policy is right and will provide for our needs for the future.
Against this background of the attack—and, I think, progress—which my right hon. Friend is making to find scientific criteria on which to base the right transport policy, the policies advanced by right hon. and hon. Members opposite are not 762 relevant. I speak of policies such as the renationalisation of road transport. I read a most interesting article on transport policy generally in this month's Socialist Commentary. I expect many hon. Members have read the article. I agreed with much of it. It says this on this aspect:There is an important general criticism of traditional socialist policy It proposes means which are not quite relevant to the problems. To economic and technical problems it proposes an administrative solution.This is a vital point. We do not advance one step nearer towards solving this difficult problem simply by taking physical possession of this form of transport or that form of transport. The problems are more complex than that. The article goes on to say this:The integrationists have always thought they knew the answers fro most of these problems; but in most cases their answers prove to be merely intuitive guesses and preferences.These are old battles we have across the Floor of the House about rail transport and road transport. Those hon. Members who have studied the problem—the right hon. Gentleman has certainly studied it—know as well as I do that these problems will be solved only when we approach them with an objective mind and try to find precise scientific criteria by which we can evaluate the right cost for each form of transport.
In the context of the type of national transport policy of which I am speaking the Beeching plan makes sense. It will modernise, or start another big step in the modernisation of, the rail service which is certain to be needed in the way Beeching has shaped it. His thought is that the railways can best provide certain types of transport. He intends to specialise in those. First, there is the commuter service for London and other big cities. Only the railways can provide this. Huge numbers of people enter and leave London every day. As the House will be aware, President Kennedy is now trying to get Congress to agree to a Bill which will enable him from Federal funds to help the collapsing city transport systems in America. The Americans are experiencing just the same problem as we are.
We must have rail freight. Because the railways cannot work on commuter services alone, Dr. Beeching must 763 modernise his freight services so that they will meet the needs of industrialists and traders. He has devised the liner service. I have more faith in the liner service than the right hon. Member for Vauxhall has. Dr. Beeching is all ready to do it. He will have this service starting in action by the end of next year. I believe that it will meet the needs of traders competitively.
As this modernisation of the railways goes forward, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has a duty to find the right criteria so that he can get the costs right for the road freight vehicles and all the vehicles that move on the roads. In this way, at the same time as the rail system is modernised to do the best it can do, there will be a fresh evaluation of the road transport system so that it will make its proper contribution to the resources it uses. I understand that this is what my right hon. Friend is doing. This policy deserves the support of all hon. Members.
The Beeching plan should be proceeded with because it is certain that as far as it goes—and it is only part of what must be done; the Minister said that in the future other things will have to be done—it represents a relatively cautious first step towards removing only that part of the system that certainly will not be wanted in the future. At the same time, it accounts for modernising what remains to ensure that a first-class service is given.
I conclude by congratulating Dr. Beeching on his Report. I considered it a penetrating analysis and an imaginative, forward-looking document. I hope that despite what has been said across the Floor of the House all hon. Members will agree that it represents a course which should be supported.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I should, perhaps, declare an interest, because I am speaking as a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I have the interest of someone who, over the past forty years, has studied all the investigations, examinations and inquiries that have been made into the transport problem, particularly railways, and who is now intimately concerned with the steps being suggested to destroy the results of these investigations; that 764 is, to destroy and disregard what has been recommended and achieved by every body of experts.
The plan under consideration will put our transport organisation into reverse. I think that I am authorised to say that this is the view of the N.U.R., which is opposed to the present proposals, not only because of their effect on railwaymen—indeed, not even primarily for that reason—but for a set of reasons. If any hon. Member doubts this, I ask him to refer to the statements which have been made by previous Conservative Transport Ministers, each of whom has paid tribute to the enlightened attitude of the unions towards the redundancies which have already taken place.
The present Minister reminded the House today of the redundancy agreement reached with the unions as recently as February of this year. As to the attitude of the unions towards the proposed closures under the Beeching Plan, I would remind hon. Members of what was stated in the Railway Gazette. It stated:…the N.U.R. has taken a firm, positive and responsible step in defence of a vital cause; let party interests go to the wall, and the nation range itself solidly behind the railwaymen on this issue.This is the attitude of the N.U.R. to what is now at stake, for involved is not just redundancy on the railways but the very survival of the railways themselves as a vital part of our transport services.
Since the Minister and the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) were so positive about the contribution the Government have made to the development of the railways, how are they able to claim any credit for what has happened over the years to our transport services? What right have they to suggest that they can now produce the right answers to the problems of the railways? Look at their record in the past. When the railways were taken over by the British Transport Commission in 1948, they faced a deficit of £60 million. By 1953, much had already been done and that deficit had been reduced to £27 million—and the Minister of the day said the following year, in 1954, that British Railways was still by far the biggest receipt-earning activity of the Transport Commission. Of the £31.8 million total net receipts, British Railways earned £14.8 million in that year.
765 Since then, year after year, successive Ministers of Transport, speaking from the benches opposite, have poured out tributes upon the remarkable progress of modernisation, running into millions of pounds, which has increased the efficiency of the railways and enabled them to maintain their costs below any comparative increase in costs since pre-war. Indeed, progress continued to be made until 1954, when the first fruits of the transport policy of the party opposite became apparent. There came the denationalisation of road haulage in defiance of all expert and informed advice and a Bill which the Times described as meeting… almost unanimously adverse criticism, not least from manufacturers and traders whose business calls for cheap and efficient transport.The Economist described it as… virtually devoid of principles … promote confusion and inefficiency … an attempt to secure political favour at the expense of all serious consideration of transport, economics and organisation".That was the judgment of organs of the Press not usually critical of the Government; and certainly not usually in support of the attitude of the Opposition. Those newspapers were basing their judgments on the record of this Government over the development of our transport facilities, even in the early stages.
There followed the Government's stop-go-stop policy over the various modernisation schemes, and about which public complaints were made by the British Transport Commission in its Reports of 1958 and 1959—and some of us suspected that it was because of the criticism of the party opposite in those Reports that Sir Brian Robertson had to go. There followed further cuts of £20 million in 1960 by the present Minister. It was his "new pause in investment" which he announced in the House, and it included the London-Manchester electrification scheme. Later the right hon. Gentleman authorised that scheme. The Government have been prone to hold up modernisation plans and then, later, sometimes to let them go forward.
Against this background, is it any wonder that the railways are in their present difficulties? Everyone from the Royal Commission of 1931, the Sankey Commission which preceded it, and various other reports and Commissions 766 in the meantime, have been busy these forty years or so warning of the results of just the sort of policy—or lack of it—indulged in by this Government. The present Minister of Transport and his predecessors have failed miserably at every step in their attempts to deal with the transport problem, particularly the railways. They have only in the end succeeded in maintaining the colossal deficit with which the railways are now faced. So do not let hon. Members opposite claim any credit for having made any substantial contribution to the development of our railways.
Why is the Beeching Plan considered necessary? As I have shown, each year we have had, from this Minister and his predecessors, congratulations expressed to the Transport Commission for the job being done by the railways. The railways were the biggest revenue-earning section of the Transport Commission until 1954. In 1958 the then Minister of Transport quoted with approval Sir Brian Robertson as having said:In spite of our present difficulties … the investment that the nation is making in British Railways will in the end pay a handsome dividend.The then Minister commented:The Government have given the modernisation scheme their full backing, and will continue to do so".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December. 1958; Vol. 597, cc. 516 and 532.]This was as late as December, 1958. Soon afterwards Dr. Beeching was appointed to produce a report which will have precisely the opposite effect Then we had the 1959 White Paper. In other words, the Government have failed at every step.
What are the reasons for the Beeching Report? We are told that it is an objective plan produced by an experienced businessman without consideration of political issues. We have been told that we must not blame Dr. Beeching because he has made an honest attempt to present a fair picture of the situation of the railways.
Is that so? We know that already the Government—and this is a rather new position—having obtained an objective Report, have not given the House an opportunity to discuss it with the object of getting the reactions of the House before making up their mind. The Minister had made up his mind before speaking this afternoon. He came 767 here to tell us that this was Government policy. In relation to what has gone before in the matter of the establishment of Dr. Beeching's Committee, this is very significant.
The Minister himself recalled that in 1960 the Prime Minister told us precisely what the Government intended to do. That was long before Dr. Beeching's Report appeared, but the Prime Minister told us all about it then. The 1960 White Paper, to which the Minister also referred this afternoon, also told us, and commented:The taxpayer will have to face a major capital reorganisation as well as continue to carry a large part of the burden.We have heard very little about what the Stedeford Committee did, but we do know that it consisted of four prominent private industrialists, not one of them a railwayman, but one of them was Dr. Beeching. That Committee's instructions were to… to examine the structure, finance and working of the … Commission and to advise the Minister of Transport … as a matter of urgency"—on what? It was not on what would be best for British Railways or what should be done to overcome its difficulties. It was "on how best to give effect to the Government's intentions." That was the Committee's mandate—and the Government's intentions had already been announced by the Prime Minister in 1960.
What were those intentions? They were political intentions. One may ask why should the Government be concerned with prejudicing, even sacrificing, our railways——
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Gentleman will See that the very first sentence of the Beeching Report quotes the Prime Minister as saying in 1960:First the industry must be of a size and pattern suited to modern conditions and prospects.Is that a political view?
§ Mr. Hynd
That is what Dr. Beeching said in his Report, but I am talking of the reasons for the setting up of the Committee. I am talking of the Stedeford Committee, the forerunner of the Beeching Report, and I ask whether or not the Government's consideration 768 for their old friends the road hauliers has paid a not inconsiderable part here.
That would be a very serious allegation to make without any evidence to back it up, and I want to produce a few startling facts in evidence. On 12th July, 1952, The Times, writing on the denationalisation of road haulage, said:It is an attempt to secure political favour at the expense of all serious consideration of transport economics and organisation.Such an allegation, coming from such a source, must be taken seriously, but as the first witness for the prosecution I will call the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport—
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
Does what the hon. Gentleman says square with page 59 of the Report, where there is reference to… 8m. tons which could be carried in train-load quantities, and a further 30m. tons which is favourable to rail by virtue of the consignment sizes … and … a further 16m. tons…which the Beeching Report is aiming to get off the roads by competitive methods?
§ Mr. Hynd
The answer to that is in the Minister's own speech, in which he made it very clear, as does Dr. Beeching, that the great transfer will be from rail to road—but I shall not be diverted from the point I am now making.
The present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, speaking with a rather amazing frankness for which we ought to be grateful, said at the annual dinner of the Road Haulage Association, in May, 1960, that the Government's idea of recruiting Dr. Beeching and his three associates on the Stedeford Committee… will commend itself to those present at this dinner.From that it may be assumed that the Parliamentary Secretary had no fears then, nor had the rest at that dinner, that the "objective examination" by Dr. Beeching or the Stedeford Committee would do anything calculated to assist the railways as against road haulage interests.
The hon. Gentleman continued:It is not surprising that the Road Haulage Association was not slow to put before the Minister its views about the railways.These, we may assume, were about as unbiased and objective as Dr. Beeching's Report.
769 Even more frank was the Parliamentary Secretary's next sally, because he was enjoying himself amongst his friends:You and we worked together—that is, the Government party and the road hauliers:against the threat of nationalisation of road haulage. We won that battle. Now we must show that we were right to win it.He was there saying that the Government and the road hauliers were right to win the battle against road haulage nationalisation.
At all costs, presumably to the nation, the Government seek to justify their policies to their road haulage friends.
We … will back you all we can. We shall try to make sure that the new roads we have and the new roads we build will give you the best dividends possible.A dividend usually means a reward for previous investment.
The hon. Member finished by stating:Road haulage will enjoy many of the benefits from improved roads and improved traffic flow"—that is, the new traffic that the Government scheme will divert from our already unviable railways to the advantage of the road hauliers. It is, therefore, no wonder that the journal of the Road Hauliers Association, The Commercial Motor, exulted in November, 1959:The Conservative Party promise to tile answer to the haulier's prayer. Any financial contribution he makes towards this success"—the Conservative Party's success:may be partly selfish, but wholly natural.One cannot, therefore, wholly remove from one's mind the thought that in transport matters the Government are constantly impressed and influenced by what they apparently consider to be their obligations to those who supported them in the previous General Election. That is the sordid reality behind the whole scheme.
Is it any wonder that, in this situation, the railwaymen are incensed and are driven to the only action they can find within their means to draw public attention to the realities of what is being done to our transport system? Is it surprising that, for the first time in my recollection, our responsible Press—The Times, the Economist, the Guardian, the Observer, the Sunday Times—have been protesting 770 about these proposals that the Government now seek to adopt, or that the local authorities—and, notably, the County Councils' Association—have felt compelled to draw the Government's attention to the damage this Report threatens to the livelihood of many of our towns and villages? For that is what it does.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) referred to some of the points in the Report and, in view of the time, I will cite only a few further examples to show how unrealistic the whole thing is. First of all, the Government's whole case is based on the assumption of savings from closures, plus concentration on winning back traffic from the roads. Let us assume that all the closures are carried out—and we are still in some confusion about whether or not the Minister intends to carry them all out. He said at first that he would close down one-third of the railways, and then he said that he had not yet made up his mind but would consider each case on its merits. Strangely enough, however, he was able to give detailed figures of the redundancies to be caused by the services to be closed down. Perhaps we shall hear from him how he made that calculation. That being so, we are left with the winning back of traffic.
My right hon. Friend referred to one curious proposal in the Report about damping down peak traffic to the holiday resorts. I should like to draw attention to another. It is stated on page 15 of the Report thatSince the beginning of 1959 the number of passenger-carrying gangway coaches has been reduced by 5,584 and by the end of 1965 stock will molt be available for use at high peak periods Efforts wilt be made to control these peaks by seat reservation schemes and by fares policy, as is the custom with airline services.What does this mean? Does it mean that we shall ration the few available coaches according to the ability of intending passengers to pay? Are we to prevent people from travelling because we do not have enough coaches and they cannot pay the excess fares or the reservation fees? If the intention is to fit fewer passengers into fewer coaches, this can only mean that travel on these coaches will be priced beyond the means of the ordinary travelling public. I cannot see any other meaning in it.
771 Then we are to have the liner trains. We have already some examples of these. I do not know whether the experience we already have of them has justified the optimistic assessments in the Report and by the Minister today. We are told that there will be two or three collecting depots in south Yorkshire, for example, and that these depots will be few and far between throughout the service. Is it to be assumed that private firms will load goods on to lorries and run the lorries in some cases twenty miles to the nearest loading point? Or, having already run twenty miles, are they not likely to carry on by road for the rest of the journey to avoid transhipment? Is there not a danger that this scheme, with its few loading points and depots, may tend to lose existing traffic rather than attract the 90 million tons of additional traffic which the Report assumes?
I notice in the Report that liner trains are planned with the Channel Tunnel in mind. Are we to have that tunnel? The Minister ought to know, because this is one of the important bases on which these assumptions are made. The success of the liner trains will depend on whether we shall have the tunnel. We are therefore forced to assume that this is fixed. Ought we not to be told now categorically so that a great deal of propaganda and time and money might be saved in consideration of competing forms of cross-Channel transport?
Again, we are told that the liner trains are not likely to come into full operation for two years. Will the traffic be still there by then? Is it not possible to conceive that some will have gone on to the road by then because of the uncertainty of railway developments? Wagon fleets are to be reduced from 800,000 to 500,000. Is it not possible that by the time the liner trains come into operation we shall find ourselves with too many liner trains for too little traffic, and too few wagons for too much freight?
How far can we assume that the other estimates and assumptions made in the Report and accepted by the Minister are based on solid grounds? Has the Minister, for example, seen the letter in the Guardian last Friday dealing with the railways between Tees-side and the Lake District? The writer says:In a recent Press interview, a spokesman for W. E. Sayer, Ltd., which had been one 772 of the chief users of this line, stated that, because of the closure, the transport to Tees-Side of the whole output of its quarry at Brough had been transferred from rail to road. This was quoted as being at present 2,000 tons a week. In 1960 … it was stated to be 2,400 tons of limestone and 300 tons of lime a week. At the freight rates then current, this represented an income to British Railways of about £104,000 a year. In their evidence to the consultative committees, B.R. claimed that the total loss of income … would be £2,463 a year …The letter concludes:The closure has not only destroyed one of the main links from N.E. to N.W. England, between which communications were already deplorable, but has diverted a large amount of heavy mineral traffic on to the grossly overcrowded A.66 road along which a walker or a cyclist ventures at the risk of his life.
Here is a difference in calculations between £2,463 estimated loss from closing the line and an actual loss of £104,000 a year income from one firm alone. If this is an example of the kind of calculation made, and the margin with which we have to play, we are running into the greatest danger in carrying out these cuts in railway services on the basis of such calculations. This is not a very happy beginning.
Assuming, however, that all these assumptions in the Report are impeccable and that they are borne out by subsequent experience, we must ask to what extent the roads will be able to take the "dividend" which the Government are offering to their road haulier friends in the shape of freight loads and passengers which will be transferred to the roads. According to the Institution of Highway Engineers, reporting in 1957, an adequate road system to cope with needs—before the Beeching closures were envisaged—would cost an average of £350 million per annum for the next ten years. Yet the Government are spending only something like one-fifth of that sum on new roads.
The Minister gave us the startling news today that the Government will spend £130 million this year. This will presumably take us into the 1970s, but £130 million is still less than half of what the Institution of Highway Engineers considered necessary to meet the position before the Beeching Report. This estimate has never yet been challenged by the Government or anyone else. It seems to me that if a matter of £130 million would not meet the position on the roads before Beeching 773 it certainly will be far from meeting the position which will be created afterwards.
The Beeching Report admits that there is a question of whether or not the roads will be more economic than the railways which they replace. This is made clear in pages 55 and 56. What is the economic cost of road transport? This is a key point which we must answer. The Times, in a leading article in September, 1962, pointed out—although this was no new discovery; it has been said over and over again from this side of the House—The rail system is under-utilised; the road system is over-utilised; therefore, traffic should be driven from road to rail by loading the licence duty on road vehicles … the comparative prices of the road and rail transport bear little relation to their true comparative costs… The railway accounts would look very different if the cost of sustaining the network were no more than the amounts spent annually on new permanent ways. A road fund licence buys unlimited access to a nationwide road system built up over the years, with no charges for accumulated capital and interest, nor for a wide and costly range of ancillary services. Road charges bear little relation to use.This is a fact, and this is presumably one of the reasons why the Minister has announced that he has set up additional committees.
But even without taking into account any assessment of what The Times callsthe 'social cost' of the road transport—in congestion, accidents, fumes and noise.or… the increasing toll of the roads in environmental terms, which cannot' be properly measured in money",will the new road services created to replace the railways be maintained if they, too, fail to earn a profit? The Minister says, "Yes, even if they have to be subsidised." He suggested in a recent Press interview that those sections of the road traffic which are not making a profit can be carried by those which are making a profit. But is that not precisely what the railways have been doing all this time, with the more profitable lines carrying the less profitable lines, so that we have thus been able to maintain an overall service? And is not this precisely the reason why Dr. Beeching and the Minister say that these railway lines must be closed? Yet the Minister recommends that road transport should do precisely the same kind of thing.
774 There is then the question of public safety and the cost of that in economic terms in relation to road haulage. In 1955, the Minister of Transport said in the House that… in the year under review, not a single passenger on British Railways had been killed. There are few transport systems in the world of a similar magnitude which could make such a claim."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1955; Vol. 543, c. 1691.]That is true. Certainly, our road transport cannot make that claim. In 1961, there were 270,000 road accidents involving death or serious personal injury. In the same year, 1,938 children under five were involved in fatal or serious accidents. Taking goods vehicles on their own, 29,720 were involved in personal injury accidents, of which 9,812 were fatal.
These facts are known, but is it sufficiently appreciated that to prevent this kind of slaughter on the railways, the railways have to spend over £124 million a year, which is very much more than the total deficit? If it were conceivable that the roads could be required to spend enough money to give the same measure of safety as the railways do, there would not be a road service in this country able to operate. The point of all this is that it highlights what the railways have to carry in the way of charges and costs which the road transport services do not have to carry, and those I have mentioned are only some of them.
The whole question of what it costs to carry a passenger or a ton of goods by rail or by road therefore depends on Government policy. The Government can tell the road services that they must provide for safety on the roads by spending the necessary money. Or they could tell the railways that they could carry on without all their expensive signalling and safety equipment and, instead, be provided with traffic lights and policemen, putting the railways on a more fair basis of competition with the roads. Of course, the Government cannot and will not do that—quite rightly, probably—but it is their decision which makes it possible for the road services to carry on with charges which are not comparable—I do not say whether they are fair or unfair at this stage—with those borne by the railways.
A lot has been said about the need for consumer choice. The Minister has said 775 that everything must be left to the consumer, although, of course, he is closing down railway lines and telling the railways that they must subsidise competing road transport, which is not leaving the consumer much choice. However, what is it that attracts the consumer, whether passenger or trader, in deciding whether to use road or rail? Generally, it is the charge made for the particular service. What are the elements making up the charge?
There is the actual cost of operation, wages, salaries, stock and the rest, and there is the taxation which both road operators and railways have to bear. There are also the public safety measures and all the other things which come into the calculation. By an adjustment of the taxation item alone, the Government could solve the railway problem and could get back traffic from road to rail.
This used to be regarded as a rather revolutionary and unfair proposition. Now, the County Councils' Association is pressing it upon the Government. The Times, in its leading article, presses the Government to review the taxation of road transport in order to ensure that road transport pays sufficient in taxation to give the railways a fair chance. In other words, the Government could get the traffic back on the railways if they so wished.
What is so sacrosanct about consumer choice in this context? If I take a parcel to the post office, the post office does not ask me whether I want it sent by a road haulage lorry, by bus, by train or by taxi. The parcel is sent by the means which is most suitable, most useful and most efficient, and everyone in the country, by and large, is satisfied with that service. Why should we have to do something else in regard to other freight sent either by road or rail?
These are the facts, One has no right to talk about consumer choice and the comparative costs of haulage of passengers or goods by road or rail unless and until one has analysed and explained what the factors are and whether or not they create a proper balance.
So, there are railway lines which are failing to make a profit. It is uneconomic to subsidise them, so we transfer the goods and passenger traffic to the roads, and, if necessary, subsidise the road 776 transport concerns. According to the Report, we thusprovide a very welcome addition to the revenue of the bus operators"—and, incidentally, the road hauliers, too.
This is a curious example of how to operate competition. The Minister has told us that the whole basis of the Report is the creation of competition between the two methods of transport, road and rail, and he told us that he had decided, in one case, and probably in others, to close down the railway and make the railway pay a subsidy to the bus service. An extraordinary method of carrying on competition, is it not? What is the Minister trying to do? It is certainly not competition.
In the Isle of Wight, the railway has been running at a loss and the Report recommends that it be closed down. Dr. Beeching has explained, when asked, what should happen to this, since everybody in the Isle of Wight wants the railway. He says, "Let the Isle of Wight run the railway". What if it runs at a loss? The Isle of Wight need not run the railway at a loss, because, he says, if the people there are prepared to co-ordinate the railway with the bus services and not have the silly system of having the two services overlapping, they could make it pay. That is very good sense. But if it can be done in the Isle of Wight, why cannot it be done in the British transport system as a whole? Why cannot the Government do it, if it can pay in the Isle of Wight, in other parts of the country where the services are necessary but where they are being closed down and the future possibility of their being carried on is left to some kind of private chance?
No, one other example—
§ Mr. Hynd
I am cutting it short. There is a lot in this Report, and I intend to finish what I have to say. Incidentally, I have given way on two occasions, and, if there are more interruptions, I shall be longer still.
On the evidence before us, very inadequate evidence, it is clear that road transport does not pay, either. When Dr. Beeching was asked whether, if he were given the job, he would be as ruthless with road transport, he said that he would 777 have to be at least as ruthless with road transport. Why not give him a chance? The Minister has told us that he will set up committees of inquiry. What if these studies which the Minister is having should show that road transport, in the haulage of both passengers and freight, is even less economic than was the railway service which, in the meantime, will have been closed down? Will he start reopening the railways and closing down road haulage? Will he close both and make a real saving? This is where the absurdity of the whole Report is clearly seen.
The tragedy is that the Government knew very well what the answer is. It is the answer which has been given by all the Royal Commissions, all the committees of inquiry and all the experts who have gone into the question during the whole time that the problem has existed. I repeat what my right hon. Friend said. There is only one way out of the trouble. Let Dr. Beeching, or someone else with the same authority and power, go into the whole question of the actual economic cost to the nation, taking all factors into account, of road haulage, waterways transport, inland air transport, as well as the railways, and then bring the whole lot together. Let us see the picture clearly and, having seen it clearly, let us then decide what kind of transport system we want for this country.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) was a very exhaustive discourse, a tour de force, in fact, and I hope the House will forgive me if I do not follow it, because I think that I should be far too long.
§ Sir J. Maitland
The Report that we are discussing today is an extremely intelligent and a very interesting report, but it is prepared from the outside point of view, and the speeches we have listened to so far, the Minister's and the speech from the Opposition Front Bench, and the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Attercliffe have been, as it were, from the outside.
Frankly, I think—and I make no apology for this—that we in this House have the duty of showing the Minister 778 what this means looking at it from inside outwards. There is a quotation which occurs to me:The toad beneath the harrow knowsExactly where each tooth-point goes".I wish to give the toad-eye view, as it were, of this matter, to show what it may mean. I do it with some confidence because I believe that the part of the country which I represent has some of the greatest problems, which no Government determined to give a fair deal both to minorities and to majorities could ignore, and if they implement this Report they will have one of the hardest tasks in coping with the sort of problems which we have in East Lincolnshire.
In east Lincolnshire it is proposed to close the line between Grimsby, in the north, and Spalding, in the south, both to passengers and to freight. This is, at present, the main line and the chief link which this very large area of country has with the South. Its closure would mean that 14 local authorities and about 180,000 country people would be without a railway service.
I would quote from the words of the Clerk to the Lindsey County Council, in a letter which he wrote to the Ministry of Transport. He said this:The proposed withdrawals would leave the greater part of the county without passenger services. This drastic reduction of rural transport would have a most serious effect' upon life in the countryside where it is essential to maintain a certain standard of amenities if the areas are to have any chance of continuing to thrive.The Minister knows as well as I do that officers of large local authorities do not write letters of that sort about areas they know very well without considering all the implications and knowing them to be very important. Moreover, smaller authorities, boroughs and county districts, have also written in similar vein and have given many details from their local knowledge of what such a closure must mean. I am sure the Minister will take most careful note of what they have said and attach full importance to the opinions of men whose duty it is fully to understand local conditions.
The main line to which I have referred is, according to the Report, a fringe line, that is to say, its loading is such that some lines with similar loadings have been maintained, others are to close. It is extremely difficult for those of us who 779 are, as it were, toads beneath the harrow, the unhappy passengers, to understand quite why it is on the danger list. As a matter of interest to myself, when I came to the House on Tuesday last I counted the people on the train in the area of line which is to close. That is not a busy day. As everybody knows, Tuesday is not a day of heavy traffic. Yet there were 167 people on the train.
I travelled back on Thursday, in the afternoon. I was going to make a speech in the constituency of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). It was a midday train, and connected at Peterborough, with what we call a sputnik, that is to say, a small diesel train. I counted the people in one coach of two, and there were 47. There must have been about 100 altogether. There were 150 when I came to the House again today. Those were the counts on the last three times I have been in that train. One would think that anybody who knows about passenger services would say that that was a pretty full train, especially considering that at King's Cross it was absolutely packed, having picked up people at Peterborough.
At the main junction in my constituency, at Firsby, there are trains passing through or local services, and so on, to the number of 130 in 24 hours, that is, one operation every 11 minutes. I cannot think that that is a picture of a line which ought to be closed.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
Is it not the case that it is proposed to close feeder lines from the urban areas of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to the Lincolnshire coast in addition?
§ Sir J. Maitland
I am coming on to that, because I want to deal in a moment with the problem of the seaside resorts, which is important and of very great interest to the Midlands, as I hope to be able to show.
I want to make this point in all seriousness to the Minister. I think that it is most important that local authorities should have an early opportunity of examining the costings involved in this closure. I appreciate the reasons, although I do not agree with them, why cross-examination of the figures produced by the railways are not allowed at T.U.C.C. meetings, 780 when one appeals against a closure. But I do think that when so much is involved the local authorities should have an early opportunity of studying, and if necessary of testing, the evidence on which an application for closure is made.
I believe that if this is co-operatively and intelligently done it may well be that means may be found to balance the loss. I believe that on one line this has, in fact, been done. For example, if a certain manned level crossing were closed and in other cases flyovers built, and if this were combined with measures to make running more efficient and more economical, it might offset the loss. We all know that there are inefficiencies, that they have not been corrected because it has not really been worth doing, with the obvious threat of closure of railways just over the horizon.
There could be considerable economies which could add up, if the local authorities and the railways got together, to something which might well balance the additional cost, and even if it did not actually balance it might well be found that the amount which local authorities and Government Departments would have to pay if the line were closed would be more than the actual cost of keeping the line open.
There is one thing of which I hear a certain amount about from my railway friends, and that is Sunday work on the line at time and three-quarters—not very popular with some of those who do not get it, and not considered necessary in many cases. These are the sort of economies which one feels could be carried out successfully if one were really to look for them.
So far, I have discussed only in general terms what the closure of a main line means to a widely scattered rural area where transport is of the greatest importance. Surely it is unnecessary to tell the Minister that in a scattered district transport is of the very greatest importance? I have always maintained that minority rights are of vital importance, and while I have been a Member of Parliament I have always tried to defend them—for example, by trying to see that children in scattered country areas got equal opportunities in education. So far, I must say, the Government have been very good about that kind of situation, which is very much better than it was. But 781 transport is absolutely vital in a country area.
I want now to turn to the problem of coastal resorts about which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) interrupted me, and which the Minister did not mention in his speech. They are fed by branch lines from the main line to which I have referred. I very much agree with the leading article in The Times this morning on this debate, and which mentioned the problem of the coastal resorts, which is a very difficult one. No one is pretending that it is easy. It must be tackled; it just cannot be swept away.
In my constituency there are Skegness, Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea, Ingoldmells, Chapel St. Leonard's and Anderby Creek, all of them small, but with an enormous influx of population during the summer time. To give the worst example I can, let me take the case of Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea. Each of these has a station at present, and if those stations were abolished the people there would be 32 miles from the station at Grimsby, 44 miles from that at Lincoln, and 33 miles from that at Boston.
During the year a total of more than 400,000 people arrive at the stations serving these resorts, and are mostly from the Midlands. Nearly all are hardworking people who have come to that area for their holidays because it happens to be closer to their homes than any other area; also, incidentally, because it is a first-class place to go to. It is estimated—it is probably an underestimate—that these holiday-makers spend £2½ million during their stay at the coast. These areas have a considerable unemployment problem and until recently were scheduled as development areas. If what is proposed were allowed to happen, the economic loss involved would be disastrous.
The Minister has said—I entirely believe his good intentions—that he will be able somehow or other to maintain equivalent services in some other way. But it is extremely difficult to see how that could be arranged. The road services are quite inadequate for increased traffic, and it would take years to improve them. This is a scattered area, and our distances are much larger by definition. There are many small and narrow roads all of which will have to be improved if 782 we are to try to provide anything like equivalent services.
I wonder whether the Minister has realised that the numbers to which I have referred—just over 401,000—would require about 27,000 bus trips to take the place of the railways. Let hon. Members think what that would mean; and that is probably an underestimate, because from my rather simple calculations I estimated that in each case it would be a full bus carrying 30 people. That would, of course, not be so, because there are peaks in holiday traffic as in other forms of traffic, and there would be periods when a great many people would be arriving and the buses would be full going and not so full on the way back. So probably a far larger number of buses would be required. It is astonishing what one is up against when one considers replacing the railway services purely by bus services.
I appreciate the many difficulties which the railways have to face in dealing with the timing and seasonal pressures of holiday traffic. It gives me anxiety to learn that Dr. Beeching hopes to save a great deal of money by abolishing the coaches which he has to keep specially for this traffic. But would the problem not affect buses as well? The large number of buses needed during the summer would all have to be garaged for the winter.
There are other very simple problems which have to be faced by the ordinary family using these transport services. How does one take a perambulator on a bus? What about sanitary arrangements? There will have to be new buses. We understand that it takes about fifteen months to get a bus these days. Two years has also been mentioned, but I think that fifteen months is a fairly good estimate. That ought to be taken into account. If we are to have a vast new fleet of buses, it will take a very long time to get them into efficient functioning.
I hope that the Minister will give me an assurance that the coaches to which I have referred, on which Dr. Beeching has said he will make a saving if he abolished them, will not be abolished before the Minister makes his decision—and it has to be a general decision—about holiday resorts. It would not be very well received if he decided to allow the service to go on and then it was discovered that there was no transport available for it.
783 In this area there is also a large number of holiday caravan sites. I probably have more in my constituency than any other hon. Member. There are, roughly speaking, 20,000. I have made inquiries and have been informed that at least one-third of the people who hire caravans for the season and leave them in holiday camps in my constituency come by train. There is also Butlin's holiday camp, which gives pleasure to about 6,000 people a week, a tremendous number. Many of these people come by train. I feel that one has to take these matters rather more seriously than has been done so far.
Holiday resorts have actually been making very considerable efforts to attract foreign visitors, and hon. Members will probably be surprised to learn that they have been quite reasonably successful. Foreign families do not necessarily need casinos, for they have them at home; they like to come and see how we like to spend our holidays. The resorts have made great efforts and have been comparatively successful in attracting foreign visitors. What will happen to these seaside resorts of mine? They will find those visitors syphoned off by British Railways to the seaside resorts which are fortunate enough to have railway stations left to them—a sort of direction of holiday traffic, which does not appeal to my constituents.
I want to ask a question about mails. I know that it is a sort of half-and-half service at the moment. Incidentally, I am one of the thorns in the side of the Postmaster-General because the parcel deliveries in my constituency are rather unsatisfactory. Are they to be worse as a result of all this? That would not be a very happy thing. It will not really be "advancing into the 1970s "if that sort of thing happens.
Finally, I want to quote an extract from the Beeching Report. On page 2 it says:… it must be clearly stated that the proposals now made are not directed towards achieving that result by the simple and unsatisfactory method of rejecting all those parts of the system which do not pay already or which cannot be made to pay easily. On the contrary, the changes proposed are intended to shape the railways to meet present day requirements by enabling them to provide as much of the total transport of the country as they can provide well.784 And they do provide it well in my constituency at the present time.
To this end, proposals are directed towards developing to the full those parts of the system and those services which can be made to meet traffic requirements more efficiently and satisfactorily than any available alternative … and towards eliminating only those services which, by their very nature, railways are ill-suited to provide.I think that that is an admirable sentiment, and it seems to me to apply almost exactly to the needs and conditions of that large part of Lincolnshire which I have been trying to describe as an example. Because what is stated in the Report has not been applied in practice, because my right hon. Friend does not seem to have appreciated the problem, and because I did not like the rather ghoulish gusto with which he appeared to be ready to handle his axe in making his speech today, I am glad that he will speak again.
§ Sir J. Maitland
He will have to do better than he has done, otherwise I, for one, will not be able to support the Government.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Horn-castle (Sir J. Maitland), and I was very surprised to hear him say that he was glad that the Minister of Transport would speak again. Unless there is a very great change of heart on the part of the right hon. Gentleman between today and tomorrow night, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will get little satisfaction from any further speech delivered by the Minister.
There was some argument between our Front Bench and the Minister about some of the statements which the right hon. Gentleman made, but he made it clear that there would be little delay in implementing the Report. I took down his words when he said, "We cannot afford to delay the implementation of the plan". What the hon. Member for Horncastle asked the Minister to do was to delay the implementation of the plan. Having listened to the Minister, I despair not only for my constituency and the people whom I represent, but for almost the whole of Scotland. The position of Scotland is very serious Indeed.
785 The Minister paid what I can only describe as lip-service to the social problems which might arise from redundancy. I asked him for the names of the six areas which would be worst affected, and, finally, they were passed over to me. I will deal with that matter later. I wish to bring to the Minister's notice one or two areas in the industrial part of Scotland which will be badly affected, because not only the rural areas but some of our industrial areas will be affected by the proposed rail closures. I know that other hon. Members will speak for the rural areas.
If the Minister is determined to implement quickly and fully the proposals in the Report, quite a large part of industrial Lanarkshire will be badly affected. According to the Report, the railway line from Glasgow Central station to Edinburgh Princes Street station will be closed. That railway line goes through a good part of industrial Lanarkshire, through a part of industrial West Lothian and through quite a part of industrial Midlothian. Every part through which it goes has been very badly hit by coal mine closures and shale mine closures. This is an area which has been more severely hit by the decline of older industries than any other area in the whole of Britain.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Will my hon. Friend agree that there will be even less chance of getting the ancillary services to the British Motor Corporation factory at Bathgate if the railway line is shut down?
§ Miss Herbison
I shall deal with that point later, when I come to the problem of closures.
The places affected in my constituency are Cleland, Hartwood and Shotts. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows these places very well indeed. I will not say what I proposed to say, but I feel so angry at the tone and tenor of the Minister's speech today when I think of these people of mine.
In 1948, the area about which I am speaking and the other areas which I have mentioned were thriving coal and shale mining communities. There is not a single colliery working today in the three places which I have mentioned. Since 1948, 12 collieries in that one 786 small corner of Lanarkshire have been closed. Another colliery just outside the area is threatened with closure and at still another there is a very large number of redundancies. There is little or no alternative industry in the area. We have had many promises from this Government over the last twelve years, but no industry.
This has meant that year after year increasing numbers of people have had to travel out of the area to find work. A large number of them travel on the early morning trains from Shotts, Cleland and Hartwood into Glasgow. The people in Fauldhouse travel towards Edinburgh as do those from West Calder and Mid Calder. They will be very severely hit if this plan is carried out.
Although I have never in this House asked to have a factory built in each village of my constituency, the President of the Board of Trade has said to me on a number of occasions, "But you cannot expect us to build a factory in each district." He has told me that what the Government are concerned about is a travel-to-work area. The Government cannot have it both ways.
§ Miss Herbison
They cannot fob us off by talking about travel-to-work areas and then close important lines, thus taking away any possibility of these people having any comfort in travel even if they can find work. As the years have passed, more and more of my people have had to travel long distances to work, and more and more of them have become unemployed. The unemployment figure in the area about which I am speaking is over 10 per cent.
Many things have been said about the Beeching Report. It may be that Dr. Beeching has done a wonderful job. My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) suggested that Dr. Beeching had been rather optimistic on the financial side. I think that he has been more than optimistic about the method of travel for workers when the railways are closed. It is stated under the heading "Hardship", on page 19 of the Report:With the exception of northern Scotland, and parts of central Wales, most areas of the country are already served by a network of bus services more dense than the network 787 of rail services which will be withdrawn, and in the majority of cases these buses already carry the major proportion of local traffic.I have said that I am speaking not only about the north of Scotland but about industrial Lanarkshire. It just is not true that the buses in that area carry the vast majority of workers. The vast majority of people from Cleland and Shotts travel by train to Glasgow and from Fauldhouse by train to Edinburgh.
The Report also states:With minor exceptions, these bus services cater for the same traffic flows as the railways, on routes which are roughly parallel.That just is not applicable to this area. A small number of the regular travellers by train go by what are known as semi-fast trains—that is, if they do not have to start work too early in the morning. A semi-fast train from Shotts to Glasgow takes 36 minutes. But the majority travel by stopping train, which, on average, takes 50 to 55 minutes.
The bus service goes through almost every industrial town in Lanarkshire and many people who are to be thrown on to the roads—if the roads can take them—will find themselves faced not with a 35-minute or a 55-minute journey, but with one lasting an hour and a half. Allowing 10 minutes at each end, most are already spending two hours a day in travelling, and that is a sufficiently long time for anyone. But if the rail service is discontinued, their travelling time will be 3 hours 30 minutes, all on top of their working day.
What sort of prospect is that? I wonder whether the Government want our people to become so thoroughly exhausted that they will not have time to spend on the affairs of the nation or take an interest in them. I warn the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Transport that, in spite of the meetings at Chequers, in spite of their plans for the 1970s, the people in these areas are angrier about these proposed closures than I have ever seen them about anything else.
Now I turn to another aspect of the problem. The Report goes on:Taken as a whole, they have enough spare capacity to absorb the traffic which will be displaced from the railways, which will do no more than replace bus traffic which has been lost over the last decade, and which will provide a very welcome addition to the revenue of the bus operators.788 Again, that does not apply to this area. The hundreds who travel from Shotts, Hartwood and Cleland to Glasgow or from West Lothian and Midlothian to Edinburgh will have to have a fleet of extra buses to carry them in the mornings and evenings. It means a great number of buses going through industrial Lanarkshire. That passage of the Report seems glibly to suggest that buses will do the job, but I warn the Secretary of State that the position will be hopeless. Has he ever entered Glasgow by road at peak hours in the morning or left it at the peak period in the evening?
§ Miss Herbison
Then the right hon. Gentleman must have some realisation of the almost utter chaos in these peak periods. What will it be like when dozens of extra buses are put on? This is quite apart from the question of whether the roads between Glasgow and Edinburgh and these outer areas are able to take them.
The Minister said that he had had some consultations with the Transport Holding Company. He seemed very satisfied with the information he got. I have the information which the company put out about passenger train withdrawals. I could scarcely believe that anything could be so complacent, knowing, as I did, the position in my own constituency. If the Minister is willing to swallow this whole, he is willing to swallow anything. I want him to have a further look at it.
There is a great deal more I could say about the disabilities and hardships to be imposed on these hundreds of people, but I want to turn to another side to it. We have been told that the B.M.C. factory will attract a flow of ancillary industries to our areas. We have lost thousands of mining jobs and in Shotts we have the diesel engine company which employs over 600 people—and we are glad of it. But the Government at the moment are putting public investment into the building of two advance factories in this area and another in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). But then they intend to close the lifeline which might bring industry flowing in. That is nonsense.
789 We have waited a long time for the rehabilitation of these areas, and if the Beeching Report is adhered to and carried out in full, there will be no chance whatever in the future, if the Government continue in office, of their ever being rehabilitated.
The other end of my constituency is adjacent to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). Luggiebank, in north Lanark, is next to the new town of Cumbernauld, in Dunbartonshire, and my hon. Friend has asked me to mention it because it affects my area and in case he is not called. Is it not farcical to create a new town and then propose to close its station? It means that 14 extra buses will have to be put on in the mornings and evenings to take people to and from Glasgow, where traffic is already overcrowded, and chaotic.
§ Miss Herbison
They will come down to the beginning of Alexandra Parade at the traffic lights there and if our buses go along the A.8 they will all meet at the one time at the junction.
I hope that I have made sufficient of a case for the Secretary of State to realise that he must examine this matter very carefully and that not only hardship and chaos are involved but also the need for the development of these areas with new industries. On Wednesday, the Seventh District Council is holding a protest meeting. He will hear of the result of that meeting. We are only at the beginning and I am sure that in Dunbartonshire, West Lothian, Midlothian and Lanarkshire, we will continue to fight. But my hope is that, before the present Minister of Transport has any chance to do anything about the Beeching Report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall will be sitting on the opposite side of the House as Minister of Transport.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withing-ton)
I sympathise with the feelings of 790 the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) about the closure of pits in her constituency. Before the war, I was privileged to represent a coal constituency in Lancashire, and I can well appreciate that in her mind the word "closure" applied in other directions, now to the railways, has its own implications of distress for her and her constituents. But I remind her that the mines have been through a long process of reorganisation and readjustment and, under Lord Robens's powerful chairmanship, are now beginning to move to a happier economic level in our affairs. Surely the Beeching Plan is directed to do just that for the railways —to bring the railways back to a more economic and profit-earning level within the British economy.
§ Sir R. Cary
That is unfair at this early stage in a plan which must take a substantial time to deploy and which in toto may have to be deployed by Members from either side of the House with the responsibility of the Government. It is a plan fundamental to the British economy. No recommendation, for instance from the National Economic Development Council, in relation to economic trading will be successful unless the fundamental changes which the Beeching Report represents are made first.
I hope I do not misrepresent either my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who is sitting beside him, if I say that the object of the exercise is to transfer passengers from the railways to the roads and goods from the roads to the railways. That is why the nub of the Beeching Plan is the liner train. To take one tactical example in illustration of that; the other morning, trying to come to the House, I had to come through the dense traffic at New Cross and to follow a gigantic vehicle on the back of which were printed the words "Rank's Bulk Flour. Bringing you your daily bread." It seemed to be almost trying to prevent me from earning my daily bread. That is the sort of vehicle on our roads which, I hope, will disappear with the introduction of the liner train which can take the sort of cargoes which should never have left the railways.
791 The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd) took the Government to task for some of their claims about railway modernisation, and he cited the electrified railway from Euston to Manchester. I am very grateful to the Government and to British Railways for proceeding with that scheme, not only for the work and modernisation, which to some extent has had to be subsidised by Parliament, but for the rebuilding of London Road Station, now Piccadilly Station, in Manchester. I am also grateful that the work of rebuilding Euston Station has at last been started. When that operation is complete, the electrification of the Man-chester-Euston line, with its completely rebuilt capital stations—Piccadilly and the London terminal of Euston—will be an extremely fine contribution to the country's transport system.
§ Mr. Popplewell
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the electrification of the old L.M.S. line to Euston started from Manchester but was stopped at Crewe for four or five years and has only recently begun to be completed. Is that an efficient way of helping the British Transport Commission to overcome its difficulties?
§ Sir R. Cary
I give the point to the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Attercliffe said the same thing. He called it the brake-accelerator, stop-go policy of modernisation, but he made no allowance for the prodigious rise in costs. That was the brake. We could not go to a level of expenditure which was already beginning to frighten the House of Commons. We have heard today from my right hon. Friend of the likely estimate of cost by 1970 if the Beeching Plan were not proceeded with. There is no questioning the need for the plan and for many supplementary plans in imitation of it if we are to get the fundamentals of the economy right.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on compressing this enormous story into a speech of only 54 minutes. This is a technical problem, but it is much more a human problem and I was delighted to hear from my tight hon. Friend of the redundancy agreement signed two months ago and that it is already the custom within the six areas being studied for men and staff to be transferred. When I heard his estimate of the numbers likely to become unemployed, but perhaps as 792 quickly re-employed, I was reminded that in Manchester only last week the last engine left the great workshop depot where 1,300 men were suddenly out of work. This is important and tragic, and I say to my right hon. Friend that the success of this vast technical contribution to our economic life will be the human aspect of the matter and the generous, swift and ready way that the labour displaced by the plan is dealt with. This is the first obligation resting upon the Government.
As an old member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure who toured many of the railway centres and depôts and ports during the war, I believe that all too little tribute has been paid to the railways for the enormous burden they bore between 1939 and 1945 under the Railway Executive and the enormous obligation which we owe to the railway staffs whose services were as vital as those of the fighting Services and the mercantile marine. Great public tribute is always paid to the fighting Services and the mercantile marine, but all too little to the fundamental part played by the railway system not only in the last war, but in the first stages of the 1914–18 war.
May I deal with one matter concerning the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland), who spoke in such detail about the impact of the transfer of passengers from railways to buses? In view of a number of things said by my right hon. Friend about things as they now exist, may I remind my hon. Friend that many areas, like Lancashire and Westmorland and Cumberland, are already badly served by and starved of transport. It is not a question of bringing a problem to these areas—it already exists there. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir), who has played such a vigorous part in regard to this matter, has great claims on the Minister of Transport to meet some of the urgent rural bus needs in his constituency and in the surrounding areas.
Our first problem—and this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle—is that we have to go through a period of completely redesigning many vehicles on the road. How does one get a pram into a bus? If one travels by train, one can carry the luggage and 793 impedimenta which a family needs when it moves. It is possible to take prams and boxes of various sizes.
§ Sir R. Cary
No. Still being something of an Edwardian, mine are large and claret-coloured.
Even on the little-used lines the trains are fitted with suitable luggage racks which one can use, and when my family visits me half the guard's van is used for their luggage. I could bring them down in my car, but as they bring so many awkward bits of luggage it is far better to let them travel by train.
I do not want my right hon. Friend to mislead the House with regard to buses and their strength. Who owns the buses now? Buses and coaches make up 75 per cent, of the vehicles on our roads. The British Transport Commission, now transferred to the holding company, owns 19 per cent. The Commission and British Electric Traction own 14 per cent. London Transport owns 12 per cent., and private operators own 28 per cent. I am almost the largest private operator and the businesses tail away to quite small ones. With a fleet of 500 double-deckers, I am, as I say, perhaps the largest of the private operators, but the important thing to remember is that the municipalities own 25 per cent, of the buses, and they and the private operators between them own over 50 per cent, of the road passenger vehicles.
Therefore, when my right hon. Friend talks about the need to rebuild our provincial cities to meet the needs of the motor car and says that this is the most important social operation of our time, I ask him to make sure that in his planning he receives the full co-operation of the municipalities.
§ Sir R. Cary
The rates will not go up. The municipalities are extremely proud of their transport undertakings. They do not like being dictated to by a body like the holding company. They are proud and parochial about their wonderful services in such places as Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, York and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They will cling to their services, and I therefore beg my right hon. Friend to get their 794 co-operation when trying to work out any transport plans.
The United States made the motor car into a god. They worship it. They have built great express-ways with clover leaf junctions and made the motor car a status symbol. It is not merely a case of everyone having a car, but of families having two cars with perhaps a motor scooter as well. The situation there has become chaotic. What is the President proposing to do? He plans to spend £178 million over the next ten years to rehabilitate the public service passenger transport system.
I hope that out of the Beeching Plan will come a rehabilitation of the great public road services of our country, and that by an adjustment between rail and road services the rural areas will have a near perfect, if not a perfect, bus service.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), because he and I have interests in road passenger transport undertakings. For many years we have been closely associated with the road passenger transport service, and I think that we have a contribution to make to this debate with regard to the question of the development of our national transport system.
I join the hon. Gentleman in warmly congratulating his hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland), and I congratulate, too, my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), for the splendid way in which they placed before the House the problems of their respective constituencies. Because of the Beeching Report, Bradford and the surrounding areas also have problems, and I have no doubt that if the Beeching recommendations are carried out in full serious hardship will in many cases be inflicted on the travelling public in Yorkshire.
I know that many areas are worse hit than Yorkshire. I am thinking in particular of the countryside of Scotland and Wales, and the more isolated areas of the country. They will be affected to a greater degree than we shall be, but, nevertheless, the speeches which have been made show that throughout the length and breadth of England, Scotland, and Wales, there is grave concern that 795 the community interest is to be sacrificed for the sake of implementing the Beeching recommendations.
This Report is a frank and comprehensive assessment of the present position of the railways. Its importance lies not only in its directness, but in its clear pointers to the wider issues involved. It brings Parliament and the country face to face with the vast problems of road and rail transport. It is a shock Report—a necessary form of medical treatment to bring about a more rational approach to our transport problems. But the proposals to reduce the size and service of the railways are so vast—they will have such a vital impact upon industrial and social requirements and are so closely related to road traffic and congestion—that they ought to form part of a wider examination of the whole transport system, covering especially the subject of road haulage and passenger transport.
I accept at once that changes must be made in our railway system to meet the requirements of the changing pattern of transport, but they should be part of an all-embracing scheme, well thought-out and designed to serve the national interest. An examination into the cost of road maintenance and construction would also be valuable both to the Exchequer and to local authorities. An estimate of the increase in costs which might arise from a further increase of road traffic would be especially valuable. Today, expenditure on our roads is totally inadequate to meet the demands of the nation. It is, therefore, important that the Government should indicate clearly what they have in mind in respect of this matter. Without the necessary figures we cannot arrive at a proper assessment in respect of the annual loss of the railways and the cost of the roads.
We must also consider the human side of the problem. We cannot dismiss from consideration the needs of the travelling public, especially the needs of those living in the countryside. Reasonable travelling facilities and costs are vital factors in our national life. Thousands of people living outside our large cities and towns find that the cost of travelling from home to their place of employment is becoming a serious financial burden. In many cases it involves real hardship. It sparks off demands for pay 796 increases, which add to the cost of production. There is a limit to the extent to which we can increase the cost of travel to the general public.
Deaths and injuries upon the roads are appalling. Apart from the unhappiness they cause, their total cost must run into millions of pounds each year. Although the Government are fully aware of this unnecessary waste of life and productivity they have refused to apply the most effective remedy—of reducing the volume of road traffic. To allow casualties to continue on this scale is a crime against society. Have we really become so bent upon private profit that our regard for human life is impaired? Have we completely lost our sense of human values? Is there no one on the Government side who will cry out aloud against this slaughter on our roads, and insist upon action now?
We must also consider the personal position of those engaged in the railway industry. Some men who have served the industry well have at no time enjoyed the standard of wages and conditions of employment available in other industries. They fear the loss of their jobs, the uprooting of their homes, and their being thrown on the scrap heap. Their resentment is understandable. I wonder what would be the reaction of other sections of our community if they were confronted with similar circumstances.
Many people who have studied the transport problem believe, with me, that the most urgent need of industry is the reduction of transport costs. If a survey of these costs were made it would be found that they represent a high proportion of the cost of production. In the conditions prevailing immediately after the last war, when we enjoyed a sellers' market, transport costs may not have been so important; they were merely added to the bill. Today, however, we are in a very keen buyers' market, in which price and quality are the factors governing increased sales abroad.
Faced with ever-increasing competition in world markets, we cannot afford to maintain private fleets of motor vehicles, running loaded only one way, carrying limited loads and having to suffer all the traffic delays which arise from congestion. Some way must be 797 found to bring about co-ordination between road and rail transport. This is essential for the industrial life of the nation.
I have been impressed by the measure of co-ordination between road and rail transport which has been achieved by the Unilever Group. It is some years since I last spoke on this subject. The system is operated through a subsidiary company called S.P.D., which, I understand, means Speedy, Prompt Delivery. A complete goods train is loaded at a certain factory and is transported through the night to one of the regional depots of the S.P.D. company, ready for immediate unloading next morning. That is an ideal system, creating as it does a complete and wise co-ordination of road and rail transport. Bulk traffic is taken by rail to the regional depot and is then distributed by the private fleet of delivery cars in the region. This avoids the long run, possibly 50 to 100 miles, and takes the trainload the whole distance.
I hope that the Minister will pay attention to this point: I have suggested in the past that there is nothing to stop British Railways from providing similar facilities for the smaller industrial units of the country. There is no reason why some arrangement could not be reached by which the goods were taken to regional rail depôts in order that manufacturers had the benefit of the best possible form of bulk transport with the facility of speedy distribution by road in the area.
The Minister ought to have moved along those lines a long time ago. The fact that there has been no serious attempt to co-ordinate the activities of the railways with industry has been largely due to the lack of Government initiative. On many occasions I asked that the British Transport Commission should get in direct touch with the Federation of British Industries so that they could sit down together and hammer out a sensible policy of rail and road transport. I believe that it could be done. There have been many objections and criticisms of delays and pilfering on the railways, but all these things were capable of being solved. There is always a solution for everything. If they had met round the table together they would have been able to find a sensible solution.
I believe that our industrial prosperity will depend upon the wisdom of the Gov- 798 ernment, of Parliament and of industry in setting aside, as far as we can, our own ideas and in being prepared to compromise to get a system which, by and large, will give industry, the travelling public and society at large the type of service which will help us in our fight to maintain the prosperity of the country and to retain those social contacts between country and town which are so essential to the communal life of the nation.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy) will not mind if I do not follow his argument, although I go a good deal of the way with him. I do not want to leave in anyone's mind the impression that I advocate keeping railways open in order to carry prams of Edwardian proportions.
I want to deal with one particular and rather special problem. Before I do so, may I make my comment on the Beeching Report as a whole? I refer to the fresh air which Dr. Beeching has brought to the debate in that for once we are talking with a certain amount of fact in our possession and rather less than the usual amount of hunches.
The proposals with which I want to deal is that to close two railway lines which feed the Larne-Stranraer ferry service. This is not a matter of parochial interest. It is of interest to the whole of Northern Ireland and also to South-West Scotland. I will not deal with the Scottish case, for there are Scottish hon. Members who can deal with it far better than I; also I believe that the case which Northern Ireland can put up for keeping these railways lines open is much stronger than that which Scotland can put up. I mean no harm to Scotland in saying that.
On general lines, we must oppose these railways being closed because closing them would damage the communications between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is axiomatic that the economy of Northern Ireland depends on the very closest possible communication between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. There are a number of services between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, but the Lame-Stranraer service, which will be damaged by closing these railway lines, is unique. There are only 80 minutes of open water on the crossing, and the boat can be turned round 799 four or five times a day if necessary. This is the only service operating in which there is anything like this flexibility.
Virtually all the other services for passengers go through Belfast, and one has only to see the Belfast dock area to realise that it is almost as badly congested—not quite—as is the Glasgow dock area. Larne and Stranraer are both free and uncongested ports at which ships can be loaded and unloaded literally in a matter of minutes and people can be given a first-class service. Last but not least, both Stranraer and Larne are on the threshold of very attractive tourist areas, and it is the tourist traffic which particularly depends on this unique service.
There is also a strategic interest in the short sea crossing. I am no expert in defence and should not like to expand on this subject, but I am glad that the Minister today agreed to consult the Service experts on the strategic importance of this short sea crossing.
The closing of the railways would not only damage the service which is available on the Larne-Stranraer Ferry. The fear exists that if we close the two railways which serve Stranraer we shall take away so much freight from the Stranraer crossing that the ship, which is now making £250,000 a year, will "go into the red" and British Railways will be able to put the "Caledonian Princess", one of the finest ships on any service in the British Isles, on some other route. This is a fear which is very much present in Northern Ireland, for we recall the threat which British Railways made when the ship was first put there that if it did not make money it would be taken away.
The service and the railways carry a great deal of general freight. These considerations could be applied to any other cross-Channel route connecting Northern Ireland to Britain, but there are three special advantages which only the railways communicating with the Larne-Stranraer crossing can give to Northern Ireland. About 60 per cent, of the tourists who go to Northern Ireland are from the northern part of Great Britain. The Larne-Stranraer service, with good rail connections, allows a family from Newcastle-on-Tyne and elsewhere in the North-East to leave home at a reasonable 800 hour in the morning, to cross to Northern Ireland and to be in their hotel or boarding house at a reasonable hour in the evening. That is especially important where there are young children. It is not necessary to persuade them to sleep in the cabin of a ship which is strange and stuffy and in which there are odd noises. Since the daily service was restored two years ago our traffic from that area has grown out of all recognition. Exactly the same considerations apply to the many tourists who visit Northern Ireland from Scotland.
There is also the considerable advantage on the Larne-Stranraer route that one can leave London at a reasonable hour in the evening and awaken in Northern Ireland next morning, having spent only 80 minutes on the open sea. It may seem difficult to understand, but there are a considerable number of people—I have met a number since the Beeching Report was published—who do not like flying or whose health will not allow them to fly. Generally speaking, the kind of people who do not like flying do not like long sea crossings, either. The number of people who will not cross to England from Ireland by any other route except the short-sea crossing is very much larger than might be thought. There are many among them who are people of very considerable importance to the economy of Northern Ireland, business men, investors, exporters and entrepreneurs.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that last year the number of passengers on the boat increased by 17 per cent, and the profit on the boat increased by 28 per cent? Therefore, there must be a great number of people who prefer this crossing.
§ Mr. Clark
I thank my hon. Friend, and I want to expand on that point. The type of people who come on the service from London by night sleeper to Stranraer and then to Larne are very much the type of people mentioned in the Toothill Report on the development of Scotland quite recently and the type of people for whom it pays to run a good air service. That service is not inconsiderable. Last, but not least, the special type of service on the Stranraer Larne route is the carriage of perishable foodstuffs. This is of particular interest 801 to me, because a large number of producers of broilers, mushrooms and vegetables of various sorts in my constituency send their produce direct to the canneries in the north-east of England by the Larne-Stranraer service who would otherwise find it virtually impossible to get their stuff in fresh condition to those canneries.
Those are the three special advantages as well as the general consideration. There are two problems here because there are two lines which serve Stranraer. There is the Dumfries-Stranraer line, and from the figures that we have received from Scottish Region there would be a saving of £30,000 a year if that railway were closed. In other words, the operating cost exceeds the revenue by £30,000. That is not a great sum in comparison with the sum that we are talking about for the railways, and particularly when it is remembered that that railway is still operating on steam with a very high operational cost. If diesel engines could be introduced, it might be possible to eliminate entirely that loss of £30,000.
The other railway is from Stranraer to Ayr, and the loss on that that would be saved would be £66,000. It is in some ways more difficult to justify keeping the Stranraer-Ayr railway open, but a not unimportant point is that the Ayr County Council recently investigated road needs to replace the railway and found that it would cost £530,000 to bring the A.76 road up to the standard to replace the railways. The country there is particularly difficult.
This is not a static problem; it is a problem that must be looked upon in terms of development and change. It is well worth looking at the history of the ferry service over the last few years. We all remember, I am sure, the tragedy of the "Princess Victoria." When the "Princess Victoria" sank, obviously that route received a blow from which it took a very long time to recover. When British Railways were eventually persuaded—and they took some persuading —to put the "Caledonian Princess," the new boat, on to the line it was an immediate success. The profits in the first year of the "Caledonian Princess" were over £200,000, and last year the profit was £286,000 on the running of the steamer. The loss which could be saved on the two railway lines is £100,000.
802 The trouble is that we have had no railway development on the same lines as we have had the development of the steamer. We have been given a first-class steamer and we want first-class railways to serve it. I have been impressed by Dr. Beeching's idea of a liner train. The obvious route for a liner train is one that starts at London and picks up freight at a dozen places and eventually lands it at Stranraer for the delivery of the goods next morning in Northern Ireland. Equally we have been interested in the development by British Railways during the last three or four years of car trains in which one can take one's car and a sleeper and arrive either on the Continent or in north of Scotland in a few hours fresh and ready for the start of a motoring holiday. Why not a car train from Stranraer to London so that we in Northern Ireland can reach the Continent with our cars only 12 or 14 hours after leaving home? At the present time, the journey takes some 36 hours. If we could have these developments, I do not think that we need worry about the possible losses.
The other point which I want to stress as much as possible is that the development of the railways and of the ship will do a great deal. Dr. Beeching has pointed out the place where one can make money is where one is running a traffic route between two important industrial centres. Belfast and Glasgow and the areas immediately around are two immensely important industrial centres. Northern Ireland and the north-east of England, and Northern Ireland and the south-east of England are important industrial areas and they must be connected. Not only that, Northern Ireland is growing faster, perhaps from a bit of a back log, than any other part of the United Kingdom. I know that Scotland, too, has slack in its economy and is expanding faster than most parts of the United Kingdom. We in Northern Ireland and Scotland as well are determined that we shall expand. Even though the railways cannot be made to make money today, with a better rail service there is no question that as the two economies in Scotland and Northern Ireland expand there will be more and more freight for them.
There is, of course, a direct sea service from Belfast to Glasgow. Both Belfast 803 and Glasgow are congested and Stranraer and Lame are on the periphery and can be got to easily. The Matthews Report on the planning of the Belfast area of Northern Ireland stressed the importance of developing towns and uncongested places such as Larne.
If we follow the rules as they have been laid down, this railway decision will come before the Scottish Railway Users' Consultative Committee. Is that the right body to decide a question which is essentially or mainly one of importance to Northern Ireland? I respect the probity of my Scottish friends and would say nothing against the Scottish Railway Users' Consultative Committee, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is a decision that has to be taken at national level. I ask my right hon. Friend to give these railways a reprieve as quickly as possible. Even the threat to the railways is having effect on the economy of many small towns in my constituency, and I have heard of hotel keepers who have decided not to expand and other small industries who feel that their part of the country will be hit badly. I ask the Minister to give us a reprieve. If he does close the railways now, he may well be putting a limit to the expansion not only of Northern Ireland but of Scotland, which are both places which need expansion.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
My intervention will be brief because I appreciate that a large number of Members want to participate in the debate. Dr. Beeching's Report has proved to be the most staggering Report ever presented to any Government. No one can claim that it is brilliant. Hon. Members opposite have paid compliments to Dr. Beeching for his Report. Apart from a few technical statistics, I cannot see that Dr. Beeching has produced anything that any man of average intelligence could not have produced. When Dr. Beeching was appointed to his post, at £460 a week, I thought that this was a man who could reconstitute our whole railway system and make it a form of social service of which we could be proud. What a disappointment!
Dr. Beeching has simply done what any one of us would have done. He has closed the railways. If I stopped a train, 804 I would be fined £5. Dr. Beeching stops a third of the railway system and gets a cheque for £24,000. That is the only difference. On the law of averages, as I should be fined £5, the Minister should be deported.
I speak tonight as a Welshman. I am concerned principally with Wales. What will the proposals mean to Wales? For practical purposes, Wales will be denuded of all its railway system. It is true that there will be a train running from Chester to Holyhead and one from Bristol to Fishguard, but it is interesting to note that those lines will be retained to serve a country which is not even a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
It may be argued that the people of Wales can board those trains—but not very easily. Many important stations en route, including such places as Prestatyn and Colwyn Bay, will be closed. It is, therefore, accurate for me to allege that the only two main lines to be retained in Wales will be retained, not in the interests of the Welsh people, but in the interest of another country. I know that we in Wales are magnanimous, and we do not forget that the Irish are fellow Celts.
Large towns in mid-Wales will be entirely isolated; all the railway system will be removed. That is an area in which bus services are not available. Not only will the people living in the area be isolated. They will also lose their livelihood. In mid-Wales there are such towns as Llandrindod Wells, which is a noted health resort, famous for its wells, its spa.
§ Mr. Jones
Yes. That shows that it is a healthy part of Wales. How can those people manage if visitors are not able to travel there? Visitors will not be able to get there, unless they go by car. It is not everyone who has a car, even in these days. These people will be robbed of their livelihood. At the same time, they will be completely isolated.
When the Minister of Transport endorses Dr. Beeching's proposals, and closes these lines, I urge him not to say that he is doing it because they do not pay. They may not be paying in 805 pounds, shillings and pence, but I want him to put in the balance the human misery which will be created in an area such as mid—Wales. This is no exaggeration. We can picture it. These people will be living there—not living, but existing—in isolation. We on this side of the House regard transport as a form of social service, and a social service which is as essential as is the supply of electricity, gas and water, and the Health Service.
If an electricity board argued along the lines on which Dr. Beeching argues and said, "We can supply electricity only in areas where it pays", all these rural areas in mid—Wales would be deprived of the privilege of having electricity, because it does not pay and was never intended to pay. It is treated merely as a social service.
I come to the most important county in Wales—Merionethshire, which I have the honour to represent. This is one of the largest counties in Wales. Three—quarters of it is within the Snowdonia National Park. I need hardly point out that it caters for, and depends greatly on, tourists.
§ Mr. Jones
Not Tories. There are no Tories there. I am the only Socialist Member of Parliament who was not opposed by a Conservative at the last General Election. They dared not put a man against me! Next time we will not have one again, either, because there will not be a train to carry him there.
Within the confines of Merionethshire there are two toy railways, narrow gauge railways, which cater for the tourist industry and are very prosperous. Every summer thousands of people are carried by these what I call toy railways. I am sorry to have to say it from these benches, but, ironically enough, they are privately owned. They prosper. They want to expand, and they intend to expand this coming summer. Henceforth, Merionethshire will be served by only one single line along the Cambrian coast to take people from Aberystwyth to Criccieth, the home of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George).
I charge the Railways Board with not having made the slightest effort to cater for the tourists and exploit the situation 806 in this area in the summer months. The Board is obsessed with one idea—the closure of railways. One of the lines to be closed is that running from Bar—mouth to Ruabon, yet I am told that one day last summer about 100 passengers were stranded at Barmouth station, unable to get on to the train because it was full. That was by no means an isolated case. Despite this, Dr. Beeching proposes to close this line.
I am led to believe—and I hold to this conviction—that the Railways Board has been far more concerned with closing railways than with even making them pay. I hold this conviction because the Board seems to have derived pleasure from seeing the railways close. This was brought home to me when it was decided to close the branch line between Bala and Blaenau Ffestiniog. I will agree, for the sake of argument, that this line had been losing money for a while. However, by a stroke of good luck, it was decided to establish an atomic power station at Trawsfynydd, through which the railway passed. This was four years ago, when it was anticipated that thousands of workers—and I say "thousands" without exaggeration—would be called upon to work at the new power station.
I thought that, at last, this line would be made to pay. "I am sure that the Transport Commission would be pleased to know of this", I thought. However, when it was decided to establish this big power station it was also decided, without reprieve, to close the railway! I asked the authorities, "How will these thousands of workers get to their jobs?" I was told "They can go by road." So the railway was closed; not only that, but they soon removed the track to prevent even the Labour Government from replacing the railway when we get to power in a few months' time.
A few moments ago I mentioned the privately—owned railway owned by the Ffestiniog Railway Company. It is a going concern, because it caters for the tourists who come to this beautiful part of our country. The Minister has been there on holiday. I recall that some time ago, in private conversation, the right hon. Gentleman asked me in the corridor of the House if I could tell him the height of Snowdon. I said, "Ten miles".
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member is most amusing and makes an entertaining speech. What he has now said is, I think, not strictly accurate.
§ Mr. Jones
I am sorry that I did not report that to Dr. Beeching at the time, because I did not have it on the record. However, I have witnesses. With me are five gentlemen who heard the remark and who have oft—times reminded me of it. I admit that at the moment I was asked the question I could not give the Minister the exact height of Snowdon. I have since found out and I can now assure him that the figure I have given is correct.
The tourists who are brought to this lovely part of the country to this toy railway from Llandudno Junction will be affected, because the line about which I am speaking is to be closed. It will mean that Blaenau Ffestiniog will have no railway at all leading to it; and it is in my constituency with a population of 7,000 people. Despite all this the Minister merely answers by saying, "We will provide bus services." He must be aware that this is just not practical in this part of the country for many reasons. One cannot be sure of bus services in the winter.
During the last winter, which was very severe, the people there were stranded for weeks on end because the roads were not in a fit condition to allow buses to travel. Neither are the roads of Merionethshire in a fit state to take heavy traffic. Whose fault is that? It is certainly not the fault of the county council. The culprit is the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite, because last year he reduced our maintenance grant by £25,000.
The Minister now says, "Close these railways. They do not pay. Let us close them all." At the same time, he says, "I am cutting down your grants, so I will not allow you even to improve your roads so that they can take the greater amount of traffic." I urge the right hon. 808 Gentleman to look at the Beeching proposals again in a totally different light and not purely in terms of pounds, shillings and pence. He should take a Christian outlook on the matter.
To think that people living in townships such as I have mentioned should be completely isolated in the midst of the twentieth century, stranded and away from their loved ones, is almost fantastic. Families and friends will be taken 50 miles to the nearest hospital at Wrexham. They may be in hospital for months and their relatives and friends will not be able to visit them because there will be no trains. Only by hiring a taxi, an extremely expensive business, will these people be able to make the 100—mile return journey.
I urge the Minister to think how inhuman even that can be for people who will not be able to visit their loved ones in hospital on visiting day. A great responsibility rests on the Minister's shoulders. Whatever Dr. Beeching has proposed, only the Minister can accept the responsibility for either accepting or rejecting the Beeching recommendations.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
We have heard a pleasant voice from Merionethshire making a first—class case and I regret to learn that the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) feels that his constituents and his part of the country will be so badly off. I have my doubts that anyone or anything will keep visitors away from Merioneth, Criccieth and the lovely Welsh scene.
If it is any consolation to the hon. Member, my constituents are threatened with a very much worse situation because an area north of Inverness, comprising five counties in Scotland—an area at least as big as Wales—will have no railways at all. However, I am sure that the tourists will continue to come, because already the majority of them come by car.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Minister— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Let me say it—because in his opening remarks he referred to the care that is proposed to be given to the question of redundant railwaymen. I share the view expressed by one of my hon. Friends who, a few moments ago, spoke of the excellent service which the railwaymen 809 gave during the last war. I remember them very well. They were quite remarkable services. As some of those who are threatened with redundancy must be among those I refer to, it was very pleasant to hear the Minister speak as he did of the agreement that has been reached on this issue between the trade unions and the Government.
In addition to treating these men very generously financially, I hope that the authorities will do something even more important—find them a job. Men who have spent their working lives in one industry, going to the same place of work every day for regular hours, get very bored if they have nothing to do. Boredom in retirement can be a killer—
§ Sir D. Robertson
Yes, that is true.
I have always been concerned about the two railway lines that serve the Highlands of Scotland. There is the great main-line train that runs from Euston, via Crewe and Carlisle, through Perth and Inverness and Wick and Thurso to Kyle of Lochalsh and the West Coast. The longest railway journey in Great Britain is threatened with cessation. In both world wars that was a vital lifeline to the Navy. A special train left Euston every night, and another left Thurso every night, carrying naval personnel to and from Scapa Flow, in Orkney. Throughout all the bombing, that train always went through. Now, because the Royal Navy no longer uses Scapa and it is of no importance to defence, the defence chiefs have turned their backs on it. They feel that they can do without it, but I wonder whether they are right.
The other line is that from Glasgow up the West Coast to Fort William, and then on to Mallaig. That line, too, would have been closed had 'it not been for a circumstance to which I shall refer in a moment. Both of these railways, serving half of Scotland, would have been shut down were it not that the Government found a means of keeping the West Highland line open. The West Highland line was kept open because the Government have helped Wiggins Teape and Company, an important firm in the paper trade, to open a pulp mill at Corpach, which I know very well, and which 810 is outside Fort William. It will cost a lot of money.
The Prime Minister said in Glasgow on Friday last that it will do a great deal of good for the Highlands, but I consider that to be an overstatement. It is bound to do great good in that immediate neighbourhood, but it is 200 miles from Thurso and Wick, and further from Orkney and Shetland, so I cannot concieve of any great help it will be there. But I congratulate the Government in siting this mill there because it has saved the railway for the other trades that are concerned—the herring trade from Mallaig, the white fish trade, and the tourist trade, which is of considerable importance there.
I just wonder why the Government have not thought of doing something similar on the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. If a pulp mill is justified here, we could justify two or three more in the Highland area, particularly after listening to Questions in the House last week, when various hon. Members complained of serious unemployment in the paper-making industry in Aberdeenshire. I read at the weekend that Albert Reed and Company, the greatest paper manufacturer in Britain, is closing down two mills, and making a deal with a Canadian corporation in the pulp and paper trade. This is rather a serious situation, and it came out at Question Time that the reason for this unemployment in the trade in Scotland —and in England—is that the duty on imported paper from Scandinavia has been reduced.
For generations, our paper mills have bought their paper-making pulp in bulk from Finland, Sweden and Norway. The Scandinavians left the paper-making to us, but they now want both sides of the trade—they want to make the pulp and the paper, too. Because their mills are closer to the pulp mills than ours are they have an advantage in costs, and are able to undersell us. Presumably, that is why the great plant is being built at Fort William, but I wonder why other such plants are not being built.
Today, I asked our research officials in the Library to let me know how many pulp mills there are in Norway. It will interest the House to know that Norway has 65 pulp mills, with a production, in 811 1962, of 1,435,000 tons: 65 mills in Norway—one in Scotland. There are about 120 mills in Sweden, though I do not know what their production is. Surely, this is a solution to the problem that rests on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport although, of course, it rests on other Ministers even more heavily—the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour.
Two monsters have been allowed to be created in this country: London and the South-East, and Birmingham, Coventry and the Midlands—and Glasgow is not that much better. We have millions of people living in those areas, where over-employment has prevailed for a long time. Does anyone wonder that people who are unemployed, or threatened with unemployment, come from the North-East, from Lancashire and from Scotland? It is the natural place for them to come to. It is equally natural that manufacturers should want to set up in these areas, because they will be in the great markets and will be able to manufacture and sell where they are.
The Government should never have allowed it to happen. They had the power in their hands to stop it with the industrial development certificates, but they handed out the I.D.C.s anyhow. Not one English firm has been brought into my area, with two counties of close on 1 million acres in the North of Scotland. Some of the bigger firms that have, may be, moved to the North-East or to Lowland Scotland got concessions before they came to open another plant where they came from.
I believe that that was true of Messrs. Rootes before they agreed to come. We are very glad to get them in Scotland, of course, but they got concessions elsewhere. The Government cannot deny that these certificates have been handed out far too freely. There is no reason why thousands of jobs could not have been created in Lancashire, the North-East and Scotland if the certificates had been used properly.
The Government have allowed irresponsibility—and, heaven knows, industry does not show much responsibility—because it is very unpleasant for the bulk of those living in these monster cities and 812 areas to live there. I wonder whether the Government see, as I do, scores of people at the bus stops—men and women patiently waiting for a bus, only to find that, when it comes along, the bus is full. I am told that the same thing happens in Glasgow, and I have no doubt that it does.
On one occasion I changed at Croydon for the City, and got into a train composed of coaches without compartments —two double seats on each side, and a central gangway. It was packed to suffocation. I hung on to something, and asked a middle-aged woman standing near me, "Do you travel regularly on this line?" "Every day", she replied. I asked, "Is it as bad as this?" She answered, "Sometimes worse." I could not conceive of anything being worse.
If we allowed cattle and sheep from Scotland or elsewhere to travel in these conditions the House would lift the roof, but because these are human beings, who have to go to work and get home again, who have to put up with these conditions and they go on their own feet, nobody says anything about it. These conditions are disgraceful. The Government have undoubtedly helped to create them by overcrowding these areas and leaving great areas like mine in a state of depopulation. The two counties are the most depopulated counties in the mainland of Great Britain and they have the highest unemployment. When I became an Independent Member the unemployment rate in Caithness and Sutherland was 20.8 per cent. I could not carry on any longer and support a Government who were allowing a situation like that to continue.
We have always had a higher rate of emigration than any other part of Great Britain. Even today most of the young people leave to go to the Services, or to join the police, or to enter the nursing service. Few stay at home. When I became the Member in 1950 I had an investigation made and I was told that only one child in 20 had a chance to stay there. What is wrong with us in the House? Why do we tolerate these things? Why does my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport sit there and take all the responsibility and all the criticisms, as he took them when he made his very courageous speech today? Only a fraction of the blame lies with him 813 There are much greater criminals than my right hon. Friend, beginning with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Sir D. Robertson
Ten years ago I discovered with little trouble that the line north of Inverness was losing money heavily. When the railways were taken over in 1948 the management came to the conclusion that they were running a monopoly, as Lord Robens does in fuel and power. They refused to do the first thing that a railway should do, and that is fill the trains. If any organisation must have a large turnover it is the railways, open seven days and seven nights a week with all stations and signal boxes manned. The way to make money on the railways is the way the private companies made it, before nationalisation and before the days of motor cars, by filling the trains. The most successful railway in Scotland was the Glasgow and South-Western Railway. It had a limited amount of line and it ran a great number of trains down the coast to Stranraer and it paid its way.
To return to the subject of the paper mill, great credit is due to those responsible for setting it up, but why only one and why no light industries in our old Highland towns and villages? In recent months, when the great needs of Scotland became apparent and we had so many unemployed, I felt, as, I think, did the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), that although we in the Highland areas have a big percentage of unemployment the numbers are small compared with those in Glasgow, Edinburgh and also in North Lanarkshire, about which we heard today in a fine, stalwart fighting speech from the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). The collieries which have been closed in recent years in her constituency are among those which supplied Glasgow with essential power for the needs of the Industrial Revolution which began there in the 18th and continued in the 19th century.
When I found, years ago, that things were so bad on the railways, and that we were losing so much money, I canvassed public opinion and suggested that the railway in our part of Scotland should be turned into a fast motor road which would be denied to pedestrians, cyclists, 814 cattle and tractors, and so on. We are short of a trunk road. The only one we have between Inverness and the North of Scotland, at Pentland Firth, is one built from the earliest days, when it was a cattle track. It follows the lowest points of the land and runs almost at sea level for a good part of the way. It does not go north at all in some parts. It goes west round the lochs.
The railway, which was a road before rails were put on it, should have been turned into a first—class trunk road, 22 ft. wide with a 19 ft. carriageway. I suggested this to the Government. I went to an eminent firm of civil engineering consultants and put the scheme to its representatives. They thought well of it and they estimated from the Ordnance Survey maps that it would cost £4¼ million to convert. The loss was £500,000 a year. It was calculated actuarially that to buy off that loss would have cost far more than £4¼ million. I think that the Ministry of Transport was keen on the idea, but at about that time responsibility for roads was being turned over to the Scottish Office. The Minister of Transport did not give me a decision and, of course, when it entered the Scottish Office that was the end. I abandoned all hope when it got there.
I was told by the Scottish Office that a 22 ft. road was not sufficient. It did not comply with modern trends, but 95 per cent. of our roads are only 9 ft. or 10 ft. wide with passing places. We have nothing like a 22 ft-wide road anywhere, unless some patching has been done recently of which I know nothing. The Scottish Office said that the job could not be done for £4¼ million. I went back to Balfour Beatty & Co. After the firm's top engineers had walked the line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso they said that the cost was still £4¼ million.
The late Sir James Henderson-Stewart, when he was a member of the Government, then told us that if we wanted the road it would cost £12 million. I suppose that he meant one of those lovely roads with islands in the middle, but we do not need a road of that kind. A road 22 ft. wide would have been wonderful for us. I worked on the idea for many years and I addressed public meetings all over the place. There was little doubt in my mind that we should have been much better off with such a road, which would travel 815 straight with no corners and hills. We would have been able to make the journey in half the time and at a fraction of the cost. Times have now changed and I am not asking now that all this should come about, but I ask Ministers to stop making complacent speeches like some of those made in Glasgow on Friday and to stop talking about the sun shining.
A former colleague of ours who will be well remembered, Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, who was a grand Member for Inverness for so long, used to maintain that the most underdeveloped part of the British Commonwealth was the Highland area of Scotland. This may be an exaggeration, but the area is very neglected. There are large sporting estates there on ground where thousands of acres of trees could be grown and where we could have not one pulp mill, but half-a-dozen. If Sweden can have 120 pulp mills, surely we can have more than one. Are we to depend on this one pioneer plant at Fort William, or shall we take the bold view, especially if we are to be undercut in paper manufacture by people whose wood pulp we now buy?
What about other industries? There is no light industry in which we could not do as well in the North as people do in Birmingham, even though Birmingham has the advantage of being nearer markets. It is silly in these days to suggest that any place is too far away from any other in this pinafore country of ours. It is about 700 miles from the English Channel to the Pentland Firth. The Americans solved this sort of problem long ago. The Canadians solved it, too, with 4,000 miles from coast to coast, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. But we are a little people —or we have little people in the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am getting tired of making speeches like this in the House. I have been making them for a long time, but nobody pays any attention, or, if they do, it is just a passing fashion.
The responsibility lies on the Government. If they do not deal with this situation and do something now to rehabilitate the Highland area, the voters of Scotland, I believe, will not want them again.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am very glad, indeed, to have caught 816 your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. although feeling in need of some sustenance.
I was intrigued by the Minister's speech in opening the debate. In one passage, he said with rather a flair and a flourish, that what he was saying was the culmination of three years' hard thought by the Government. Of course, in one part of the Report before us we have the traffic surveys, but they were taken only over one week. Hard-and-fast decisions are to be taken on the basis of a week in April, 1961.
The Minister will have gathered that we on this side disagree with the Beeching Report vehemently because it deals with only one sector of transport. It deals with the railways in isolation. Many tributes have been paid to Dr. Beeching for his Report, but I intend to pay no tribute whatsoever to Dr. Beeching. Too many tributes have been paid to him. I am very well aware that he has carried out the remit put upon him by the Government, but he accepted the job in order to do the Government's work, and, in my opinion and the opinion of my right hon. and hon. Friends, one cannot have an analysis of the railways alone and hope to produce a scheme for the sort of transport pattern which we need either on the railways or in any other sector of transport in this country. The result must be wrong and lopsided, and it cannot have the value which a proper survey could have in producing a transport plan for Britain.
This Report is a cold-blooded exercise in rationalisation. It has been produced completely without regard to the social and human implications. The Minister of Transport has let it be known, on many occasions since its publication, that he is in full sympathy with the Report and supports it, and much publicity has been given to his statements in support of Dr. Beeching. He knows what I mean—"I fully support my friend Dick Beeching in his submissions". Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that statements like that, before we have debated the matter in the House, before a considered opinion has come from the Cabinet after a debate where the voices are collected, mean that he must bear some responsibility for the present mood of railwaymen in this country? He need not blame the N.U.R. or anyone else. The N.U.R. is not my union. The right hon. Gentleman has contributed to the present mood 817 of railwaymen because he has let it be known in no uncertain terms that he personally regards Dr. Beeching's plan as the plan which should be put into effect.
This is all wrong. It is most irresponsible. The Transport Act places full onus and responsibility on the Minister to act after consideration by the consultative committees and after representations have been made to him on any proposed closure of a line or section of line. Is it not quite irresponsible that he should, although he is required to make decisions after representations have been made, be so outspoken about his desire to see the Beeching Report put into effect? The country can decide whether or not he has contributed to the present mood among railwaymen.
I was shocked today to notice how glibly the Minister got over the problem of redundancy, saying that normal wastage would take it up and that good agreements have been made. These agreements are not so good. They may sound all very nice if one quotes the case of a man with 45 years' service and the amount he will receive. But that does not give the true picture. The right hon. Gentleman said that, after all, railwaymen have to shift about now under their agreements. So they do, but it is mostly for promotion, a very different thing from having to shift about in order to keep a job, and even that possibly not in the same grade or position.
I take the example of a section of main line on which there are now only to be through passenger trains running. Every station on the line is to be closed and everybody from the station master down to the junior porter is to be shifted, and shifted a considerable distance. This is a new aspect of removal altogether. It is all very well for the Minister to say that people will get the offer of a job either within the region or in other regions. What would he do if he were a trade union leader acting for a responsible body of men, say, locomotive men, employed in a depot which was to be closed because a section of line was to be knocked out? Among the staff in the locomotive depot there would be men over 55 years of age or over 60 years of age. I ask him to think what those men would be called upon to do in moving fairly long distances to another locomotive depot. Locomotive 818 depots are not scattered about like stations; there are not very many of them. Does he think that he could ask a man of 60, 61 or 62 to uproot himself and move away for a year or two, when he is to retire at 65?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about housing. A man will be given a loan so that he can buy a house, we are told. He will be dead before he can pay it off. What a millstone that will be round his neck.
I do not know who has arrived at this housing arrangement. I could have seen some benefit in the Minister adding his weight and power to the Railways Board in approaching the local authorities about where men might move to if they were willing to move and in getting houses allocated to them by local authorities. I do not know a Scottish local authority which would not do this and would not be willing to provide houses. The Secretary of State for Scotland knows full well that there is the greatest anxiety in Scotland to retain work in Scotland and that Scottish local authorities are very willing to help. Indeed, the Government have given added subsidy for the provision of houses for key workers who move because of their work.
§ Mr. Marples
I know that the movement of men is a great problem. What I did say was that this agreement for both transfer and redundancy was freely negotiated and agreed between the unions and the Railways Board just over two months ago. It is no good asking me what I would have done. This is not a bad agreement. I do not think the hon. Member ought to seek to pin responsibility for that agreement on me.
§ Mr. Manuel
They had to make the best of a bad job. These lines or stations were being closed down. The Minister, in his capacity as Minister, under the Transport Act, says he has still to decide and he will decide after due consideration. But he has made a redundancy agreement, has he not? He is going to close railways down. So he has decided.
However, there is another aspect I should like to deal with, and I would ask the Minister to consider this. Undoubtedly we are going to have—and 819 the Minister has made no bones about it—massive train withdrawals. We know that. We are going to have great stretches of lines closed, including a great many branch lines. I am thinking particularly of Scotland. Everyone interested in railways and their future is greatly concerned about this pattern and the way it has been decided at this particular time. No one should know the Scottish position better than the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I ask him to consider this. The shape, size and pattern of the railways is being decided on the basis not of a thrusting, go-ahead economy in which industry is working to full capacity, but on the basis of industry—like the steel industry, for example—which is not working to capacity. In Scotland we have 114,000 unemployed, with nearly 750,000 unemployed in the whole country. It is on this stagnant economic position that the Beeching Report is carried out to decide the future of our railways.
Is not this completely wrong? Would not one think that if industry had been working to capacity, if all those 750,000 workers were employed in industry and making their contribution to our economy and giving their families the standard of life they ought to have, instead of depending on unemployment pay and National Assistance the railways would have been far busier? Therefore, the basis of the Report is all wrong, and I say that the fact that it is done at this time is very bad, and practically every Scottish authority agrees with this point of view. We can see that things are very bad. For instance, in Scotland towards the end of last year we had just on 200,000 on National Assistance, almost 100,000 of them old-age pensioners. So it is not a very healthy economy. No one can say it is. Dr. Beeching's appointment was to make the railways pay, to make an economic reappraisal. If his Report were put into operation on that basis we would have very few railways left in Scotland.
If the railways are to contract, and if they are to shed traffics as indicated in the Report, then bulk loads—minerals, for instance—will go on the roads. That is the Minister's proposition. Free choice, he calls it. It does not matter how many accidents or casualties we have on the roads. He says we shall have free choice.
The following is said by every Scottish authority which writes to us. Here is 820 the example from the Highlands and Island Industrial and Agricultural Association. Its statement is headed:Beeching proposals hit Scotland twice as hard. 'Economy' plan will cost the country dear.That is referring to the millions of pounds that need to be spent on building new roads to take the traffic at present being carried by rail. The report goes on to say that the Beeching Report recommends throughout Britain average cuts in lines of 27 per cent. and of stations 31 per cent., but in Scotland a 41 per cent. cut in lines and a 60 per cent, cut in stations—double. Therefore, that organisation is against it.
The National Farmers' Union of Scotland, which has, I imagine, given massive support to the Secretary of State's party in the past, says the same. In its last report it says:A first reading of this report leaves the overwhelming impression that its conclusions have been based almost exclusively on commercial considerations.A summary of that report sets out the main objectives as the building up of well-loaded routes, the closing down of routes which are so lightly loaded as to have no chance of paying their way, and the discontinuance of services which cannot be provided economically.
The President of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, Major I. A. Campbell, winds up the report by saying:But I can say quite categorically now that we cannot accept the view that the provision of transport services should be judged only by the yardstick of profitability. This is a narrow and sectional approach to a major public problem.Then there is the North of Scotland Transport Conference, a huge conference of all the most important bodies, local authority and otherwise, in the Highland counties. The Secretary of State ought to be concerned about this. I know that Argyll is a Tory stronghold, but Argyll expressed some very strong opinions at the conference, I understand that from certain friends of mine who were there. The Secretary of State had better look out.
I put a great deal of trust in the report from the Scottish Tourist Board, which is just getting into its stride. Things are beginning to shape very well after a great deal of expenditure of public money by 821 the Government. The Board thinks that the cutting down in railway services will undo all that it has done. It says, in particular:… the Board would urge second thoughts on the cutting of the links between Girvan and Stranraer and Stranraer and Dumfries. These closures would have a disastrous effect not only on the fast growing holiday trade of the south-western counties but on the tourist traffic to the north of Ireland by the short Stranraer to Larne route.I go further than this and say that the Ayr to Stranraer route ought to be kept open. I have no dubiety about that. I have worked over that route and know every yard of it. I have taken trains right through to Stranraer. The yardstick applied to the route is wrong. It is a difficult route. The topography of the area is very bad. It is hilly, and there are ravines. I imagine that the maintenance of that route would cost double that of any ordinary stretch of railway line. Yet, if one takes merely the on-cost of maintenance as against receipts, one comes out on the wrong side, and, according to Dr. Beeching, this route should be shut. A different yardstick is applied elsewhere. It is costing a great deal of money to keep this route open. I think that the Ayr County Council has underestimated the figure which it believes it would cost to modernise the road from Ayr to Stranraer. At present these roads are not suitable to take heavy summer traffic and could not possibly carry the traffic presently carried by rail.
It is ridiculous for the Minister to say that if the Report is implemented there will be an increase of 1 per cent. in traffic on the road. What a loose statement that is. What does that 1 per cent. mean during the height of the holiday season? What does it mean during the July fortnight in certain areas in Scotland? The only thing of value he could tell us is the traffic which will be forced on the roads when everyone is trying to get to certain places because they are popular. One per cent. is nothing to do with it.
§ Mr. Manuel
I said that I thought that the Ayr County Council had possibly underestimated the figure, but, even at a 822 conservative estimate, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) tells me that it would cost over £4 million to maintain this link between Ayr and Stranraer. I do not know whether that means just into the County of Ayr or into the County Council, part of which is represented by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis). That might involve another £4 million, because there are certain very bad routes in his area.
The Scottish Tourist Board goes on to say:It is to the north and west of Inverness, however, that Dr. Beeching's proposals could do the greatest damage, first, to the permanent population, sparse though it may be at the moment, secondly, to hopes of repopulation, and, thirdly, to the development of what scenically is the loveliest part of the United Kingdom, some of it even now inaccessible because of lack of roads.I wish to make no more quotations save this:The Board directs the attention of the Minister to the fact that in the mainland areas of Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty and Inverness there are over 1,000 miles of single track roads with passing places only.I ask the Minister to note that in these three counties there are 1,000 miles of single track road with passing places only.
The quotation goes on:Of the 84 miles of road between the Kyle of Lochalsh and Inverness, 51½ miles are single track.
§ Mr. G. Wilson
Has the hon. Gentleman seen the document which the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) had in her hand earlier, which came from the holding company, stating that it could meet all the services at present provided by train in Scotland by substituting buses?
§ Mr. Manuel
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we have vast stretches of road within the seven Highland counties, which make up almost half of Scotland, which at present prohibit bus traffic because they are too dangerous? For the holding company to say what the hon. Gentleman has just referred to shows that it is completely out of touch with reality.
§ Mr. Manuel
We know that this Report will cause more traffic to be put on the roads. I believe that it will cause more deaths and more injuries from road casualties. It is inevitable. May I quote the following figures to show the magnitude of the problem? We have had the staggering total of 3,903,051 road casualties over the past 15 years, from 1948 to 1962. Of that figure, 83,874 people have been killed. There was a little improvement last year—the first for many years. There were 341,696 road casualties—still a huge figure. Of this total, 6,709 people were killed—an average of 129 a week—and 334,987 were injured.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Is my hon. Friend aware, in a slightly different context, that more people were killed in twelve months last year in this country than during the whole period of the French Revolution?
§ Mr. Manuel
I am pleased to have that verification, although I am not pleased about it, but it is going rather far in linking a very old problem with the one we face today.
I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise that road casualties do not simply apply to the big aggregations of population. The figures in Scotland are bad enough and these narrow roads contribute to them. I hope that when they talk about shedding more traffic on to the roads and putting off more passenger trains the Government will realise that they should not do this until they provide alternative road services.
The Secretary of State has been saying rather similar things—that no line will be closed until alternative road services are available. What does he mean by alternative road services? Does he mean that a service which can get one to a place in two hours where a train took half an hour is a suitable replacement? Possibly more to the point is the question of whether he will tell us how many hundreds of millions of pounds it will cost to build suitable roads throughout Scotland and especially in the Highlands.
If we can get these figures of the cost to the nation we will see that probably we would be better off keeping open certain stretches of railway line, openly subsidising them year by year, alongside a guarantee of suitable roads for traffic which can no longer be carried by rail.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)
I follow the last point of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). We are being asked to welcome the Report as a major contribution to the development of a sound and well-balanced transport system, but what we have not been told is about the other side of the coin. If one cuts the dead wood out of the joists and beams of one's house, one must put something there to keep the roof up. Of this we have been told remarkably little by the Minister.
Every one of us in south-west England is alarmed at the lack of assurances about an alternative and the procedure provided under the 1962 Act. Having listened to my right hon. Friend, I do not think that the fears of the West Country will have been much allayed by the vague assurances he has given. Unless he gives me certain assurances before tomorrow, I shall have the greatest difficulty in supporting him in the Lobby.
The West Country is in a particular position. It is thinly populated and largely non-industrial. In my county there is a very large network of roads, and financially this is a very great burden on the county council. They are, in fact, lanes built for the transport of many years ago. The system is thoroughly out of date and very much in need of being brought up to the road needs of 1963. The area depends on agriculture, on a large number of fixed income retired people who go there to spend their declining years, and on the great holiday industry which is now threatened unless we can have some assurances about alternatives.
It is often thought that most people who go to the West Country for their holidays go by road in some way or other. I have spent the last two or three weeks trying to get information from the resorts in my constituency, which is probably the worst hit in the West Country by these proposals for closing branch lines. I wanted to find out how many people came by road. My conclusion is that probably well over 75 per cent. do come by road to the big hotels, but the great basis of the industry is the boarding houses and the guest houses and the smaller places, and to those a very large number still come by rail. Unless alternatives are provided, which 825 are fully adequate and which are coordinated with the rail services, the Beeching Plan poses a very great threat to the industry. Nor is it a matter simply of putting on a few buses to meet the needs. There must be a fully coordinated service so that heavy luggage, like trunks and perambulators, can be checked from the point of departure to the rail or bus depôt at the resort.
I ask for an assurance that the details of alternative plans in each individual case will not only be published in detail in very good time, but also guaranteed before the Minister implements any closures. We have had some unfortunate experiences in the West Country when lines have been closed down under the T.U.C.C. procedure and then alternatives provided have not been adequate. En one case a number of buses were put on in the beginning but where knocked off when they proved to be uneconomic. It is only reasonable to demand comparable co-ordinated services in each case, services capable of carrying passengers and their heavy luggage from point to point, the sort of service provided by British Airways. When a traveller goes from London to Hong Kong or New York, he checks in his baggage in central London and does not see it again until he reaches the centre of Hong Kong or New York.
The Minister spoke rather airily about the increase of traffic on the roads being only 1 per cent. That may well be the case taken over the country as a whole. He said that there was no question of chaos, but I can tell him that in the summer months there is already chaos in the holiday resorts in my county. Over and over again I have implored him to see that the West Country road system is improved by giving the same sort of priority for road construction to our growing holiday and tourist industry which is given to the industrial areas in the Midlands. Very little has happened. We have been given a low priority and the roads are jammed during the summer months, as is well known. Dr. Beeching has imaginatively put up posters to say that it is quicker by train, but soon there will be no trains and it will be even slower by road.
In an admirable and detailed survey made by the Devon County Council and published in February, the county sur- 826 veyor estimated that to bring the county's roads up to present needs would mean the expenditure of about £90 million. To follow the Minister's exhortation to plan for the future, as highway authorities are now being urged to do, would cost about £136 million.
The roads from the resorts in my area, from Seaton, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth, are already inadequate to deal with the traffic which has to go by road. It is thought locally, and I believe rightly, that the Exmouth to Exeter line does pay on a full cost basis. No figures have been given to the local authority, although they asked for them. This is monstrous. The local authorities concerned are entitled to know the details on which this recommendation has been made, and I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that the figures are provided.
There is the commuter traffic which, taking the intermediate stations and Budleigh Salterton on the loop line, amounts to between 1,500 and 2,000 daily, of whom 200 are railwaymen. This is a great problem indeed—I invite my right hon. Friend to come down during the holiday period and see what conditions are like. A large sum of money will have to be spent immediately on constructing fly-overs and so on to enable this road to take the extra traffic. The alternative will be a complete standstill.
I hope that the Minister will look at the effect of these proposals on the West Country as a whole. We do not want the situation which has arisen in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) to arise in our area. This is what can happen under Stage 2 of the plan. I further ask my right hon. Friend to realise that and to give the Devon County Council some estimate of what the alternative will cost apart from modern roads. It will cost the county some £35,000 extra for school buses alone, and already we have seen boarding house keepers in the northern part of the county going on National Assistance during the winter. Other by-products of the plan will be equally expensive to the public purse.
I ask for an assurance that no closure proposals will be submitted to the T.U.C.C. until after consultations with the local authorities. In my county's case this should be firstly the Devon 827 County Council, which is responsible for co-ordinating all the interests in the area. My right hon. Friend should also ensure that sufficient time is provided to enable the local authorities to consider the detailed alternative proposals that he is putting forward.
I also ask for an assurance that the huge initial cost of carrying out road improvements as a direct result of rail closures will be borne by the Exchequer and not by local authorities. In this connection the Jack Report should not be followed. The third assurance for which I ask is that co-ordinated alternative services and the roads for such traffic will be provided, with special regard to the holiday season.
People in the West Country are extremely apprehensive, and even suspicious, of the Minister's intentions with regard to alternative services. If we get an assurance about this, we shall welcome the Beeching Report as an effort to modernise Britain's traffic system. What we do not want to see is just one part of the plan implemented and the West Country thrown on the scrap heap together with the uneconomic branch lines.
My right hon. Friend spoke about modernisation and change. "Change is good" he said. Yes; if something better is provided. If it is to be made for nothing and without an equivalent service, then this Report presents a grave threat to the amenities of the West Country.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The voice that we have just heard, the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), is that of Devonshire. We have also heard from Lincoln, from Scotland and from my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones). All have expressed great alarm not on a purely constituency basis, but on behalf of the areas which they have the honour and privilege to represent.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) was very impressive when he pointed out that to cut the railway link that supplies the boat train from Stranraer to Larne would be a great disaster to the whole of Northern Ireland. The keynote of our debate—although hon. Members also expressed 828 their fears from a constituency point of view—has been the national concept, which cannot be ignored.
I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to today's debate. He will have to try to reassure some of my hon. Friends from Scotland, and will certainly have a job to reassure the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who put his finger on the whole problem. The tragedy is that in transport today we are paying dearly for the sins of yesteryear. For twelve years we have had a Conservative Government, who have never believed in planning, but who now recognise that some of today's problems cannot be overcome by a merely philosophical approach. We want an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman today that industry will still be able to reside in Scotland, and that it will be given adequate transport services.
One good thing about the Report is that for the first time in many years transport has been put into the centre of the political arena. Every hon. Member must be aware of the effect that Dr. Beeching has had on his constituency. Almost every person who thinks about the problems of transport must be worried, not only today but for the future. I am sorry that the Minister is not here at the moment. I am sure there is a good reason for his absence. He should not object to his being in the centre of the political arena. He has always liked the spotlight. In fact, he usually operates it. I am glad to see that he has now returned. He has the habit of keeping everybody else from the front of the stage. He must now be very proud that transport is the kingpin of the political scene.
The Minister's performance was not very good today. The trouble was that he had a brief, from which he would not move. All his original thoughts went by the board. His reference to the railway strike was most unsatisfactory. He cannot talk of redundancies unless he intends to say where the closures will be made. If he is not to close lines—and he says that very serious thought will be given to the matter before they are closed—why should he talk about redundancies? He cannot have it both ways. His reference to the strike was a dangerous intervention.
829 Whatever his popularity may be among hon. Members opposite, today the right hon. Gentleman is one of the biggest liabilities of the Tory Party. If we want proof we have only to remember that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is here not because anybody in Orpington knew what the Liberal Party policy was then—or now, for that matter —but because the vast majority of Orpington voters are sickened to death by the transport problems they have to cope with. They have to commute, day in and day out, under the most intolerable conditions. In fact, they are the sort of conditions that were referred to by the Member for Caithness and Sutherland. The Orpington vote was a protest vote against the Minister of Transport and his policy.
The Minister's transport policy has been a disaster ever since he became Minister. It is right to remember that this debate has taken place under a threat of a railway strike. It is a serious threat. It would be impertinent of me to advise the railwaymen what action they should or should not take. In the end, it is a political matter, and it can be decided only by the political parties. Transport is politics, and it will have to be decided, as a matter of politics, in the House of Commons. It is not a matter for industry; only the political parties can decide it.
I remind the N.U.R. and every other trade union that the implementation of the Beeching Report is not only a railway problem. Many other industries are affected. Let me give two illustrations from the Report. There are 620 collieries in Britain, and over 600 of them are connected by rail. Hardly any of them have coal storage bunkers or facilities for the quick loading of trains. Instead as Dr. Beeching rightly pointed out, they use railway wagons as bunkers. This not only necessitates the provision of many wagons, but ties them up far an average of two days each—and the cost is £10 million a year to the railways.
Dr. Beeching said that it seemed sound economic sense not to do this. He thought that the time had come when the National Coal Board should take this burden. Thus, we are to transfer £10 million of this debt to the Coal Board. What are the consequences? We put the Coal Board accounts "in the red". Will 830 the National Union of Mineworkers have nothing to say about that? But the Minister does not care as long as the railways pay at the end of the day.
What about the mineworkers' charter and their sickness benefit schemes and increased pensions? If the Coal Board accounts are put "in the red", having only just come out of it, is not that a serious matter for the Minister of Transport to consider and ought there not to be co—ordination on the Government Front Bench before anything is done?
Let us consider another example, the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman was at one time Postmaster-General. He should know a lot about this. He was the best Postmaster-General we had ever had. How do we know that? Because he told us so. He is always telling us how good he is, and was, both as Minister of Transport and as Postmaster-General. It seems that the world has never known anything as good. Let us talk to him about his own former Department, the Post Office.
At the moment, a parcels service is undertaken by the railways which carry 50 million bags of parcels estimated to contain 255 million parcels of an average weight of 5 lbs. Last year these yielded £30 million of receipts, of which the railways received £12 million. Already, the parcels service of the Post Office is "in the red", but it is a service which the Post Office has to give. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if the Beeching Report is implemented, the parcels service will go even further into debt. If that is so, it will put the whole postal service "in the red". What will the Post Office workers and the Post Office engineering workers say about that? Is that a fact which we ought to ignore as long as we make a profit on the railways accounts? Should we ignore the Post Office accounts?
Let me give another good example, this time of private enterprise—the small coal merchants, the small distributors of coal. There is no State ownership here. These people do their job at local level. At the moment, there are 4,859 stations which receive coal, from which it is distributed by private enterprise over a radius of about 2½ miles. Dr. Beeching says that there should be only 250 depôts and that they should distribute over a radius of 10 miles. This is probably very 831 good economics but thousands of small coal merchants would be affected.
Perhaps the Conservative Party does not care, perhaps it is not interested. But point out to the railwaymen that there are some very strong allies in this argument about the implementation of the Beeching Report. They must remember that these allies at the moment are on the touch line, but they will be ready later, and will be used, if the Minister attempts to implement the whole of the Beeching Report. I hope that my words will be read and that some notice will be taken of them.
Talking about the Beeching Report in isolation is a disaster. We must talk about the future of transport, too. We have not done enough of that. To talk of transport today with all its difficulties is bad enough, but let us take our minds ahead to the future. Only a few years ahead of us there will be an enormous problem. From the figures of the Minister's Department we learn that there are 10 million vehicles on our roads today. In 1965, there will be 13 million and in 1970, only seven years away, there will be 18 million vehicles. Let us forget the Beeching Report for the moment and the fact that it proposes to put more freight, perhaps thousands of tons, on the road. Leaving that aside, there will be 18 million vehicles on the roads by 1970.
The Minister has said that he has a roads programme to match this? Has he? We are told that he has doubled and trebled the expenditure on roads by comparison with that in the past. He had to do something about it, and doubling the expenditure is not very impressive, for when Lord Boyd, or Alan Lennox-Boyd, as he was then, was Minister of Transport, he spent £4 million during his year of office on roads. If he were to talk in terms of this vast number of vehicles on the roads, the right hon. Gentleman could not help but double or treble that amount.
Tory Party philosophy since 1951 has been freedom for the consumer. That is all-important. The consumer must be allowed to go whichever way he wants as a passenger or to send his freight whichever way he wants. This has been the disastrous policy which the Government have followed. I ask the Conservative Party to think of this: 18 million 832 vehicles upon the roads. Does anyone believe that the phrase "freedom for the consumer" will count? If we go on with this party philosophy of saying that people can do exactly what they like—road or rail, it does not matter a damn—then, by 1970, the whole nation will be snarled up and nothing can happen and nothing can move. Everyone here knows it.
When we talk on this side of the House about co-ordination we do not have to be sneered at and jeered at, because it has to come if we are to get any movement by road or rail. A decision must be made by a Government as to what is the best form of transport for much of our freight. The Conservative Party has not mentioned this aspect of the matter, but it is important: when considering the waterways and coastal shipping, do the Conservative Party take pride in the fact that coastal shipping today is virtually dead?
The Conservative Party ought to be proud of that; a great maritime nation like ours has no coastal shipping worth mentioning. Inland waterways are in such a plight today that only last year 1 million tons of traffic transferred from water to roads, and the Minister had not the slightest interest and could not care less. He said that the right of the consumer is what matters.
Only a few months ago, we had to battle for weeks to stop the North Thames Gas Board putting 800,000 tons of coal upon the roads instead of on the waterways. Finally, we got the Minister of Power to take action and instruct the Board to put it on the water. At the end of the day, economically the North Thames Gas Board can say that it is cheaper to send it by road and, therefore, it ought to be done. The Minister has to answer this. The nation demands this from him and from the Government. When he talks of the balance sheet for one particular industry, he must relate it to the balance sheet of the others. That is why we on this side of the House demand that before Beeching is implemented there shall be a complete and thorough survey of all the facts.
Since 1951, the Government have blindly gone on with a policy that the consumer is right. Those who want more C licences can have them. Anyone can get a C licence today, without difficulty at all, to transport freight over a certain radius. One has only to look 833 at the figures given by the Minister. Since 1951, C licences have gone up from 798,000 to 1,253,000. The overall number of lorries upon the roads has gone up from 900,000 to 1,400,000. No wonder the railways are "in the red".
The Beeching Report, page 90, gives details of the survey. This is a very brilliant survey of freight alone. The Board examined 305 million tons of freight and found that, of this, 82 million tons, or 27 per cent., passed by rail. The Board had a further study of the remaining 223 million tons and found that 93 million tons, to use Dr. Beeching's own words,… by reason of loadability, regularity, distance and terminal requirements, were judged to be potentially favourable to rail.When we come to analyse what happens, the vast majority of that traffic went by C licence, licences which the Government have encouraged. The Government, by their own policy, have put the railways more and more "in the red".
When the few of us on this side who have taken part in transport debates over the years have pleaded with the Minister to take some action to control this, we have been sneered at and jeered at and told that the word "co-ordination" is an unnecessary and stupid word. It was rather sad to listen to the Minister today talking about co-ordinated transport. The great problem facing us now is how to cope with the enormous amount of traffic which is on our roads today, which will be augmented by many more vehicles in the years to come.
The Minister has said that our present road programme is very much larger than anything done in the past and, therefore, should be reasonably adequate. He brags that he is to spend £600 million in X years. At the end of the day he will provide 1,000 miles of new roads, mostly motorways. This record is one of the poorest in Europe. The County Surveyors' Association, a very reputable body, has said that to cater for the traffic which is on our roads today adequately and honestly we need 1,700 miles of new roads added to that which the Minister has already projected. Therefore, forgetting Beeching and talking of road traffic alone, we need a Government with a far more imaginative road policy than we have ever had in the past.
834 We have now reached the stage when the Ministry of Transport, as a Department, is no longer able—it may be willing, but it is no longer able—to do the job which has been allotted to it. I say this with respect to all the civil servants working there, who, I believe, are a very fine body of people who have done a great job of work. I do not think that the existing Ministry of Transport can cope with it. For one thing, it has not got the real power to plan, much as the Minister has tried in various legislation to get it. More than ever before we need a Minister of Planning with real planning power, broken down into regions. Together with that, we need a Roads Board, charged with the task of building roads. The Ministry of Public Building and Works should supply the labour. We might then get rid of Marples Ridgway and Company.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by planning powers?
§ Mr. Mellish
Certainly. I would by legislation ensure that there was a Ministry with powers to plan for the whole of Britain, not only for roads. It would also have the powers now held by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the various powers held by other Departments. All these would be co-ordinated into one Department. Britain has to be properly planned, not the sort of thing we have just had in the London Government Bill, where planning powers are split all the way down the line, even into local government.
I urge that there should be a Minister of Planning with real executive power to plan the needs of the nation, not only roads, but also the economic growth of the nation. Take office building, for example. It is no good now talking about the offices that should not have been built in our great cities. They are there now. We have our commuter problem. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland talked about the disaster to the Highlands. It is now too late to talk about what has happened there. We have to make a start on ensuring that no more of it occurs. Therefore, we want a Ministry with real power. I want to see a Roads Board with the job of building roads, with the planning carried out by a Ministry of Planning—the Roads Board to take over the sort of 835 functions which Marples Ridgway has been doing so well in the past That might interest the Minister.
§ Mr. Mellish
I do not know who has the shares now. I am not ever sure whether it is only perhaps Mrs. Marples.
§ Mr. Marples
No; I really must protest at this point. I divorced myself—[Laughter.] I mean as to the shares, not from my wife. I have not divorced my wife. I divorced myself from the shares. I think that the hon. Gentleman, who has been most fair so far, was really ungenerous at that point.
§ Mr. Mellish
I withdraw the imputation, of course. I meant it in fun, anyway. The trouble with the Minister is that he is so touchy.
§ Mr. Marples rose—
§ Mr. Mellish
The Minister must have a conscience. Anyway, he cannot say anything to me about shares, because I have not got any at all.
The Roads Board would have the job I have mentioned. The Ministry of Public Building and Works would carry out the functions I have mentioned, to which end it should be equipped with a first-class building force and with the equipment necessary to build the roads which Britain will need tomorrow. The matter should be so planned that we could have a continuous programme so that we could give building labourers, for example, a decent wage and decent conditions.
I end on this note. The problem of transport is something which the Beeching Report has tackled only in part. I do not deny that the Report as such is a contribution to the transport problem. We cannot ignore it. Dr. Beeching has pointed to certain lines which are uneconomic. At the end of the day some of these lines may have to be closed. We on this side say that nothing of the kind should happen until the whole of Britain's needs have been surveyed and account has been taken of coastal shipping, inland water transport and roads. We should talk in terms of providing facilities for all our people, such as an extension of underground travel.
Has it never occurred to the Minister that this might be one way of dealing 836 with our City traffic; that even south London might one day have underground railway stations? There is a crying need for a new approach in this connection and I hope that when it comes to a Division tomorrow night some hon. Members opposite will join us in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
As a London hon. Member, would the hon. Member not agree that there is a case for London Transport being brought in more closely—for example, regarding the proposed closure of the Richmond-Broad Street railway line—which could, perhaps, be incorporated in the London Transport system? Would he not agree that great hardship would result if this were closed to passengers and that it would push an immense amount of traffic on to the roads in the London area?
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Member is absolutely right. This has been the complaint for years, although it has been ignored. Vast built-up areas are crying out for an extension of what is undoubtedly, even today, one of the finest underground systems in the world.
It is against this background that my hon. Friends and I criticise the Beeching plan. The trouble is that the terms of reference Dr. Beeching was given meant that inevitably this sort of Report would be produced. I hope that when we have a Labour Government—
§ Mr. Mellish
I would like the right hon. Gentleman to have a by-election in his constituency now and see what would happen.
§ Mr. Mellish
In the Minister's own constituency.
As I was saying, when a Labour Government take office I hope that we will get people of the calibre of Dr. Beeching to produce the sort of reports for us, as members of the Labour Party, that he has given to the Conservative Party; men of that calibre so that, at the end of the day, we will be able to get the sort of transport system that will be really worth while for this country.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Noble)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), whose speech I enjoyed—and parts of which I agreed with—will forgive me if I turn, at least for part of my speech, to the problems facing my hon. Friends who represent Scotland—and also some of his own hon. Friends.
Scotland, as all hon. Members know, has for reasons of geography a problem more difficult than many other parts of the United Kingdom. The distances from Scotland to the main centres in the South —to London, Birmingham, and so on—have been a disadvantage to us and, therefore, it is probably more important for us in Scotland to get an efficient, cheap and up-to-date transport system than for anywhere else in Britain. It is, perhaps, also more important to us in Scotland that if we have resources locked up in an old-fashioned, last century type of railway system in certain parts, we should release them and use that money for other, more urgent purposes in modernising our economy.
Both the Scottish Development Department and the Development Group at St. Andrew's House have in the last month been urgently studying the Beeching Plan and the developments which would flow from it if it were implemented and which might have an effect not only on the Scottish industrial position now but on our employment problems now and in the future. For this purpose, because it is a question of priorities in having a look at a plan of this sort, we have been studying in particular the central industrial belt because that contains about 85 per cent. of our industrial manufacturing capacity. About the same percentage of the freight originates in this belt and about 78 per cent. of our unemployment is situated in this area.
For these reasons, I do not think that anyone would object to our having given priority to the study of this section, though I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) has special points regarding the Highlands with which I agree and which I will come to shortly.
What we must do in that central area is to support the successes of the strip mill, the motor industry, chemicals, electronics, and so on, which are building 838 up there, and to which the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) referred. But we are not solely concerned with the central belt, as has been seen with the scheme for developing the new pulp mill at Fort William, and we are looking as carefully as we can for other enterprises that might develop in some other parts of the Highlands or in the Border counties. As I say, this has been an urgent examination of the immediate problems in the central area.
It is quite certain that in the central area there will be some passenger service problems. The hon. Lady mentioned the line between Glasgow, Central and Edinburgh, Princes Street, and that is certainly one that will need a good deal of attention to see that we get the answer right. But, outside one or two relatively minor problems on the passenger services in the central area, it does not at the moment seem likely that anything incorporated in the Beeching proposals will produce major difficulties for development there.
On the freight side, the conception of liner trains is not, of course, a new one for Scotland—we have had our Aberdeen fish trains going very successfully now for a very long time—but Dr. Beeching and the British Railways Board are thinking in great depth about the problems of freight and planning, and how they can best devise an efficient system. It has been arranged that, from now onward, my development group will be kept in very close touch with the thinking in British Railways so that any conclusions reached that might cut across the work we are doing to try to develop industry in the centre of Scotland can be discussed.
It is true that in Scotland as a whole the main apprehensions that have been voiced in the newspapers, the Scottish Tourist Board papers, and other sources of that sort have been about the area served by the long lengths of the spinal lines—Inverness to Wick, Inverness to Kyle, and the lines to Stranraer and through the Border counties—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of the central area, can he give a promise that as soon as possible a decision will be reached on that line which, obviously, affects the whole of the housing and industrial development of several authorities?
§ Miss Herbison
Surely, the Minister does not mean that it will be Dr. Beeching who will decide priorities in Scotland That is really shattering.
§ Mr. Noble
Of course not, but if Dr. Beeching does not make a proposal to close this line—the hon. Lady knows the system of proposals that are advertised, and so on—the thing is not advertised. She surely does not want me to suggest it should be hurried up. I do not think there is anything between us on this at all.
To pass from the central area—
§ Mr. Ross
Perhaps we can have the position cleared—that it is entirely out of the hands of the Secretary of State for Scotland; that it now depends on the initiative of the Railways Board, and that the Secretary of State does not come into it at all until he is in the close consultation we heard about with the Minister of Transport on the final decision.
§ Mr. Noble
The hon. Member is perfectly right in his constitutional position. Dr. Beeching may advertise a proposal for a closure at any time between now and 1970—or even later—if he so wishes. Then it goes through the procedure that has been explained to the hon. Gentleman. It then goes to the Minister, who has promised to consult me very closely on it—
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
Surely, the Secretary of State will make up his mind long before that.
§ Mr. Noble
If the hon. Gentlemen would stop discussing their own views between themselves, we might be able to get on with the debate.
It is very unlikely that hon. Members will find out what anybody's views are if they carry on discursive conversation on different topics. As I was saying before I was interrupted, the problems which have hit the headlines in the news- 840 papers have been largely in the Highlands, the areas where population is sparse, where distances are long, where we have narrow glens and sea lochs, and the communications of the area do not only involve railways. Many parts of the Highlands, including the part where I live, have no railways at all. Communications in these areas involve transport by air, sea and roads. Public interest demands that these should be co-ordinated, both to avoid wasteful competition and to give an improved service.
If we are to be successful we must use the method best suited for a particular area requirement rather than force a system which is in itself uneconomic to continue to operate in that area. If I can give an example, in one of the most distant parts of my constituency, instead of using a very long bus service, because it is 140 miles to Glasgow, a great many people fly. This is not very much more expensive, and it is considerably more convenient.
We have had a valuable Report from the Cameron-Kilbrandon Committee, and my right hon. Friend and myself are considering it as part of the whole wider problem. I realise that I cannot possibly answer all the questions raised in this debate but there will be opportunities for my right hon. Friend the Minister himself, when winding up, and for my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to pick up some of the points in his opening speech tomorrow. To come to some of these points—
§ Mr. Brewis
When considering air services, will my right hon. Friend consider them for other parts of Scotland and the Highlands?
§ Mr. Manuel rose—
§ Mr. Noble
I am coming to the hon. Member's questions if he will give me the chance to get there.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said that it would be the height of folly to base the whole transport system on Dr. Beeching's Report. I could not agree with him more, nor could my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. As far as I know, nobody has suggested that the whole of our transport system should be based on the Report. The right hon. Member made the point, which was also picked up by the hon. Member for Bermondsey, that the £7 million which Dr. Beeching intended to save on coal was merely transferring a deficit from one pocket to another. That is certainly one way of looking at it, but it seems to me that if our public services as a whole are to be efficient we should know which are losing money and which are not. If the Coal Board keeps its coal in railway wagons for weeks on end as a convenient method, it is fair that the Coal Board should pay for it. It is important for the country that the taxpayer should know what he is paying and what for.
§ Mr. Strauss rose—
§ Mr. Noble
I am sorry, I cannot give way. I have a great deal of ground to cover.
The right hon. Gentleman said that this was on a scale entirely different from that of any earlier closures, which the Opposition had not opposed, if they were reasonable and sensible. The total of closures here, of course, is a hit bigger, but, over the past ten or twelve years, we have seen the closure of about 3,700 miles of line, as against 5,000 in the Report, with about the same number of stations; so the scale is not totally different.
In the first of his three final points, the right hon. Gentleman said—perhaps this was slightly frivolous—that small 842 roads equally did not pay and perhaps we ought to close those. This could be argued, but it would be difficult to imagine how, if one closed small roads, one could put any alternative in their place to make life liveable at a cheaper rate.
The essence of the matter, in the opinion of the Socialist Party, the right hon. Gentleman told us, is that public transport should provide a service. We quite agree, but the point is that it need not only be a service by rail, and, moreover, transport has not only a public sector; it has a private sector as well.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who made some kind remarks about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport—well deserved, if I may say so—raised one or two matters on which I can, perhaps, help him. He spoke of the importance of bus termini being sited at railway stations. This I regard as important, and I am delighted that in Scotland, at least, we are giving a lead in this respect. The new bus stations at Fort William, at St. Andrew's and at Aberdeen are established very close to the railway stations.
It is important also that the investigations by the American organisation called A.A.S.H.O., if I have it right, and its research into the cost of road transport and weight of axle loading should be considered in this country, and I am quite certain that my right hon. Friend will draw the attention of the Road Research Laboratory to this piece of research.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd)— the House understood very well his interest in this debate, I think—said that the Minister came to the Box with his mind made up. This may or may not have been true—
§ Mr. Noble
—but there was no doubt whatever that the hon. Gentleman's mind was made up. He was quite determined that the only form of transport Which was reasonable for this country was transport by rail. He said a great deal about our having no right to talk about consumer choice, but, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey said very fairly, there are millions of new cars coming on to the roads. These are the facts of life, and there is nothing that the hon.
843 Gentleman, my right hon. Friend or anyone else can do to stop this sort of development.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary) hit the main theme when he said that, if these proposals were developed, a number of passengers could be taken off rail and put on to road but a great deal of freight would be taken off road and put on to rail. I believe that that is the best way of looking at it at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) talked with great feeling about the problems in his coastal resorts. I should like to leave my right hon. Friend to deal with the more important points my hon. Friend made because, as he said, his confidence in this debate rested on the skill of my right hon. Friend in answering it. There are, however, one or two points which he raised about which I might, perhaps, be allowed to say something.
First, as to the railway coaches which have been required for the special holiday traffic in the summer, my hon. Friend asked that these should not all be got rid of until the whole problem had been properly considered. I am informed that the railways are making a special survey of this scheme during the summer months and the matter will be carefully watched. I would say to him that some foreign visitors, as he suggested, may be syphoned off to areas which have railways; but I am delighted to say that a great many foreign visitors come to the Highlands where there is none, so I do not think he need be too scared about this as a specific point and he will be able to continue to exercise his admirable French or other languages on the passers-by.
Now I come to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). I have already said that I do appreciate the difficulty of the line which she particularly talked about. It will have to be carefully considered. She mentioned that passengers might be forced to go by coach from Shotts or Harthill all the way into Glasgow and that this would take an intolerable time; and it would be an intolerable time if three hours and a half were added to their working day. I think there are possible 844 alternatives. If the line were closed I think it would be possible for them perhaps to take a bus to Airdrie, which is not so very far away, where they could join the Blue Trains.
§ Miss Herbison
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman knows that the present bus service takes close on an hour to go from Shotts to Airdrie.
§ Mr. Noble
The hon. Lady is still thinking entirely in terms of the present bus service, but suppose that the Transport Users' Consultative Councils decided that it would be quicker—I have no idea if they will—to have an express bus to Airdrie to join up with the Blue Trains, then that might solve part of her problem.
She asked me, I think on behalf of one of her hon. Friends, to say a word about Cumbernauld. I am not certain what the final position about this station should be, but I do say to the hon. Lady that Cumbernauld station is on the main line and, therefore, there is no question of its losing its line, if there is a good case for keeping the station open, if Cumbernauld increases in population and traffic—
§ Mr. Bence
But we must be clear about this. It is in the Report. It is said that Buchanan Street station would be closed, and it is on the line on which Cumbernauld is situated. If Buchanan Street station is closed it is no good keeping the Cumbernauld station because there will be no station in Glasgow for the trains to go to.
§ Mr. Noble
I cannot help thinking that Dr. Beeching, in deciding to keep open the line between Glasgow and Stirling, would have thought it useful to have a station at both ends.
I would say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland that I will not develop the whole industrial theme which he picked up because there is not time; but I am not certain I can promise him another £500,000 for the Highlands this year, though I hope in another year to be able 845 to. He knows that we have done our best. He knows the possibilities of development at Invergordon which may well make a difference to his part of the world and the line there. He painted a very true picture of the sort of life people live in congested areas such as London, and I hope he will make these speeches quite often, because that will encourage people to realise how much better it is to go to live and work in Scotland.
§ Mr. Grimond
Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say nothing about the line to Wick? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland raised this question.
§ Mr. Noble
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland certainly raised the point of the line. He wanted to change it into a road. The whole of this problem will have to be looked at in the light of developments which may come there. Exactly the same pledge that I have given on the other lines applies to that one, too.
§ Sir D. Robertson rose—
§ Sir D. Robertson
But what the right hon. Gentleman said about me was not true. I want the line to remain. Ten years ago I made an investigation and raised the matter in this House, and I said so tonight. But, if the West Highland line can be saved by putting in one pulp mill—and Sweden has 120 pulp mills and Norway 60 or so—cannot we have another one to save that main line?
§ Mr. Noble
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I mentioned that there were developments coming up along that line, which might have the same effects, but I could not guarantee another pulp mill.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire asked me about road costs. I am not in 846 a position yet to make a guess about it. I think we are in danger of getting ourselves in difficulty if we try to equate road costs with the railway fares. A great deal of the road money will have to be spent, whether we like it or not, to take care of the cars about which the hon. Member far Bermondsey spoke. So, though the subject is relevant, it is not exactly comparable.
The hon. Member asked me what alternative methods of transport I would consider adequate. It is extremely difficult to define "adequacy", and I think it would be doing a dis-service to a great many people if I tried to do it. I am quite clear in my own mind that, as he said, a six or seven hours' bus journey over inferior roads is not the equivalent of a three or four hours' railway journey.
I want to finish with one or two general points. I think it is too early yet to expect the Government to deploy a complete plan. We have still to have discussions with the omnibus groups. We have to look at the repercussions on other transport and roads. Obviously, in Scotland there are some special problems. The Inverness-Kyle road is totally inadequate at the moment to take modern buses.
§ Mr. Noble
No, it is not the only one. We have many miles of single-track roads, and there is obviously a limit to the speed of building. There are problems also on the Inverness-Wick road, the A.9. There are also problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) mentioned, peculiar to Stranraer.
I think that the position that we in Scotland and the North realise is that the Government have a duty to examine individual problems very closely indeed. But the aim must be, surely, to produce a realistic and positive improvement in our transport system. If we simply raise objections in order to maintain a system which is out of date and which does not pay, in the long term we do a dis-service to Scotland. I am quite certain that in a great many of the areas where both the passengers and the freight services have already opted away from the rail service it would be impossible and ridiculous to try to get them back.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Finlay.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.